Well, at least Retrobacktive is.
Personally I feel the return has been triumphant. We’re getting six to eight hits some days…that’s incredible for a site that has zero brand visibility. Nonetheless, I feel bad. As the author it is my responsibility to ensure a steady stream of fresh content onto Retrobacktive‘s main page. There has been a sizable dearth since resurrecting the blog over a month ago.
The delay in contribution is partly do to an ambitious undertaking with the working title A Cold and Unconquerable State. This is to be a serial of blog posts reflecting on major incidences of The Cold War during the 1980s. Much research is required to provide these posts with the diligent journalism they deserve, and as such they are languishing in development hell.
There have been attempts to drive content via new and updated pages on Retrobacktive, and I encourage readers to visit the new “I Want My…” page which includes seminal 80s music video files. Of course additions to these pages do no give the appearance of vitality that main articles do.
Thus it would seem creating a new page wouldn’t provide much vigor to Retorbacktive’s metrics. Fortunately I don’t care about metrics. I care about catharsis and posterity. So there’s going to be a new page focusing on existential considerations of the decade and notions of what should have been because of it. Some of these posts will find their way to the main page, tidbits to entice a closer look.
Until then, thank you to those followers (especially you Germans; you know who you are) who have taken the time to stop by and keep this little shred of history alive.
Since its inception virtually all of Retrobacktive’s feature posts have focused on some tangible relic indelibly interwoven into the fabric of Generation X. Movies, albums, celebrities, even fruit juice have shined front and center as the perdurable stars of the show. Suspiciously there has been little attention to those esoteric components of the decade. The soul of the 80s, if you will.
It’s not a coincidence. Retrobacktive was cultivated in the catacombs of classic journalism where the word “I” is shunned and only hints of advocacy are allowed to permeate the context of the story. It’s a terse, matter-of-fact style; some might even call it boring.
But then there’s that voice. The inner firebrand, hand at the holster, ready to say, “you know what, this is how it really is, and you’d better believe it.” Might not fly on the front page of the New York Times, but this ain’t the Times. Are you here for the Times? You made a wrong turn on the Internet.
So here’s a thought: what’s changed since 1989? A lot, undoubtedly; we’ve covered this. But is it better or worse? Modern conveniences hold a powerful sway over society, but there’s a virulence to nostalgia with a way of luring people from their Apple-Ikea bliss. The past, after all, lives in a vacuum where only the good survives. Oh, there’s more than enough room for an “Everything Awful About the 80s” article. But for now let’s focus on the good old times, and what truly made yesteryear so bitchin.’
— Things That Were Awesome in the 80s —
1.) Phone calls
So first off, this list is only going to make sense to people who have souls. The modern world has morphed us into timid, ineffectual communication wimps. And most people are content to ideally stand by and accept Facebook as their artificial intelligence life planner. Here’s an idea: take a virtual trip back through time, pick up the phone and call someone. Thanks to all the passive forms of communication that exist today, no one has to actually own any social responsibility anymore. There was a time when that kind of flakiness was restricted to L.A. But now thanks to Facebook, email, and instant messaging, people have all the time in the world to come up with lame excuses as to why they can’t interact with you – or more commonly they can just leave any personal engagement into the infinite void of cyberspace. At least in the 80s if you were an asshole you had to be smart enough to come up with a quick lie over the phone. The world has always been full of assholes; okay, but can we at least have smart assholes?
2.) R-rated Movies
Movies come up a lot in Retrobacktive. It’s because they used to be good. Sure, there are some good movies today, those gems that poke their way out of the woodwork come Oscar season. Good movies were perennial in the 80s. Today you have to filter through the endless deluge of vapid Hollywood slop that pours off the summer movie conveyor belt. And it’s all rated PG-13. When the dollar usurped humanity as the universe’s most precious commodity (somewhere around 1999) the film industry jumped on board and said “let’s make every movie as palatable to the most amount of people as possible.” And the de rigeur MPAA rating for this new world order was PG-13. Excites kids; doesn’t offend parents. Everyone is happy… except discerning adults who would like to see Bruce Willis call someone a “motherfucker,” blow that character’s head off and actually see blood come out if it. At least we still have Quentin Tarantino.
No. Before you get excited, I’m not going to suggest music was “better” in the 1980s. Such a debate is an exercise in futility on par with arguing which fruit is the best fruit in the world. What was better, though, was how you got your music 20-plus years ago. Imagine going to a centralized location where all your friends are hanging out. You get to physically stand at the precipice of all your favorite artists’ cutting edge releases. Eyes and ears are intertwined as you scan the infinite aisles of invigorating artwork and listen to new and exciting tunes blasting over the PA while you shop.
That’s going to a record store, not slouching over your Mac while fishing through frustration over the digital pawnshop that is iTunes. Allow me to break my fourth wall to drive home a harrowing truth: until three months ago, I had not bought an album of music in seven years. Seven. Years.*
Call me antiquated but I never want to have to resort to tech savvy to listen to AC/DC. Music is elementally beautiful. Why must it’s delivery be so convoluted? I don’t like giving people money for anything I can’t hold in my hand and walk out the door with. Otherwise it leaves entirely too much trust in the hands of corporations and brands that have proven to be positively untrustworthy. But we’re modern people; we’re lazy and cheap, so Apple can perpetually spoon feed us shitty Taylor Swift songs then take them away every time they decide to update their software.
4.) Star Wars
Arguably the greatest movie trilogy ever. A bottomless well of childhood memories steeped in the immortal archetype of good versus evil. Here George Lucas architects the engine of imaginations for generations to come.
Then those stupid prequels came out. It would be bad enough to have to merely live with the memory of Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen’s emo-Anakin Skywalker, but that Lucas went and re-cut the original films to fit the narrative of the prequels sullies the whole series. This is the ultimate example of the danger in changing something for change’s sake. We get it, George; you’re a tinkerer. But even the strongest diamond can turn to dust if you chip away too long.
For the record, craft beer is great! And it’s been great for awhile; the past 10 years have brought some outstanding brews to the flavor-starved lips of beer aficionados around the world. But the crest in this wave is about to break. Look, there’s always going to be room for experimentation and those outliers who push the envelope and aim for something higher. But not everyone has to buy into it.
The biggest beer breakthrough in the 80s was Bud Light. They took flavorless beer and made it more flavorless and less caloric. But it was still pretty much beer. The common thread that bonded beer in the Eighties was it tasted like beer. No one walked into a bar and asked for something “hop-forward,” unless they wanted a pogo stick thrown at them. No citrusy, piney notes, or orange garnishes, or glasses that looked like they were blown by a bunch of epileptics on PCP. And it was filtered. All of it!
Hippie Beer Rep: “We’re independent! We don’t filter our beer; we keep it pure! Whoo, go Kombucha ale!”
Me: “Dude, if I want sand at the bottom of my beer, I’ll drink it at the beach. Stop being cheap; buy a filter.”
Not sure how anyone else feels, but is all the craft beer starting to taste the same? It’s not the breweries. It’s our taste buds’ ability to adapt. You can only guzzle so much of something before it loses it’s inherent integrity. At least 25 years ago it was easy and inexpensive. Hey, sometimes beer-flavored beer is just beer-flavored beer. Good enough.
*It was Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor by the London Symphoney Orchestra. Still not sure it was worth it.
The coffin opens. The ice thaws. The cyborg rises from the force field that sent him back through time. That’s so many movies and television shows from the 1980s. It’s something of a route motif. But then again Retrobacktive was nothing if not a harbor of cliches.
So is that what we’re doing? Shaking off the cobwebs? Stretching our eyelids and waiting for our itching retinas to see again? I don’t know. I’m just curious. In 1989 Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future II foretold a present day where we wouldn’t “need roads,” and indeed would have hovering skateboards and self-inflating Nikes.
The world, you may have noticed, does not look much like the one inhabited by a young Marty McFly Jr. But then again it really doesn’t look anything like it did thirty years ago when the first Back to the Future hit the big screen. The present, in a way, is like every room you’ve never been in. You always have an idea of what it will look like before you walk through the door. But it never materializes in such a way. How could it? Presumably you have no grand illusions of predicting the future. And no one transported you there, so every step you took en route was a gradual process in demystification.
Well, welcome to 2015. Welcome to phone-computers, self-directing cars, and virtual video stores at the click of a button. Welcome to the first black President of the United States, gay marriage, and legalized marijuana. Welcome to a family-friendly New York City, an accessible Cuba, and nuclear disarmament. Welcome to a world where beer doesn’t taste like water!
Let’s not kid ourselves: if you pulled someone out of 1985 and plunked them down in Anywhere, U.S.A. today, his mind would be blown. Just because our cars can’t fly doesn’t mean we haven’t evolved tremendously in thirty years. To us observers in real time, we just didn’t notice it.
So the world did change. And maybe Retrobacktive, too?
One year ago I put my quirky, little culture blog into indefinite stasis. No element spurred this action more than WordPress’ restructured interface. For my part, I saw the future of Retrobacktive, and blogging as a whole, in media add-ons. We put a video here, some audio there, pics all over, fun stuff like that. But I was stifled. It wasn’t such a difficult task in January of 2013. These attributes were readily available. But something happened. WordPress made it harder and harder. Disillusion set in.
Look we all mistakes (hint, hint; I’m talking to you, WordPress!). Maybe it’s not so bad anymore? Let’s try something.
There’s a picture of Eeyore.
I used to be able to pull up licensed pictures from a commons file while I worked on posts. That’s been taken away. Now I have to go and hunt down my pics off the Internet, download them to my computer, and upload them to WordPress? You know when bull’s defecate…that’s what they defecate.
Seems all WordPress has going for it these days is it’s community. Fair enough; that’s a pretty big asset. Weebly doesn’t have that. And Retrobacktive doesn’t have a Facebook page (neither does the author), so there isn’t an effective way to reach and gain an audience.
But even more than that, writing about the 80s is just fun! Not sure what it is about 25-year-old reflection, but it’s comforting in an inexplicable way. If only there was a way to incorporate additional elements without disrupting the theme of the blog itself. It would help this author feel a bit more rounded. Admittedly there are few logical similarities between early 20th Century existential philosophy… and Hall & Oates. Maybe? We can try.
Hey, at the end of the day just finding a space to have your voice heard is worth something. Funny, it seems like that was what all these social media platforms were made for, a universal platform for everybody’s personal view. I’d argue, though, that absolutely no one is being heard. It’s just rhetoric that’s thrown into the mix; some of it sticks, but only for a matter of seconds. Nothing profound lingers.
Well, if Retrobacktive can leave even something a little more adherent on the wall, then it’s worth fighting for.
For those faithful followers of my blog (and I’d like to thank both of you for your continued support, hehe), I’d like to apologize. The rudeness of absenteeism is only augmented by a lack of acknowledgment. Retrobacktive has fallen to the digital wayside, and this architect has done nothing to reconstruct the shambles.
When I began this blog in January of 2013, it was merely an exercise to improve my prowess within the blogosphere before redirecting my sites upon more activist material. But I found myself enjoying the cultural examinations of my youth, and to be fair, one of my posts actually helped secure a job interview.
So certainly the effort has not been in vain. And keeping up with my optimism for the site, I began this year with a rather ambitious goal: an 80s reinterpretation of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…” series.
Sadly, something has changed within the infrastructure of WordPress. While I will not deny the impact my own busy schedule has had on Retrobacktive, the host site has played a large role in its current decrepit state. Formerly I could create in-depth, interactive posts with access to media files at the click of a mouse. But those features have seemingly been repurposed. Access to public images has disappeared. Video URLs no longer appear within text; only links will redirect a reader to the intended video. There’s no way to add audio files to the site (this has been the most painful discovery as a new Retrobacktive page “Jams” featuring original synth music was on the cusp of launch).
I should retract that last statement. It is possible to include all these features with the blog. They just cost money. It would appear WordPress has bowed down to the all mighty dollar. Unless of course I’m missing something and these widgets are merely hidden behind some digital rock I’ve missed. Well, nonetheless, here we are; at a standstill waiting for the dead air to crackle with life, but instead there is only the occasional break in the static. Retrobacktive may not necessarily be dead yet, but like AM stations of yesteryear, there’s no one left to permanently watch the tower.
So for the time being, I’m moving on. As for Retrobacktive, when it comes back – if it comes back – it won’t look the same. It’s evolution will redefine its existence and the once cold and lifeless greyfield that housed only the memory of a celebrated 1980s mausoleum will be given new life as the foundation of a bold, new medium. What that will be exactly can’t be said. But the efforts of this writer will always be to create compelling, comprehensive digital articles. If WordPress cannot maintain a functional channel to do so, the creative element of this blog will search for life at a new location.
Until then, remember what waits in the forest? Only what you take with you.
Here is Retrobacktive’s Eighties-ized list of the ten best comedy films from the 1980s… and why not? That doesn’t really sum up the experience of this list; it was just the first thing that came to mind. But what the hell?
10.) Revenge of the Nerds (1984) – It all started with John Landis’ 1978 watershed opus National Lampoon’s Animal House, and from there frat humor would go on to inspire generations upon generations of college comedies. While most successors were buffonish knockoffs, the exception was Revenge of the Nerds. The story follows established themes: a misfit fraternity stands up to the oppressive ruling body; marginalized protagonists win over objects of desire, and copious amounts of substances are abused. This film stands out due in no small part to the lavish parade of eccentric characters, and the particularly deft performances of Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine, who the audience never doubts for a moment are genuine nerds. Best line: Gilbert: She’s not that kind of girl, Booger. Booger: Why, does she have a penis? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCDDBjdJLjY
9.) The Great Outdoors (1988) – There were many gifts the cinema gods gave to comedy in the 1980s, and John Candy was one of them. The Canadian funnyman and SCTV alum had a knack for playing a variety of archetypes, including goofy authority figures and bumbling sidekicks. One his finer yet subtler performances was as straightman Chet Ripley opposite Dan Aykroyd’s obnoxious and brash Roman Craig in The Great Outdoors. Candy bitterly absorbs Aykroyd’s unrelenting boorishness until the film’s madcap climax. It’s one of the rare instances where Candy exchanges his broad sword for a scalpel. Best line: ROMAN: The rest of us are all probably going to die of heart attacks and strokes long before you. CHET: (mumbling) Ooooh I hope soooo… http://youtu.be/dxg0LRTHgAU
8.) Spaceballs (1987) – If you were a movie studio during the 1970s or 80s looking to produce a comedy hit, you sought out Mel Brooks. And if he wasn’t available, you waited. While Blazing Saddles is often recognized as his comedic masterpiece, Spaceballs is the oft-overlooked gem in Brooks’ line of parodies. Many critics note Brooks’ satirical truancy; the last Star Wars film was released four years prior and no longer at the center of movie-goers’ attention. There are, however, several remarkable performances from John Candy, Joan Rivers, and Brooks himself in multiple roles spoofing Yoda and Grand Moff Tarkin. But far and away it is Rick Moranis who steals the show as Lord Helmet. Taking megalomania to new heights, Moranis conjures up perfectly the most recognizable traits from almost every 80s villain and delivers them with stunning absurdity. Best line: RADIOMAN: I’m having trouble with the radar, sir. DARK HELMET: (throws radio in frustration) Now what is it?! http://youtu.be/8auGAJrnpY4
7.) Major League (1989) – David S. Ward wrote and directed this seminal baseball classic, and aside from the quirky characters that comprise the scrappy team in the film, it was the decision to include an actual major league baseball club, the Cleveland Indians, as the protagonist organization that made this flick resonate so deeply with fans. Connecting with baseball fans and movie audiences alike, the film found a wide array of devoted followers who often note the film for establishing the careers of Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, and Dennis Haysbert. Best line: PEDRO: Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball. EDDIE: You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball? http://youtu.be/bWdfDsLvm9I
6.) Stripes (1981) – The combination of director Ivan Reitman, writer Harold Ramis, and star Bill Murray would go on to landmark success in a few short years with Ghostbusters, but the three artists first had to cut their teeth together with Stripes, a comedy classic in its own right. Murray’s sardonic John Winger is not so far a stretch from Dr. Peter Venkman, but Ramis delivers an especially amiable moral compass as Winger’s best friend. Often overlooked in Murray’s sizable shadow, Harold Ramis proved he could not only write the lines, but deliver them, too. On another note: this is the third film in this countdown featuring John Candy. Best line: SERGEANT HULKA: Okay, Mr. Push-ups, let’s hear your story. JOHN WINGER: Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it’s usually something unusual. http://youtu.be/iTwIwfvNJLk
5.) Big (1988) – The comedy genre is divided into many different sub-sects. There’s slapstick, screwball, romantic, teen, sports, and so on and so on. But if you’re looking for that perfect blend of hilarity and sentimentalism, you can do no better than Big. Penny Marshall’s sophomore directorial effort found the former television star escape the comedic shadow of her father, all the while turning the lovable-yet-goofy Tom Hanks into an Oscar-worthy film icon. Indeed, in the hands of a lesser actor, Big would have sidled itself nonchalantly next to the plethora of age-reversal films that were popular in the late 80s (e.g. Vice Versa, 18 Again!), but thanks to Hanks’ uncanny performance as a 13-year-old trapped in a grown man’s body, the film now sits atop the highest echelons of American comedy excellence. Best line: Josh: What about golf? It’s a sport and you don’t sweat. Paul: It’s not a sport if you let a machine do all the work. Josh: What about car racing? Paul: Shut up, Baskin.
4.) Bachelor Party (1984) – Tom Hanks was no stranger to comedy in the 1980s. After his myriad of critically acclaimed performances in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as his multiple Academy Awards for acting, it became easy to forget that arguably the greatest living actor got his start on the cross-dressing comedy series Bosom Buddies. He also made comical waves in early 80s screwball farces such as Bachelor Party. An early predecessor of the Judd Apatow-inspired frat-pack productions (The Hangover owes a lot to this one), Bachelor Party highlights the misadventure of a care-free bus driver and his juvenile friends’ attempt to throw him the ultimate stag party. The hijinks are sophomoric and simple, but Hanks’ affable goofiness makes him undeniably amiable even amidst the locker room antics. Best line: Hotel Manager: Just wear do you think you are? Jay: The Library of Congress? Rudy: Detroit? Brad: Beyond the sun? http://youtu.be/g6LhrNIVI7k
3.) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – If there was one director that kept a stranglehold over the ever capricious attention of a young Generation X, it was John Hughes. And among his many enduring hits throughout the 80s and 90s, none remain as fundamentally funny as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Absent of gonzo humor (Sixteen Candles) or egregious introspection (The Breakfast Club), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off strikes a perfect balance of silliness and charm. And while the principle cast members all excel in their archetypal roles, it is the oft-overlooked Jeffrey Jones as the hapless but determined Vice-principal Ed Rooney who comes up with the film’s most frequent laughs. Whether you’re looking for lighthearted amusement or a makeshift itinerary for a trip to Chicago, you could do worse than this film. Best line: Maitre D’: You’re Abe Froman? Ferris: That’s right. I’m Abe Froman. Maitre D’: The sausage king of Chicago? Ferris: Uh, yeah. That’s me. http://youtu.be/PDoYXZHK9aQ
2.) This is Spinal Tap! (1983) – In an era where Hollywood’s seemingly sole objective is to release nothing but sequels, prequels, remakes, and rehashes, it’s consistently reassuring to find no one even attempting to re-image Rob Reiner’s masterful This is Spinal Tap!. Of all the comedy treasures on this list, this is the one that truly lives in a vacuum. The pretentious and eventually bloated phenomenon of heavy metal rock in the late 70s and early 80s came about at a time when popular musicians still hid behind a veil of mystery and impossible charisma. This was long before social media captured an artist’s every movement, and rumors still remained a valuable tool among rock stars’ arsenal of intrigue. This is Spinal Tap! revealed all the secrets but without anyone realizing it. For later generations growing up with VH1’s Behind the Music, it may seem all par for the course, but the tongue-in-cheek improvisational performances of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer continue to make This is Spinal Tap! roll-on-the-ground, laugh-out-loud fun. Best line: it’s endless, but… Nigel: Eleven; one louder. Marty: Why don’t you just make ten a little louder, and make ten the top one, and make that a little louder? Nigel: … these go to eleven.
1.) Ghostbusters (1984) – What The Great Gatsby did for books; what Muhammad Ali did for boxing; what M.A.S.H. did for television, Ghostbusters did for comedies. An inventive script, a battle-tested comedy director, a cast of ace performers all at the top of their game; the result is an enduring legacy that never seems to exhaust itself. Another example of a cinematic institution that has remained protected from the hands of re-imaging, Ghostbusters has been perched upon the bated breath of Generations X and Y with nearly 25 years of supposed scripts and talks and contracts and casting, and all ire of development hell. Sadly, the hopes of those eternally exuberant fans were laid to waste this past February when co-writer and original cast member Harold Ramis past away at the age of 69. While Bill Murray’s performance is often singled out, the genius behind Ghostbusters is that the group has always been bigger than the sum of its parts. The institution loses its foundation without the equal contributions of Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, Ray Stantz, and Winston Zeddemore. Ramis’ death remains nothing less than tragic; thirty years after Ghostbusters‘ release, America lost perhaps its greatest comedy screenwriter, but the legacy left is a masterpiece that can never be touched; Ghostbusters sits upon an acme of exalt, adored and unfettered. Best line: Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave! Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! http://youtu.be/O3ZOKDmorj0
Ed. note: not all lines had accompanying videos.
In 1999, the American Film Institute released its list of the top 50 screen legends of the 20th century (25 male and 25 female movie stars were included). Keeping up with Retrobacktive’s 80s-themed AFI series, this countdown showcases the top ten male and top ten female actors whose rise to stardom reached heights of unparalleled glory in the 1980s.
Some ground rules: Each actor had to have released one major motion picture before 1985; television roles do not count. Credit is not based solely on award nominations, but a collective overview of accolades, box-office draw, and cultural relevance (i.e. performances still referenced in current media).
Opening this series are…
Bill Murray – Before denouncing Retrobacktive’s countdown based upon Bill Murray’s (relatively) low entrance,remember: A) he still made it on here, and B) there was a solid four-year period between 1984 and 1988 where Murray remained virtually absentee from Hollywood. It’s impressive he made the list considering his disappearance for over a third of the decade. But Ghostbusters is also impressive. As is Caddyshack. And Scrooged. And he’s Bill Freakin’ Murray. Signature Role: Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters.
Sissy Spacek – When it takes more than one hand to count someone’s Oscar nominations for leading roles, her inclusion on any screen legends’ list hardly needs justification. While no longer courting the limelight, Spacek was a perennial Academy Award nominee during the 80s, capturing four nominations between 1980 and 1986; she won in 1980 for her role as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Signature Role: Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Emilio Estevez – The de facto leader of the Brat Pack, Estevez eschewed the stage moniker his father adopted in favor of his familial surname. His characters, however, reflected less of his heritage but a great deal of range, from an L.A. slacker-turned-repossession-agent to a bumbling cop to a legendary outlaw. Estevez had a knack for playing against type, a quality that helped set him apart from his MTV-generational colleagues. Signature Role: William H. Boney in Young Guns.
Sean Young – If going bat-shit crazy is a common theme among 80s film stars (read further along), it fits to start early with the most literal example. Young, who was originally cast in Tim Burton’s Batman, was cut from the film after breaking her arm, and replaced by Kim Basinger. When it was revealed that Burton’s much-anticipated follow up, Batman Returns, would include Catwoman, Young made her intentions for the role clear by appearing on talk shows (unscheduled) in a home-made Catwoman costume. Burton was either unimpressed or scared… or both. Michelle Pfeifer was cast instead, and Young’s once promising career began a rapid decent into obscurity. But she did star in Blade Runner, which almost makes up for it. Signature Role: Rachael in Blade Runner.
Eddie Murphy – In the early 80s, Saturday Night Live had fallen from being a breeding ground for young, comedic talent to a direction-less parody of its former self. The only ray of light to emerge from this era was Eddie Murphy. Though a regular cast member on SNL from 1980 to 1984, Murphy’s popularity rapidly spilled over into the world of film with his debut in the 1982 cop-buddy pic 48 Hours. A year later, Murphy starred alongside Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places. The success of this film made Eddie Murphy a household name, and ultimately led to his starring role in Beverly Hills Cop after Sylvester Stallone dropped out. Beverly Hills Cop was the biggest film of 1984, and skyrocket Murphy to worldwide acclaim. It was followed up with a further string of hits that included The Golden Child, Coming to America, and Beverly Hills Cop II. Like many of his peers, Murphy’s career has been alluvial since the 80s, though he has found recognition among a new generation as the voice of Donkey from Shrek. Signature Role: Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.
Demi Moore – While her heyday was arguably the 90s, Moore managed to establish herself quickly as the “It” girl of the Brat Pack’s female collective. Despite her association with the group, Moore remained something of an outsider, which ultimately proved strategic in maintaining success past the Brat Pack’s popularity. Nothing, however, could save her from Striptease. Signature Role: Debbie Sullivan in About Last Night…
Sylvester Stallone – No one can argue the string of duds Stallone put out in the 90s, but in the 80s he was the closest thing Hollywood had to John Wayne. There isn’t a single role between 1980 and 1989 where Sly doesn’t play an overt, brooding tough guy (yeah, even Rhinestone, when you think about it). It became laughable as an eventual caricature, but not many actors can pull off lines like “You’re a disease. And I’m the cure” with such plausible sincerity. His collective body of work during the 80s is not only prolific, but upon reexamination quite good. Crazy as it may sound, Stallone just may have been ahead of his time. Signature Role: Rocky Balboa in… well, any of ’em.
Meryl Streep – To be fair, Meryl Streep almost did not make this list. As a more than reasonable contender for the title of greatest living actor, Streep transcends an acme of success restrained to one decade. But then you gotta think Silkwood, Ironweed, Out of Africa, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, A Cry in the Dark, Sophie’s Choice, the endless nominations, and the indelible legacy she built during the 1980s. She may be a timeless icon of cinema, but it’s hard not to look at a filmography from the 8os and not think, Damn, what wasn’t this woman not in? Signature Role: Sophie Zawistowski in Sophie’s Choice.
Mel Gibson – Imagine this: you help propel the most successful movie ever produced in your adoptive home country to global acclaim; you play the lead in the greatest “buddy-cop” movie ever made – a sub-genre that would dominate the action film arena for the next two decades; then you make Braveheart; then you go insane. Who cares? You’re still Mad Max. Time and lucidity may not have been so kind to Gibson, but as arguably the most popular leading male in the 80s, there’s a lot Mel can be forgiven for. Just not Air America. Signature Role: Max Rockatansky in The Road Warrior.
Kim Catrall – Acting chops are irrelevant (though her’s are fine). Catrall cemented her legacy in the hearts of every Gen Y boy by bringing life (pun intended) into the world’s sexiest mannequin. While Mannequin didn’t win over critics, it provided the indelible fantasy of being locked in a department store playland at night with a beautiful woman. In addition to Mannequin, Catrall played numerous vixen-like characters in movies such as Porky’s, Police Academy, and Big Trouble in Little China. Signature Role: Emmy Heshire in Mannequin.
Michael Keaton – Controversy abounded when Keaton was selected to play Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton’s live-action production of the famous DC Comics character. At the time, Keaton was known for his comedic fare in films such as Mr. Mom and Gung Ho. The casting proved fruitful as Batman broke many opening-weekend box office records, with Keaton’s quirky portrayal particularly lauded. Keaton’s star continued to rise, not only based upon his nuanced performances, but also for his reputation as one of the most charismatic guests on television talk shows. Signature Role: Beetle Geuse in Beetlejuice.
Whoopi Goldberg – Surprisingly, Whoopi Goldberg is something of a late-comer to the 1980s film scene – though she made the 1985 cutoff. It was, however, this year that her prowess as a serious actor was put on display in The Color Purple, which earned Goldberg an Academy Award nomination. But it was the string of comedic hits to follow that made Whoopi a household name, including Jumping Jack Flash and Burglar. And of course, there’s her EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony awards collection). Signature Role: Terri Doolittle in Jumping Jack Flash.
Patrick Swayze – A tragic loss by any standards, Swayze left a void in Hollywood that will likely never be filled. In the 80s, Patrick Swayze was all things to all audiences. A dashing heartthrob in Dirty Dancing; the baddest bouncer on the planet in Road House. He at once charmed and dazzled female moviegoers yet impressed male viewers with his restrained toughness. It is a rare quality demonstrated by an elite few in cinema; Swayze undoubtedly earned his rank among the likes of James Dean, Paul Newman, and Robert Mitchum. Signature Role: Dalton in Road House.
Kathleen Turner – She wasn’t bad; she just sounded that way. Kathleen Turner may have worked hard to steer herself from being typecast as a femme fatale, or the embodiment of Gen X’s Lauren Becall, but with the most sultry voice in cinema, and a film debut that would make Rita Hayworth blush, Turner was primed to be one of the decades biggest stars. She found multiple award nominations for her work in films such as Prizzi’s Honor, Romancing the Stone, and Peggy Sue Got Married. Despite her promising career, Turner quickly fell out of the spotlight in the early 1990s, owed to a debilitating struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, severe alcoholism, and a reputation for being difficult to work with. Since then Turner has remained active in theater, television, and working in support of Planned Parenthood of America. Signature Role: Matty Walker in Body Heat.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – There may have been no bigger star in the 80s than Arnold, literally. The former Mr. Olympia made his feature film debut in the campy Hercules in New York goof-fest. But it wasn’t until 1981’s live-film adaptation of Conan the Barbarian when Arnie finally got the starring role that put him on the action-film map. And from there the future Californian governor dominated the breakout film genre of the decade. Signature Role: T-800 Model 101 in The Terminator.
Molly Ringwald – Emilio Estevez may have been the Brat Pack’s leader, but Molly Ringwald was undoubtedly Brat Pack auteur John Hughes’ fair-haired child in the 80s. Ringwald served as the cornerstone of the seminal 80s actors collective, portraying standout characters in The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. Widely considered the greatest teen star of all time, Ringwald’s ubiquitous Hollywood presence waned in the 90s, but her career eventually came full circle after landing the role of mom Anne Juergens on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Signature Role: Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink.
Michael J. Fox – In an earlier post, Retrobacktive named Michael J. Fox the definitive actor of the 80s. But a significant component of Fox’s universal popularity was his deft portrayal of conservative yuppie Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. Following AFI’s exclusive cinematic theme, Fox’s Emmy-winning television work is omitted from consideration, yet that only holds the Canadian actor at the number two spot. Fox effortlessly transitioned his small-screen career into cinema stardom with the runaway success of Back to the Future. Audience pleasing leads in The Secret of My Success and Bright Lights, Big City also contributed to Fox’s meteoric rise. Though stricken with Parkinson’s Disease since the early 90s, Fox has continued to maintain a successful presence on television, though his last major film release was over 16 years ago in The Frighteners. Signature Role: Marty McFly in Back to the Future.
Sigourney Weaver – The six toughest words from any 80s movie: “Get away from her, you bitch!” And if you think it would have held the same guttural authenticity with any other actor, remember this: Weaver was actually nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Aliens. That’s right; she carried a grizzly sci-fi action romp to the stuffy 80s Oscar party. If that weren’t enough, she also played the female lead in the greatest 80s movie, Ghostbusters. Then there’s Working Girl, and Gorillas in the Mist, which earned Weaver Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards at the 1988 Golden Globes, the first person to ever win both in the same year. Signature Role: Ellen Ripley in Aliens.
Tom Cruise – If a Gen kid (a “Gen” is either a member of Generation X or Y, and comprise the youth of the 80s) could create a cinematic soundtrack to accompany his or her autobiography, you might hear kitschy lines from Tom Cruise at every moment. Virtually every film from the first decade of Cruise’s career is culturally poignant in some way. From his early roles in The Outsiders, All the Right Moves, Risky Business, and Legend, to maturing work in The Color of Money, Rain Man, and Top Gun. Cruise then capped off the decade with a shining performance as paralyzed Vietnam vet Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, earning his first Golden Globe award for Best Actor and first Academy Award nomination. While his personal life has comprised a generous portion of his celebrity for the past 20 years, Cruise’s popularity at the box office has never waned. In 2012, he was still the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Signature Role: Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun.
Phoebe Cates – She has never been nominated for an Oscar. And her filmography is modest compared to many of her contemporaries. But remembering the 80s is more than just picking the “biggest” people and moments from it (okay, it’s sorta that); it’s about remembering! Put yourself back in that time and try to recall who or what was on everyone’s mind. Certainly Gremlins. Despite its controversial content, the film was a huge success. But if your memory needs further jogging, go find a music file for The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo.” Play it. What comes to mind? If you’re a guy over the age of 30, it’s one scene from one film in particular. Is this worthy of the number one spot on this list? No. But Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Gremlins is! Signature Role: Kate Beringer in Gremlins.