X-Men: Apocalypse – a pre-Preview…of Why This Film Will Suck

You will have to forgive informality in this latest Retrobacktive post. We live in a fast world and there is barely enough time to climb atop the soapbox, let alone proselytize.

Summer is upon us, and hence the season of the blockbuster. But we are a far cry from Jaws and Star Wars. Today, May 27, marks the release of the ninth installment in the X-Men film series. And what 20th Century Fox seems to be bating audiences with is star power and little more.

X-Men: Apocalypse features on ensemble cast of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Olivia Munn. For the most part these are all reprisals for actors who have appeared in one, if not multiple, X-Men films already. So there isn’t much here to tempt your average movie-goer.

Oscar Issac joins the franchise as the titular villain Apocalypse. This acts as the movie’s lure. Apocalypse has been a prominent nemesis in the X-Men comics for 30 years. And we finally get to see him on the big screen!

That ought to be exciting for about 20 seconds. Then we get to go back to watching McAvoy and Fassbender ham-handily deliver their best Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen impressions, and see Jennifer Lawrence emerge as the new de facto leader of a young X-Men team. Why is Lawrence the new de facto leader of the team? Because of her star power. There is no other reason to explain it. Her character Mystique was never anything more than a secondary villain in the comics, but why relegate an Academy Award-winning actor to a bit part? That would requiring lending the audience respect.

Despite the fact that Bryan Singer has returned to the director’s chair, it seems the film studio and the writers, perhaps in tandem, have forgotten what made the first film in the series, 2000’s X-Men, a hit. With the exception of Stewart and McKellen – who still weren’t considered bankable actors at the time – the film was a collection of lesser-known players. James Marsden was up-and-coming; Famke Janssen was still known mostly for her Bond-girl status, and Hugh Jackman was virtually unheard of stateside. Halle Berry was the film’s only bona fide movie star, yet she graciously down-played her performance to give ample room to her teammates. Fortunately the acting trumped any grandeur and character development was allowed to flourish.

Now admittedly, this judgment is based on this movie’s cover, but it appears all 2oth Century Fox is giving us is a flashy new villain. It represents a bigger problem endemic in today’s cinematic culture: the bottle-feeding of American audiences. Major movie studios seem to have no faith in audiences’ ability to perceive thematic interpretation, that we may be able to comprehend allegory, mythology, metaphor, and god forbid, complex characterization.

No, instead it is simply more lasers, more explosions, more costumes, and more Wolverine.

It ought to be clear, however, that audiences want more than re-purposed junk. Two of the most successful action films of the last year have been Mad Max: Fury Road and Deadpool. Both rated “R,” both considerate of the audience’s intelligence. These were not perfect films, but breathed hope of life in the movie industry’s atrophied lungs.

Just as this summer’s new Ghostbusters film…(shutter)…panders to the lowest common denominator of attendance, so shall the latest installment in the X-Men franchise. Unless of course the sight of a bald Professor X is enough to push film-goers over their collective edge of excitement. Who needs a story – or brain activity for that matter – when you have the guy playing the guy from the comics looking like the guy in the comics?

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Feral Max?

We do a lot of Mad Max posts on Retrobacktive. In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s a certain blogger’s favorite movie trilogy (if over 20 years pass between a third and fourth film in a franchise, the first three are a separate “trilogy”). To be fair, the fourth entry, Mad Max: Fury Road, is an awesome addition to the Mad Max catalog. Great action. Lots of fun characters. Stuff actually blows up.

Still, there’s something a bit off about Fury Road. It’s an excellent action flick, but it doesn’t feel exactly like a Mad Max movie. In a previous analysis, heavy examination was put on Tom Hardy’s portrayal as Max. Was it good? Was it bad? Is he simply not Mel Gibson and naturally going to have different mannerisms and quirks that will make his performance unique? Or is there something more going on?

Here’s what’s important to know: George Miller is as meticulous a director as can be. His attention to detail is legendary. In the former continuity of the original Mad Max trilogy, Miller was highly particular of the character’s timeline. His stance in the wake of the success of Fury Road has taken a 180 degree turn. Miller seems to want to treat the series as an anthology. It dismisses a lot of his earlier effort to create a linear story with the dots all finely connected.

So what’s happened? Has Miller changed his position? Are the original movies locked in time, and so far removed from the release of Fury Road that a few out-of-place hiccups were bound to occur? Or…

Is Tom Hardy’s “Max” really the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior?!

WARNING: endless spoilers to follow.

The_Feral_Kid

The Feral Kid

The answer is yes, and here is why:

1) His Family

Mad Max: Fury Road opens with one of the most gratuitous continuity errors in cinema history. Okay, it’s been 30 years since the last film; audiences needed a refresher course in Max’s history. But die hard fans were shocked to see a flashback of Max’s dead daughter.

Feral Max

The Feral Kid?

Max didn’t have a daughter. He had a son, Sprog, who was murdered along with his mother in the first movie. This is the pivotal moment that drove Max “mad.” How in the world could Miller have forgotten this detail? Given how precise he has been in all his other films, it’s impossible to believe he missed this standout component, and even harder to imagine that he just didn’t care. So already, something is off about our hero’s history.

2) Narration

Fury Road begins with narration provided by Max, something he never offered in the previous installments. There is, however, a rather omniscient monologue that opens The Road Warrior, which in a twist we find out at the end is actually the Feral Kid speaking as an older man. So the only time we’ve heard narration from a Mad Max film has been from the point of view of the Feral Kid. Even the term “road warrior” is unique to the Feral Kid, and it’s used by the narrator in both Mad Max 2 and Fury Road.

3) All the Grunts

Aside from the narration, the Feral Kid only grunts and hollers in The Road Warrior. Mel Gibson’s Max had a New South Wales Australian accent. Well, we could assume this is just Mel’s accent. But it doesn’t explain all of Tom Hardy’s grunting throughout the movie. His dialect has a completely different tone and cadence. So is it Hardy’s own spin on the character?

Tom Hardy went out of his way to try to work with Mel Gibson to honor the original actor’s characterization. Seems odd Hardy, who has shown a lot of promise as a credible actor, wouldn’t even make an effort to sound the way Max does in every other film. Yet his mannerisms certainly appear to resemble that of another Road Warrior character.

4) He Can’t Shoot

There is a scene in Fury Road where Max is down to the final four shots of a long-barrel rifle as he tries to take out the Bullet Farmer. He misses, despite the advantage of a large scope, until he has one shot left before conceding his bad aim and handing the weapon over to Imperator Furiosa who blinds the Bullet Farmer by shooting out his headlight.

In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as Savannah attempts to lead an unsupported scouting party for Tomorrow-morrow Land, Max stops her by firing multiple well-placed shots around her head using a long-barrel rifle with no scope at all.

According to Miller, Fury Road is supposed to take place after the events of Thunderdome. So when did Max lose his ability to shoot so well?

5) The Music Box

During their drive to the Green Place, Toast the Knowing is seen playing with an antique sound box. In The Road Warrior, Max gave the Feral Kid an antique sound box (they’re visually identical). We can only assume Toast got the toy from Max’s jacket in Fury Road. So what? It’s a desolate future with little-to-no food, water, resources, but there’s a ton of these little, broken music boxes just kicking around?

6) He Barely Knows His Name

When Imperator Furiosa first asks Max his name he doesn’t respond. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn’t trust her. Or… maybe he doesn’t have one? Later when Furiosa is dying and Max performs an impromptu blood transfusion to save her life he tells her his name is Max. His exact line is:

“Max. My name is Max. Max is my name.”

The way he says it sounds ambiguous, as though he were saying it for the first time. The Feral Kid lived his whole life in reverence of Max; he relays this at the end of The Road Warrior. One could theorize not having his own name, he decides during an emotional exchange to take up the moniker of his childhood hero.

7) Time Out of Mind?

The timeline is off. Miller claims Fury Road takes place after Thunderdome. Thunderdome takes place 15 years after the events of The Road Warrior. Max was 45 in Thunderdome; he’s supposedly 37 in Fury Road. Again, continuity errors are frequently dismissed when you have to consider the use of younger actors to play time-locked roles. But that’s for lesser directors. Not George Miller who went so far as to make Mel Gibson wear a single contact lens in one eye throughout Thunderdome to uphold the continuity of the character’s damaged retina from The Road Warrior. Miller could have just as easily said Fury Road takes place before the events of Thunderdome. But…

8) The Best Laid Plans…

Miller is likely holding something back. His comments on the “Feral Kid conspiracy” have been dismissive, but what other reaction should one expect from a visionary director amid reconstruction of his magnum opus? Miller has stated in interviews that he is moving forward with future Mad Max projects. If his intention is to have Hardy’s character be a grown version of the Feral Kid he’s certainly not going to admit it at this point in the series’ production.

Imagine what would happen if a few crafty film theorists guessed that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father after watching Star Wars: A New Hope, and what would happen if they presented this theory to George Lucas. Would Lucas just admit right then and there that yes, Darth Vader is Luke’s father? “There’s no point in seeing the next movie. You’ve figured out the mystery. Go tell your friends the secret while we scrap production of The Empire Strikes Back since there’s no point in making it now.”

It’s just business. Miller is not going to concede to any fan speculation at this point. With so many mediums and springboards for commentary someone was bound to piece together these clues. Though, to be honest, they were anything but subtle to avid Mad Max fans. Miller’s stoicism, nonetheless, is to be expected and can’t be read into anymore than good marketing.

Conclusion:

Tom Hardy is actually the Feral Kid. He grew up in awe of a heroic childhood figure. He pieced together a new V8 Pursuit Special, patched together an outfit that resembled his idol’s, and took on his name when pressed to reveal his identity. The events of Fury Road happen at a transitional period before he becomes the leader of the Great Northern Tribe. At some point he loses someone close to him, as Max did. Perhaps a daughter, biological or adopted. This, similarly, drives him to a breaking point. Though in the post-apocalyptic environment he grew up in, his violent sense of self-preservation is natural. His actions, much like the original Max’s, are in line with the essential behavior of anyone trying to survive such inhospitable conditions. To interrogate every last action of Tom Hardy’s character, or incur endless speculation of his motives, is something of a waste of time. Who wouldn’t be vengeful and unsympathetic in the dystopian wastelands of the outback? But there are more than enough physical clues to shine light on the new “Max’s” true identity.

This leaves us with what George Miller has in store for “Max.” According to tweets from the director there’s “more Max to come.” And a fifth entry in the series has already been given the working title Mad Max: the Wasteland. Some have argued Miller’s intent is to create an anthology series. Others speculate Furiosa will become the new lead character.

Whether or not Tom Hardy’s Feral characterization comes to fruition, examining Mad Max: Fury Road from an alternative lens opens viewers to new perspectives that may reinvigorate interest and personal fulfillment in the films. Despite his attention to detail, Miller is the kind of director who aims to challenge his audience with the hope they will conceive their own interpretations of his work. So if you choose to believe Tom Hardy is the Feral Kid, that’s who he is.

Admittedly, re-watching Fury Road from this perspective elevates the movie to another level of greatness and expands upon it’s range of emotional and mental dynamics…but, it’s still not as good as The Road Warrior.

 

 

Somewhere in Time

Predator is a great movie. The writing is fluid and memorable. The acting is layered in machismo, but earnest during necessary poignancy. Even if you’re not a fan of sci-fi, it’s hard to argue the impact of the special effects. There’s catchphrases galore. “I ain’t got time to bleed.” “Get to the choppa!” Also, it’s rated R, so it’s accessible on an adult level. Yes, Predator is a fun-filled, rock-em-sock-em action bonanza.

Predator_Movie

(c) 20th Century Fox

Another noteworthy component: no one has attempted to re-boot it into an impotent, degraded Hollywood vehicle for consumer extortion. Yes, there are sequels and spin-offs, but that’s not really new in the film world. Still, given the major film studios are either unable or unwilling to do anything other than cull new movies from well-known source material, it’s surprising, if not refreshing, to see at least one gem escape tarnish.

About one month after Predator‘s release in theaters, audiences were treated to another sci-fi action treat. Orion Pictures released RoboCop to commercial success and widespread critical acclaim in the summer of 1987.

Content notwithstanding, there’s a big difference between these two films. That difference is any reference to RoboCop today has to be prefaced with “the original,” to discern it from the soulless bag of garbage MGM and Sony remade in 2014.

Now if you maintain a rather nihilistic view of the current Hollywood trend to “re-image” every story ever told then you will likely brush off the barrage of limp blockbusters churned out every summer. What’s unfortunate is that while the common moviegoer is force fed cinematic gentrification, “classics” like Predator and RoboCop – yes, the original – are gradually fading from the cultural radar screen.

It’s unfortunate that assisting Hollywood in it’s dissolution of novel film making is a generation that seems to be inherently opposed to anything remotely antique. Its position on media seems to echo technology; if it’s not the latest and greatest then it must be outdated and unworthy of attention. This is a disservice to not only modern audiences but dedicated film fans who would love to see the next Predator or RoboCop, and not just some hollow copy of the original. But Hollywood’s priority is butts in seats, and if mediocrity is what people want…

On December 25, 2015, Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated The H8ful Eight came out in theaters, but only a select few retrofitted with 70mm film projectors. As arguably cinema’s purist advocate, Tarantino shot his latest movie in 70mm film. At this point virtually every studio the world over has switched to the cheaper, faster digital format. And if you feel the pictures have lost grandeur over the last ten years, you’re not crazy. That’s what digitizing everything does. Like the studios, most movie theaters have switched to digital projection, so even if you can’t see the movie as Tarantino intended it is still available as a worldwide release.

Regardless of the quality, The H8ful Eight embodies posterity if nothing else. People should appreciate that which came before, and understand that newer is not always better. In fact rarely is it better. The only instance that comes to mind is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And even then these films only slightly edge out Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns.

And let’s be clear as to quell any notions of absent-mindedness: Mad Max: Fury Road is at best on par with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – it is not as good as Mad Max 2. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens just plain sucks.

What audiences (and to some degree artists themselves) seem to forget is that certain media milestones exist in a vacuum. No matter how hard you try it is impossible to recreate the circumstances that lead to brilliance. Franchises like Batman and Superman can be constantly updated as they have deeply ingrained themselves into our social fabric. We’re talking like 80- years-spread-over-multiple-media-outlets deep! Even if George Lucas himself returned to helm the latest Star Wars entry it still wouldn’t live up to expectations. He’s a different director than he was almost 40 years ago. Case in point: George Miller returning to the Mad Max series. And while Fury Road was not a bad movie, it lacked a certain recklessness the originals had – in all fairness, so did Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Despite this staunch stance, however, let it be stated for the record that the occasional remake isn’t a bad thing. Remakes are nothing new in the movie and T.V. world (how come musicians never try to remake albums? does anyone remember what an “album” is?). But there is a big difference in paying homage to something and blatantly ripping it off for money’s sake. David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing are great examples of remakes that are superior to the originals. What did they do that was so different? For starters several years had passed since the originals were at the forefront of anyone’s mind. But most importantly these directors put new spins on the source material. The fact is these remakes would have been great even if no one had ever heard of the originals. No one was trying to cash in on a recognizable name.

Could someone remake Predator? Possibly. You’d need the right cast (who can replace Schwarzenegger in anything?), a solid R rating so it isn’t dumbed-down for mass appeal, and a director eager to put his or her own angle on what is a rather simple story. Then you might have something. But here’s a thought: why bother? Predator is easy enough to find on DVD or Amazon. It’s not that old. It holds up. There’s no need for an update.

And if it really is that you have run out of ideas, Hollywood, drop a line here at Retrobacktive because guess what? I don’t just write blogs.

 

AFI: Eighties-ized: 100 Years… 100 Stars!

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…

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Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman

Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman

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 as Loretta Lynn.

Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn.

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. 

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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 as Axel Foley

Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley

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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…

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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.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky III.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Rocky III.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger 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.

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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.

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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.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Images are like mental footprints; they tend to last a little longer than the ephemeral whisper or incidental sensation. It makes one wonder if society’s entire perception of days gone by is only a mural of movements and zeitgeists that equals less than the sum of its cultural parts. Philosophical waxing aside – though it’s an appropriate topic for such – see if you remember this one…

In 1979, former medical doctor-turned-director George Miller, along with filmmaker Byron Kennedy, and screenwriter James McClausland, made a movie for 400,000 dollar-y-doos (Australian for “dollars”) called Mad Max. This movie did three significant things. It launched the arrival of Australian New Wave cinema, a notable film force of the 80s and 90s in its own right. It catapulted the career of then-unknown lead actor Mel Gibson. But most importantly (for the purposes of this article), it heralded the exorbitantly popular early-80s trend of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films.

Mad Max

Mad Max (Photo credit: MacQ)

It should come as little surprise that the post-apocalyptic sub-genre found such universal appeal in the 80s. Aside from the fact the Mad Max was an astounding success (it went on to gross over $100,000,000 worldwide, earning one of the highest budget-to-profit ratios in film history) and duplicates were sure to follow, the emotional climate was set for this onslaught of moribund movie tales of deserted highways and broken societies. While the idea of desolate wastelands ruled by dehumanized marauders may seem absurd in today’s cyber-saturated culture, it was not so far from reality at a time when the world’s foremost superpowers perennially brandished the threat of nuclear annihilation. Regardless of which corner of the planted you dwelt in, it was on your mind.

Thus the boom began in earnest. Three countries lead the way: Australia – if with nothing else to offer than the pinnacle Mad Max trilogy, usual standby North America, and Italy, the latter of which made a number of low-budget post-apocalyptic flicks based in dystopian New York City. Although the criteria for what makes a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film is rather self-explanatory (first, there needs to have been an apocalypse…), there is often much dispute over classic films that seem to reside on a gray line of inclusion. So, for the sake of a list, here is a brief overview of the most noteworthy entries in the post-apocalyptic film canon (with Retrobacktive’s obligatory two-cents).

5.) Warrior of the Lost World – On the surface, it’s an obvious rip-off of Mad Max, only now our good guy is on the motorcycle and the bad guys drive the trucks. Upon closer examination, WLW is fairly ambitious, layered with an evolving storyline and twist ending. The problem is you need to examine the film more closely… which is pretty painful because it is not that good. An “ambitious” film is not always a good film, especially when it’s a low-budget Italian bandwagon piece. It nonetheless warrants inclusion on this list as it’s become a cult staple within the genre. Probably for no other reason than it is often laughably bad. Admittedly, this is for fans of the genre only, but even on those terms, you’ll get a bigger kick out of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 5 episode which features the film.

4.) 1990: The Bronx Warriors – Despite the deluge of cheap knockoffs, the Italians made at least one decent contribution to the dystopian dustland category. Though laughable by today’s standards, the action is plentiful in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. The plot veers away from anything overly cerebral, as well. It’s a story laced in heavy machismo; a young girl runs away from her rich-but-scrupulous family and finds herself lost in the no man’s land of the Bronx, which is now ruled by vicious gangs. She is fortunately protected by the tough-as-nails bike leader, Trash. That is until Daddy sends a psychotic mercenary after his daughter, and all hell brakes loose. There’s a heavy helping of cheese here, but 1990: The Bronx Warriors still tops the list of Italian post-apocalyptic movies based in New York (a bigger genre than you’d think). Chalk it up to authenticity; they brought real Hell’s Angels in as extras.

3.) The Running Man – Surprisingly, this isn’t a film that gets tossed around the post-apocalyptic movie discussion table that often. It does, however, meet all the requirements. In the future, the United States economy has collapsed. A military state controls people, and things are bleak for the majority of a marginalized class. The only source of entertainment – and means for ensuring complacency – is a sadistic television where prisoners are forced to survive for 24 hours while evading a band of ruthless “stalkers.” The film is based on a short story by Stephen King, and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his action-hero era.  Possibly why it misses inclusion in other post-apocalyptic lists is the presence of at least one demographic continuing to exist in affluence. But considering the sequence of events takes place after a clearly noted global catastrophe, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of room for argument. And it’s another Schwarzenegger/Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura mash up; just enjoy.

2.) Escape From New York – No one seemed to appreciate this concept more than the Italians, who made about 800 similar films based around the idea. But credit director John Carpenter who really made a statement with his dismal, futuristic look at the Big Apple. After the crime rate in America increases 400 percent, Manhattan island is turned into the country’s only maximum security prison. But instead of cell blocks and guards, convicts are merely thrown onto the island to fend for themselves. Any attempt to escape is thwarted by a police unit that patrols the bridges and walls surrounding Manhattan. When Air Force One is hijacked by domestic terrorists, the President’s escape pod lands on the island. The only person who can save him is Snake Plissken, a former war hero turned rogue criminal who barters his way out of incarceration by agreeing to save the President and return him before an important summit meeting between the world’s power nations. One could certainly make the argument this film ought to be omitted based on the fact there is no truly apocalyptic event to speak of. It does, though, bring up an aforementioned point of relevance. The plot is based on a 400 percent increase in crime, which isn’t necessarily apocalyptic but does reflect the majority of people’s sentiment towards New York City in 1981. At the time, New York was a dangerous, crime-ridden, and arguably decaying metropolis that seemed on the verge of implosion. As a social commentary, Escape From New York is an insular response to growing dissolution that mirrors the global interpretation exhibited in other dystopian movies. And it’s got a cool synth soundtrack.

Mad Max

Mad Max (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.) Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) – Let’s get something clear: the entire Mad Max trilogy owns the number one spot on any post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie list. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max own the number three and two spots, respectively. But in the interest of variety and comprehension, the decision was made to include only one film from the franchise here, that being the film most representative of the genre’s legacy and the trilogy’s influence. This is the movie that established it all. Barren, desolate wastelands. Mohawked nomads clad in leather armor. The “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla” mercilessly encroaching upon the last remnant of humanity clinging to life in an isolated outpost. Enter Max Rockatansky. Having spent a long five years on the road in the wake of events that conspired in the first movie, little now separates Max from the marauding gangs he swore revenge against. When a chance meeting with a “Gyro Captain” leads Max to a refinery nearly overrun by the Lord Humungous, a battle ensues to finally drive away the looters and salvage whatever oil can be saved.

If this whole topic has been as foreign to you as cream cheese on pancakes, you’ll want to start here, at least before George Miller’s re-boot of the series hits theaters next year. Mad Max 2 works on a number of levels, but its two most enticing components are 1.) Max’s lack of redemption – there’s no sentimentality or self-discovery here. Max agrees to help the members of the outpost for no other reason than his own sense of general revenge. This lent the film its dark, realistic tone. And 2.) the chase at the end with the truck and armored convoy… words cannot do it justice. If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t like action cinema. Case closed.

So there’s your basic introduction to the world of post-apocalyptic cinema. If you’re already a fan, I’ve probably told you nothing new. But for those of you novice to the genre, you’ll now be well prepared for Mad Max: Fury Road… whenever it finally digs itself out of development hell (rumor has it this time next year).

And now what we’ve all been waiting for: more pics of the V8 Pursuit Special Interceptor!

English: Replica edition of Mad Max's Pursuit ...

English: Replica edition of Mad Max’s Pursuit Special Interceptor, a Ford XB Falcon Hardtop. This is made to Mad Max 1 spec so has no 44 gallon fuel tanks blocking the rear view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mad Max Car

Mad Max Car (Photo credit: HeatherW)