by Patrick Bromley
1982 is my favorite year for movies ever. There is a reason why it was chosen as the theme for our first-ever F This Movie Fest. Several of my all-time favorite movies hit theaters during the summer of 1982, and the insane number of now-classic films released in just this four month period is pretty much unparalleled in any summer since. I know there's just realistically no comparing this summer's crop of disappointing product to the best summer in movie history, but just looking at what was released that year might help to highlight the fact that just because something is a "summer movie" doesn't mean it can't be one of the greatest things ever.
Conan the Barbarian (dir. John Milius) The thing that I love most dearly about 1982 at the movies is that it's really the first year that the impact of Star Wars had fully trickled down to the rest of Hollywood, leading to a glut of genre movies both mainstream and independent. There was fantasy, science fiction and horror all in giant doses and many made on a large scale and with the full resources of major studios behind them. One such movie is Conan the Barbarian, a sword-and-sorcery epic made for Universal. The great John Milius directs Oliver Stone's script based on the legendary Robert E. Howard creation, and the result is not just one of the few R-rated fantasy epics but also the movie that propelled bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom. That alone makes it a classic worth remembering, but the movie is also kickass to boot.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (dir. Carl Reiner) This underrated Steve Martin comedy is proof that just because special effects films happened to rule the box office in summer of '82 doesn't mean that smaller, sillier movies had no place. Martin plays a detective solving a case in a movie that uses clips from 20 classic noir films and incorporates them into the plot. The gimmick works better than it sounds.
Poltergeist (dir. Tobe Hooper) While Poltergeist may be my fourth or fifth favorite Tobe Hooper movie, it's still a great horror film and a legitimate classic -- just one of many released during the summer months of 1982. The controversy over who "really" directed it will never go away, but that ultimately doesn't matter. What matters is that we have this movie and will always have it. Between this and E.T., the summer of '82 is where the "Spielberg aesthetic" was formally codified, and it's amazing that it was shaped by two movies that are very, very different in their goals. Poltergeist may be a PG-rated "family" movie, but it's an unbearably intense and fucking brutal horror film that reminds us of a time when wide release movies were aimed at grown ups and kids were expected to keep up -- not the other way around, which is what we have now.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (dir. Nicholas Meyer) Released THE SAME DAY as Poltergeist (because in 1982, Hollywood was kicking out classics two at a time), the second movie in the long-running Star Trek film franchise remains the greatest Star Trek thing ever produced. Just compare it to its unofficial remake, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, to see how far this kind of summer movie has fallen. Hopefully Star Trek Beyond is a step in righting the starship.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (dir. Steven Spielberg) Here's the granddaddy of all summer '82 films -- the one that defined not just a season, but an entire year of cinema. It's not fair to say that this summer is somehow "less than" because it hasn't produced an E.T., because E.T. is one of those once-in-a-lifetime movies. No other summer has produced an E.T. But its inclusion in the summer of 1982 -- which saw the release of many classics -- elevates this crop of movies even higher that it would otherwise be. Hard to imagine, I know.
Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott) Yes, just days after one of the best movies ever made hit theaters the summer of '82 saw the release of another of the best movies ever made. Do you understand why this is my favorite year for movies ever? Truly great movies -- not just, like, great-for-summer, "fun" movies, but legitimate masterpieces -- were opening on the regular.
The Thing (dir. John Carpenter) Again, this came out the same day as Blade Runner. Wrap your fucking head around that. Two of the best movies of all time both hit theaters the same weekend, and both of them were box office disappointments at the time probably because E.T. was busy crushing everything in its path. Carpenter has talked time and again about the critical and audience rejection of his greatest film in '82, both because it was the summer of E.T. and they didn't want to see evil aliens and because the movie is just so extreme and gross and bleak that of course it would fail. So anytime a movie you love doesn't find an audience in theaters, just tell yourself that in 1982 we squandered a weekend in which The Thing and Blade Runner opened together. History may once again prove you right.
The Secret of NIMH (dir. Don Bluth) I like what Pixar is doing as much as anyone, mostly because they make movies that are entertaining and resonant for audiences of all ages (most of the time). Other animated films of this summer such as The Angry Birds Movie and The Secret Life of Pets are far less concerned with your enjoyment. But once upon a time, children's animated films could be weird and super dark and even a little bit scary. That's The Secret of NIMH, a Don Bluth joint that gave any kid who saw it in the early '80s major nightmares. It's another side effect of the genre-driven marketplace of the time; something like The Secret of NIMH could concern itself with being a dark and mature fantasy film first and an animated kid's movie second. And despite the presence of talking animals -- now a staple of computer-animated kids' movies -- there isn't a poopie or fart joke anywhere to be found.
Tron (dir. Steven Lisberger) I know that Tron is not a great film, but goddamn if it doesn't really try to be. The effects feel groundbreaking, the ambition unrivaled in even the best that summer '82 has to offer. The resulting movie is uneven but full of ideas and creativity, not pandering cynicism. Watching Tron is downright refreshing in the context of most blockbusters these days.
The World According to Garp (dir. George Roy Hill) Summer '82 wasn't all sci-fi and fantasy. It also offered this weird, dark and very adult drama based on John Irving's novel. These kinds of movies still exist today (just look at this summer's Swiss Army Man), but they're rarely produced and distributed by major studios like Warner Bros., who once upon a time were willing to take chances on mid-budget, adventurous fare like this.
The Last American Virgin (dir. Boaz Davidson) The success of Porky's in 1981 ushered in a new era (era) of teen sex comedies, which would later give way to the filmography of John Hughes. They started out grittier and sleazier, though, like this American remake of writer/director Boaz Davidson's Lemon Popsicle series of sex comedies made in Israel. It is simultaneously one of the worst teen movies of the '80s -- crude and stupid and immature -- and one of the best in the way that it addresses the consequences of sex and looks at young heartbreak without flinching.
Ron Howard) The first major studio effort from a post-Corman Ron Howard is the rare dark comedy that manages to be really upbeat and commercial. Henry Winkler gets to break from his typecasting playing the straight man to Michael Keaton's breakout role as Billy "Blaze" Blazejowski, a tornado of comic energy. It's not an all-timer like so many of the other titles released in the summer of '82, but it is a minor classic that has stood the test of time.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (dir. Amy Heckerling) What's that? You were worried that not enough legendary movies were released in the summer of '82? How about what is arguably the greatest teen movie of all time -- the movie that launched dozens of careers and has been endlessly imitated but never replicated? So many classic characters, so many classic scenes. Fast Times can be very silly and very sweet, but more than anything is just very honest and matter-of-fact about what it means to be a teenager trying to navigate the world during high school.
Friday the 13th Part III (dir. Steve Miner) I mean, some of these picks are just nostalgic personal favorites. There's no way to defend the inclusion of 3-D Jason other than to acknowledge that it's a lot of fun. RIP Shelly.
The Beastmaster (dir. Don Coscarelli) It makes sense that summer '82 kicked off with Conan the Barbarian and more or less ended with a Conan imitation. The movie was taken away from director Coscarelli in the edit and made arbitrarily longer by stretching out every shot (for real), but The Beastmaster has imagination to spare and serves as yet another reminder of just how wholly genre weirdness was embraced in '82. The film would eventually become a punchline as a result of just how often it aired on cable (the old joke goes that HBO stands for "Hey, Beastmaster's on!"), but it deserves its place in this very special summer of movies.
This was an amazing summer that gave me some of my first memories of movies. I still think I remember ET being the first movie I saw in the theater and seeing this list made me remember seeing Poltergeist, Secret of NIMH and Tron although I had no memory of seeing them the same friggin' year. That's just insanity.ReplyDelete
Couple this list with a list of Horror films from '82 and it's a strong contender for best year ever, period. '80 and '81 have some heavy hitters though (Horror) so it's too hard for me to say definitively.
Talk about "sleepover classics!" So many great movies!ReplyDelete
So many great memories and movies, thanks for the reminders!ReplyDelete
"Fast Times" is great but I do think there are moments that ring false. The editing and shot choices for the football game, Spicoli's car accident. Also, looking at the TV edit, it's clear many wonderful lines and scenes were edited out for that 90 minute running time. We need a director's cut! (Funny tidbit: Before Heckerling, Universal approached David Lynch to direct the film. Can you imagine?)
I'm also glad to see you referring to Milius as great again after your take down piece on "Red Dawn" a few years ago. Whether or not a person agrees with his worldview, it's great to see a underrated filmmaker with a different perspective on things. If we only watched things we agreed with, we would never be challenged, allowing us to solidify our beliefs stronger.
Holy cow...Conan, E.T., Blade Runner, The Thing, and freaking Star Trek II all coming out in the summer of 1982 (not to mention the rest you've listed). Blade Runner, The Thing, and Wrath of Khan are 3 of my most favorite films of all time. I still lament that I never got the chance to see Blade Runner in a theater (even if it was the original release with the voiceover).ReplyDelete
Okay, about that voiceover...Delete
I know that it's accepted wisdom that the voiceover in Blade Runner was a mistake. I would argue that it works quite well in the beginning of the film, when Deckard is talking about "cityspeak" and other cool world-building things. Without the voiceover, the long passage where Deckard is transported to police headquarters seems strangely protracted. However, as the movie goes on the voiceover becomes progressively more intrusive and unnecessary. It steps on the moment after Deckard kills Zhora, and it completely obliterates Batty's "tears in rain" speech. If only there was an "in between" option that keeps the first few uses of the narration and drops the rest.
I'm in the minority but I like the voiceover version the best.Delete
I agree 100% percent Chaybee I love the theatrical cut and I've watched the other cuts a lot and maybe I'm in the minority on this but I still don't see anything in the director's cuts that convinces me Dekkard is a Replicant.Delete
What a year! I was twelve and these films were my life, my soul and my brain food,ReplyDelete
And "Shout out" some websites say Xtro was 82 some say 83 so I'm putting it in with 82 also because on my VHS tape original it says Polygram Video 1982 and I'm guessing they knew when they pressed it what year it was, so Xtro 1982, put it in there, Boom.....
wow...i must not have been working that summer cause i saw everything on that list except Friday the 13th Part III and Last American virgin....in fact I saw The Thing 5 times...ReplyDelete
Can you imagine walking into a theater on a Saturday and having a triple feature of Star Trek 2, Poltergeist, and saving E.T. for last? You might not ever want to go to the movies again because what could ever live up to that? The closest would probably be Ghostbusters and Gremlins the same day in 1984.ReplyDelete
Also, wasn't Rocky 3 this summer also?ReplyDelete
It's the kind of year I wish my parents held off a few months so I could have been born in 82. Three legitimate master pieces, E.T, The Thing and Bladerunner were so close.ReplyDelete
So many good directors making Summer movies back then. These days Nolan seems to be one of the few great ones with both the desire and the studio backing to not only do Summer blockbusters, but ones that aren't just mindless spectacle.ReplyDelete
I find The Thing flopping and ET being blamed for the flop very interesting, but more importantly imagine those people coming out of ET and watching a lovely friendly Alien film then watching Xtro. #MindblownReplyDelete
I had a quick skim through, but I'm guessing Patrick said it first, or I am going to be completely off the mark or saying somehting really obviously to everyone else. The summer of 82 seemed to redefine movies, again after they were redefined by Jaws and Star Wars. The likes of E.T, Bladerunner, Tron, The Thing and of course Xtro, provided this foundation that lasted for a long time. Yet all were lightening in a bottle movies that could not be recreated. I'm watching Stranger Things at the moment which is just mixing all that together.ReplyDelete
I mean another quick skim through the article, I had read it before - its a good piece Patrick.Delete
Was this real life?? Good grief, what a year.ReplyDelete
How dare you leave out the film that gave us both Thunderlips AND Clubber Lang sir! I remember seeing Blade Runner with a fellow Han Solo fan. Our 10 year old minds couldn't wrap our heads around it, it was easier to play Star Wars when we got home vs. who would be the Blade Runner and who would be the Replicant.ReplyDelete
Depending on where you stand in the debate, now you can be the Blade Runner AND the replicant.Delete
Yes, what a great year.ReplyDelete
Dead men don´t wear plaid, The world according to Garp and Night shift weren´t released in Germany, so I had to watch them after they premiered on VHS.
But everything else I saw at least once on the big screen.
For me the highlight is still Conan the barbarian. And by speaking of it, can we please sign into some kind of law, that it is required to mention not only Milius, Stone and Schwarzenegger, but also composer Basil Poledouris, whose score is key to making the film work as great as it does.
There's a lot of sense in naming this this the best movie summer ever (even ever my beloved 1984, I'll be honest that there's an argument to be made).ReplyDelete
This is just a stellar piece & really celebrates the kinds of movies we used to get so regularly every summer with the proper respect and love they deserve to get (of course I hold out hope there will be an entry on the movies of 1984 because that'd be like Christmas come early).