The Top 10 Bad '80s Movies We Love

August 16, 2009

So many bad movies came out of the ‘80s that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But some of these bad movies actually became cherished treasures of cinema history--after they had 20 years to lose the stench of their initial lameness. Like a once-annoying ex-girlfriend, here are 10 movies that we’ve grown fond of after a lot of time and distance.

Source: United Artists

10. The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew


Source: MGM

This movie was weird at best and incoherent at worst when it came out in 1983. Strange Brew brought us the strangely appealing duo of Doug and Bob McKenzie, played by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, respectively. Moranis would soon go on to much bigger and better things the following year when he co-starred in Ghostbusters as the obnoxiously loveable Louis Tully.

This film has since become a symbol of national pride for Canadians and a must-see for beer and hockey lovers everywhere. What made no sense in the ‘80s makes even less sense now, and it’s that much cooler because of it.

9. Teen Wolf (and Teen Wolf Too)


Source: MGM

You hear the title and you think, “There’s no way this is going to be a good movie, Michael J. Fox or no.” And when you watched it in 1985, depending on how much you liked Michael J. Fox, you still thought the same thing. But 24 years later Teen Wolf has become pretty rad, and it’s a bonus that there’s a Teen Wolf Too starring Jason Bateman who, back in the ‘80s, the television networks and movie studios apparently believed was interchangeable with Michael J. Fox.

We all know Michael J. Fox went on to rock the hell out of the Back to the Future trilogy, along with a few other gems of the ‘80s. And Jason Bateman has had an improbable comeback of his own this decade with Arrested Development. But what’s really great is that when you watch Teen Wolf now, you can really appreciate it for all its crappy effects, ridiculous concept, and hilariously silly ending (same goes for the second). The fact that we get to see younger versions of Fox and Bateman jump around in wolf outfits, knowing the more respectable success they’d have soon after (or, in Bateman’s case, much later in life) makes these movies that much more awesome.

It’s always fun to see future stars in their humble beginnings, particularly when those beginnings involve fuzzy faces and fangs.

8. Bloodsport


Source: Columbia TriStar

Bloodsport has a lot going for it--incredible fight scenes, exotic locations, and painful injuries--but acting, writing, and speaking lines in intelligible English were not the high points of this film. 21 years later, all the flaws that made Bloodsport seem amateurish and simple are glossed over by the sheer badassness of the movie. This film has some of the most brutal fight sequences of the last 20 years, and the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme could actually fight like a mofo enhances the realism, making up for everything else.

JCVD is in perhaps the best form of any of his films, and it’s also great watching this film knowing it was his first as a leading man. The Muscles from Brussels may not know how to move us with his words, but Bloodsport is a testament to the fact that he knows how to inspire us with his kicks.

7. Weird Science


In light of John Hughes’ recent death at the much-too-soon age of 59, it’s tempting to say that everything he wrote and directed in the ‘80s was awesome. And the funny thing is, one could probably say that and get away without taking too much crap from anyone. But Weird Science was definitely one of the bad ones, at least at the time. Looking back on it 24 years later, however, gives the movie a sheen it lacked when it was released.

This movie is great simply because of how damn weird it is – hence the title. It takes all the high school movie tropes that Hughes more or less invented, and then turns them all on their heads. Between the magical Lisa (Kelly LeBrock), who Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) invent, and the powers Lisa unleashes on their behalf, pretty much nothing in this movie happens that isn’t just plain…weird. It stands out as the black sheep amongst Hughes’ panoply of classics, and as such we’ve come to love it.

6. Scanners


Source: 20th Century Fox

Scanners seemed like just another Cronenberg B-movie at the time, but now there’s no such thing as “just another” Cronenberg movie. The man rose from a modestly successful career making films like Rabid, The Brood, and The Fly to making films like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. It’s as if he’s emerged from the pod of the '80s a completely remade filmmaker.

That said, Scanners was possibly the best of his '80s sci-fi films (The Fly being the only other movie of that period that really contends with it). And with the passing of 28 years, Scanners has, like a fine wine, become sweeter with time. The heads exploding. The people catching fire. The eyeballs bursting from their sockets. Time has shown that Scanners might just be one of Cronenberg’s best films. We just had to wait 30 years to figure that out.

5. Better Off Dead


Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Undoubtedly John Cusack’s strangest film, Better Off Dead is like a John Hughes or Cameron Crowe movie on crack. You have to wonder whether Cusack ever looks at this movie--the one notable entry on director Savage Steve Holland’s resume--and tries to figure out what the hell he was thinking in 1985 when he made it.

But boy are we glad that he did. There are so many awesome things about this movie it’s hard to keep track, but here are some of the highlights: a Frankenstein hamburger that plays the guitar, a psychopathic newspaper delivery boy, Korean drag racing brothers, a one-legged ski race--to name just a few. Lane Meyer’s (Cusack) father is convinced he’s on drugs, and it’s hard not to assume everyone who made this movie was on drugs at the time. Whatever they were on, we must salute them for giving us one of the 1980s’ rarest specimens of awesome.

4. Howard the Duck


Source: Universal Pictures

When Howard the Duck came out in 1986 it was hard to describe just how badly it bombed. The general reaction to this movie was pretty much "What the f** is this s***?" Some duck-man crash lands on our planet, along with an evil being that takes possession of Dr. Jenning’s (Jeffrey Jones) body, and…well, some really bizarre stuff goes down.

This is definitely one of those movies that needs 20 years or so for everyone to digest, but at this point it seems to have been pretty well digested. The idea of a walking, talking, man-sized duck from outer space now seems so ridiculous that’s it’s really hard not to love it. If this movie had been made in the past couple years, Howard would be CG and the film would've been much more family-friendly. Movies like Howard the Duck come along only once every few decades, so we must give Howard the praise he deserves.

3. Rocky IV


Source: MGM

Otherwise known as the “unnecessary” Rocky movie, part four was Rocky overkill. We’d seen Balboa take on bigger, badder adversaries three times in a row, but by the time we get to the fourth movie it’s just downright silly. I mean, look at the sheer size of Ivan Drago  (Dolph Lundgren) when he stands face-to-stomach with Sly. Rumor has it that during the production of the film Lundgren accidentally hit Stallone in the body, and Sly had to be taken to the hospital with some bruised ribs.

But Rocky IV is great because of Dolph Lundgren, and because of the time the movie came out. Cold War tensions were high, and this was the perfect way to both let Americans feel like they’d triumphed over the Soviets, and at the same time, make a half-assed attempt at uniting the two nations. Did either work? Hard to say. Okay, probably not. But in the end we got a pretty kick-ass movie out of it.

2. UHF


The one (and only) movie Weird Al Yankovic ever made was, not surprisingly, a weird one. But it was also great, even if only a very limited number of people recognized it at the time. Perhaps if UHF had done better in 1989 we would have had more movies from him over the past 20 years, but, alas, ‘twas not to be the case. What was supposed to be Orion Pictures’ salvation turned out to be a bomb that was muscled out of theaters within a week by Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

But UHF is great mainly for two reasons. The first being, well, it’s just really awesome. Raul’s Wild Kingdom will always be remembered by everyone who grew up during the ‘80s, as well as Yankovic’s ad for Gandhi 2 and his Beverly Hillbillies music video.

The second reason is Stanley Spadowski, played, of course, by Michael Richards. If we can overlook Richards’ recent indiscretions, we have to be grateful for his appearance in this movie. Without it, it’s possible we never would’ve had Kramer. Without Kramer, it’s hard to imagine us ever having Seinfeld. So, in a sense, UHF gave us two great things, and they were both born in 1989 with this film.

1. The Evil Dead


Source: New Line Cinema

The Evil Dead, director Sam Raimi’s feature debut straight out of film school, set the stage for so much awesomeness to come. Let’s be brutally honest: the production values are pretty terrible. But that simple fact pales in comparison to all the things that make this cult classic a fantastic movie.

Some might take issue with this entry, since even in 1981 there were a number of people who appreciated the genius that was Raimi and Bruce Campbell, the actor who played Ash. But it really wasn’t until Spider-Man was released in 2002 that Raimi was allowed to rise above his low budget horror-comedy roots that he’d laid down 21 years before. Up until that point he was really just the guy who did both Evil Dead movies and Army of Darkness. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But now that we’ve seen Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (we’ll just leave Spider-Man 3 out of this discussion out of respect for the director), we can go back and watch The Evil Dead and really relish the creativity and potential he showed back in ’81. I mean, what would anyone do without all the one-liners Raimi gave us between The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness? So, if you like Raimi’s Spider-Man films, the next time you pass The Evil Dead in the video store…come get some!