We all have an inner child. It’s the last bastion of our innocent younger selves, a vivid memory of what it was like to have fewer responsibilities, and to view the whole world with wide-eyed wonder. We take care of our inner children by feeding them nostalgia, and Hollywood has long since committed itself to cooking up all those great leftovers from our youth, like Star Wars, Transformers and superheroes out the wazoo. It’s a lucrative business.
But if all you ate were leftovers, eventually those leftovers would turn on you. A healthy inner child needs NEW nostalgia in order to grow, and unfortunately there has been an unfortunate tendency for critics and audiences alike to deride newer, original films for producing the exact same sort of cheesy entertainment we loved in our youth. A film like Monster Trucks, which came out last weekend, provides all the high-spirited, high-concept juvenile entertainment that adults once loved in Saturday morning cartoons, and which they still pay good money for in big budget adaptations of those cartoons.
But when contemporary filmmakers put those same eccentric thrills in a brand new package and we balk, and it’s not fair. If anything, it’s hypocrisy. It’s time to take a stand and admit that many of these weird and unpopular modern movies – many of them aimed at children and teens – would have been hits or at least cult hits if they had come out in the 1980s. If these films were from the 1980s they would have found an audience and been the subject of widespread nostalgia by now, and have become the subject of blockbuster films that audiences weren’t afraid to admit they actually enjoyed.
Here then are our picks for Eight Unpopular Movies You Would’ve LOVED in the 1980s. If you didn’t see them, you missed out. If you saw them and thought they were bad, consider that maybe the very things you didn’t like about these movies as adults would have been selling points when you were younger, and that maybe that’s not a bad thing. At all.
EARTH TO ECHO
If You Loved: Explorers, The Goonies
A group of kids are about to be forced to move, but they abscond on one last adventure in a film that sounds a lot like The Goonies, but that’s hardly a problem. A lot of beloved kids movies were reminiscent of earlier hits and Earth to Echo is one of the better renditions of this concept, with our heroes teaming up to repair an alien robot whose parts have been scattered all over town. Even the film’s found footage conceit plays less like a gimmick and more like a real plot point, since “Echo’s” eyes are broken, and he can only see through our heroes’ camera phones. It’s a cleverly written film with a great cast of young actors, and the film’s theme of empowerment through technology is a real novelty against a cinematic landscape that usually treats new technologies as dangerous threats.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS
If You Loved: Grease 2, The Legend of Billie Jean
Fans of the original Jem and the Holograms series were so upset that the live-action movie didn’t look like the cartoon that they didn’t bother to see it, and that’s a shame, because if they had they would have realized the film was a prequel that set the stage for all that madness to come in the future. It’s easy to imagine the silly but emotional Jem and the Holograms movie finding more of an audience in the 1980s, when accurate adaptations of kids material were a rarity instead of the norm, and eccentric music movies and tween girl power riffs were welcome respites from the masculine mentalities that seemed to dominate the pop culture landscape. The rambunctious Jem and the Holograms movie will have its own cult someday. If it had come out in the 1980s, it would already have one.
If You Loved: The Beastmaster, Flash Gordon
The 1980s were an era of ambitious sci-fi/fantasy epics, the sorts of movies that filmmakers always wanted to produce but never could because special effects weren’t good enough yet. But once the technology was available we got a slew of pulpy, awesome fantasy films that played classic tropes against an imaginative backdrop, with grand heroes and dastardly villains duking it out for supremacy. The genre was always hokey, but in the 1980s that hokeyness was reasonably popular. A throwback like the expensive flop John Carter, which is very well made but obviously the product of another time, would have been right at home in our childhoods. If we put ourselves back in that mindset we can easily appreciate its old-fashioned sci-fi/fantasy pleasures, instead of critiquing the film for being exactly what it was trying to be the first place.
If You Loved: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Big Trouble in Little China
It’s hard to remember in this age when blockbusters are all four-quadrant PG-13 test marketed adaptations of already-popular ideas, but there was a time when movies were allowed to be WEIRD. And sure enough, The Wachowskis interpretation old school princess clichés – in which a maid finds out she’s royalty and discovers it’s not all its cracked up to be – is jam-packed with oddness, like flying sneakers, magic bees, Gilliam-esque social satire and falling in love with a dog man even though the heroine knows that it goes against nature. Jupiter Ascending is bizarre and over-the-top, and several decades removed from similar culty flicks like Buckaroo Banzai and Big Trouble in Little China it’s easy to forget that those are sometimes can be selling points, not weaknesses. It’s such an enjoyably, intentionally strange film… it’s only a matter of time before the whole world notices.
If You Loved: Labyrinth, Teen Witch
Fantasy are often reassuring, but although they tell their audience that everything is going to be okay, they don’t necessarily have to do that by solidifying the audience’s impression that the world is bland and familiar. Several films geared towards young girls in the 1980s built a huge cult following by shirking the conventions of the fairy tale genres and allowing heroines with unusual personalities to inhabit worlds with strange rules and unusual imagery. Tarsem Singh’s over-produced and distinctive Snow White story Mirror Mirror would have felt right at home back in the 1980s, when middle school audiences were looking for slumber party material with more pluck than we usually get nowadays. The elaborate costumes and overtly theatrical performances, combined with an exuberant Bollywood sensibility, make Mirror Mirror the sort of film you’d have very fond memories about if it was 30 years old. But since it’s just a few years old nobody seemed to think those qualities were nifty. What a shame.
If You Loved: The Garbage Pail Kids, Little Monsters
Many of the more popular kids movies and television shows in the 1980s were made to sell toys, and nobody seemed particularly offended by that at the time. So a film like Monster Trucks – which plays like an adaptation of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon series that never actually existed – is retro by the nature of its very existent. This dorky story about kids who team up with monsters who nestle inside of trucks and run afoul of greedy oil executives is a playful treat that does exactly what it sets out to do: it makes you want one of those trucks. Sure enough, in the climactic car chase where trucks jump over cliffs and knock over other trucks with their tentacles, it’s hard not to admit that although the idea is really, really stupid… those trucks are kinda cool.
If You Loved: BMX Bandits, Rad
In the 1980s, all you needed to be a badass was a bicycle, skateboard or roller skates, but nowadays that sounds like a pretty dumb idea for a movie. That’s probably why audiences stayed away from David Koepp’s fast-paced bicycle courier thriller Premium Rush, but those audiences missed out. Premium Rush is an exhilarating chase movie that careens from one great action sequence to another, and pits a heroic bike messenger who doesn’t believe in brakes against an unforgettable corrupt cop played by the great Michael Shannon. The film is full of amazing stunts and entertaining ideas, and if it had come out in the 1980s it would probably be treated like a classic of the genre. Like it deserves.
If You Loved: The Last Starfighter, Rocky IV
A kid who befriends a robot and becomes a hero in a sci-fi fighting tournament? How did this Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots riff NOT come out in the 1980s? Real Steel is a great high-concept action movie for the whole family, with a playfully caddish performance by Hugh Jackman as a bad dad who gets better, cool visual effects and a satisfying underdog story. It’s the embodiment of all of our video game fantasies, as our heroes basically joystick their way to victory and a father and son bond together in the process. Kids whose parents actually took them to see Real Steel loved it, and the parents who refused to take their kids would have loved this movie too if it was a part of their childhoods. Instead, today, it was a tough sell. For some reason.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS
If You Loved: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
When the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out it was an exceptional adaptation of the comic books, but it had very little to do with the cheesier, sci-fi stories and characters from the beloved cartoon series. Audiences waited decades for Hollywood to finally bring villains like Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang to the big screen, but when they finally did – in a highly enjoyable kids movie, no less – it was already too late. Nostalgia audiences lost interest after being jerked around for most of their lives. But if Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows had been the first or even the second film in the series, audiences – and especially kids – would have gone nuts for it. It’s a big, amusing film with lots of fun action sequences and all the characters we always wanted to see. So why didn’t you see it…?
Top Photo: Paramount Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.