As any nostalgic 25 – 30 year old will tell you the mid-80s were a truly magical cinematic time for any kid to grow up in. In the wake of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, we were bombarded with a cluster of imaginative, mystical live-action fantasy adventure films, which eagerly promoted a genuine sense of mischievous fun and adventure.
Tales of typically normal excitable youngsters going on epic adventures that lifted the heart stirred the soul and haunted our dreams. But it was the palpable sense of adventure that really convinced, giving us youngsters an achievable sense of daydream adventure – long before the internet or Xbox-claimed adolescent imagination.
Why the mid-80s? Give us another span of time where there was an equally audacious flux of films that dared to lift the lid on Pandora’s Box to capture our imagination and fiendishly tape into our most primal kiddie fears? So forget the CGI-bloated likes of Harry Potter, Golden Compass and the new Narnia adventures and let us divulge to you hecklerspray’s definitive Top 10 Cult Classic Fantasy Adventure Flicks from the Mid-80s…
1. The Goonies (1985)
How could you possibly compile an ultimate mid 80s film tribute list without including this cult classic from Superman helmer Richard Donner? It’s the tale of a group of young suburbanites going on a (frankly ludicrous) adventure to thwart the council from demolishing their family homes by seeking hidden pirate treasure in booby-trapped underground lairs. But what makes it more believable is its incredibly gifted and likable young cast. Move over Harry Potter, these kids have charisma! With the likes of Mikey, Chunk, Mouth and Data on your team you won’t need magical powers to accomplish a distinguishing characteristic. And yes that’s No Country For Old Men’s Josh Brolin playing Mikey’s teenage brother! And who could forget The Fratellis? The archetypal kiddie movie bad guys, headed by super-bad ass (but sweet as pie in real life – if you believe the cast commentary) old trouper Anne Ramsey. And it’s got Spielberg on executive producing duties and a great cheesy but catchy Cyndi Lauper music video to go with it – what more could your young hearts ask for?
2. Return To Oz (1985)
We weren’t really fans of the original Wizard of Oz movie but when Fairuza Balk came waltzing along with her talking chicken Billina and C3PO-type robot companion Tik-Tok we were overwhelmed by the results. And it was fucking scary too! What with those sinister, sub-Starlight Express Wheelers skirting around, those crumbling and gruesome claymation monsters and that hideous witch Mombi, with her eerie glass cabinet selection of limitless heads. No annoying musical numbers, no cowardly lion or clumsy scarecrow, (well not until later on anyway), just a gothic nightmarish adventure with startling baroque imagery in a mysterious, distant land where you will find ham sandwiches hanging on trees and an old man modelling red slippers.
3. Labyrinth (1986)
In our opinion Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly was never better than when she played the feisty 15-year-old babysitter Sarah in Jim Henson’s spellbinding adventure. David Bowie camps it up as the glamorous Goblin King, along with a slew of Henson’s imaginative puppeteer creations – and we don’t mind those catchy dance numbers either.
4. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Anyone remember the haunting chanting of the Egyptian Rametep? The hallucinogenic stained-glass window knight that suddenly broke away from its frame to demonstrate the impressive power of early CGI? Or the opening shocker where a turkey dinner comes alive to attack its consumer? Well that’s all from this cult special effects Oscar-nominated Sherlock Holmes prequel adventure – which was subtitled (Indiana Jones style): The Pyramid of Fear. Dreamt up by early Harry Potter helmer Chris Columbus, (with Spielberg once again on producing duties), this was a notable highlight for the young cast of unknowns involved and proved a chilling sweeping and deadly adventure, a world away from the archetypal cosy Peter Cushing/Basil Rathbone movie outings.
5. Explorers (1985)
Explorers was the warmhearted tale of a trio of kiddie science geeks who – masterminded by computer whiz-kid River Phoenix, (debuting alongside a painfully young Ethan Hawke) – convert a junkyard carousel car into a floating capsule capable of travelling into outer space. Although looking more like a glorified wheelie bin than anything NASA would conceive the capsule is their gateway to adolescent freedom and they use it like any other teenage kids would use it: to travel the world, explore the universe and of course peep on girlies getting undressed.
6. The Lost Boys (1987)
“Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire” went the encouraging tagline to this impressionable coming-of-age puberty flick (masking as a vampire movie). The Lost Boys is about two teenage brothers who rub shoulders with a leather-clad clan of blood thirsty vampires following their relocation to a new town in sunny California. A sequel is currently in the works, (welcome back Corey Feldman as Edgar Frog), but the original still holds up today as an irreplaceable nostalgic horror fantasy adventure… and Kiefer Sutherland is still the cool kid you wanna be when your strange.
7. Dark Crystal (1983)
Set in a dark and vast mystical world this is the penultimate moment when muppet maestros Jim Henson and Frank Oz ventured into the limitless realm of the feature film. It’s a testament to the sheer power of suspension of disbelief that we willingly surrender our soles to a land populated entirely by puppet creations, ranging from the grotesque eagle-like entities of the feared Skekses to the almost sickly sweet Gelfings. It’s not exactly ‘live-action’ but we like it.
8. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
This is the film that embraces the journey of a 12-year-old whizzkid who goes on a bombastic time-travelling adventure when he’s abducted by an alien space-capsule, piloted by a robot that looks bizarrely like your dentist’s examination lamp. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun even 20 years on! Hell, it’s even got a young Sarah Jessica Parker in it as an annoyingly friendly (when hasn’t she been annoying?) laboratory assistant.
9. Highlander (1986)
If you don’t get too distracted by Christopher Lambert’s dodgy Scottish vocals, or the ridiculously complex plot, then Highlander is still a thrilling adventure yarn to rival Flash Gordon. And just like that said sci-fi film it’s got a truly marvellous signature score by Queen. Fuck the sequels, reassert yourself with the masterly original.
10. Repo Man (1984)
Alex Cox’s superb science fiction film stars a young Emilio Estevez as Otto: a punk rocker who becomes the ultimate car repossession professional after helping to steal a wanted vehicle. The twist in the tale is that there’s some strange glowing object inside the boot of the car that’s got the attention of government agents and UFO enthusiasts alike. With classy support from veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton this was the film that put the ‘punk’ into punk rocker.
[story by Oliver Pfeiffer]