Last week, we started things off on a hilarious note with the Top 5 Comedies of 1985. This week, the Top 5 might be funny, but not always “ha-ha” funny. The potential pitfalls of counting down good movies from thirty years ago is the occasional revisit of a move you think is classic, but turns out to not really be that great. Sometimes, movies don’t age well. Other times your memory of a movie has faded and a revisit is like watching it new all over again. And then sometimes, you wish you could travel back in time and tell your younger self how wrong he/she is about a particular movie. All of these things were experienced when re-visiting 1985 and the experiences have formed themselves into a Top 5 of 1985 movies that fail to hold up thirty years later.
There has not been a lot of success basing movies off of popular board games, or even video games for that matter. In fact, pretty much every movie I loved as a kid that was based off of a board game—Jumanji, Witchboard, Dungeons & Dragons, Mars Attacks!—are all far worse than I remember when I was a kid. Clue, based on a board game I loved arguing about with my brother, might be the best movie of the bunch. It boasts a far better cast than every one of those movies except Mars Attacks!, but it also has the easiest premise on which to base a movie.
As the board game implies, Clue is a murder mystery. It adds a comedy aspect, that is very screwball, starring Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, and Michael McKean; a wonderfully diverse and hilarious cast. It is neither their performance as the famous board game characters that doesn’t hold up, it is the dreadfully under developed script and, at times, weak joke material. A tremendously funny cast is thrown by the wayside and I’m not sure if it comes from Jonathan Lynn’s direction or maybe the writing of John Landis, but I can’t really pin it down. I suspect it had more to do with John Landis creating the story, but Lynn’s decision making got in the way of this being a much better film than it was.
Ultimately, as many critics lamented at the time, there was a better movie hiding under the gimmick of the movie. The screwball nature of the comedy got in the way of it being able to hold water. It functions quite well in some respects, especially the “choose your own ending” aspect of the final minutes of the movie, but in most respects it falls flat and waves helplessly at its potential as it passed by.
This one is a tough movie to include here. It is not even close to the best Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie from the 80’s. That honor goes to The Terminator and The Predator. Both of those movies have aged incredibly well. Commando, while featuring some great and memorable one-liners, has joined movies like Conan the Destroyer and Raw Deal as Arnold’s hilariously over-the-top and “bad-bad” 80’s action movies.
It might be going too far to say that this is a bad action movie, but it might fit a little better into the category of a bad movie that has so many good moments, it makes it a good movie that doesn’t hold up. You know, the type of movie that is great to watch because of how bad some sequences can be that they are great. And I don’t mean ironic bad movies like Sharknado, it sequels, and ilk, but a movie played straight that is officially campy and could border on cultic. The same could actually be said of Clue, as well as numbers 3 and 2 on this list. In fact, pretty much every movie on this list has a campy, cultic quality, but haven’t aged to the point of continuing to endure beyond nostalgia.
Anyway, I will always love the line in Commando where Col. John Matrix quips to Sully, “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? I lied,” and then drops him to his doom. Go watch that clip on YouTube of that scene and I promise you it will be an appropriate stand-in for the whole movie.
3) Rocky IV
Before the end of the Cold War, and before the Information Age took off, the world solved it’s problems between the turnbuckles and on the big screen. Those two realms collided when Sylvester Stallone chose to definitively solve the Cold War crisis by strapping gloves onto an American and a Russian and pitting them against each other in a fictional ring with fictional stakes. That’s right, in 1985, we had Drago (Dolph Lundgren) versus Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in Rocky IV.
When I was a kid, I loved this movie. I used to rank the Rocky movies and this one was always second behind the original Rocky. Now, having re-watched the movie for this month’s lists, I realized I must have only seen the first 25 minutes and the last 20 minutes of this movie or something. And I must have skipped over the odd choice of Uncle Paulie’s robot servant and the massive amount of training montages? This movie has more training montages than an ESPN boxing event but set to 80’s rock ballads. Everything seems so dated and schlocky, right down to the dialogue and plot which seems like a half-baked retread of Rocky III, a much better movie.
Having said all of that, the last twenty minutes of the movie are pretty great. When Lundgren and Stallone go toe-to-toe, all the periphery stuff melts away and you are left with a delicious Cold War battle. It’s youth and braun versus veteran cunning. A real American story. One thing the Rocky movies always had was quality boxing action when boxing was still cool. It’s a shame the rest of the movie is obnoxious and filled with montages. So…many…montages…
2) Teen Wolf
While Michael J Fox may be gracing the top of a list more than once this month (foreshadowing), his other movie from 1985 will not make either of those lists, but makes it on this one.
When I saw this movie growing up, I thought there was nothing cooler than a car surfing, basketball dunking werewolf named Scott Howard (Michael J Fox). Scott is not really a cool kid, and struggles in school with pretty much everything, from basketball to Pamela (Lorie Griffin); the girl of his dreams who is dating his rival Mick (Mark Arnold). His only friends are Stiles (Jerry Levine) and Boof (Susan Ursitti).
After a particularly strange night at a party, Scott discovers he has turned into a werewolf and when he is forced to show his transformation to his father, he sees his father has turned into a werewolf, as well. It runs in the family, but his dad had always hoped it would skip a generation. Instead of fretting over being a werewolf, which seems natural, Scott uses his new transformation to become popular at school and lead his basketball team to state. I won’t spoil the ending, but if you want a good laugh, read the Wikipedia entry for the plot of this movie. It will convince you this movie does not hold up without actually watching it.
What doesn’t hold up is pretty much everything in this movie. The transformation of Scott into a werewolf is pretty tame, and he doesn’t really even look like a werewolf. He looks like a slightly hairier version of himself. The other hilarious aspect that is frequently mentioned by the three members of the Flophouse Podcast, one of my favorite podcasts, is that the other basketball teams and the whole city seems to find a werewolf playing on a basketball team to not be a big deal. Why doesn’t every team forfeit? Why isn’t the werewolf shot at constantly? It’s all pretty crazy and the movie does not age well, at all. Sorry Marty; stick to the DeLorean.
Sometimes I am not sure if this is the name of the movie or the name of the gag reflex I get when talking about this movie. Normally, I love Chevy Chase and he has always been one of my favorite SNL cast members from any era.
However, what doesn’t work in the movie is Chase as I.M Fletcher, the titular character from Gregory MacDonald’s novels that the movie is based on. Every time the movie threatens to get interesting, Chase halts the momentum with a characterization of “Fletch” that does not fit the character at all. It makes the movie mediocre, even though it was generally well-received when it was released.
The reason this movie is at #1 is mainly because of how boring the movie is compared to the others ones. At least Teen Wolf has camp and Commando has over-the-top action with great special effects, but Fletch rests on the shoulders of Chevy Chase and he doesn’t deliver in this performance, at all.