Hello kids! Considering how I am currently in an 80’s state of mind, today I offer you this list of Quintessential Kid Films from the 80’s. These are a special group of films for me because, me being an 80’s child well, I grew up watching these movies, they hold a special place in my heart and remind me of a time when things were simpler and life still had some magic and mystery to it. Let’s face it, once we “grow up” it’s easy to lose that sense of wonder, but the good thing is we can always go back to our childhood films to remember it. The films on this list never fail to bring back that old feeling because let’s face it, these films from the 80’s had a special kind of magic to them that many of todays modern fantasy films just don’t have, is it that I got old? Or is it that these films from the 80’s had something truly special to them? Whatever the case maybe, all I know is that this unique ‘80’s magic’ is what keeps me revisiting them. Whenever I feel there’s no more magic and wonder, I watch one of these and I’m instantly 12 years old again. So sit back and relax, take a trip down memory lane and enjoy this list of Quintessential Kid Movies from the 80’s Part I, and if you enjoy this article, dont forget to check out this link for: the second installment! There’s more where these came from!
Title: The Goonies (1985)
Comments: Well, this for me is the king of all kid movies from the 80’s. It’s got this magical thing about it that stays with me, when people say that movies from the 80’s have a special magic to them, this is what they mean. No matter how many times I see it, I still love it. I think it’s the fact that I identified with these misfit kids, trying to survive in a world that seems to spiral out of their control. I loved that sleepy suburban town of Aurora. It just looked so homey, I wanted to live there. Which is why when these rich dudes threatened to tear it down so they could build a golf course over it, they were instantly my enemies. But hey, The Goonies aren’t giving up the fight because “Goonies never say die!” The Goonies is basically the kid version of an Indiana Jones film. It’s filled with booby traps, sunken pirate ships and hidden treasures, but it never gets too scary of graphic like the Indiana Jones movies sometimes got. The entire cast is extremely likable and many of these kids went on to have long fruitful cinematic careers. Every kid in the movie is a character all its own. Let’s see, we have an extremely young Josh Brolin playing the oldest of the kids; we have Sean Astin playing ‘Mikey’ the heart and soul of the Goonies and Corey Feldman playing the sleazy ‘Mouth’. Joey Pantoliano plays one of the villainous “Fratelli Brothers”, who are also after the treasure. The late great Anne Ramsey plays their crazy mom. It all comes together under the direction of Richard Donner and producer Steven Spielberg who specialized in making films of this nature. To top things of, we have Cindy Lauper singing “It’s Good Enough” in the extremely memorable soundtrack. A true gem of the 80’s, if you haven’t seen it what are you waiting for?
Quote: “Follow them size fives!”
Title: Explorers (1985)
Comments: So when I say that Spielberg specialized in producing films for kids, this is what I mean. In 1985, Spielberg went on to produce various adventure films aimed at the pre-teen target audience. Explorers was one of them. Explorer’s is basically director Joe Dante’s version of The Goonies, but with a sci-fi angle. It was released just one month after The Goonies premiered in June 1985; so I guess 1985 was the summer of adventurous kids. Films of this nature where hot back in those days, it was all about that magical, whimsical feeling of amazement we all had at that age, where everything is amazing and new and magical. Some of us are still lucky enough to retain it, I know I don’t ever want to let go of that feeling of wonderment, which is why I keep revisiting these movies. Explorers tells the tale of three friends who are all dreaming the same thing, in the message they see a pattern, a message from space. What is it? Are they being contacted by alien beings from another world? Of course they end up doing what any group of 10 years would do, they build their own spaceship and call it “The Thunder Road!” So basically, this movie has that goofy Looney Tunes sense of humor that Joe Dante always infuses his movies with, but also that sense of wonderment and adventure seen in films like The Goonies. The three kids in Explorers are again, same as The Goonies, outcasts that don’t really fit into society, but together, they end up doing something amazing. The film was directed by Joe Dante, the guy behind Gremlins (1984), The Burbs (1989) and many other cool movies from the 80’s. It also stars the great Robert Picardo, but I won’t tell you who he plays. The makeup effects are great on this one, they were done by the great Rob Bottin, who is a personal hero of mine, the guy has created some of the coolest monsters in movie history. The film also stars River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke when they were just kids. Highly recommend this fun and criminally underrated sci-fi flick!
Quote: “If this is all a dream, what’s going to happen when we wake up?”
Title: Monster Squad (1987)
Comments: Monster Squad is one of the most misunderstood movies in cinematic history. Too scary for kids and too silly for adults, it found no middle ground and died a quick death a the box office. It stirred up some controversy because it had kids using foul language (as if that didn’t happen!) and kids shooting guns! But since good movies always find their audience, The Monster Squad was later discovered by its legions of rabid fans! I know you are all out there, gimme a holla why don’t ya? Monster Squad tells the story of a mystical amulet that can send all evil into another dimension. Where does that black hole lead? Who the hell knows! But it sucks away the bad guys Evil Dead style! So anyhow, Dracula knows that this magical amulet is the only thing that can stop him from ruling the world so he is in the hunt for it, unfortunately, it rests in the hands of this group of kids that call themselves The Monster Squad! Monster Squad rules for many reasons, number one it reunites all these classical monsters: The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolfman! All in the same movie! We even get some of Dracula’s vampire brides! The monster effects were done by none other than the legendary Stan Winston, which is probably the reason why these monsters look so freaking cool! If The Goonies was a take on The Hardy Boys, and Explorers was the sci-fi version of The Goonies, then Monster Squad is the horror version of The Goonies! Still not convinced? The Monster Squad was also directed by the same director who made Night of the Creeps (1986)! There, that should be enough to convince ya.
Quote: “If we pull this off, I’m gonna shit!”
Title: Labyrinth (1986)
Comments: I can’t imagine any list of 80’s children’s films without Labyrinth in it. I simply can’t! This is one of the films that I have seen the most in my whole life, along with Robocop, Big Trouble in Little China and Aliens. What do I love so much about this here film? Well, it’s got that special magic that only Jim Henson the creator of The Muppets, Frank Oz the voice of Kermit the Frog, George Lucas producer extraordinaire, conceptual artist Brian Froud and Monty Python alumni Terry Jones could conjure up. To top things off, David Bowie plays The Goblin King and Jennifer Connely plays Sarah, the teen that takes everything for granted! Sarah complains about everything, but soon learns that life is about making choices and getting things done and not about complaining. It teaches kids actions bring forth results and that there comes a time when we need to leave behind child like things and face the responsibilities of adulthood head on. But aside from all that, it’s filled with some truly amazing creatures which were brought to life by Jim Henson’s creature shop. You’ll be amazed at all the different beings that were hand crafted for this picture. And the cherry on the cake is Bowie taking care of the films entire soundtrack, each song, a gem.
Quote: “Your eyes can be so cruel…just as I can be so cruel. Yes I do believe in you…”
Film: The Dark Crystal (1982)
Comments: The Dark Crystal was Jim Henson’s first attempt at making a film entirely populated by puppets. Not a single human is seen on screen throughout the whole movie, it’s all puppets, which of course gives the film a fantastical otherworldly feeling. On The Dark Crystal we follow a ‘Gelflyn’ by the name of Jen, who must find a crystal shard that will unite his world, if he doesn’t find it before the prophesized eclipse, his world will forever fall under the dark rule of the evil ‘Skeksis’. In this coming of age story, Jen must become an adult and venture into the real world all on his own, leaving behind those that brought him up. This film is a work of art to me, everything is amazing, the art direction, the matte paintings, the puppets and the sets are all of the highest quality. You can really get lost in this rich and complex fantasy world.
Quote: “Hold her to you, for she is a part of you, as we are all part of each other”
Film: Gremlins (1984)
Comments: Another Joe Dante film has made it onto my “top children’s films from the 80’s” list, but that’s because this is precisely the kind of film Dante specialized in making, films aimed at the pre-teen audience. A quick glance through his repertoire will prove this to you. I mean, he’s still making these type of films! His latest one is called The Hole (2009) and it deals with a family moving into a house that has a gate to hell in the basement! Gremlins was a mix between children’s film and horror film, and even though that sounds like an unlikely alliance (and it is) it mixed both genres effectively. On Gremlins a pair of teenagers must stop a breed of monsters from taking over and destroying their entire town! And on Christmas Eve no less! This movie is an achievement because it was made before the advent of computer animation, so every single one of the Gremlins you see on screen is handled by a puppeteer, meaning there were hundreds of puppeteers at a given time on screen, no small feat. To mix a kids film with a horror film and then have the film become a smash hit was a real achievement. Interesting side note: Gremlins, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were two of the films responsible for creating the ‘PG-13’ rating, so thanks a lot Mr. Spielberg, for giving Hollywood the keys to watering down every single genre!
Quote: “Tell me something Billy, how come a cute little guy like this can turn into a thousand ugly monsters?”
Film: Annie (1982)
Comments: When I was about six, and saw this version of Annie, it made me cry like the baby I was. I couldn’t believe these adults actually wanted to kill little Orphan Annie, she’s so freaking adorable! This movie makes it really damn difficult not to feel empathy for this orphan girl; she’s kind of like the female version of Oliver! (1968) but with red curls and a shinning personality. Trust me, it will be difficult for you not to like little Annie. The villains of the film are played by Tim Curry and Carol Burnett, you’ll grow to hate this really despicable duo, they play their villainous roles to perfection. The songs in Annie are ultra catchy, I assure you, you will be singing “Tomorrow” and “It’s a hard knock life” for days after you see this one. Annie is a film that spans all matter of feelings; you’ll feel empathy, sadness and complete happiness as well. This is a true classic of children’s cinema!
Quote: “You love money and power and capitalism? You know, they are never going to love you back…”
Film: The Last Starfighter (1984)
Comments: The Last Starfighter is important in film history because it’s one of the first films to use computer animation extendedly. All the scenes that take place in space are computer animated, something unheard of at the time, so in its own way, The Last Starfighter is groundbreaking. At the same time, it’s a story about a teenager who is trying to pursue his dreams, but just can’t seem to quite make it. He’s just been rejected from the college he wanted to go to, so basically, his dreams have just been cut short. Or have they? One day, as he is playing his favorite arcade (called The Last Starfighter) a strange car stops by and tells him to hop in. When he does, he learns that the car isn’t only a car, it’s also a spaceship! And the video game wasn’t just a game, it was a test! Soon, Alex Rogan finds himself soaring through the galaxy becoming a part of the Star League and fighting in the war against Xur and his Codan Armada. The Last Starfighter offers us imaginative effects, likable characters and even a little bit of comedy. The tone of the film is lighthearted and adventurous. As I mentioned before, this film along with The Adventures of Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Willow (1988) represent the birth of computer animation, see it, and marvel at how it all began.
Quote: “You might have thought it was a game. But it was also a test. Aha! A test; sent out across the universe to find those with the gift to be starfighters. And here you are my boy! Here you are!”
Film: The Never Ending Story (1984)
Comments: This is one of my personal favorite because it’s a fantasy film through and through, a film that celebrates escapism and imagination. This is the story of Balthazar Sebastian Bux, a little boy who has trouble living in the real world. He likes drawing unicorns in class and escaping to the worlds in his fantasy novels. One particularly nasty day when he’s running away from a group of bullies, Balthazar decides to hide in a book shop where he encounters a special book, a book that when read, makes you a part of its story, and so, when Bastian begins reading The Never Ending Story, he is whisked away to Fantasia, a land filled with Rock Eaters, Flying Luck Dragons and Purple Buffalo. What I love about this movie is that it challenges you to know yourself and face your fears. Also, it speaks about not giving into despair when things get ugly; there just might be a luck dragon up ahead to lighten up your day. Basically, I just think this is a movie that sends out many positive messages, which I think is a great thing, especially when we consider how movies can influence the way we see things for the rest of our lives. Till this day I try my hardest not to let my imagination die, and it’s all because of this film.
Quote: “People who have no hopes are easy to control and whoever has the control…has the power!”
Film: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Comments: This one is Tim Burton’s first full length theatrical release. It’s a film that shows that Burton was a director with creativity from the very get go. Any other director might have turned Pee Wee’s first film into a crappy movie, but in the hands of Burton it ended up being an extremely entertaining film. Wanna see how disastrous a Pee Wee Herman movie can be without Burton? See the sequel to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Big Top Pee Wee (1988) for proof of this. That terrible sequel was directed by Randal Kleiser, unfortunately he dropped the ball big time! Big Top Pee Wee had none of that special Tim Burton magic that the first film had in spades. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is filled with that special brand of wackiness, that craziness that has always characterized a Burton film. Things get even crazier because of Paul Reuben’s performance as Pee Wee Herman. On the Pee Wee side of things he’ll give us memorable lines of dialog like “I know you are but what am I?” and on the Tim Burton side of things we get things like ‘Large Marge’ the ghost of a lady trucker who gives Pee Wee a ride down a lonesome spooky rode. Ah the beauties of a Burton/Reubens collaboration makes me wish they got back together again for that Pee Wee Herman comeback we’re all foaming at the mouths for. At the end of the day, it was the joining of these two geniuses that makes Pee Wee’s Big Adventure the gag filled, over the top movie that it is.
Quote: “We all have a big “but” in our lives Simone; let’s talk about your big butt”
Film: Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Comments: Funny, I was bashing director Randal Kleiser for Big Top Pee Wee (1988) a paragraph ago, and here I am praising him for Flight of the Navigator. Truth be told, Kleiser has directed many memorable films, it’s just that Big Top Pee Wee was not one of them, well, at least not for me. But the rest of his repertoire? Not bad at all, I mean, this is the guy that made Grease (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980)! We can add Flight of the Navigator to his list of memorable films. It tells the tale of David, a kid who travels to the future on an alien spaceship. He disappears on July 4th 1978 then reappears in 1986 and hasn’t aged a day! His little brother is now older than him! His family can’t believe he’s reappeared and of course, the government thinks this needs to be looked into. When David decides to escape on the spaceship, a cat and mouse chase ensues. How cool is the premise for this movie? A kid who gets his own spaceship! Awesome! The voice of the spaceship was done by Paul Reubens, so it kind of makes sense that Ruebens and Kleiser ended up working together on Big Top Pee Wee. The film also stars a very young Sarah Jessica Parker. And yet another thing that makes this one stand out is that it was also one of the first few films to continue experimenting with the use of computer animation, the alien spaceship in the film was mostly handled through the use of computer graphics.
Quote: “Well, that all depends, do you want New Coke, Classic Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke or Caffeine Free Coke?”
Film: The Karate Kid (1984)
Comments: If you were a kid during the 80’s and grew up seeing this movie (the way I did) then chances are you probably acted out the “wax on, wax off” scene and at the very least tried to duplicate Daniel San’s final flying kick, I know I did. But you know what? Of course I tried doing that kick, that moment in the film really gets to you. And why does it get to you? Because this is a film about people, this is a film where we care about these characters and the situations they are living in, this was something that in my opinion was missing from the remake starring Will Smith’s kid. I never really connected with the kid the way I did with Daniel San in the original film. To me it was lacking the emotion. Yeah Jackie Chan did a great job, but Hayden Smith just didn’t make me like him. He had too much of an attitude, he was too cocky and what we needed was a young man who was vulnerable, something that Ralph Machio delivers perfectly in the original film. What works best is the chemistry between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, his landlord and karate trainer. Midway through the movie we learn that it’s not only Daniel San who needs Mr. Miyagi. The old wise man also needs someone to light up his life, the friendship they develop is the glue that holds the film together. And it’s this bonding that makes us care for everything else. A true underdog story; something that director John G. Avildsen specialized in.
Quote: “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later..” (Miyagi makes a squishing gesture)
Film: The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
Comments: The great thing about Karate Kid Part II is that the whole creative team returns! We get Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki Pat Morita reprising their roles and we also get director John G. Avildsen back, this is something I like about these first three Karate Kid movies, they were all handled by the same director, so they have that continuity to them. In my opinion, this is that rare sequel that surpasses the original. I mean, it’s more epic, just the fact that the film is set in Okinawa makes everything way more interesting, yet, even though this film is obviously a bit bigger in scope, it still manages to remain its heart, something that I love about these movies. It still has that great relationship between Miyagi and Daniel, and it gives both of them challenges of their own to face in Okinawa. Both of them find love and both of them make their own enemies. I remember loving the locations where they shot the film and those scenes where Daniel falls in love with the Asian girl and all the rituals they go through, beautiful imagery there. I also enjoyed the culture clash Daniel goes through. All in all, a great sequel that surpasses the original in many ways. Highly recommended!
Quote: “Daniel San, never put passion before principal. Even if win, you lose.”
Film: Masters of the Universe (1987)
Comments: If you were a kid during the 80’s there were a series of toys you just had to have. Let’s see, for the boys there was G.I. Joe, Voltron, Transformers and for the girls there was Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Pony and Strawberry Short Cake. The 80’s was a time when the powers that be made animated television shows that served as half hour commercials for their toys. One of the most prominent ones was of course He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Boy did these guys sell toys! Even though my collection was made up mostly of G.I. Joes (I had a hefty collection!) I also had my fair share of Masters of the Universe toys. So of course when this film came out I was excited as hell! I was sad to learn that this movie didn’t make much money at the box office because for some reason people thought it sucked. I didn’t. For me this movie ruled! It was directed by a guy called Gary Goddard, he never directed a film again in his life after this one (Hollywood doesn’t forgive!) but he has directed a lot of those movies you see in theme park rides like T-2 3-D Battle Across Time. And that makes a whole lot of sense because in many ways this film is like an amusement park ride. There are tons of visual effects and some truly beautiful art direction. Dolph Lundgren was awesome as He-Man in my book and Frank Langella delivered some awesome lines as Skeletor, he dominates the screen as the villain. Yeah, along with everybody else I wish more of the film had taken place in Eternia, but that’s only a minor hiccup in my book. The whole story about these musical keys that open up doors to other dimensions was pretty cool. Not as bad as some might have you think.
Quote: “Men who crave power look back on the mistakes of their lives, pile them all together and call it…destiny.”
Film: Invaders from Mars (1986)
Comments: This was Tobe Hooper’s remake of the classic science fiction film from the 50’s Invaders from Mars (1953). It tells the same basic story of Martians landing in David Gardner’s backyard. It has that age old premise of the kid who knows everything that’s going on in his town, but nobody believes him. Everyone in town is turning into brainless zombies who serve the Martians, can David convince the United States Army about the invasion? Can David trust anyone? I always enjoyed how this film plays with paranoia, that idea that you can’t trust anybody because everybody has turned evil. In that sense, this film reminds me a bit of similar fare like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). This particular version of Invaders from Mars has in my opinion excellent monster effects, the aliens embody various forms, one of them is what can only be described as a living, breathing brain, the monster effects by the way were handled by make up effects legend Stan Winston, which would explain their awesomeness. An interesting part of this production is that it stars b-movie actress Karen Black, who plays a third grade teacher. And even more interesting is that she acted alongside her real life son, Hunter Carson, who plays David Gardner.
Quote: “These things! They’re huge, ugly, slimy, giant Mr. Potato Heads!”