Back again with another favorite list and this time the year is 1986. Going through the list of potential entries this is another tough year to rank. After a couple of passes I still had 23 films that needed to be ranked.
As I’ve done previously, I’m sticking with my format of Five Honorable Mentions and a ranked Top Five and I won’t deviate from that. The final films dropped from this year’s list were: Hoosiers, Howard The Duck and The Delta Force.
Chewie’s Top 5 Films From 1986
All of these films received their US theatrical release within calendar year 1986. If you want to see the full list of all films eligible for this list you can view it here. Keep in mind, these are my “favorite” movies not necessarily what I’d consider the “best” movies. Case in point is a film like Platoon. It’s clearly a “better” film than some (all?) of the films on my list, but I don’t consider it my favorite.
- Short Circuit – Centered around an experimental military robot (Number Five) that is struck by lightning and gains a humanlike intelligence. It stars Steve Guttenberg, Ally Sheedy and Fisher Stevens in what in retrospect is a highly steroetypical but supurbly awesome protrayal of an Indian programmer. High marks also for having El DeBarge perform one of the tunes on the soundtrack – “Who’s Johnny“. Sorry in advance for the earworm if you click on that link.
- The Transformers: The Movie – Probably not a movie that will make many lists but for me this shaped my childhood. The story takes place in 2005, 20 years after the events of the TV series’ second season and serves to bridge into the third season. It killed off several characters including Autobot leader Optimus Prime to make room for new characters (toys). This led to a huge backlash and Prime was eventually brought back to life in the next season of the show. The film contains the Stan Bush song “The Touch” which is quite simply… awesome.
- Crocodile Dundee – The quintessential fish out of water story, it tells the story of Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan), an Australian bushman plopped into the middle of New York City. It’s a pretty straight forward plot but maintains its watchability to this day for the hilarity that ensues. Even if you’ve never seen or heard of this movie, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the knife scene. “That’s not a knife… THAT’s a knife“.
- Top Gun – Tom Cruise had been in a couple of films prior to this, but it was his portrayal as Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell that put him on the map and made him a household name that has refused to go away to this day. It stars Cruise, Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer as students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school, Top Gun, who compete to be best in the class. It’s a good film who’s sequel has been talked about for years… but it’s not even the best figther jet movie to be released in 1986. More on that later.
- Back to School – To help his discouraged son get through college, a funloving and obnoxious rich businessman decides to enter the school as a student himself. Another fish out of water story, Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) has decided to enroll in college to help his son (Keith Gordon). Along the way he meets a professor (Sally Kellerman) who he develops a relationship with. Look out for stellar (term used loosely) supporting performances from none other than Iron Man Robert Downey Jr., brilliant commedian Sam Kinison and 80’s bad boy William Zabka. In the final scene of the movie, we see Melon be recuited out of the stand to attempt to win the diving meet for his college by performing a dive only he can do – The Triple Lindy. “Melon… get your suit on… WE NEED YA!!!“
The Top Five
As with last year’s list, we’ve hit a period of my life where I’m seeing a very clear pattern: comedy and action. The top film on my list combines a little bit of both.
#5 – Iron Eagle – When a young daredevil pilot named Doug Masters finds out that his father has been shot down and captured, he has only one thing in mind – attempt a rescue mission with the help of an air force veteran. Many people think Top Gun when they think of 80’s fighter jet movies, but this one is far superior. The dog fights are simply outstanding and it’s got a much more involved story. While it’s completely far fetched, you can really get behind Doug and understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. We’d all try to do the same thing. It stars Jason Gedrick as Doug Masters and Louis Gossett Jr. as Col. Charles ‘Chappy’ Sinclair. Put on some tunes and jump in the cockpit… you’re in for a wild ride.
#4 – Cobra – A tough-on-crime street cop must protect the only surviving witness to a strange murderous cult with far reaching plans. Sylvester Stallone plays Lieutenant Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti in a film that oozes 80’s. Throw in Brigitte Nielsen and Brian Thompson (who’s often mistaken for Dolph Lundgren) as the Night Slasher and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for an intense action film. This one always seems more “real” to me as opposed to the shoot em up jungle flicks we got so many of during this time period.
#3 – ¡Three Amigos! – Three unemployed actors accept an invitation to a Mexican village to replay their bandit fighter roles, unaware that it is the real thing. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short play Lucky Day, Dusty Bottoms and Ned Nederlander respectively. Can you think of three bigger names in comedy in the 1980s? Hell, these three guys are toward the top of any all time comedy list. Put them together and you can see the comedic genious. This is an incredibly quotable movie full of physical comedy that will make you cry you’re laughing so hard. It’s set in old Mexico where they go up against the villian El Guapo played by Alfonso Arau.
#2 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Follow high school senior Ferris Bueller as he skips school and spends the day in downtown Chicago along with his girlfriend and best friend while creatively avoiding his school’s dean of students, his resentful sister and his parents. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), and Jeannie (Jennifer Grey) are some of the most memorable characters to come out of the 1980’s. Hearing Rooney yell at his secretary while he’s on the phone still makes me laugh every time I see it. Broderick had been in a couple of things before including WarGames (an Honorable Mention from 1983) but this is the career definer for him. Simply iconic.
#1 – Big Trouble in Little China – The film tells the story of Jack Burton, who helps his friend Wang Chi rescue Wang’s green-eyed fiancee from bandits in San Francisco’s Chinatown. They go into the mysterious underworld beneath Chinatown, where they face an ancient sorcerer named David Lo Pan. When I looked at all the eligible films from 1986 I asked myself one question. Out of all all of these films, which one would I want to watch right now? Hands down the answer is Big Trouble in Little China. Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton may very well be my all time favorite movie character. He’s cool, he’s sarcastic and he’s a bad ass. He’s an everyman thrown into a very intense and weird situation and he reacts like an everyman would. He says at one point, “I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.” And it’s those unreasonable things that make this movie so enjoyable.
The cast is filled out by names that you may not recognize (aside from a pre-Sex In The City Kim Cattrall looking mighty fine) but includes faces that you’ll certainly know. They all do an outstanding job building a universe directed masterfully by John Carpenter. It has taken on a cult classic status after performing poorly at the box office. I recently revisited it with my older two boys (9 and 7) and the film is more violent than I remember. They weren’t quite ready for it, but I’ll certainly reintroduce them to it when the time is right. There has been talk of a sequel or a reboot, neither of which I want to see. This film is perfect.
There’s a further story to be told behind this picture which I’ll get around to shortly, but for now I’m just going to leave you with this. If you know Big Trouble in Little China, you’ll know just how awesome this picture is.
Did I leave off your favorite film from 1986? Leave a comment with your thoughts!