Science fiction is one of the oldest film genres, dating back to the very early days of the silent era. While the genre’s popularity has grown and declined over the decades since then, there are usually at least a few very solid sci-fi movies in any given decade. The 1980s were an era of great innovation in filmmaking, and their forays into science fiction were no different. There are plenty of sci-fi movies from the era that might not be as well-known these days, but they still hold up.
The 1980s were a period of changing film history. At the end of the 1970s, films experienced a renaissance with the rise of the Hollywood blockbuster. High-profile films, those that could be described in a few short sentences, were all the rage and set the stage for many original films that focused on simple ideas rather than something too technical. Science fiction was no stranger to this, however, the nature of the genre led even their high-concept films to have more complex storylines.
Escape from New York tells the story of Snake Plissken, the creator of nearly every gruff action hero to follow. After the president’s plane crashed into the island-turned-maximum-security prison of Manhattan, New York. This seemingly simple plot may not sound like too much science fiction, but the world that’s built for this story is entirely dystopian science fiction. Injected devices that will kill you after 22 hours, tracking bracelets, and a walled city guarding the most dangerous of criminals perfectly sum up a near-future world that’s almost hampered by technological advancements rather than aided by them.
Re-animator is based on a 1922 story by HP Lovecraft and tells the story of Herbert West, a student who believes he can bring the dead back to life. This movie was originally given an “X” rating for gore and themes, but was later reduced to an “R” rating for video rentals. This sometimes horrific and sometimes comical story is undoubtedly science fiction. West works the entire movie on refining his formula and process so he can reanimate the dead. He often succeeds, at least partially, but learns the dangers of such unnatural pursuits. This film tells a funny, scary and intriguing story that has a special place in the modern era of more tech-focused sci-fi horror stories.
Fly was a remake of the 1958 film of the same name. It tells the story of an obsessive scientist who accidentally merges with a fly while testing a teleportation capsule. This sci-fi horror was one of the first films of Jeff Goldblum’s career and ranks among one of his best performances. The film was particularly praised for its practical effects, as the transformation of Goldblum into a human / fly hybrid was expertly accomplished. Pieces of his human form are peeling off as the transformation continues, and the movie is very good at making it all look pretty crass. It’s a good time for everyone.
The running man comes from the classic era of Arnold Schwarzenegger action hits. This film tells the story of a cop accused of a massacre. Due to the totalitarian police state that is this world, he entered a game show called The running man. In this show, convicts try to outrun and survive against armed mercenaries seeking a pardon from the state. While it looks like a direct-action movie on the outside, the world is built in such a way that there are a lot of sci-fi elements to it. The whole premise of the game show feels like science fiction in the near future about the dangers of how technology and the media can control and subdue the population. These themes are oddly present today, especially with shows like Squid game become so popular with very similar topics.
Akira is an animated film based on a 1982 manga. This anime depicts a futuristic cyberpunk world in which motorcycle gangs rule the streets and the government performs dangerous experiments to meet their own needs. The story can sometimes be a bit complex and probably deserves a rereading to fully understand. This film absolutely stands out from the high concept films that dot the rest of the 1980s, and it is for this complexity that the story is so memorable. Every ounce of this story is covered in science fiction, right down to the bikes the gangs ride on. The popularity of this movie has led to several remasters, which means someone doesn’t even have to watch grainy old footage to enjoy the story.
The 1980s were a fun time to be a fan of sci-fi movies, even beyond the norm. If there were certainly some really big names like Aliens, the Terminator, and Predator, even films that go off the beaten track are worth seeing. Sci-fi as a genre often stands the test of time, whether you laugh at how they got it wrong or scowl at how frighteningly close these directors were. If there is free time in the near future, these 1980s sci-fi classics are definitely worth a visit.
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