Was 1984 the Best Year in Movie History?
So you might think it’s a pretty bold claim, perhaps even ridiculous that the year 1984 was the best in movie history, but there’s plenty of very compelling reasons as to why it was such a golden year for film fans. Of course there’s always going to be the nostalgia element and the era you grew up in being favoured over others, but it’s easy to make a strong case for the bonafide cinema classics released in 1984 that more than stand up to any other cinematic epoch. The 80s has long had to fight film snobbery, being looked down on as a poor relation to other eras in film, but this just isn’t the case. And with bold claims made lets now take a look over the evidence as to why 1984 was such a stellar year for movies.
The 70s paved the way for the modern blockbuster with the likes of Jaws and Star Wars, but the 80s saw them hit the ground running with 1984 being the year that heralded the arrival of behemoths such as Ghostbusters and The Terminator and saw Harrison Ford’s daredevil explorer reach new heights with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hot off Indy’s heels you had Michael Douglas transforming before our eyes into a rugged hero in action-comedy Romancing the Stone and fantasy films like The NeverEnding Story kept kids entranced with its strange wondrous world. All of them big scale adventures that filled every inch of the silver screen. They also seemed to deliver stories that really drew you in, with a focus on great dialogue alongside the stunt set pieces, not just relying on the kind of endless CGI fight sequences that often leave you looking at your watch.
One thing that can’t be replicated through huge budgets and the best CGI going is heart, something movies of the 80s had in spades. They managed to retain the magic and spirit of a 40s or 50s Hollywood movie with fully drawn characters you could really root for. The lead characters were relatable with audiences on a human level, even a tough guy like Indiana Jones showed weakness with his fear of snakes. Splash is a great example of a film bursting with heart and soul. On the surface it’s a rom-com about a man who falls for a mermaid, literally a fish-out-of-water story. But delve deeper and it’s a film that addresses the notions of love at first sight and whether true soulmates really exist. It also signalled Tom Hank’s arrival as a talented comedy lead capable of warming the coldest of hearts.
Most great movies have a great soundtrack to match and that can’t be overstated enough with so many films from 1984. Lets start with Purple Rain the film Prince starred in and scored a best-selling soundtrack and an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 1985 Academy Awards. Then there’s Wim Wender’s road movie Paris Texas with musician Ry Cooder lending his considerable talent to creating an atmospheric sonic landscape. We can’t not mention John Carpenter’s ominous synths on The Fog and in similar vein Brad Fiedel’s driving futuristic score on The Terminator. Kenny Logins title track wasn’t the only great pop song on the Footloose soundtrack and music from The Karate Kid is a joy filled 80s dream from start to dramatic finish. Special mention for the Randy Newman composed stirring score for The Natural which can still deliver goosebumps to this day.
Box Office hits these days more often than not tend to be so by-the-numbers you know what’s going to happen before your bum has hit the seat in the cinema. Rewind thirty years plus and you see much more creative concepts in films, concepts that have been used as blueprints for movies going forward. Take one release from 1984 as an example, Gremlins, we’ve seen monster movies before but never one that blended the horror and comedy genres quite so deftly. A formula often repeated but never bettered. Or take exhibit B, Ghostbusters. The studio took a gamble on Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ script about three science teachers aligning to capture spooks in New York City using an unstable proton gun, but it paid off handsomely. Certainly it was a time of more creative freedom, and it’s no surprise many of the big films from 1984 have already been subject to re-make or the dreaded ‘re-boot.’
The use of old-school special effects and the lack of CGI went a long way to making things more believable. It’s much easier to suspend belief when you see something take place, that although still fantastical, it’s not beyond the realm that it could take place in your town or city. When that something is interdimensional and created wholly via computer generated effects it makes things that little bit harder to buy into. The same as when a character is brought to life via a ping pong ball covered motion capture suit, it can be a wondrous thing but can surely never fully take the place of a real actor in front of the camera.
The Introduction of Iconic Characters
1984 saw the genesis of a number of figures that continue to resonate throughout cinema to this day. We got our first look at the rather terrifying, fedora wearing dream slasher Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street. The Austrian Oak Arnold Schwarzenegger proved he was awesomely adept at playing a relentless robot in The Terminator. And we also saw a first outing for the wisecracking Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop.
1984 gave us some memorable underdog tales, non more so than The Karate Kid. Not surprisingly it came from the same director that captured the punching above his weight tale that was Rocky. The first sight of the skinny framed Daniel LaRusso signals that we’re going to have to go on some journey to get to the proficient sounding fighter in the title, and what a journey it is, with the story culminating in one of the all time ‘bullies never win in the end’ moments ever captured on film. It also crosses over with the aforementioned believability factor, a teen like Ralph Macchio is far more convincing as a kid in need of confidence and guidance in the face of teenage angst than the buffed up preening Jaden Smith from the unnecessary 2010 remake.
Another genuine classic from that year was the Robert Redford starring The Natural. He plays a once talented youngster who’s career was cut short after being shot, who mounts a comeback later in life leading to a shot at glory. And we have to also mention Police Academy, which featured a rag-tag bunch of misfits looking to become Police cadets who triumph over adversity to take out the bad guys. With a special mention to a nice moment of female empowerment when the timid character Hooks finds her voice with the memorable line, “don’t move dirtbag!” These underdog stories gave us big character arcs and timeless human lessons of determination and the message to never give up.
We haven’t even got round to mentioning Sergio Leone’s epic final film Once Upon a Time in America as well as many peoples favourite all time comedy movie This is Spinal Tap. Of course The Coen brothers brought us their brilliant directorial debut Blood Simple and Brit Alex Cox gave us the excellent sci-fi comedy Repo Man. All deserve championing as yet more stars to come out of 1984.
It was a more hope filled time and perhaps this was reflected in the films that year delivered. Was it the best year in movie history? S ever with art it’s subjective, most will disagree, every film fan has a favourite year or time period they have stronger feelings for than another, but one things for sure, they don’t make them like they used to, and in comparison to what 1984 had to offer that’s a real shame.