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You’ve memorized “Blade Runner,” worked your way through the Schwarzenegger oeuvre and sat through every movie with John Hughes’ name on it. Have you really finished the 1980s?
Perhaps not yet. The decade was filled with indie nooks and new-wave crannies that you may overlooked. It was also a great time for mainstream entertainment, with many titles that made a splash but gradually faded from the critical conversation. In short, you could dive into the 1980s and spend years finding new nuggets.
We’ve compiled a short list of semi-lost treasures and obscure artifacts, plus a few gems that have been hiding in plain sight.
BEAT STREET (1984) Come for the teen-flick storyline — budding rapper hopes for his big break — stay for the hip-hop cameos. Among them: Doug E. Fresh, Melle Mel, Afrika Bambaataa and the legendary DJ Kool Herc. Cheesy and authentic at the same time. (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) Often overlooked in the Coen Brothers canon is their debut feature, a twisty-turny noir about a small-town love triangle. The great cast includes future Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo”), Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh, while the cinematic acrobatics come from the Coens and their newly discovered cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black”). (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
CLASS OF1984 (1982) At an inner-city high school, a new teacher (Perry King) finds himself besieged by the worst juvenile delinquents of all: Punks! This splattery update of “The Blackboard Jungle” is pure teensploitation, with Timothy Van Patten as alpha-punk Stegman and a goony theme song by Alice Cooper. (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
DIVA (1981) A young opera fan (Frédéric Andréi) makes a bootleg recording of a famous soprano (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) that unexpectedly becomes a hot item. Jean-Jacques Beineix’s vibrant, stylish thriller kicked off a decade of New Wave thrillers; the French called it “cinéma du look.” (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
LIQUID SKY (1981) A space alien that feeds on sexual pleasure crash-lands in — where else? — the androgynous nightclub scene of downtown Manhattan. With homemade props and effects, plus Anne Carlisle as the male and female leads, this is the father/mother of all indie subculture movies. Somewhat hard to find until a digital restoration in 2017. (Amazon)
LOVE LETTERS (1984) A young woman (Jamie Lee Curtis) follows in her mother’s footsteps by embarking on an affair with a married man (James Keach). Though it never hit the mainstream, this is an emotionally honest and sexually explicit drama with a grown-up intelligence. Director Amy Holden Jones would later write “Mystic Pizza.” (Amazon)
MY BODYGUARD (1980) When a new high school student, Clifford (Chris Makepeace), is repeatedly bullied by Mike Moody (Matt Dillon), he hires hulking classmate Ricky (Adam Baldwin) as a bodyguard. Tony Bill’s coming-of-age story isn’t nuanced, but it hits all the right notes on its way to a satisfying ending. (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) Lost among the decade’s many sci-fi and zombie flicks was this disarmingly sweet post-apocalypse story about two lone Valley girls (Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney) who form an ad hoc family with a young trucker (Robert Beltran, the rare Hispanic lead). Joss Whedon has cited this cult favorite as an influence on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.” (Amazon)
QUEST FOR FIRE (1981) When a Paleolithic tribe's only flame is doused, Naoh (Everett McGill) is sent off to find another. With little dialogue but grunting, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film is captivating — an epic drama shot through with comedy, brutality and poignancy. Acclaim was near-universal, but it earned only one Oscar win, for makeup. (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu)
STARSTRUCK (1983) A small-town Australian teen is gripped by modern-rock fever in this zingy, kooky musical. Jo Kennedy, the sassy and striking lead, should have been a major star, but Gillian Armstrong’s low-budget film received only a scant release in the U.S. The DIY costumes and Beatlesque energy are still irresistible. (Amazon)
VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982) In 1930s Paris, an aspiring singer (Julie Andrews) poses as a female impersonator) and becomes the toast of the town. It’s a kinder, gentler “Cabaret” from writer-director Blake Edwards, working off a 1933 German comedy. The supporting cast is ace — Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren — and the Mancini-Bricusse score is lovely. (Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu)