It’s nearly impossible to view movies we loved from our childhood without the tinge of nostalgia. Now, this isn’t an article meant to expose “bad” movies from your youth. In fact, some of the films mentioned on the front half of this list are good–just not as good if looked at with fresh eyes all these years later. Underrated doesn’t necessarily mean bad. On the flip side, there are several films scathed back when they were first released, but hold up well today, whether it be because they were simply ahead of their time, or just better viewed as a product of their era–a time capsule more fun experienced as a representation of a certain zeitgeist.
1. Red Dawn
When the remake of Red Dawn came out in 2012, I decided to check out the 1984 original, which I had never seen before. The new version wasn’t an amazing movie by any means, but it was certainly entertaining and flowed decently well. Yet, all I heard was how much better the original movie was. The 1984 version, however, is somewhat of a mess. Despite starring Patrick Swayze, the film lacks any sort of character investment from the audience. Any development feels like it was included last minute as we’re rushed through the extremely thin premise. You almost get the sense that the filmmakers had a great concept and tried to let that speak for itself without attempting to beef it up with an engaging story within.
Now, I don’t think the Goonies is bad, it’s just not as good as it could have been. As a kid, this movie is fantastic, filled with memorable characters going on a dreamlike adventure through the underbelly of their town. But as an adult, it’s difficult to see past the often juvenile wackiness, which is a result of too much freedom being given to the young stars.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Perhaps no movie gets skewed by the blur of nostalgia more than this one does. I think if you didn’t grow up watching Raiders repeatedly, it’s easy to find some flaws. When many of us think of Indiana Jones, we recall perilous adventures through the underground world of treasure hunting. And while the Spielberg classic has elements of that, the adventure seems to be few and far between. There are some truly phenomenal scenes in this film. The problem is, they’re surrounded by a bunch of pedestrian transition sequences meant only for exposition. Regardless of dated special effects, the movie is often much too slow for how we think an Indiana Jones adventure should be these days.
4. Escape from New York
John Carpenter’s predecessor to his minimalistic masterpiece, The Thing, is a commendable endeavor. However, the futuristic post-Watergate dystopia in Escape from New York proved to be a little too much for 1981’s technical capabilities. The result is a chintzy-looking film that’s supposed to represent post-apocalyptic 1997. And it almost works. The unvarnished look gives the movie character, but Carpenter strives for an epic feel–something the film lacks, though no fault of its impressively constructed universe. It’s mostly due to the audience’s hunger for a more rounded out background of its antihero, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell).
A commendable Batman effort for 1989, but Tim Burton’s comic book film sags all throughout and is filled with characters with muddled and confusing motives. Standards for comic book movies in today’s world are at an all-time high, due to the MCU, and also Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman trilogy. Nolan set the bar for what we come to expect with the Caped Crusader, no doubt influenced by Burton’s atmospheric setting, but also improving upon (and speeding up) the narrative and the stakes. Batman as the Dark Knight is a brooding depiction about character and conflict, which Burton’s film only ever touches upon. Jack Nicholson as the Joker is the obvious standout, but even the standards for his character have since become astronomical due to two iconic portrayals since the turn of the century. The dialogue holds up well, but almost everything else is pretty dated.
Upon its initial release, the Tom Cruise film was lambasted by audiences and critics alike, even winning a Raspberry Award for Worst Picture. Revisiting the movie after over 30 years, it’s clear time has been kind to it. A product of the era, Cocktail gushes with a smoke-filled ’80s ethos as it follows the rise and fall of a young bartender. Nothing in this movie should work, yet it’s goofy enough to pass as a guilty pleasure, and entertaining enough to not feel too guilty about watching it in the first place. Everything in the film universe fits so well with one another that you feel like Cocktail accomplished the vision it was going for at the very least.
2. Meatballs Part II
The sequel to the 1979 Bill Murray summer camp comedy in name only, Meatballs Part II gets a bad rap, but I’m not sure why. The first film relies so heavily on Murray that it wouldn’t have succeeded without him, yet the followup evenly distributes the comedic relief, making for an enjoyable movie at every angle. The sequel could’ve easily copied and pasted the formula from the original, but it never does. The bizarro plot that displaces an alien at a summer camp actually focuses less on the counselors and more on the kids this time around. Meatballs Part II trades in Murray’s goofball with an unknown serious tough guy and actually makes it work.
3. Masters of the Universe
Talk about a movie that represents the decade in all of its hard rocking, DayGlo wearing, ’80s futurism glory. A total product of the time, MOTU never becomes dry despite a weak lead actor in Dolph Lundgren. Mostly because of an evil Frank Langella and a couple of human characters who keep the whole thing grounded. Countless movies ripped off Star Wars, but Masters of the Universe is probably the most enjoyable of the bunch.
4. Bachelor Party
Receiving mixed reviews back in 1984, the humor in this Tom Hanks movie holds up really well. While including the occasional blue collared moment, the audience gets a well-paced romp with plenty of evidence to show how Hanks could have easily been a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world.