How long were we into the 1990s before the “80s Nostalgia Wave” hit? I remember it happening and remarking that it “hadn’t been long enough.” Was it 1995? 1994? It seems ridiculous that we could accurately handle the responsibility of nostalgia so soon after the fact.
But now, 20 years since our last toe-dip in the 1980s pool, it doesn’t seem so silly that we as a society began immediately yearning for those days. It was the last decade that was so clearly defined that the mention of, say, legwarmers or Monchichis was able to trigger memories of a very specific time.
The 90s still doesn’t really have its own personality, does it? When was the last time you went to a “90s Themed” party? And whatever we are calling the decade from 2000-2010 certainly is devoid of personality, right?
But the 1980s… yeah, for better or worse, everyone who remembers it has extremely specific memories. And for that matter, am I wrong or are the memories usually good ones now? Growing up in the Midwest, I know the music on our radio station was terrible. When I was in high school, I remember a kid I knew in California telling me about The Smiths, where all I had to offer was the merits of “I Go To Extremes” off Billy Joel’s Storm Front album. But 20 years on, all that has balanced out. I know listen to The Smiths AND Billy Joel’s Storm Front album, and all is right with the world.
The movies of the 1980s had their own flavor, too, and that is what I want to get at. What is the DEFINITIVE 1980s movie? That might be an impossible question to answer, but over the next couple weeks I will take a look at some key contenders to the title. But first, as always, some criteria to narrow the search.
- There must be a 1980s song attached that defines it the movie when you see it. In other words, when you now hear this song, you must think of the movie before anything else.
- I think the theme of “Triumph of the Underdog” must be present somewhere in the movie. This theme was almost as common as the overuse of the montage in 1980s movie.
- Must contain a montage sequence.
- The movie must have introduced us to an actor in a star-making performance. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is the first movie the actor made, just their “star-making” performance
OK- that is the criteria. The first movie in the running is 1986’s Top Gun.
How can you pick just one song from this soundtrack? What do you go with? The blue-lit tongue-heavy sex scene set to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”? The super-gay beach volleyball scene set to Kenny Loggin’s jaunty “Playing with the Boys” (sample lyrics: After chasing sunsets, one of life’s simple joys/Is the boys)? Or maybe just Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic “Top Gun Theme”? No, I think we all know that the only choice is another Loggins tune, the one that details the feeling of “metal under tension/begging you to touch and go”: “Danger Zone.”
I remember having to do an aerobics routine to this song during PE in Junior High. And yes, all anyone could think about was Top Gun.
As cocky as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was in Top Gun, he was the classic underdog. Remember, he and Goose only got to go to Miramar because Cougar was “holding on too tight” and had lost his edge. By the time Mav and Goose arrived, they were sort of thought of as a joke, especially by archrivals Iceman and Slider. Add to that the fact that Maverick was living in the shadow of his legend of a fighter pilot father, who no less than head CAG Viper had flown with previously. And after Goose’s death, Mav’s underdog status grew to the point that he considered chucking it all, only to rally at the last second in time to save ultimate Top Gun winners Iceman and Slider in a real-life skirmish against some Soviet MIGs. But by then, winning wasn’t important to Mav, you see… And THAT is what a triumph of the underdog is all about.
“Danger Zone” provided one of the montage sequences in Top Gun, right at the beginning. We got to see a variety of fighter jets blasting off the deck of an aircraft carrier, obscured in smoke and guys in oxygen masks. The other montage was the before-mentioned “Playing with the Boys” beach volleyball scene. Both montages don’t really cover large time period, as most good montages do. No, just the length of a plane taking off from an aircraft carrier or Rick Rossovich flexing.
As great as Risky Business was, and as iconic as Cruise was in the role (especially his underwear dancing to Seger’s “Old Time Rock n’ Roll”), he didn’t become a mega-super-duper star until Top Gun. We didn’t really know what type of actor Tom Cruise was going to become after Risky Business, but after Top Gun, there was no question that this guy was going to be headlining big-ass movies for the rest of his and our lives.
Is Top Gun the definitive 80s movie? We’ll have to look at some other choices before making the call. What are some other contenders that fit the criteria?