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
Today’s Contender: Rocky III
I feel like I am writing about Rocky III every other day, but that is just fine because it is one of the most enduring of the Rocky series (the second best of them all, methinks), and one of most representative of the decade we call 80s. Only two Rocky movies were released during the 1980s- Rocky III in 1983 and Rocky IV in 1985. Why does the third entry get the nod over #4? Four words: Eye of the Tiger.
The first criteria in the hunt for the Definitive 1980s movie is that there is a song attached that is so linked to the movie that the two cannot be separated. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor is such a song. The importance of this song to this movie cannot be overstated. Not only does it provide the the soundtrack for the first (of a few) montages- you know the one, where we see Rocky’s rise to soft celebrity after defeating Apollo for the title- but the words “eye of the tiger” actually becomes a plot point in the movie itself. You see, that opening montage shows Rocky hobnobbing with the likes of The Muppets and hawking American Express cards, while Mr. T (as bad guy Clubber Lang) lurks in the shadows, planning his attack. Rocky has lost his edge, his drive to win. He has lost… the eye of the tiger.
Rocky IV had no such song- “No Easy Way Out”, “Hearts on Fire” and “Burning Heart” (also by Survivor) just couldn’t compare to the lightning in a bottle, the synergy, of Rocky III and “Eye of the Tiger”. On a personal note, “Eye of the Tiger” was the first bit of music I ever bought for myself with my own money. It was on a “45.
The second criteria is that the movie must be demonstrative of the theme “Triumph of the Underdog.” Well, the Rocky movies are about nothing if not the triumph of the underdog. Interestingly, the second movie ended with the underdog literally triumphing. Where do you go for #3? Well… if you are Sylvester Stallone, you turn Rocky into an underdog again. You let him get soft by battling opponents handpicked by his manager, Mickey. You have him lose his title to a much stronger and scarier opponent. You kill his mentor, Mickey (that was a hell of a thing when Mickey died… sigh.). And you finally put him through the training ringer by having Apollo take the reins and help him regain the eye of the tiger. Oh, Adrian finally raises her voice above a whisper in this one as well, taking Rock to task on a California beach.
When Rocky finally beats Clubber at the end of this (using the Muhammed Ali “Rope-a-Dope”), the underdog has once again triumphed.
In terms of montages, the Rocky series are lousy with them. I won’t spend much time on this, as I have already mentioned one montage that appears at the beginning of the movie. But, as with all Rocky movies, the best and only montage worth mentioning is the Training Montage. I could write about this… but its easier to just show you. Watch and admire.
Finally, the Definitive 1980s movie must have introduced an actor in a starmaking performance. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give to you… Laurence Tureaud, a.k.a. Mr. T. No one had heard of this guy before the movie- I believe he was working as a Chicago bartender or something. After this movie, though… DC Cab, The A-Team, a cartoon where he solved crimes with a group of gymnasts, and of course, Mr. T Cereal.
Mr. T was nothing short of a phenomenon. He even began wrestling with WWF superstar (and Rocky III co-star) Hulk Hogan in some heavily publicized Wrestlemania events. Again, on another personal note, I remember meeting Mr. T at the height of his fame. I was playing on a soccer traveling team at the time, and for some reason we got to play at Wrigley Field before a Chicago Sting (remember the Sting?) game. Mr. T was on hand to kick off the opening ball of that game, but came over to meet all of us little guys beforehand.
I’m not sure I have ever been quite so starstruck, before or since. And when he did the opening kick, they had rigged the ball to explode because… well, because Mr. T is so strong. Only the ball kind of just fizzled and got stuck on his foot. He kicked and kicked, but it just hung on to his toe. He made a nice show of it, though- growling and flexing; you know, pitying the fool (ball).
I digress- what do you think? Rocky III?