Only in the 80s: Five great family films that adults can actually watch

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

In the 90s, film genres seemed to begin fragmenting into niche areas. Independent filmmaking came into commercial prominence with directors like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers turning pulp stories into pop-art. In the blockbuster world, dramas became more challenging, comedies became sillier and the gap between adult’s and kid’s cinema seemed to expand radically. In fact, the gap between genres and audience demographics has now widened so much that today a “family film” pretty much means a kids’ film. Adults are just lucky that Pixar and, on occasion, Dreamworks, are capable of generating good kids’ films that accommodate adults almost as much as children. But back in the 80s things were far more complicated, and a family film could be almost any genre as long as it met an age appropriate ratings classification. Back then, families enjoyed films like Back to the Future, E.T, The Princess Bride, and hell, even Gremlins! These are arguably some of the greatest films of all time and they managed to get by on an irony-free sense of fun, without being dumbed down or softened for younger audiences. Somehow they were equally appealing to all ages.

There have been some attempts to re-engage the family audience more universally over the last few years. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was simultaneously a magical kids’ story and a great exploration of the history of cinema – but in reality it was received fare more appreciatively by adults than children. Neil Gaiman’s Stardust was turned into a film in 2007, and was a refreshing return to the kind of fantasy films that came out of the 80s, but it wasn’t in the same league as classic’s like The Princess Bride. There was also J.J. Abram’s Super 8, a beautiful homage to Spielberg’s E.T.

It seems that a lot of the more unique cinematic efforts over the last ten years or so have been hiding behind a veil of nostalgic tongue-in-cheek irony and retrospective homage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but in this age of remakes, sequels, and the post-modern, self-reflexive meta-ness it seems that we’re too shy or embarrassed to tell fun original stories.

There are countless family greats to come out of the 80’s, but here are my top five.

1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Believe it or not this dark masterpiece was actually made for the whole family. Compare this to what kids are watching today.

2. E.T. (1982)

Only Spielberg could make such a high-concept family drama so moving.

3. Big (1988)

A magical coming of age story that you can never be too “big” to enjoy.

4. The Princess Bride (1987)

A swashbuckling fantasy comedy that wasn’t too complicated for the children of the 80’s to follow.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Why aren’t blockbuster adventures made this artfully today?

 

I’m a skinny little bugger (with a growing pot belly) who’s obsessed with movies and cries lots during the soppy bits. I hope that one day I can make YOU cry with my own movies. Read more about my obsession at www.cktop100.wordpress.com.

13 thoughts on “Only in the 80s: Five great family films that adults can actually watch

  1. “Big” as a kids movie? I can maybe see why it was billed that way, but jeez, “13 going on 30” (the later, much worse remake) certainly wasn’t. I wonder what this trend to infantalize the books & movies we deem “appropriate” for kids will ultimately lead to? Sometimes it seems like the realm of what’s appropriate is growing smaller and smaller.

    • Agreed. I think that due to the effect the internet’s had on the industry, films are being made for more specific audiences. Hence, kids films are sillier and “safer”, and horror films are gorier and stupider.

  2. Good topic! I’ve been thinking about this as well, after it recently hit me that there are virtually no family films (good OR bad) anymore. I think one could argue that intelligent animated features like Paranorman or most of what Pixar does could qualify as family films, but the live-action family film is practically extinct.

  3. “they managed to get by on an irony-free sense of fun, without being dumbed down or softened for younger audiences”…. I could not agree more. This goes hand in hand with… “but in this age of remakes, sequels, and the post-modern, self-reflexive meta-ness it seems that we’re too shy or embarrassed to tell fun original stories.” …I think it’s this “meta-ness,” this inability to get out of the dreck of post-modern culture/theory/society that is behind much of the really terrible stuff coming out. Everyone thinks they’re a little genius, so why wouldn’t a genius riff on his/her own sense of ‘brilliant’ irony rather than do the work of creating a real story, new characters? It’s a case of ‘I’m going to show you how smart I am’ that only succeeds in showing what a dullard they are.

    I had an art professor once describe post-modernism as jeans that cost about $30 being re-invented into a high-class item that now costs $200+…he then added, the death of post-modernism will be by mocking that item that costs $200+ to show how ‘brilliant’ and ‘in-touch’ we are while slavishly subscribing to it. Welcome to post-post modernism; sucks, no? I asked him how do we get out of this cultural hell; he didn’t know…damn it.

    Oh, gotta add, I never thought of the Coen’s “Barton Fink” as pop-ish…seems to not fit.

    • Lol, thanks Mr. Boyt.

      ‘Barton Fink’ is my favourite Coen brothers movie and perhaps for that very reason. I was talking about their work generally and not in a bad way. I meant that the Coens brought more challenging stuff to the mainstream, i.e. ‘Fargo’, or ‘The Big Lebowski’. The 90’s was the decade of independent cinema after all.

  4. “… in this age of remakes, sequels, and the post-modern, self-reflexive meta-ness it seems that we’re too shy or embarrassed to tell fun original stories.” What a great line, Christian! You are spot on! A recent movie that I believe can count as a good family film is “Here Comes the Boom” (2012) in which Kevin James plays a teacher who competes as a mixed-martial arts fighter (even the loser gets paid) to raise money for the school band. Fun family movie!

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