As much as the '70s kickstarted the blockbuster trend, the '80s was when it began to solidify itself with audiences.
From 1980 onwards, you had studios angling more specifically towards the summer market and were keenly targeting younger audiences with movies like 'Back To The Future', 'Dirty Dancing', 'WarGames', and by the end of the decade, 'Batman'.
We kick off our ranking with...
10. 'TOP GUN' (1986)
Yes, 'Top Gun' was utterly jingoistic. Yes, 'Top Gun' definitely had some unintentional homoeroticism. Yes, the ending of 'Top Gun' didn't make any sense because shooting down a Russian MiG would have definitely started up in World War III. Yes, 'Top Gun' takes itself so seriously that it's ripe for parody. Yes, 'Top Gun' has more than a few questions to answer regarding it being a recruitment tool for the US Navy.
So, if we can agree to all of this and whatever else, can it not also be agreed that 'Top Gun' is a raucously entertaining, endlessly quotable blockbuster that catapulted Tom Cruise into super-stardom? Moreover, the fact that Tony Scott was able to craft such an energetic film out of what's effectively a guy who's on a training course for a few weeks shows the level of skill and talent that's present here.
9. 'THREE MEN AND A BABY' (1987)
Although 'Three Men And A Baby' is remembered from its now-debunked urban legend, it's easy to see how it managed to make nearly eleven times its production budget on its theatrical run in cinemas alone. Quite simply, it's a healing tonic of a movie and the three charismatic leads - '80s favourites Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson - all play along ably with the somewhat odd premise. Leaving aside the unnecessary subplot involving a drug deal gone wrong, what makes 'Three Men And A Baby' such a heartwarming movie is how genuine and easy the rapport is between the three leads and the titular baby itself and, as well, the deft manner in which Leonard Nimoy balances them all together.
8. 'BATMAN' (1989)
If Richard Donner's 'Superman' was the first successful superhero comic-book adaptation, 'Batman' proved that it wasn't just a fluke and - more specifically - that it could be just as decorative, imaginative and artful. Much of this was in Tim Burton's unique vision. There's even a major sequence that takes place in an art gallery where Nicholson's Joker specifically saves a Francis Bacon painting from being vandalised, yet happily signs his name on an Edward Hopper work. Combine this with Prince's outrageous soundtrack, which set a precedent for tie-in music that'd continue right through to the '90s, and you've got one of the most original movies of the '80s.
7. 'BACK TO THE FUTURE' (1985)
It's a testament to DeLorean's utter failure that one of the biggest movies of the '80s, which has since become a cornerstone of popular culture, couldn't even save it from extinction. Leaving aside the fate of the DMC-1 or in retrospect that it's odd how a teenager is hanging around with a deranged elderly scientist, 'Back To The Future' sparkles with an energy that's unmistakable and all of its own making. It's light, airy, full of humour and has a riveting, propulsive soundtrack from Alan Silvestri as well as a killer tie-in song from '80 stalwarts Huey Lewis & The News.
6. 'DIE HARD' (1988)
The setup of 'Die Hard', though unique of its time, has now become as much a descriptor as anything else. For example, 'Speed' was 'Die Hard' on a bus, 'Under Siege' was 'Die Hard' on a battleship, 'Olympus Has Fallen' was 'Die Hard' in the White House. Place any lone, outnumbered protagonist in a situation where he has to outwit a team of highly-trained villains who should always have the upper hand and you can draw a straight line from it to 'Die Hard'. It's that simple.
5. 'GHOSTBUSTERS' (1984)
Piping in the chaotic humour from Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis with a high concept bent from Ivan Reitman had served the quartet well in the past. 'Stripes' was a precursor to 'Ghostbusters' in that you had a group of misfits in a highly regimented environment goofing around, trying to find their way into a groove. 'Ghostbusters' began from this - three scientists in '80s New York, trying to leave academia behind and go into business - and then warped itself into a special-effects laden blockbuster along with a much more darker premise than people realise - the building was a portal to another dimension that would literally destroy all life as we know it. But, sure, we all remember Mr. Stay Puft rampaging through New York and Bill Murray phoning it in with a few one-liners.
4. 'DIRTY DANCING' (1987)
While 'Dirty Dancing' didn't have a blockbuster budget or have any aspect of its production that could be considered as such - Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey were all relatively unknown properties before this - the subsequent box office earnings for it were astronomical in the '80s. All told from its theatrical run alone, 'Dirty Dancing' made thirty-five times its budget - $215,000,000 against $6,000,000. That alone is impressive, but it's even more so when you realise that the studio behind it had absolutely no faith in its success whatsoever. After seeing the completed cut of the film, one of the executives from the studio suggested they burn the negatives and collect the insurance bond on the money rather than release it. To think, we'd never know that Jennifer Grey carried a watermelon.
3. 'RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK' (1981)
As much as Steven Spielbeg is remembered for his work on the likes of 'Schindler's List', 'ET' (which tops this very list) and so on, Indiana Jones is the one Spielbergian creation that he can't wholly take credit for. The interpid archaeologist was made by Harrison Ford in the same way Harrison Ford was made by Indiana Jones. You had all the grizzled charm, the gruff humour, somehow making the most staid of subjects into something extraordinarily dangerous, all of it coalesced on screen with Ford under the hat. That Tom Selleck almost landed the role - and famously had to relent over commitments to 'Magnum PI' - is baffling when you think about it. There's nobody else who could have possibly played this role.
2. 'THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK' (1980)
While 'Star Wars' was the launching pad for George Lucas' billion dollar empire, 'The Empire Strikes Back' was when it matured from a 'Flash Gordon'-esque adventure to something much more deeper. Darth Vader was always a terrifying presence in the first one, but here he was an obsessed psychopath who was hiring hardened criminals and killers to track down his son's friends just so he could torture them to bring him out of hiding so he could freeze him and present him to his master.
More to the point, when you look at how Irvin Kershner directed each and every scene, it's clear that he was doing with far more confidence than Lucas ever did. There's no way Lucas could have had a scene like this in the first one.
1. 'E.T: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL' (1982)
During its run at the box office, Steven Spielberg reportedly earned half a million PER DAY in profits. It stayed at the top - or in second place - of the US box office for four months. When it came time for the Oscars, Richard Attenborough's 'Gandhi' won the award for Best Picture and claimed truthfully that not only did he think 'ET' would have won instead of his own work, he thought that it should have won.
In an interview during the making of 'Jurassic Park', Attenborough happily declared that 'ET' was "inventive, powerful, [and] wonderful." It's telling as well that Spielberg specifically opted against making a sequel for it, as he wanted to preserve the movie in its uniqueness and not sully it. Is it a perfect movie? It's hard to say, because so much of it is wrapped up in memories and emotional responses from people who watched it young and grew up from it. Nearly four decades on, it's still an emotional gut-punch.