The 1980s was a decade full of campy, outrageous, and some downright questionable films. Even so, according to critics, some of the decade’s most outlandish projects are nothing more than misunderstood and underrated.
From the cult classic Black Rain to the dystopian world found in The Mosquito Coast, here are some of the most underrated films to come out of the 80s. Take a look because some of them might be worth a re-watch!
Prince Of The City
With a detective, corrupt cops, and an investigation that could ruin a friendship, Prince of the City might have bombed at the box office, making $8 million off an $8.5 million budget, but critics advise film lovers to give it another chance.
With interesting characters, a detailed landscape, and a deep plot, Roger Ebert called Prince of the City “a very good movie and, like some of its characters, it wants to break your heart. Maybe it will.”
Due to word-of-mouth about the bleak ending of Blow Out, the neo-noir mystery film about a government scheme, ultimately bombed at the box office, making $13.8 million off an $18 million budget.
Even though the film did poorly at the box office, it actually received stellar reviews from critics, including Roger Ebert. He gave the film a whopping four stars and said, “Blow Out is inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence. The audience isn’t condescended to…we share the excitement of figuring out how things develop and unfold, when so often the movies only need us as passive witnesses.”
Poking fun at the complete absurdity of suburban life, The ‘Burbs was not exactly a hard-hitting blockbuster when it was first released in 1989. The thing is, the eccentric plot of an over-the-top neighborhood watch, led by Tom Hanks, is actually a marvelous premise that was vastly underrated at the time.
According to IMDb, the comedy film is actually the 11th most underrated film to come out of the decade.
The 1986 film Something Wild is as campy as it can get. Following Lulu, a free-spirited woman, the film sees her “kidnap” an uptight banker to pose as her husband at her high school reunion. Too bad her actual husband shows up!
A questionable plot with screwball comedy tendencies, the film is actually vastly underrated. In fact, Roger Ebert called the film “quite a movie. Demme is a master of finding the bizarre in the ordinary. The accomplishment of Demme and the writer, E. Max Frye, is to think their characters through before the very first scene.”
An exciting, action-packed film, Thief ultimately left some viewers disappointed. It goes from a fast-paced and believable criminal underbelly of mobs and stealing to a very cryptic conclusion that leaves audience members unsatisfied and puzzled.
Even so, film critics very much enjoyed the underrated film, with Roger Ebert calling it “one of the most intelligent thrillers I’ve seen,” giving the neo-noir heist action thriller film three and a half out of a four-star rating.
The Return Of The Living Dead
While The Return of the Living Dead paved the way for the rest of the franchise, the 1985 comedy horror was a bit campy, even for the time. Performing moderately at the box office, the film actually garnered positive reviews from multiple critics.
Giving the film three stars out of four, Roger Ebert said the film is “kind of a sensation-machine, made out of the usual ingredients, and the real question is whether it’s done with style. It is.”
Parodying films such as musicals starring Elvis, World War II films, and even spy movies, Top Secret! was eccentric and a box office failure. According to critics, the film is very underrated and misunderstood.
An action comedy, Top Secret! is a film that people have to watch with an open mind. Critic Roger Ebert said, “to describe the plot would be an exercise in futility…This movie will cheerfully go for a laugh wherever one is even remotely likely to be found.”
Coming off a two-year hiatus, Academy-Award winner Michael Douglas comes back with a vengeance in the neo-noir action film Black Rain. Portraying NYPD officer Detective Nick Conklin, the film follows Douglas as he finds himself in the criminal underworld of Japan, namely the Yakuza.
While the film has become a cult classic, it was underrated and underappreciated upon its initial 1989 release.
When the psychological thriller Dead Calm was released in 1989, it was praised for its oceanic cinematography and the performances of Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, and Billy Zane. Even so, viewers still thought it was overrated, thanks to the over-the-top conclusion and questionable plot points throughout the script.
Critics did not agree, though, with Variety writer David Stratton saying, “throughout the film, Nicole Kidman is excellent…the picture is a nail-biting suspense pic, handsomely produced and inventively directed.”
The 1986 film Lucas took a different approach to the high school experience, showcasing teenagers as being something more than egotistical and selfish. People didn’t really know how to respond to the switch in trope, and the film bombed at the box office.
According to critics, Lucas should have been an outright success, with Roger Ebert calling it a movie “about teenagers who are looking how to be good with each other, to care, and not simply to be filled with egotism, lust, and selfishness, which is all most Hollywood movies think teenagers can experience.” He even put it on his Top 10 movies of the year.
The Mosquito Coast
Initially, the dystopian world of The Mosquito Coast was not well-received by critics or viewers. While people praised Harrison Ford’s performance as an erratic father who moved his family into the jungles of Central America from the United States, that is where the positive reviews ended.
Interestingly, it turns out the film was vastly underrated upon its 1986 release. More modern reviews have come about in recent years, calling the drama film “a fascinating and strange character study.”
Produced, directed, and starring Clint Eastwood, Pale Rider was a western that ultimately didn’t connect with the modern theater-going audience. Westerns were just out of style, plain and simple. Critics believe it was underrated, though.
Many praised Eastwood’s talents both in front of and behind the camera. One review in the New York Times spoke of the movie, saying, “it’s so evocative of a fabled time and place that it never allows the movie to self-destruct in parody.”
A dark fantasy adventure, the 1988 film Willow was met with questionable reviews upon its release. While many people praised the special effects and performances, it didn’t deter them from the slow-paced plot.
People should give the film another shot, though, if for nothing more than Warwick Davis’ amazing performance as the title character Willow and the special effects that resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Visual Effects. The film was also nominated for Sound Effects Editing.
Released at the beginning of the decade, Heaven’s Gate was met with severe backlash, prompting United Artists to pull the entire project from all theaters. Initially, the film was disliked by many until the re-edits.
The re-edits done decades later have propelled Heaven’s Gate into BBC’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time.
To Lie And Die In L.A.
Following the story of two Secret Service agents who go to arrest a counterfeit criminal, To Live and Die in L.A. was controversial when it was first released in 1985, thanks to the instance amount of violence showcased.
Even so, critics urge people to revisit this underrated neo-noir. Roger Ebert even gave the film a four-star rating, saying, “the movie is also first-rate. The direction is the key. Friedkin has made some good movies…and some bad ones. This is his comeback, showing the depth and skill of the early pictures.”
The King Of Comedy
Poking fun at the general public’s insane desire to worship celebrities and be “in the know” of pop culture, The King of Comedy stands the test of time. Sadly, upon its release, the film bombed at the box office, with people commentating that it was showcasing personality traits people didn’t want to acknowledge.
That might be the reason why critics praised the film, saying people should watch the film since it does cut “close to the bone.”
A typical 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger-led film, Commando is filled with witting one-liners, an underdeveloped plot, and ridiculous action sequences. Even so, it is one of the standout movies of the decade, one that critics believe is vastly underrated.
In his review, Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times said, “Full of spectacular stunts and shootouts, it’s a gory crowd-pleaser, directed with jolting efficiency by low-budget veteran Mark L. Lester.” The film debuted at number one in 1985 and held the position for three consecutive weeks.
When Body Double was first released in 1984, it was met with lackluster reviews. Between the violence and adult film industry showcased in the film, people weren’t jumping at the chance to watch the film. Fast-forward a few decades, and critics urge people to give it another chance.
The beautiful direction and cinematography, on top of the intense subject matter of a murder mystery happening in the Hollywood Hills, have made Body Double a cult classic.
Clean And Sober
Starring Michael Keaton as a real estate agent struggling with substance abuse issues, Clean and Sober only holds 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It was Keaton’s first move away from comedic roles, and people weren’t too happy with his performance.
That being said, film critic Roger Ebert’s thoughts are vastly different. In his review of the movie, Ebert praised Keaton’s performance and said the film showcased a common issue in society very well.