Recently, we delved into the 5 best military movies of the 1990s, so it only seemed right that we give the 1980’s the same treatment, especially now that most of us are stuck in our houses without much else to do than take a trip down cinema’s memory lane.
Whenever you’re compiling a list of movies like this, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss some really good picks. In a decade like the 1980s, when there was a laundry list of great films depicting military service or a time of war, the chances that you’ll miss a doozy becomes that much more significant. After all, how do you choose between Clint Eastwood’s “Heartbreak Ridge,” and Robin Williams’ “Good Morning Vietnam?” Easy, I didn’t include either — and I’m sure that’ll ruffle some feathers.
That’s what’s so great about film and analyzing its value or impact. A movie that means the world to you may not have had any impact at all on the next guy. It’s value to you isn’t diminished by his opinion and it doesn’t have to be. Everybody can have their own favorites.
So with the understanding that this list won’t be exhaustive and will probably make some folks mad — here’s my list of the best military movies of the 1980s.
Right out of the gate, including this movie on the list requires a disclaimer: In order to be a good military movie, you don’t need to be realistic. “Iron Eagle” is a lot of things, but realistic isn’t one of them.
For those who haven’t seen it, “Iron Eagle” is the story of a young man named Doug Masters who aspires to be a pilot like his father, U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Col. Ted Masters. When Col. Masters is shot down over the fictional Arab nation of Bilya, Doug enlists the help of another fighter pilot, Colonel “Chappy” Sinclair. The two hatch a scheme to steal two F-16 Fighting Falcons and somehow fly them all the way to the Middle East, take on an entire Air Force, land on an enemy airstrip, and fly Doug’s dad home.
This movie is about as realistic as my chances of being elected president in 2020, but that doesn’t matter. This silly romp is a blast to watch, especially if you enjoy ironically watching ridiculous movies.
While it maybe a bit slow paced compared to high budget action movies of today, “Red Dawn” earns its spot on this list thanks to solid acting from its young cast (some of whom went on to successful careers in Hollywood) and its semi-serious approach to depicting an America that’s not only at war… but losing it.
“Red Dawn” can certainly be categorized as pro-American propaganda, but if you ask me, that just makes it all the more fun. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains one of America’s primary diplomatic opponents on the world’s stage, making it that much easier to revel in the Wolverine’s efforts to take back their town from the combined Cuban and Soviet occupational forces.
If you can watch this movie and not scream “Wolverines” at the top of your lungs, you’re a better movie-goer than I am.
What do you get when you take two future governors, a Hollywood script writer, and Apollo Creed and stick them in the jungle with a bunch of guns? You get what is perhaps the greatest piece of action satire of all time.
You might be surprised to hear me refer to “Predator” as a satire film, but when you take a step back and really look at the framework of this movie, you’ll realize that it is a pretty clever deconstruction of the big-budget action movies of the 80’s. It’s got all the same ingredients of an 80’s thrill ride, but delivered in a way that takes the wind right out our action hero’s sails. After using traditional action movie tactics to easily wipe out a village of bad guys, Dutch’s vaguely special operations crew are then faced with a far worthier opponent: a monster that doesn’t yield to the tropes of action movie heroes.
What follows is a rapid transition from action movie to slasher flick, and a movie that doesn’t just hold up over time, but offers an insightful critique of movie culture in general.
While “Top Gun” may take the number two spot on this list, it’s ranked number one in terms of recruiting. “Top Gun” offered many Americans their first glimpse into the world of Naval aviation, and in particular, the Navy’s very real Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program.
With a long awaited sequel slated to drop later this year, Top Gun’s appeal clearly stands the test of time, even if Maverick is admittedly a pretty bad pilot that has no place in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat. This movie led to a boon in Navy recruiting, with some recruiters setting up tables right outside cinema doors to engage with excited young aspiring pilots while their blood pressure was still high.
Once again, “Top Gun” proved that you don’t have to be realistic to be great. Here’s hoping the new one can do the same.
After the massive hit that was “Alien,” the much anticipated sequel somehow managed to add a platoon of Space Marines and still retain the chilling vibe the “Alien” universe is known for. Now, this movie may not take place in a fictional Arab nation or involve existing military branches, but who doesn’t love a story about Space Marines fighting alien monsters?
This movie might be the least “military” of the lot, but it’s also the most fun to re-watch again and again, which earns it a whole lot of extra credit in my book. For Marines like me, we may not want to associate with the cowardly yelps of Bill Paxton’s Pvt. Hudson, but let’s all be honest with ourselves… a few yelps are warranted when you’re being hunted by a slimy space monster with acid for blood.
That does it for my list of the best military movies of the 1980s, so the question is: what’s on your list?
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