The 80s were a long time ago. There were no cell phones, no internet, no social media, no DVDs and no reality TV shows. Bruce Jenner was still indisputably a man. Michael Jackson still had an Afro. The USSR was still Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire”. And movies were terribly old-fashioned. Here are some that soared back then but would bomb now.
Dustin Hoffman dresses like a woman to further his acting career, yet he's not gay, does not marry another man and is not even a true transvestite. Who wants that? We’ve now gotten used to the real thing.
Ordinary People (1980)
Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton deal with family issues. The title alone would send an audience packing today. Without the help of imaginary monsters, space aliens, cyber cartels, gruffly tattooed cops and grizzled warlocks, this story would cause instant sleep in all of today’s moviegoers under age 30.
Out of Africa (1985)
Meryl Streep reads from Isak Dinesen’s diary about her farm in Africa and her love for Robert Redford. A diary? Why doesn’t she just text him? A farm? Isn’t that a game people play on Facebook? And Robert Redford? Isn’t he one of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore?
Kevin Bacon plays a city-bred teenager who moves out to the boondocks where dancing and rock music are banned by Christian fundamentalists. The story’s premise, which today seems as worn as a tire with 100,000 miles on it, was still fresh and original in the 80s.
A one-word title. And that word is not a notorious mobster, determined cop or action superhero, but instead a thin Indian guy in a gown (Ben Kingsley) who pedals a spinning wheel and refuses to use violence to overthrow British imperialists. What, no violence in a superhero? The entire project would be sent to the recycle bin before filming even began today.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Jessica Tandy is a rich old Jewish Atlanta lady who develops a friendship with Morgan Freeman, her black chauffeur. Most of the action is driving around in an old car that never crashes, explodes or morphs into a Tyrannosaurus Rex on wheels. After about 10 minutes with no gunshots or earthquakes, a modern audience would walk out.
Chariots of Fire
The only “fire” in the movie is the flame of the Olympic torch. A modern audience would abandon this flick upon realizing it had no dragons, no demons and no one-eyed evil gnome villains who live on asteroids. Instead it’s about Eric Liddell, a devout Christian Scotsman who refuses to run on Sunday in the 100m race in the 1924 Paris Olympics. A rival sprinter, Harold Abrahams, an English Jew, prospers as a result.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who plows up a cornfield to build a baseball diamond for reincarnated ghosts in loose flannel uniforms. Few of today’s millennials know what a cornfield is, even fewer know what a baseball is and not a single one knows what flannel is.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
A fearsome quintet of juvenile delinquents, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy do a day of detention in their suburban Chicago high school. Their offense? Is it drug trafficking? Pornography? Cyber-stalking? Conspiracy to plant viruses in all the world’s computers? Nope. They all talk too much and hate their parents. Tame stuff for today’s delinquents.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Robin Williams plays John Keating, a charismatic literature teacher who uses radical teaching methods at a straitlaced New England prep school in the 1950s. The problem is that none of his students are named Harry Potter, none can fly around on a broom and none have supernatural relations with trolls and wizards.