Top 10 drama movies of the '80s to bring the retro vibe back to life

By Adam C. BetterJun 30, 2024 17:03 PMFilms
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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Source: www.intofilm.org

When discussing the cinematic landscape of the 1980s, people often focus on the larger-than-life blockbusters that defined the era. Spielberg became a household name, franchise horror films took center stage, and home media revolutionized the industry. Yet, it is essential not to overlook the significant contributions of drama as a genre during this period. This is prepared by SSP.

Dramatic films in the 1980s were sometimes overlooked, deemed too artistic or noncommercial to capture wide audiences. However, we believe it's time to shine a light on these hidden gems. So, let's hop into our metaphorical time machine and rediscover some of the finest dramas from the 1980s.

1. Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)

Starting our journey with "Coal Miner's Daughter," directed by Michael Apted, we enter the life of Loretta Lynn, a country music singer. The film takes us through her humble beginnings as a teenager in poverty, navigating her way to success in the music industry. Sissy Spacek delivers a remarkable performance as Lynn, earning her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar.

2. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Based on Harry Grey's novel "The Hoods," "Once Upon a Time in America" delves into the lives of Noodles and Max, two childhood friends turned gangsters in New York's organized crime scene. Directed by Sergio Leone, this crime epic stars Robert De Niro and James Woods, and despite its initial commercial failure, the film has found recognition as a true masterpiece.

3. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander" is a period drama set in 1907, following the lives of two siblings dealing with the loss of their father and facing the horrors of their abusive stepfather. Bergman delivers a semi-autobiographical masterpiece, showcasing a family's dynamics while exploring universal themes. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning four of them.

4. The Right Stuff (1983)

Philip Kaufman's "The Right Stuff" transports us to 1957 when the United States Government recruits test pilots to train them as astronauts for Project Mercury. This historical drama offers insights into the pioneering days of the American space program, focusing on the bravery and sacrifices made by those involved. Despite being overshadowed by more fantastical films in its release year, "The Right Stuff" received critical acclaim and won four Academy Awards.

5. Testament (1983)

In the bleak drama "Testament," directed by Lynne Littman, we witness the Wetherly family's survival in the aftermath of a nuclear catastrophe. This heart-wrenching experience explores the devastating effects of a nuclear disaster on everyday life and the resilience of a mother played powerfully by Jane Alexander.

6. Amadeus (1984)

Centuries of musical history come alive in "Amadeus," directed by Miloš Forman. This fictionalized account centers around Antonio Salieri's vie with musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, expressing his envy, admiration, and ultimately, his plotted murder. The film's performances, especially Tom Hulce's portrayal of Mozart, create a mesmerizing portrayal of class, jealousy, and artistic genius. "Amadeus" received critical acclaim and won eight Oscars, cementing it as a legendary period drama.

7. Do the Right Thing (1989)

"Do the Right Thing," from visionary filmmaker Spike Lee, illuminates the collision of African-American and Italian-American communities on a sweltering summer day in Brooklyn. Through the eyes of protagonist Mookie, played by Lee himself, the film vividly demonstrates the poisonous effects of racism on social dynamics, leading to a boiling point of tension. Inspired by real events, "Do the Right Thing" remains an important and impactful film that challenges viewers beyond their comfort zones.

8. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" invites us into a small Sicily town in the post-World War II era, following the enchanting relationship between a projectionist and a young boy named Salvatore. Through their shared love of movies, this bittersweet drama explores the lasting impact of cinema on individuals and communities. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, "Cinema Paradiso" is an ode to the magic of cinema itself.

9. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" takes viewers on an unflinching journey through the training and experiences of Marines during the Vietnam War. Kubrick's modern take on war delves deep into the alienation, dehumanization, and psychological impact of military life. The film's stark portrayal of the brutalities of war remains captivating and unforgettable.

10. Stand By Me (1986)

Lastly, we encounter "Stand By Me," directed by Rob Reiner. Set in 1959, the film portrays the touching story of four friends on a quest to find a missing boy's body and achieve local fame. This poignant coming-of-age drama highlights themes of friendship, maturity, and the fragility of life. Based on Stephen King's novella, "Stand By Me" masterfully captures the essence of youth and leaves a lasting impression.

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