REWIND & RANK: TOP 10 Movies of 1981

RANKING THE YEAR’S BEST: FROM OSCAR MOVIES TO BLOCKBUSTERS

Walk down memory lane… And let the movie nerd debate begin.

rewind1981TOP 10 Lists are always tons of fun. You can debate my choices, while also getting a better idea of how I review newer movies. You never know, you might even uncover a hidden gem or two.

Let’s REWIND to the year 1981.

These are personal TOP 10s ranking Oscar-nominated movies right alongside popcorn-munching blockbusters, indie films, b-movies, and cult classics.

1981 was a great year for popcorn. The #1 movie at the box office was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with $212 million domestically (not adjusted for inflation). Although, there are several big dramas I haven’t seen, like ABSENCE OF MALICE, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, and ON GOLDEN POND.

My TOP 10 is followed by HONORABLE MENTIONS.

Let’s dig in…


THE TOP 10

10. HEAVY METAL

This Canadian animated film is NOT for kids. Adapting the sci-fi pulps of HEAVY METAL magazine, this grindhouse cult classic isn’t for everyone. Those that like a bit of cyberpunk mixed with some ultra-violence and edgy themes will feel right at home with this over-the-top galactic adventure.

9. STRIPES

Billy Murray steals the show in this Harold Ramis super comedy co-starring John Candy. R-rated and milking every moment of guilty pleasure, this cult classic about new army recruits has tons of laughs. While not as well-known as CADDYSHACK or GHOSTBUSTERS this is a must-watch for Murray fans.

8. THIEF

Michael Mann (HEAT) stylishly directs this totally 80s vibing thriller. The dark story and edgy performances feel like a Scorsese flick. This underrated hidden gem heist picture is worth hunting down.

7. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK

John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN and THE THING) turns to action for this over-the-top adventure starring Kurt Russell as the ultimate badass. The eyepatch helps. This ticking clock scenario involves explosive implants and saving the president. This cult classic helped invent the anti-hero sub-genre.

6. MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR

The sequel to the grimy, hard-hitting Australian original stars Mel Gibson, returning to his iconic action-hero role. George Miller once again directs, assuring the intensity will be balls to the walls. A simple story executed well. If you haven’t seen the original MAD MAX flicks, why not start here.

5. DAS BOOT

One of the best foreign films of all time. This intense thriller takes place in a German submarine during the war. Strong characters, choking atmosphere, and astounding direction make this a real highlight of 1981.

4. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

The phenomenal transformation scene alone makes this a must-watch for horror fans. While taking its subject seriously, there is also a lot of dark humour to enjoy. The story manages to scare us with more than werewolves too. There are some real surprises in store for those new to the movie. This flick deserves its place in cinematic history.

3. QUEST FOR FIRE

This Canadian film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (THE BEAR, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET) tells us the story of primitive man. A tribe of Neanderthals, incapable of making their own fire, set out on a long journey to find a new flame and return to their people. While there is no dialogue, this rare glimpse into prehistory makes this movie entirely enthralling. It almost feels like a documentary made by time travelers. The film takes a stunning turn when our tribe (including Ron Perlman) meets early humans. This rich exploration of early culture is incredibly captivating. One of my favourite movies of all time.

2. THE EVIL DEAD

1981 had some all-time greats. One of the best horror movies ever is this Sam Raimi directed cult classic. Starring Bruce Campbell as Ash vs the undead, this gore-soaked horror flick takes the familiar cabin in the woods premise and executes it brilliantly. Stylishly directed, blindingly energetic sequences, amazing sound design, and fantastic legendary special FX for the era, all combine in a strange brew concoction unfit for mass consumption. My perfectly weird cup of tea.

1. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

Another all-timer. The first INDIANA JONES flick is one of the best adventures ever put to screen. Harrison Ford plays one of the best heroes ever made. His sly smirk and badass attitude makes him an unlikely archaelogist who’s willing to get his hands dirty. Incredible action set-pieces and a triumphant score fuel the fun. When you think of popcorn, you think of RAIDERS. One of the best blockbuster experiences ever!


HONORABLE MENTIONS

listed alphabetically

AMERICAN POP / THE BURNING / CLASH OF THE TITANS / FOR YOUR EYES ONLY / FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 2 / HALLOWEEN 2 / THE HOWLING / SCANNERS


MY WATCHLIST

notable movies i need to see

ABSENCE OF MALICE / ARTHUR / BLOW OUT / BODY HEAT / THE CANNONBALL RUN / CHARIOTS OF FIRE / CUTTER’S WAY / DEADLY BLESSING / MY DINNER WITH ANDRE / GALLIPOLI / MEPHISTO / NEIGHBORS / ON GOLDEN POND / THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE / THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER / REDS / TAPS / TIME BANDITS


What do you think?

Stay tuned for REWIND & RANK: 2002.

24 thoughts on “REWIND & RANK: TOP 10 Movies of 1981

  1. I’d pretty much put the same movies in a list as your Top 10 and the to watch list I’d basically follow as well. Except I haven’t seen Heavy Metal and The Quest for Fire which you’ve got me very interested in. Also I have seen Body Heat and Gallipoli and all I can say is you are in for a treat. Arguably the best film noir and war film ever. Yeah I said it. They’re certainly up there. Interestingly enough I just watched Heat on a streaming service and found it fantastic after wanting to see it for years. The diner scene is James Caan’s favourite out of the one he’s done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fuck me. You’re gonna love Quest For Fire (based on what I can tell from your comments). It’s not like it’s Terrence Mallick level of poetry and participation, but since there is no language and an emphasis on visuals (plus themes), I feel it earns comparison. When you get in the mood of a great nature documentary or (pre)history lesson, track it down. I think it’s soooo special! In turn, I’ll try to find Body Heat & Gallipoli 😉 I dunno if Heat can beat Double Indemnity for best noir, but damn you’ve got me intrigued now hehehe. And as for Caan, you ever see Thief? It’s a visually impressive thriller from Michael Mann.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Heavy Metal I can definitely understand not liking 😉 But man do I love Quest for Fire. I want more movies about primitive man. And the scope was so beautiful. Then again, I’m super nerdy too. Hehehe. I think you’ll like Thief. It has good story and characters, but that Michael Mann style is a huge draw.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Right on #writeon. Thanks for chiming in. I’m an 80s kid too. It’s hard to weigh nostalgia, but these lists include all movies, from Oscars to guilty pleasures… which in this totally awesome decade included a whole lot 😉 What’s one of your favourites from 1981?

      Like

      1. That would be a hard one to answer. Raiders, Escape from New York, The Evil Dead, Road Warrior 2, American Werewolf on your list are all some I love. Cannonball Run is another I watched all the time when I was a kid. I bet if I looked up a list of movies from that year I would find a lot more.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the compliment. I can’t figure out social media / blogging 😉 I don’t even know if people actually read articles hehehe. I had some good followers then switched to dot com and lost some WordPress community. Then, I took some time off to write creatively. Not that I ever had a huge number, but I think it dropped. I basically write for my fellow nerd who is curious enough to check it out.

        Like

      1. I wish I saw some of these in the theater. I think the 80s had some phenomenal films. Then again, I guess lots of people wish they could experience their childhood years as an adult for a different perspective. I too have fond memories tied in with cinema and the experience of going to the movies. The artform is like a kind of magic for me. Ok… Tangent over 😉 Thanks again for checking out these Top 10s, Cindy.

        Liked by 1 person

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