Nostalgia can play some serious mind tricks on you if you let it. Hot Tub Time Machine demonstrated this fairly well: Trends and fashions for which I had a nostalgic affection, recreated and presented up close, made me a little nauseous. The same principle applies to a lot of ’80s movies. You might have loved them growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, but you were 12. You weren’t very smart. Your brain had not fully evolved. Your entertainment threshold was seriously low. You liked the original Clash of Titans. Indeed, it seems to me that many of us liked anything with a high concept; little else mattered. Perhaps that also explains so many of the movies made today — frivolous, very bad movies, that revolve around high concepts. In 20 years, will teenagers today look back fondly at Yes Man, She’s Out of My League, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or even Hot Tub Time Machine because of their allegedly irresistible high concepts?
Granted, there are still plenty of movies from the ’80s that still hold up well: John Hughes’s entire ’80s oeuvre, save for maybe Weird Science, still works. A movie like Footloose shouldn’t hold up, but the credible performances from Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow somehow outweigh the otherwise poor execution (Kenny Loggins’s song is also inexplicably timeless). There are also enough cultural archetypes that still exist in movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Fast Times at Ridgemont High to survive the times, even if those movies look extremely dated.
But then there are other movies, like The Dark Crystal (watch it now, and you will fall asleep) or the mostly high-concept movies below that simply don’t resonate enough any more to overcome their terrible ’80s-ness. They’re bad movies; in fact, they were probably bad movies back in the ’80s, but many of us were too young and dumb to understand it. That’s probably why four of the five movies below have remakes in development: Studios are aching to capitalize on soft-brained tweeners intoxicated by high concepts, once again.
5.WarGames: The end of the Cold War rendered a lot of ’80s movies moot (see also: #2), but that’s not the major problem with 1983’s WarGames. It’s technological advancement that has multiplied the already absurd levels of this Matthew Broderick film. I mean: Seriously. Broderick nearly started World War III with a modem and a dial up connection? The Internet didn’t really even exist, and those home computers — like the TRS-80 — had all the artificial intelligence power of today’s cheap digital watches. Sure, it tapped into the idea that computers might develop a mind of their own (like 2001 and Terminator), but come on: They defeat a computer by forcing it to play tic-tac-toe with itself? Really?
4. Mannequin: Here’s a high-concept for you: Andrew McCarthy is an “artist,” whose artistry involves dressing mannequins. Then, one of his mannequins (Kim Cattral) comes to life. Turns out, she’s an Ancient Egyptian woman, and she can only come alive when Andrew McCarthy sees her. And how does this mannequin come alive permanently and live happily ever after? By finding true love, of course. Let me ask this: Were all gay characters in the ’80s from the Little Richard mold, or was that just Meshach Taylor? Look: If the theme song (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”) doesn’t hold up well, chances are, neither does the movie.
3. Girls Just Want to Have Fun: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is like a study in ’80s fashion, and nobody wants to revisit that. Nor do we want to revisit ’80s dance moves. It’s like the ’80s version of Step Up, only the acting isn’t nearly as good. It wishes it were one of those great ’80s teen flicks, but it’s seriously not: Atrocious acting, terrible script, and the sort of execution you’d expect from someone who would go on to direct a “Growing Pains” reunion show for television. It’s embarrassing, though it is easier to understand what the Sarah Jessica Parker attraction was at one point.
2. Red Dawn: Wait a second here. A Russian airborne force parachutes into a Colorado town, attacks a school, and the high schoolers put up such strong resistance that they eventually inspire American troops toward the defeat of the Soviets in World War III? Okaaay. And they’re remaking this? Red Dawn was a shitty movie to begin with, really, but the jingoism, the commie bullshit, and the terrible, terrible script, in addition to the awful acting, make Red Dawn an almost unbearable movie to watch today. If you’re lucky, the only thing you remember from this movie is “WOLVERINES!” Anything else, and it’s likely not a fond memory.
1. Short Circuit: I loved this movie when I was a kid. I mean: Loved. But, man o’ fucking man, it’s a terrible film. A robot that looks like one of those Radio Shack numbers you can get for $19.95 today develops a mind of its own after it’s struck by lightning, plays with butterflies, and calls itself “Johnny 5” after being inspired by an El Debarge song. Short Circuit is a cheesy, horrible combination of Iron Giant, E.T. and Wall-E reduced to the lowest functioning denominator. That should probably be apparent by the presence of Steve Gutenberg, the biggest box-office star of the ’80s who was so bad that, even now, 25 years later, he doesn’t get the reverential treatment that many of the other ’80s stars do. He’s always been a bad sitcom Dad; that just happened to work for him in the ’80s.