The 10 Best Movies of 1981

World War II ended in 1981. Hmm, I've just been told by my editor that this is factually incorrect. Time to do some research.

Okay, there, I'm back. Without further delay here are a few of the bigger news stories from 1981:

  • Palau became self-governing.
  • It snowed in Palermo!
  • The Iranian hostages are released (snuck a real one in on you there)
  • U.S. President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C. hotel by John Hinckley, Jr. (These are getting too serious, let's get back to:)
  • A Minor League baseball game between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox becomes the longest professional baseball game in history at 8 hours and 25 minutes, totaling 33 innings.
  • Pope John Paul II is shot and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca
  • MTV is launched (it later shuts down around 1999 and is never heard from again).
  • Belize declares independence!

So as you can see it was a big news year. But it was an even bigger year for fans of action, superheroes, and Burt Reynolds. Behold, the Top 10 movies of 1981!

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Directors: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Alfred Molina

Why a Fave?: They (well, the Ark I guess) set people's heads on fire. And not just any people, bad people. Plus, it was released on my birthday. It made around a billion in adjusted box office and sits at a healthy 16th place on the user rankings over at the internet database. There is no downside to this film, you'd watch it again right now.

2. Chariots of Fire

Directors: Hugh Hudson

Stars: Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell

Why a Fave?: This score still plays in my head. You owe it to yourself to go listen to it so it can haunt you too. Who didn't cry at Chariots of Fire? Dead people. That's who.

3. The Cannonball Run

Directors: Hal Needham

Stars: Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Dome Deluise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Chan

Why a Fave?: First off, the tagline, "The Popcorn is in the Lobby, but the Nuts are on the Screen!" Ahh, those were simpler times, back when you didn't need a marketing degree to compete. Jackie Chan made his English debut in this movie, and in true American style they made the Hong Kong born actor Japanese. This film was about racing across America and evading the law. If they make my life story one day it will look a lot like this.

4. Superman II

Directors: Richard Donner, Richard Lester

Stars: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder

Why a Fave?: Man was Superman II good, especially given the debacle that was Superman Returns. Guys escape from glass prisons and immediately seek to rule Earth. If that doesn't strike you as a reasonable plan then you didn't live through the 80's.

5. The Great Muppet Caper

Directors: Jim Henson

Stars: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Diana Rigg, Charles Grodin, John Cleese

Why a Fave?: The Muppets used to have an "A" game. This was then. Miss Piggy worked over three gals with Karate. Gonzo jumped in front of a taxi, and that's just not a move you see out of many giant stars these days.

6. Escape from New York

Directors: John Carpenter

Stars: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes

Why a Fave?: Well, it's based 16 years into the future, in 1997, and NYC has been turned into a maximum security prison. With apologies to Dre and MaryAnn, it's sort of a shame this plan was never implemented.

7. Body Heat

Directors: Lawrence Kasdan

Stars: Kathleen Turner, William Hurt, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke

Why a Fave?: The thing about Body Heat that was so impressive was that it allowed an entire generation to hit puberty simultaneously. And how about this classic exchange:

Matty: You aren't too smart. I like that in a man.

Ned: What else do you like? Lazy? Ugly? Horny? I got 'em all.

Matty: You don't look lazy.

8. Arthur

Directors: Steve Gordon

Stars: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jill Eikenberry

Why a Fave?: There was a time when Dudley Moore was giant (in fame if not stature). This was that time, and he played lovable gadfly Arthur Bach here. It was your basic "You'll be filthy rich if you marry a person you don't love" story. This one appeals to me because I too chose poverty.

9. Endless Love

Directors: Franco Zeffirelli

Stars: Brooke Shields, Don Murray, James Spader, Ian Ziering, Martin Hewitt

Why a Fave?: No, this wasn't a good movie. But c'mon. LIONEL RICHIE! The song got an Oscar nomination and it deserved it. And Ian Ziering! If you think about it this movie foretold the entire decade of the 90's and if you count Nicole Richie then the 2000's too. I don't count her, but you might.

10. The Fox and the Hound

Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens

Stars: Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell Corey Feldman

Why a Fave?: Clearly I was a bit younger then but I dug this because it was a classic story about friendship. Not romance, like every other Disney movie, just two pals growing up together. And when one of those pals is trained to hunt the other one, well, that's even better.

A Few Honorable Mentions

On Golden Pond -- I am going to get hammered for this but it's just too sappy for my liking. Sorry.

Das Boot -- Every submarine warfare movie that came after owes a debt to this film, and in some weird way Letters from Iwo Jima does too because this was from "the other guy's" perspective.

Excalibur -- I consider it the best King Arthur story ever made.

Stripes -- When I say Bill you say Murray. Enough said.

* 1981 historical information courtesy Wikipedia

Check out the best of 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.

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