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The Film Highlights of 1980

All mentioned films in article

Little seems to have changed over the last 40 years. Then, as now, the world waited with bated breath for the latest addition to the Star Wars franchise. Back in 1980, however, The Empire Strikes Back was only the second entry in George Lucas's career-defining opus and the blockbuster was still in its infancy. Let Cinema Paradiso take you back to a time before event films when star names were more likely to entice an audience into theatres than special effects.

The new decade began with a glimmer of hope. On 1 January 1980, Sherry Lansing took control at 20th Century-Fox and, in the process, became the first female studio head in Hollywood history. It would be nice to report that this was a tide-turning moment that transformed the American film industry. But we all know it proved to be a false dawn, as it became conglomerate-dominated New Hollywood.

A still from Family Plot (1976) With Bruce Dern
A still from Family Plot (1976) With Bruce Dern

Another inkling of change in the offing took place in March, as Francis Ford Coppola acquired the Hollywood General Studios lot as the base for his Zoetrope company, which would do much to nudge American cinema towards independent production. This changing of the guard was symbolised by the passing of Alfred Hitchcock on 29 April. The Master of Suspense had bowed out with Family Plot (1976), but his influence could be felt in the emergence of a more brutal brand of horror that owed much to Psycho (1960). Moreover, the Hitchcockian thriller became something of a sub-genre in its own right and few did it better than Brian De Palma, whose contentious 1980 neo-noir, Dressed to Kill, contains one of the best sequences of his career (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), as trendy Manhattan psychiatrist Michael Caine is pitched into the middle of a murder case after patient Angie Dickinson is killed by a maniac wielding a razor stolen from his office.

Among the year's other sad losses among the directing fraternity were Lewis Milestone, Terence Fisher and Mario Bava. Several actors also took their final bows, including Lil Dagover, Mae West, Peter Sellers, John Lennon and Steve McQueen.

In other news, comedian Richard Pryor was lucky to survive a horrific incident on 9 June, when he set himself alight while free-basing cocaine and drinking 151-proof rum at his home in California. Fortunately, he had already completed filming on Sidney Poitier's Stir Crazy, in which Pryor's budding actor and Gene Wilder's aspiring playwright are jailed after being mistaken for thieves while dressed as woodpeckers in order to promote an Arizona bank while travelling to Hollywood. While Pryor was able to recover, the blaze at the Cinémathèque Française on 3 August destroyed thousands of reels of rare nitrate film that had been collected by fabled curator Henri Langlois.

But the biggest film-related news of 1980 was the November election as the 40th President of the United States of Ronald Reagan. His record as President of the Screen Actors Guild left a lot to be desired during the House UnAmerican Activities Committee's investigation into Communism in the film colony. But Cinema Paradiso users can assess his on-screen skills in such diverse offerings as Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory (1938), Vincent Sherman's The Hasty Heart (1948) and Don Siegel's The Killers (1964).

The Big Hitters

Leaving box-office records shattered in its wake, Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back was the long-awaited sequel to George Lucas's Star Wars (1977), which sees Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) flee to Dagobah to train with Yoda after a punishing defeat on the ice planet Hoth, only for Darth Vader to attempt to lure him into a trap on the Cloud City of Bespin by kidnapping Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). With its domestic gross of $209,398,025 being double that of the film in second place, this new frontier in space opera left the likes of Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon trailing in its wake. However, with its score by Queen, this revival of the comic-strip hero created by Alex Raymond in 1934 has since accrued a cult following and there is something kitschily irresistible about the efforts of Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones), Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Hans Zarkoff (Topol) to prevent Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) from launching an attack on Earth from Planet Mongo.

A still from Superman 2 (1980) With Christopher Reeve
A still from Superman 2 (1980) With Christopher Reeve

Despite not being able to boast the presence of Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed) and his Hawkmen, Richard Lester's Superman II also has its adherents. This follow-up to Richard Fleischer's Superman (1978) sees Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) postpone his romantic pursuit of Daily Planet colleague Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) because supervillain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has hooked up with three Kryptonian fugitives, General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran).

Staying with science fiction, Michele Lupo kept young Italian audiences entertained with Why Did You Pick on Me?, a sequel to The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid (1979) that follows the misadventures of Sheriff Scott Hall (Bud Spencer) and H7-25 (Cary Guffey), an alien who is posing as a small boy known as Charlie Warren while he is being hunted by the American military. But Bertrand Taverner's Death Watch is very much aimed at grown-ups, as it heads to Scotland with Katherine Mortenhoe (Romy Schneider), the only woman in a healthy world to be suffering from a fatal disease. This isn't perhaps the best time for such this kind of cautionary tale and the same can be said of Virus, Kinji Fukasaku's sci-fi/disaster hybrid, which centres on a pandemic nicknamed 'the Italian Flu' that spreads after a plane carrying a sample of the top-secret substance MM-88 crashes during a flight from East Germany to Switzerland.

Something in the air causes some mysterious happenings in the quiet Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay in John Carpenter's The Fog, which was something of a family affair, as the director's wife, Adrienne Barbeau, found herself co-starring with the mother-and-daughter pairing of Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis. There are more unexplained events to ponder in Don Taylor's The Final Countdown, a fascinating alternative history that sees civilian observer Martin Sheen join commander Kirk Douglas on the bridge of the USS Nimitz, as it's swept back in time to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Scientist William Hurt also has a hard time explaining what he sees in Ken Russell's Altered States, as he uses a combination of sensory deprivation and powerful hallucinogenic drugs to prove his theory that alternative states of consciousness are just as potent as everyday reality.

Action Stations

Having won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for The Deer Hunter (1980), great things were expected from Michael Cimino's follow-up. With Oxford standing in for Harvard, Heaven's Gate recreates the 1892 Jackson County War around the triangle that develops between Wyoming marshall James Averill (Kris Kristofferson), bordello madam Elia Watson (Isabelle Huppert) and Nathan Champion (Christopher Walken), a mercenary throwing in his lot with the local cattle barons against the impoverished immigrants who have travelled in search of the American Dream. The version available from Cinema Paradiso is the 2012 Director's Cut, but the 149-minute version that played during 1980 earned Cimino the first-ever Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director.

Staying in the Old West, Walter Hill restages the Great Northfield, Minnesota bank raid in The Long Riders, a macho horse opera whose unique sales pitch was the casting of several sets of brothers, David, Keith and Robert Carradine, Stacy and James Keach, Dennis and Randy Quaid, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest. The last two features made by Steve McQueen similarly saw him playing historical characters out of their time. In William Wiard's Tom Horn, McQueen takes the title role of the veteran frontiersman who helped capture Geronimo and is now forced to accept a job deterring rustlers for cattle baron John C. Coble (Richard Farnsworth). But he's in a more relaxed mood in Buzz Kulik's The Hunter, as Los Angeles-based bounty hunter Ralph 'Papa' Thorson, who tries to come to terms with becoming a parent with his teacher girlfriend, Dotty (Kathryn Harrold), while charging around the country capturing bail-hoppers for bondsman Ritchie Blumenthal (Eli Wallach).

Nostalgia for the frontier era also informs James Bridges's Urban Cowboy, another treatise on modern masculinity that sees Houston refinery jockey John Travolta spends his nights riding the mechanical bull at Gilley's nightclub. However, he reacts badly when operator Scott Glenn flirts with his wife, Debra Winger, and invites her to try her hand at bucking. The good ol' boy persona was a better fit for Burt Reynolds, who reunited with director Hal Needham for Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again, the sequel to the 1977 hit that has Bo Darville (Reynolds) and Cledus Snow (Jerry Reid) on the road with runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field) and a pregnant elephant named Charlotte. Now, why would Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) not feel the need to tag along for the ride?

A still from Any Which Way You Can (1980)
A still from Any Which Way You Can (1980)

Needham had started out as a stand-in and he would have been first in the queue to see Richard Rush's The Stunt Man, which follows fugitive Vietnam veteran Steve Railsback, as he stumbles on to the set of egotistical director Peter O'Toole's latest picture and volunteers to replace a deceased stunt performer because he has a crush on the leading lady, Barbara Hershey. The same sense of knockabout machismo pervades Buddy Van Horn's Any Which Way You Can, the sequel to James Fargo's Every Which Way But Loose (1978), which sees truck-driving bare-knuckle boxer Philo Beddoe (Clint Eastwood) reunite with Clyde the orangutan in order to rescue girlfriend Lynn (Sondra Locke) from the gangster trying to force Philo to fight a mixed martial arts specialist.

The disaster movie had been the box-office behemoth in the early 1970s and veteran screenwriters Carl Foreman and Sterling Silliphant joined forces to give it a last hurrah in James Goldstone's When Time Ran Out..., an all-star actioner that forces PR executive Jacqueline Bisset to choose between hotelier William Holden and wildcat oil driller Paul Newman when a dormant volcano on a South Pacific island suddenly erupts. The scene shifts to the Caribbean for Michael Ritchie's The Island, a Peter Benchley tale that sees investigative writer Michael Caine seek to solve the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, only to run into a band of French pirates led by David Warner. And we remain in treacherous waters for Jerry Jameson's rendition of Clive Cussler's bestseller, Raise the Titanic, which recouped about $7 million of its $40 million budget and prompted producer Lew Grade to opine, 'It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.'

Such muscular romps would remain popular during the 1980s, as a new breed of action hero emerged. But there was still room for the well-made war film, as Bruce Beresford demonstrated with Breaker Morant, a key titles of the Australian New Wave that is set during the Boer War and follows the ramifications of a merciless mission by the Bushveldt Carabineers under the command of Lieutenant Harry Morant (Edward Woodward).

Escapism was the primary aim of John Irvin's adaptation of Frederic Forsyth's bestseller The Dogs of War, which sees mercenary Christopher Walken assemble a crack team to seize power in the African country of Zangaro and install a puppet ruler chosen by a scheming British businessman. But this period also witnessed a new kind of hero emerging from Hong Kong, in the form of Jackie Chan, who directs himself in The Young Master, in which Dragon embarks upon a perilous mission to prevent his martial arts school buddy Tiger (Wei Pei) from falling in with the band of brigands led by the fearsome kick-fighting specialist, Master Kim (Hwang In-sik).

All Hell Let Loose

Another Hong Kong superstar doubled up on Encounters of the Spooky Kind, a lampooningly pivotal example of Jhansi horror, which sees Bold Cheung (Sammo Hung) spending nights in haunted houses and temples in order to overcome the various ghosts and witches on his tail. North Africa provides the initial setting for Mike Newell's The Awakening, which stars Charlton Heston as an archaeologist who had unleashed the malevolent spirit of the Egyptian queen, Kara, at the precise moment that his wife had given birth to their daughter. Years later, when Stephanie Zimbalist, falls dangerously ill, Heston decides to save her by reincarnating Kara regardless of the risks.

Such old school chills were also generated by Peter Medak's The Changeling, which opens with George C. Scott relocating to Seattle to escape the disturbing memories of the murder of his wife and child. However, the discovery of a secret attic in his new mansion prompts Scott to conquer his demons by delving into a strange past. Relocation also causes problems in The Watcher in the Woods, John Hough's Disney rendition of a Florence Engel Randall novel that follows American teenager Lynn-Holly Johnson to England with her parents, as they move into a rural manor whose elderly owner, Bette Davis, detects Johnson's resemblance to the daughter who mysteriously disappeared in an abandoned chapel in the woods.

A still from The Shining (1980)
A still from The Shining (1980)

As the author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty had done much to transform the horror genre and he went behind the camera himself for The Ninth Configuration, which charts the efforts of military psychiatrist Stacey Keach to help veterans based at the Centre Eighteen facility to overcome their traumas, including former astronaut Scott Wilson, who has come to the conclusion that God is a fraud. However, a new kid had arrived on the horror block and Stephen King felt sufficiently secure in his burgeoning status to declare his distaste for Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, which centred on the emotional meltdown that blocked writer Jack Nicholson experiences when he takes up the post of winter caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel.

This classical study of psychological trauma has held up rather better than the infamous 'video nasties' that Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government felt compelled to protect the public from with the 1984 Video Recordings Act. However, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust remains revered for launching the 'found footage' vogue by showing how anthropologist Robert Kerman ventures into a South American jungle to find a missing film crew and returns with flesh-eating footage that appals everyone who sees it.

Equally notorious was Joe D'Amato's The Grim Reaper (aka Antropophagus and The Beast), which sees Tisa Farrow ignore a tarot warning to detour to the Greek island home of a ravenous cannibal whose effect on the pregnant Serena Grandi earned the film its grim place in horror history. Much more nuanced was Dario Argento's giallo, Inferno, which follows Suspiria (1977) in the Three Mothers trilogy and takes us to New York, where poet Irene Miracle finds an ancient text warning about three evil sisters who long to bring sorrow, tears and darkness to the world. Argento finally completed the triptych by starring daughter Asia in Mother of Tears in 2007.

Not to be outdone, Hollywood had leapt on the slasher bandwagon. But 1980 saw a slew of splatter flicks, with none being more influential than Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th. Things have been quiet at Camp Crystal Lake since its reputation was besmirched by a series of tragedies between 1957-62 and, now that it's re-opening, everyone is confident that history won't repeat itself. What could possibly go wrong?

Following her breakthrough turn in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Jamie Lee Curtis had become Hollywood's favourite scream queen and she is on fine form in two 1980s chillers. Roger Spottiswoode directed her in Terror Train, which sees student Jamie board conductor Ben Johnson's train for a New Year frat party, three years to the night that a prank with a bashful pledge had left him in a psychiatric ward. And the past also comes back to haunt Jamie in Paul Lynch's Prom Night, as, six years after her sister accidentally fell to her death, she prepares to go to the school dance, where a witness to the incident targets the four kids who have sworn to keep shtum about what really happened.

A still from The Unseen (1980)
A still from The Unseen (1980)

Twelve years after her father had flushed her pet down the loo, reptile expert Robin Riker finds herself in Lewis Teague's Alligator having to deal with a 36ft monster that has been feeding on the hormone-addled corpses of discard test dogs. Reporter Barbara Bach similarly repents at leisure when she and friends Karen Lamm and Lois Young accept an invitation to stay at the farmhouse owned by Sydney Lassick and his wife Leila Goldoni in Danny Steinmann's The Unseen.

Vernon Zimmermann's knowing horror, Fade to Black, stars Dennis Christopher as a movie obsessive who tips over the edge and goes on a slaying spree in the guise of his favourite characters, Dracula, The Mummy, Hopalong Cassidy and Cody Jarrett from the James Cagney classic, White Heat (1949). There's also a kitschy feel as Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons play Farmer Vincent and his sister Ida in Kevin Connor's low-budget slasher spoof, Motel Hell, where the smoked meats are almost as famous as the hospitality. More calculating still is Mother's Day, a video nasty written and directed by Charles Kaufman (the brother of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman), which pitches camping friends Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce and Tiana Pierce into the orbit of backwater matriarch Beatrice Pons and the inbred brothers Frederick Coffin and Michael McCleery.

Hearts of Darkness

Ordinarily. the Miss Marple cases set in St Mary Mead were fiendish, but civilised affairs. But Guy Hamilton cast a darker pall over The Mirror Crack'd, as Angela Lansbury takes over as the ever-watchful spinster in an Agatha Christie whodunit that sees Hollywood rivals Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak come to the quiet village to make a film about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. This simmering sense of malevolence fed in from the strain of neo-noir thrillers that had first appeared in the mid-1960s, as film-makers freed from the constraints of the Production Code began questioning morality on all levels of American society.

Having helped set the post-Watergate tone with Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Paul Schrader took a tilt at directing with American Gigolo, a bleak thriller in which Richard Gere lives the high life as a male escort in Los Angeles until he becomes a suspect in a murder investigation after becoming close to senator's wife Lauren Hutton. Even more oppressively downbeat was Nicolas Roeg's provocative Bad Timing, which sees singer Art Garfunkel play a Vienna-based psychologist who begins an affair with the hedonistic Theresa Russell. However, when she is rushed to hospital suffering from a possible overdose, Garfunkel has to provide cop Harvey Keitel with a flashbacking account of their dangerous liaison.

An equally malevolent vibe pervades James Glickenhaus's violent neo-noir, The Exterminator, which sees Vietnam veteran Robert Ginty become a New York hero after he takes on a gang known as the Ghetto Ghouls. However, cop Christopher George and doctor Samantha Eggar believe the vigilante cleaning up the scum across the city is himself a dangerous psychopath. Knowing where to draw the line also proves a problem for Steve Burns (Al Pacino) in William Friedkin's enduringly contentious thriller, Cruising, as the rookie cop is ordered to go undercover in order to catch a serial killer on the New York gay scene. However, Burns is drawn into the culture and LGBTQ+ audiences continue to despise Friedkin's demonising depiction of their lifestyle.

Crossing the line is also the theme of Stuart Rosenberg's Brubaker. Inspired by the memoirs of Tom Murton, this hard-hitting drama sees Robert Redford pose as a newcomer to Wakefield State Prison in Arkansas and witness all manner of corruption, violence and abuse before revealing himself to be the new governor. An air of gritty authenticity also seeps into John G. Avildsen's industrial thriller, The Formula, which shows LAPD lieutenant George C. Scott discovering that a murdered pal had stumbled upon a Nazi scheme to make synthetic petroleum. However, Titan Oil boss Marlon Brando needs to destroy the formula to save his business.

Director J. Lee Thompson also adopts a muscle-bound approach for Caboblanco, which stars Charles Bronson as an innkeeper in the Peruvian town where the murder of a shipwreck explorer brings the mysterious Dominique Sanda to a town run by Fernando Rey, a corrupt politico who provides a safe haven for Nazi war criminal Jason Robards. Such reassuringly old-fashioned professionalism is also evident in George Kaczender's Agency, an adaptation of a Paul Gotlieb novel about the power of subliminal messages in advertising that casts Robert Mitchum as an executive hoping to secure victory for his preferred candidate in an upcoming election. Mitchum is also a welcome presence in Ted Post's Nightkill, which sees Jaclyn Smith plotting to bump off wealthy spouse Mike Connors and have lover James Franciscus impersonate him. But things begin to go wrong even before Mitchum's world-weary cop starts to investigate.

A still from The Jazz Singer (1980)
A still from The Jazz Singer (1980)

Another postwar Hollywood titan proved there was still life in the old dog, as Burt Lancaster teamed with Susan Sarandon in Louis Malle's Atlantic City, as Lou Pascal and Sally Matthews are thrown together in the New Jersey resort when his ageing gangster moves into the building where her oyster bar waitress lives with her drug-dealing boyfriend. This classy drama tied for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival with John Cassavetes's Gloria, which contains an Oscar-nominated masterclass from Gena Rowlands, as the former gangster's moll who promises accountant neighbour Buck Henry that she will guard an incriminating ledger and protect his young son. Unfortunately, the debuting John Adames tied with Laurence Olivier for Worst Supporting Actor at the Razzies after the English peer played Neil Diamond's cantor father in Richard Fleischer's remake of The Jazz Singer.

The focus remains on younger protagonists in seven contrasting dramas. Teenager Linda Manz hates living with junkie waitress mother Sharon Farrell in Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue. But her hopes that life will improve when her father (Hopper) is paroled are quickly dashed and she discovers just how cruel and brutal existence can be. In Allen Moyle's Times Square, New York DJ Tim Curry takes a shine to the Sleez Sisters, a cross-tracks punk band that Trini Alvarado has formed with rebel Robin Johnson. But Curry becomes concerned when Alvarado goes missing while her father is leading a campaign to clean up the city's most famous plaza.

Jodie Foster doesn't have things easy at home with her alcoholic mother (Sally Kellerman) or at North Hollywood High in Adrian Lyne's Foxes. But they get a whole lot worse when best friend Cherie Currie runs away from her abusive cop father. Another young star who kept courting controversy around this period was Brooke Shields. Some felt she deserved to win the inaugural Worst Actress Award at the Razzies for cashing in on her reputation in The Blue Lagoon, Randal Kleiser's kitschy remake of Frank Launder's 1949 tale about young love on a desert island, in which Shields and Christopher Atkins took over the castaway roles from Jean Simmons and Donald Houston.

Water also plays a major role in Robert Redford's directorial debut, Ordinary People, as well-heeled Chicago parents Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore see their life go into meltdown after their teenage son drowns in a boating accident and his younger brother, Timothy Hutton, tries to kill himself out of guilt for having survived. Somewhat improbably, this meticulously made melodrama landed the Academy Award for Best Picture instead of two masterly pieces of monochrome movie-making.

David Lynch's The Elephant Man harks back to Victorian London to retell the life story of John Merrick and his relationships with doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) and actress Madge Kendall (Anne Bancroft). In any other year, John Hurt would have waltzed off with the Oscar for Best Actor. But he found himself up against Robert De Niro, who famously gained 60lbs to play boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, which many consider to be the finest sports film ever made. Punishing though the action in the ring is, however, there are also low blows aplenty in the account of LaMotta's relationships between 1941-64 with his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and his second wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty).

The time span is somewhat larger in Jeannot Szwarc's Somewhere in Time, an irresistible romance that takes writer Christopher Reeve back to 1912 after he recognises the similarity between a photograph of Jane Seymour and the old woman who had given him a gold watch and urged him to follow her. A second chance is also presented to Ellen Burstyn in Daniel Petrie's Resurrection, as a widow discovers that she has healing powers after coming back from the dead following the car crash that killed her husband. Burstyn was nominated for Best Actress, while Eva Le Gallienne received a Best Supporting nod for playing her grandmother. However, Sissy Spacek took the big prize for her performance as Loretta Lynn in Michael Apted's biopic, Coal Miner's Daughter, which shows how an Appalachian housewife was persuaded to go to Nashville by her husband Mooney (Tommy Lee Jones) and changed country music forever with her performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

A different kind of musical education comes under scrutiny in Alan Parker's Fame, as Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara) gets the chance to live the dream as a student at the New York High School for the Performing Arts in a lively musical that won Academy Awards for the title song and Michael Gore's score. But it's the music of Charlie Parker that drives Jim Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation. Dubbed 'a waste of time' by the tutors at the Tisch Film School. this compelling 16mm snapshot views New York through the eyes of Aloysius Parker (Chris Parker), as he barely acknowledges his girlfriend (Leila Gastil) or his institutionalised mother (Ruth Bolton) while daydreaming about his jazz hero namesake.

Britain and Beyond

With the launch of Channel Four still two years away, the British film industry was going through one of its periodic lean spells. However, 1980 saw the release of the finest crime film ever made in this country and it was produced under the auspices of ex-Beatle George Harrison's HandMade Films. Directed by John McKenzie, The Long Good Friday brought a new edge to gangland, as it introduces us to London villain Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), who leads a nice life with his refined girlfriend, Victoria (Helen Mirren). He hopes to go legit following a deal with the American Mafia. But a botched mission to Belfast by one of his oppos makes Harold a target for a deadly enemy in the shadows.

A still from Hussy (1980)
A still from Hussy (1980)

A young Pierce Brosnan made his feature bow as one of the IRA thugs on Hoskins's tail, but singer Roger Daltrey of The Who was a veteran of three previous pictures prior to taking the title role in Tom Clegg's McVicar, an uncompromising account of John McVicar's stint in Durham Prison with friend Wally Probyn (Adam Faith) and foe Ronnie Harrison (Steven Berkoff) and his bid to go straight with wife Sheila (Cheryl Campbell) after he manages to escape. Paul Angelis's release from the slammer causes London club hostess Helen Mirren plenty of problems in Matthew Chapman's Hussy, as she has been dating American electrical technician John Shea in his absence.

Another Anglo-American romance drives the action in Claude Whatham's Sweet William, an adaptation of a Beryl Bainbridge novel that sees Sam Waterston cheat on wife Anna Massey with both Jenny Agutter and her best friend, Geraldine James. Two-timing is also the theme of Anthony Harvey's Richard's Things, Frederic Raphael's screen take on his own novel that centres on the relationship that develops between widow Liv Ullmann and her late husband's mistress, Amanda Redmond.

Hazel O'Connor plays the vulnerable woman in Brian Gibson's Breaking Glass. a gritty insight into the dehumanising nature of the music business that follows an angry young singer who is guided towards stardom by the wheeler-dealing Phil Daniels. However, fame comes at a price, as manager Jon Finch insists that O'Connor ditches her band in order to break into the big time. Franco Rosso similarly pulls few punches in Babylon, which stars ex-Double Decker Brinsley Forde as a dub-reggae MC whose preparations for a soundclash with a rival crew are disrupted by the loss of his job, an assault by a policeman, a robbery at his lock-up and the growing suspicion that his girlfriend is cheating on him.

Providing a snapshot of South London life in the early days of Margaret Thatcher's premiership, this is a key film in the history of Black British Cinema and deserves to be better known. By contrast, Julien Temple's mock rockumentary, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, earned a degree of notoriety for the revelation that Malcolm McLaren had invented The Sex Pistols to annoy the Establishment and make a packet. There's room between the punk anthems for cameos from comic icons Irene Handl and Liz Fraser, as well as porn star Mary Millington. But the focus is more firmly on music and politics in Jack Hazan and David Mingay's Rude Boy, which follows Ray Gange as he quits his job in a Soho sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash on a tour that includes the famous Rock Against Racism Carnival in Victoria Park.

This gig went down in British musical folklore, as bands went back to basics in reaction to the rise of Prog Rock. Having done something similar with the drop-in shows he played at various university campuses after the break-up of The Beatles, Paul McCartney took his new combo on the epic 1976 Wings Over America tour, whose highlights are captured by Scott Rodger in Rockshow. Macca once famously provided the backing vocals for David Essex on Top of the Pops and the singer-turned-actor shows his mettle in David Wickes's Silver Dream Racer, as he takes a tilt at the motorcycling Grand Prix at Silverstone, while competing with fierce rival Beau Bridges for the heart of Cristina Raines.

The film spawned a hit single, but the music is much more of the easy listening kind in Val Guest's The Shillingbury Blowers, which sees successful musician Robin Nedwell transform a village brass band after he picks up the baton laid down in a huff by a longtime conductor, Trevor Howard. He is on equally fine form in the title role of Steve Roberts's Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, a wonderfully eccentric comedy concocted by Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band frontman Vivian Stanshall, who plays the sibling ghost that Howard is keen to exorcise from his country pile.

Joseph McGrath's Rising Damp: The Movie, which sees Denholm Elliott guest as Seymour, the seemingly sophisticated tenant who provides grasping landlord Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) with another rival for the attentions of Miss Jones (Frances de la Tour) after the suave Philip (Don Warrington).

This variation on the kitchen sink sitcom might interest devotees of Ken Loach, who reunited on The Gamekeeper with novelist Barry Hines, whose A Kestrel For a Knave had been adapted for the screen as Kes (1969). Despite not being as critically acclaimed, this drama remains a thoughtful treatise on the class divide that follows the fortunes of ex-Sheffield steelworker Phil Askham, as he catches poachers on an estate belonging to duke Willoughby Gray. A strained bird of prey link takes us on to Terry Martel's sword-and-sorcery adventure, Hawk the Slayer, which accompanies Hawk (John Terry) on a quest to avenge his father's murder by his masked brother, Voltan (Jack Palance), who seeks to gain control of a magic mind-sword in order to vanquish the kingdom.

Available from Cinema Paradiso on The Early Films of Peter Greenaway, Volume 2, The Falls also has a sci-fi element, as various narrators describe how 92 individuals whose surnames begin with the letters 'Fall' fell victim to a phenomenon known as the Violent Unknown Event. This was Peter Greenaway's debut feature, but it retains the playful avant-garde spirit of his shorts. There's also an experimental feel to Jamil Dehlavi's The Blood of Hussain, which the director dubbed 'an abstract essay on tyranny'. Drawing on the story of the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson, Hussain ibn Ali., this account of twins (both played by Salman Peerzada) taking opposite sides after a military coup has frequently been banned in its native Pakistan.

A still from Kagemusha (1980)
A still from Kagemusha (1980)

Staying in Asia, Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha had to settle for a share of the Palme d'Or at Cannes with Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1979). Marking the Japanese auteur's return to directing after five years, this ravishing historical saga is based on the life of the 16th-century warlord, Takeda Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), who seeks a lookalike to fool his enemies into believing that he is immortal. However, the 'shadow warrior' he chooses (also Nakadai) is a petty thief who is reluctant to conform. While this Oscar-nominated epic was one of 1980's biggest hits, it was out-performed at the box office by South African Jamie Uys's sleeper comedy, The Gods Must Be Crazy, which sends Kalahari bushman N!xau on a mission to dispose of the Coca-Cola bottle that has been causing dissent among his tribe since it was carelessly tossed out of an over-flying aeroplane.

French and German titles dominate the European contribution to the film year. Jean-Luc Godard's parody of modern life, Slow Motion, sees Nathalie Baye retreat to the countryside to find peace, just as Isabelle Huppert flees from a rural backwater to become a prostitute in the big city. Completing this offbeat ménage is film-maker Jacques Dutronc, who encounters Huppert shortly after ending his affair with Baye. Huppert also causes a commotion in Maurice Pialat's Loulou, as advertising executive Guy Marchand can't understand why a nice bourgeois girl would want to chuck in her job and move in with a criminous slob like Gerard Depardieu.

In a change of pace, Depardieu plays a textile boss who is connected to maritally compromised politician Roger Pierre by struggling actress Nicole Garcia in Alain Resnais's My American Uncle, the Special Jury Prize winner at Cannes that was based on the theories of an evolutionary psychologist. And Depardieu is also prominent in François Truffaut's The Last Metro, as a member of the Maquis who joins the ensemble at the small theatre in occupied Paris, where actress Catherine Deneuve is hiding her Jewish husband in the cellar.

The Second World War also provides the setting for Germany, Pale Mother. Helma Sanders-Brahms's harrowing account of a new bride's travails inside the Third Reich after her husband is called up to fight and Lene (Eva Mattes) has to raise their child alone. But it's the events leading up to the rise of the Nazi Party that preoccupy Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Berlin Alexanderplatz. Running for 15 hours, this tele-adaptation of Alfred Döblin's acclaimed novel about Weimar Germany centres on the uneasy partnership between Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht), who has just finished a sentence for the manslaughter of his girlfriend, and psychotic small-time crook, Reinhold Hoffmann (Gottfried John).

Hungarian István Szabó earned the Best Director prize at Berlin and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film for Confidence, an intense drama set in Budapest in 1944 that focuses on two members of the resistance who are compelled to pose as a married couple and have to confront the past secrets that emerge during the deception. This fine film has been somewhat neglected over the last four decades, but the cult stock of Pedro Almodóvar's low-budget debut, Pepi, Luci, Bom, has only risen on account of the brashly innovative manner in which it chronicles how Pepi (Carmen Maura) and her friends Luciana (Eva Siva) and Bom (Olvido Gara) react when she is raped by a Madrid cop. Proving every bit as contentious, but for very different reasons, Federico Fellini's City of Women is a teasingly surreal odyssey that confronts Snàporaz (Marcello Mastroianni) with his fantasies and phobias about the opposite sex after he wakes from a train journey and wanders into a large hotel hidden deep in the woods.

Always Leave Them Laughing

Comic tastes had been slow to change in the 1970s and the first year of the new decade saw a clutch of situation comedies featuring established stars like Walter Matthau, who plays a CIA agent who is downgraded to a desk job in Ronald Neame's Hopscotch. However, he does a flit to Vienna in order to see old flame Glenda Jackson and entertain offers to defect from KGB chief, Herbert Lom. Another midlife crisis besets Anthony Hopkins in Richard Lang's A Change of Seasons. When his college professor has an affair with student Bo Derek, however, wife Shirley MacLaine decides to get even with hunk Michael Brandon. But things start to get complicated when the couples spend some time away to resolve their issues.

It's fair to say that the scenario in Jay Sandrich's Seems Like Old Times is a tad contrived, as novelist Chevy Chase gets himself kidnapped and when he's forced to rob a bank, he turns to ex-wife Goldie Hawn for advice. However, she is now married to district attorney Charles Grodin. Hawn was much better served in Howard Zieff's Private Benjamin, which sees middle-class Jewish widow Judy Benjamin (Hawn) sign up to the US Army after her husband dies on their wedding night and quickly fall foul of Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan).

The pair were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting, where they should have found themselves up against Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, who, as secretary Judy Bernly, office supervisor Violet Newstead and PA Doralee Rhodes in Colin Higgins's 9 to 5 decide to turn the tables on Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), their chauvinist boss at Consolidated Companies. This battle of the sexes was one of the surprise hits of the year and easily out-performed Robert Altman's much-hyped Popeye, which struggled to bring to life EC Sagar's enduringly popular comic-strip despite having Popeye (Robin Williams) arrive in Sweethaven in time to come between Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) and her intended, Bluto (Paul L. Smith).

A still from The Blues Brothers (1980) With Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi And Cab Calloway
A still from The Blues Brothers (1980) With Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi And Cab Calloway

The failure of this gimmicky romp confirmed the age shift among American moviegoers, as younger patrons were much more likely to be drawn towards offbeat offerings like John Landis's The Blues Brothers, which was the first comedy feature to be based on characters from the hit NBC satire show, Saturday Night Live. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as Jake and Elwood Blues, who undertake a mission from God to reform their band in order to play a gig to raise the $5000 needed to save their orphanage from closure.

Fellow SNL alumnus Bill Murray was also in demand in 1980. He improvised his way through Harold Ramis's Caddyshack as Carl Spackler, the increasingly manic, chrysanthemum-lopping greenkeeper who resorts to ever-more desperate measures to combat a mischievous gopher at the Bushwood Country Club. However, Murray had to stick to the script in Art Linson's Where the Buffalo Roam, in which he plays gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson as he challenges a judge over some harsh drug sentences in 1968 San Francisco, helps run guns to a South American republic and assumes a rival's identity in order to get a 1972 campaign trail interview with President Richard Nixon. Staying in the substance zone, Cheech & Chong's Next Movie sees stoners Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong (who also directs) reunite for a series of misadventures around Los Angeles after Cheech loses his job at a movie studio.

Old pals tended to help each other out in American cinema during this period and Robert Zemeckis had executive producers Steven Spielberg and John Milius to thank for Used Cars, which sees Kurt Russell's Rudy Russo resorting to all manner of underhand tricks to ensure that boss Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden) isn't drummed out of business by his rival from across the road, his own brother Roy (also Warden). Speaking of wacky motors, Vincent McEveety's Herbie Goes Bananas has Disney's Love Bug head to Rio de Janeiro for the Grande Premio race and make light work of a smuggling gang before reaching the starting line.

With John Hughes still working at National Lampoon magazine, the teenpic was still four years away from entering its golden age. But the odd forerunner reached the screen, including Tony Bill's My Bodyguard, which shows how Chris Makepeace's life at Lake View High School in Chicago is made miserable by bully Matt Dillon until he hires the intimidating Adam Baldwin to act as his minder. Protection is also the name of the game in Alan Rudolph's Roadie. Initially, Texan Travis W. Redfish (Meat Loaf) is content to help his father, Corpus (Art Carney), run their salvage business. But, when he falls for Lola Bouilliabase (Kaki Hunter), Travis becomes a roadie in order to prevent her from throwing herself at rock legend, Alice Cooper.

With Roy Orbison and Blondie also on the bill, this is a trip in every sense down memory lane and there's a touch of the traditional about Robert Greenwald's musical, Xanadu, which sees Olympian Muse Terpsichore (Olivia Newton-John) come down to earth and assume the guise of a waitress named Kira in order to help Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) fulfil his potential as an artist and former big-band leader Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly) rediscover his mojo by opening a roller-disco. Doubtless, the sounds would have appealed to the target audience of Nancy Walker's disco odyssey, Can't Stop the Music, which sees supermodel Valerie Perrine try to get roommate Steve Guttenberg a recording contract in a toe-tapping pseudo-biography of The Village People.

Woody Allen famously prefers jazz and standards from the Great American Songbook on the soundtracks of his films and there's more of the same in Stardust Memories. Allen gets a touch of the Fellinis in this stylish monochrome treatise on celebrity and creativity that has film-maker Sandy Bates (Allen) seek to stop making comedies so that he can say something profound that connects more meaningfully to his complicated private life, which sees him torn between Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), Daisy (Jessica Harper) and Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault). By contrast, taxi driver pilot Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) only has eyes for stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) in Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker's gag-crammed parody, Airplane! In order to win back her heart, however, he has to conquer his post-combat trauma and land a passenger plane in Chicago after the cabin crew is stricken with food poisoning.

A still from Airplane! (1980) With Lloyd Bridges And Robert Stack
A still from Airplane! (1980) With Lloyd Bridges And Robert Stack

What are the most memorable 1980s films for you? If you want more overviews and top film recommendations, visit Top Films by Year!

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