Monday, June 11, 2018

The 100 Project: Top 10 Movies of 1981

At the end of every year, professional critics and movie bloggers the world over chime in with their thoughts on that year's batch of films. We collectively decide if it was a good or bad year for movies. Since The 100 Project has brought me to 1981, this is the year I'm going to talk about. It was a bad year. Of course, I make that call based solely on the movies I saw that were released that year - 39 in all. That's not the best total for this type of exercise, but it should yield a decent crop of films to choose from for a top 10. Don't get me wrong, what I did watch isn't totally devoid of quality. There just isn't much depth. I do like all of my top 10. I even love some of them. But, well, you'll see. Other films I just haven't seen since the early 80s. Kinda hard to include them, here. Anyhoo, let's get to it.

My Top 10 Movies of 1981

  • As stated, I've seen 39 movies released during this calendar year.
  • To the best of my recollection, I saw only 3 of those movies in theaters.
  • With 3 films in the top 10 and another as an honorable mention, horror is my big genre for the year.
  • Though there is an animated film in the top 10, there still hasn't been a kiddie flick make my top 10 for a year in the 80s.

10. Clash of the Titans
If you've seen it, especially if you've seen it recently, you might be wondering why this is here. The story is a bit clunky, the acting is wooden, and the stop-motion animation is antiquated to say the least. However, it has one thing going for it that the cgi-infused remake could never quite capture - magic.

9. Das Boot
I suspect plenty of bloggers have this much nearer to the top than I. No doubt, I recognize it's greatness. It does a great many things well, including transform a group of WWII-era Germans and make them sympathetic figures. Notice I said German, not Nazi, and the film does address this. I'm sure most who have seen it would rank it much higher on this list. I wouldn't argue with them, however, it's a film I respect more than I actually love.

8. Heavy Metal
This is the first animated movie I watched that was indubitably not for kids. Yet, there I was, all of 12 or 13, fully immersed in a story full of graphic violence and (cartoon) nudity. After that first watch, I must have seen it 20 or 30 times over the next two summers. That was when I was visiting my grandparents while school was out. I stayed up late most nights watching movies they wouldn't give me permission to had they been awake. Somewhere in all those viewings, I got past the juvenile things and came to appreciate the story. Then I got back to that other stuff.

7. Happy Birthday to Me
After reading that entry on Heavy Metal, some of you probably said to yourselves "I saw it and it wasn't that good." While reading this entry you might say "I saw it and it was horrible." And you'd be right. Then why is it here? You may or may not know that I'm a member of the slasher film fandom. Among those of us who travel in those circles, myself included, it's iconically bad, which makes it ironically good. In other words, it's so bad it's awesome and I love every minute of it. (My full review)

6. The Evil Dead
By the time I saw this, I was a slasher film vet with the release of the soon-to-be-classic A Nightmare on Elm Street coming up over the horizon. I'd also seen lots of other types of horror, too. Still, I had never seen anything like The Evil Dead. Over the years, I've seen many films that try to do what this one does. The only ones worthy all have the name Sam Raimi attached.

5. An American Werewolf in London
Yes, a third straight horror flick. This one, however, is much more dark comedy than fright flick. And it works from minute one. I revisited this just recently and it still holds up. I'm especially referring to the practical effects, including that magnificent transformation. Of course, what gets it here is that humor and great acting. Man, this is just a really fun movie. (My full review)

4. Fort Apache, The Bronx  
I've watched this movie at least half a dozen times. The first time, it was exciting, Paul Newman was magnetic, it was about my city, I loved it, but I didn't get it all. It's not that it was terribly deep, it was just a lot to take in. When I revisited it in early adulthood, much more of it clicked into place. Now, I think it's one of the best, and most underrated, gritty cop dramas of its era.

3. Body Heat
Remember those late night movie-watching sessions I mentioned? This movie showed up on way more than one of them. At that time, it was just another excuse to see a naked woman. In this case, that was a young Kathleen Turner, often. I understood it was a mystery, but I had no idea what a noir was, that this was one, or how effective it is. Once again, adulthood came to the rescue. I watched it again years later and was blown away by a lot more than Turner's body.

2. Porky's
Given all that I've said in this post, perhaps it's no surprise this movie shows up here. Sure, there's lots of boobs, some full-frontal as well, the jokes are all juvenile and crass and right up a teenage boy's alley. I got older and, well, I was about to say that I revisited this, but that wouldn't be true. I've been watching this film periodically ever since the first time I saw it. Call me childish, if you must, but I laugh my ass off every time. (The Top 10 Movies About Virginity)

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
If you have seen this, and if you're reading this blog I'm guessing there's a 90% chance you have, then the theme song might be cranking up in your head. You're definitely picturing Harrison Ford with the hat, bullwhip, and doing something amazing. Perhaps he's running hard as he can while that giant boulder is bearing down on him. Or maybe he's switching out the Golden Idol for a sandbag. Whatever he's doing, it's perfect - even if none of it affects the outcome.

Honorable Mentions: Time Bandits, Arthur, Mommie Dearest, Escape From New York, Friday the 13th Part 2, Sharky's Machine


  1. Oh I love Ray Harryhausen and watch all his films and even own some and I love this version than the more recent one. The Paul New,an film is a good one and I also am glad to see Das Boot which is excellent. I find, nowadays, people think all Germans were Nazis and they were not and, considering the current North America and how people treat others...on that note, I will stop there but add Excalibur and Stripes. I would have placed Tie Bandits higher as well.

    1. I wanted to put Time Bandits higher. Unfortunately, I haven't watched it in 20+ years so my memory of it is hazy at best. I hope to revisit it soon.

  2. The thought of even trying to tally how many films released that I saw in one year stresses me out lol. Though I am using Letterboxd to count how many I watch this year for the first time.

    I'm glad Raiders is #1, other than that the only other ones I've seen are Evil Dead and Porky's, the latter makes for an excellent drinking came. Drink every time someone laughs in that movie.

    1. No doubt, Letterboxd helped in all these numbers I'm mentioning. As for what I've seen in theaters, it's based on the best of my recollection.

      And that's a great idea for a drinking game!

  3. Fun list - thanks for pulling it together. I'm happy to see Body Heat and Raiders near the top. Some other good films from 1981 that tend to make "Top 10" lists:

    Atlantic City
    Blow Out
    Chariots Of Fire
    Escape From New York
    Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
    On Golden Pond
    The Postman Always Rings Twice

    1. Escape From New York got an HM. I also saw Reds, Excalibur, and On Golden Pond. None of them stuck with me. Hopefully, I'll finally see The Road Warrior pretty soon.

  4. Well, this list inspired to make my own list of the best films of 1981. That was a good year. I didn't put Body Heat only because I never saw the whole film. On Golden Pond I found to be boring and based on the material of Chariots of Fire, I have no interest in that film.

    1. I'm highly recommending you watch all of Body Heat.

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  6. Hard to argue with some of your choices here--I've seen eight of your selections and several of them would make my top-10. Das Boot would rank a lot higher for me. So happy to see Body Heat that high, though--what a great neo-noir.

    Here are a few others worth considering:
    Scanners--Cronenberg in all the best ways.
    The Howling--Another great werewolf movie from this year (and Wolfen isn't bad, either).
    Nighthawks--Cop/terrorism movie featuring Stallone and Billy Dee Williams vs. Rutger Hauer.
    Thief--Badass James Caan movie with a kick-ass soundtrack.
    Outland--Sean Connery does High Noon in space.
    Ragtime--Racial tension in New York in the early 1900s.
    Ghost Story--Fred Astaire shanks a dude. Roll that around in your brain. Fred Astaire straight up stabs a guy.
    The Road Warrior--A true classic.

    For what it's worth, I revisited Stripes a year or so ago and it really didn't hold up for me at all.

    1. Ooo I forgot about Ghost Story what a fun, weird, mostly terrific film with a fantastic cast!

    2. SJH - I know, on Das Boot. Glad to see the love for Body Heat. Fantastic neo-noir.

      Scanners - didn't really work for me.
      The Howling - yes, it's a very good werewolf movie.
      Nighthawks - Amazingly, I never got around to this even though I really wanted to see it back when it came out.
      Thief - I saw this years and years ago, but don't really remember much these days. I need to revisit.

      Haven't seen any of the rest, yet. That includes Stripes, but I have seen pieces of that over the years just never the whole thing.

  7. An eclectic list with a great number one (which we share!). I can’t say I love all of these but while neither Heavy Metal nor Fort Apache would ever make my list they have good things in them. All I can say about Clash of the Titans & Porky’s is we all have our guilty pleasures.

    The only one I haven’t seen is Happy Birthday to Me but I will someday since Glenn Ford is in it and he’s on my filmography list….hell if I could wade through Flesh Fest for Veronica Lake and The Nesting for Gloria Grahame I guess I can bite the bullet for Glenn!

    Here’s my tops:

    1) Raiders of the Lost Ark-Perhaps the best popcorn movie ever made.

    2) Excalibur-The best version of the Arthurian legend with a flock of future stars.

    3) Outland-High Noon in space with a rugged Sean Connery and a kickass Frances Sternhagen.

    4) An American Werewolf in London-Hip and funny as well as gross and scary. Great special effects.

    5) Whose Life Is It Anyway?-Rendered a paraplegic in an auto accident a sculptor (Richard Dreyfuss) fights to US legal system for his right to die.

    6) Blow Out-A sound effects man stumbles across a murder while recording late at night and finds himself imperiled when he investigates.

    7) The Chosen-Two Jewish youths from differing sects become friends but that is put at risk as familial and world events pull at the fabric of that friendship.

    8) The Great Muppet Caper-The gang head to England to solve a jewel heist.

    9) Gallipoli-Young Australian sprinters Archy and Mark (Mark Lee & Mel Gibson) finagle their way into the army and ultimately become runners in the title battle, one of the bloodiest of WWI.

    10) Das Boot-Taut drama of life on a German U-boat.

    Runner-Ups: Nighthawks, Escape from New York, Body Heat

    TV movies/miniseries worth seeking out-East of Eden starring Jane Seymour, Summer Solstice, Angel Dusted, Skokie, Masada, Fallen Angel (excellent but deeply disturbing), Murder in Texas, Lily…Sold Out!

    1. Yay, Raiders at the top! Of the others I have seen Excalibur, but it was probably back in '82 or '83 and don't remember much of it at all.

  8. Appallingly, the ONLY movie from 1981 I've watched is Raiders of the Lost Ark (thanks Letterboxd!) but at least I know where to start with expanding on that!

    1. At least you watched the best one! Between my post and some of the comments, you have lots of movies to start with.

  9. I just checked my watched movies list and I can't believe I've only watched 9 movies from 1981. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the only I've seen of your picks but I wasn't a big fan of it. I've been meaning to watch An American Werewolf in London for such a long time but I don't know why I keep putting it off.

    1. The fact you aren't a big fan of Raiders makes my heart weep...but I'll be okay. Just see American Werewolf. I would love your thoughts on it.

  10. A fantastic year for horror! Even though I haven't seen everything on your list, I love reading your retrospective 80s posts. Fort Apache, The Bronx sounds like a movie more people ought to discover, I had never even heard the title before. I'll get to Heavy Metal sooner or later.

    My own top 10 of 1981:
    1. Blow Out (Brian De Palma)
    2. For Your Eyes Only (John Glen)
    3. Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen)
    4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg)
    5. Christiane F (Uli Edel)
    6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Karel Reisz)
    7. Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan)
    8. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski)
    8. Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsyth)
    10. Ms .45 (Abel Ferrara)

    1. I really need to see Blow Out and Ms. 45. Those are both movies I keep meaning to watch but never get to.

  11. I'm TERRIBLE at 80s movies (born in '84), but I really can't imagine anything topping Raiders. It's truly perfect.

    ALTHOUGH, Possession. Now THAT's a FILM!

  12. Great list! 1981, hmmm. Not the strongest movie year for me, but in addition to some of the ones you listed, I enjoy Atlantic City, Reds, Absence of Malice, Thief, and Possession, which is particularly insane.

    I suppose my favorite of the year would be De Palma’s Blow Out. Great work!

    1. I really need to see Blow Out. I have seen Reds and Thief, but it's been so long I couldn't tell you anything about them...other than when HBO used to run Reds back in the day, they included an intermission.

  13. I just rewatched Raiders tonight! It was just that time of the year. It is a timeless treasure. Glad to see it at number 1. Totally obvious choice in a perfect sort of way!

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