Was the 1980s the greatest decade for SF&F movies? That’s debatable, but it certainly produced a few classics. The following is a list of movies that have shaped the way movies have looked and felt ever since.
Very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep, this movie turned Los Angeles into an overpopulated, rain soaked, future noir ruled by large corporations, where the rich live in luxury and the poor scrabble to survive amidst the neon signs and holographic billboards.
What made Aliens different was the way all the clothing and equipment had been recognisably extrapolated from modern day technology. The marines, their weapons and their dropship were quite obviously direct descendants of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam in the 1970s; and this gave the whole thing an air of authenticty which had been lacking from previous sci-fi films. The future depicted in Aliens was dirty and scuzzy and improvised, and everybody worked for “the company”. Nobody was a princess or freewheeling space pirate; there were no Captain Kirks: the characters were all ordinary people trying to hold down jobs; and the film gave us plenty of time to get to know them all before they came face-to-fang with the alien horde.
Along with its 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this movie employed effects that were revolutionary for their time, and set a standard for action movies to follow.
The privitisation and militarisation of the police reaches its logical conclusion when a megacoporation upgrades a fatally injured Detroit officer into a robotic killing machine. Essentially a satirical metaphor for the role of human compassion in the enforcement of law and order, this movie spawned numerous sequels and a TV series.
In Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the human race stifles beneath a suffocating layer of bureaucracy. Visually similar to Blade Runner in some respects, this movie takes the box-ticking minutiae of every day life and posits a world in which a visit from a rogue air-conditioning repair man can have fatal consequences for the hapless consumer.
“Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired.”
Set in the sprawling futuristic metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, Akira set an aesthetic that has shaped subsequent works such as Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel Alita, Cowboy Bebop, and The Matrix.
The film that introduced CGI to a mass audience, Tron inspired creators as diverse as Pixar and Daft Punk.
In this gritty space western, a marshal on a Jupiter mining colony has to go up against both workers and management when investigating a drug ring on the fringes of human expansion, suggesting that humans will always be slaves to greed, corruption and their baser natures, no matter the setting.
Escape From New York
Manhattan Island has been converted into a kind of open air maximum security prison, which is all fine and dandy until the president’s plane accidentally crashes into it and the inmates hold him to ransom. Cyberpunk godfather William Gibson cites the film as an influence on his 1984 novel Neuromancer, which itself went on to redefine how an entire generation of written science fiction saw itself.
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