The Truly Great Trilogy of the 80’s

No, it’s not the Indiana Jones trilogy. Wait! Don’t go! Bear with me! Please? I’ll make it up to you! Promise! I mean, c’mon…Did you even watch Temple? Shit! Sorry! No! Stay!

We have some great duos in the movie making business that come together as director and actor — Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio (or Scorsese and DeNiro before that), Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, Robert Rodriguez and Antonio Banderas/Salma Hayek, etc. The original bad ass duo for me, though? The ones that knew just how to tap into my adolescent mind and entertain, bemuse, and tantalize my imagination like no others before them? John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. From over-the-top premises that involved macho BS paired with self-aware humor, amazing practical effects, and crazy cool soundtracks. What more could a 10-year old boy ask for?

So, this “trilogy” isn’t exactly a textbook definition example, but more of a “Hey, these movies came out in the same decade, were directed by the same guy, and starred the same dude!” So, to me, they’ll always be thought of in the same cluster. Carpenter kicked things off with Escape From New York in 1981. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is dropped into a future dystopian Manhattan Island that’s been converted into a prison to save the POTUS who’s crashed landed there and been taken hostage. The cheesy, campy, 80’s bad ass factor immediately exceeds any expectations you could possibly have. Plissken even received an homage from the now-iconic Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series, whom the character is loosely based off of. Which is made even greater by the fact that Carpenter is a huge proprietor of video games as an art form and medium in general! (He’s recently even expressed interest in making a movie out of 2008’s space-survival-horror Dead Space!)

My first memory of an anti-hero, Snake is pulled out of prison himself and offered a job in exchange for a pardon. Agreeing, he’s injected with nano-explosives that are on a timed detonator should he fail to rescue the POTUS within 24 hours. He stealth-glides into maximum security New York City (think Arkham City, if you haven’t seen the movie), and lands on top of the World Trade Center. Instant bona fide classic. The rest of the movie is full of action, adventure, 80’s cheese, and great times. It’s just a fun movie that seems like it would have been a blast to work on. Carpenter has stated that they were able to convince the city of New York to cut power to 10 blocks at a time during night shoots (which, the entire movie takes place at night). He claims that they’d wrap production around 6am and he’d go to sleep at dawn, and wouldn’t get up and ready until dusk, essentially not seeing the sun for 2 months. Even though the movie is set in 1997, it somehow remains a timeless classic in my head. Forever encased in nostalgia-amber.

As you can probably guess, that’s the way this whole list is gonna go. Nostalgia candy for Billy.

NEXT UP is 1982’s The Thing. Different setting, different tone, different story, different characters. Same amazing practical effects, directing, and 80’s macho bad assery. Kurt Russell again is a man’s man in the Arctic wasteland acting as helicopter pilot for a research team. Bored to death, we’re introduced to R.J. MacReady as he downs a bottle of whiskey that we could speculate he’s either been rationing, or just opened moments before the scene. The entire film was shot in freezing to cold conditions over the course of three months. If that sounds like a nightmare to you, then you start to understand the absolute dread, and claustrophobia that overcomes you as you watch the events unfold.

Suspicion, distrust, fear, survival. The tension they were able to build in this film is just insane. Especially since it holds up so well to this day! Again, 80’s cheese abound with references, jokes, and set pieces, but it doesn’t hold the movie back from being downright terrifying. This could be due to the help of Stan Winston’s incredible practical effects, and Ennio Morricone’s minimalist score keeping the feeling that something could be lurking just out of view at all times. This was Resident Evil (the video games, not the movies. Oh, god, not the movies) before Resident Evil was Resident Evil. Bizarre, Sci-Fi creature mutations, survival horror, guns, and explosions (no wonder this guy wants to make a Dead Space movie!), this is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. And not just out of the Sci-Fi/Horror genres. To give some perspective on how well it holds up; I (28 years of age) made my little brother (21 years of age) watch this movie as he’d never seen it. About half-way through, we’ve seen several mutations and creatures, my brother turns to me and says with equal parts enthusiasm and horror, “This movie is terrifying.” I was so proud.

The third installment/team up is what brings this “trilogy” to a close. 1986’s (the year before I was born) Big Trouble in Little China. John and Kurt back at it again. This time mixing it up with traditional action, some martial arts, more self-aware humor, amazing 80’s practical effects, and CHEESE. This is probably the heaviest helping of 80’s cheese out of all three of these films. And I’m not even mad about it. Jack Burton (Russell, again. Really? Keep up) is an all-American man’s man truck driver and his friend Wang Chi attempt to pick up Chi’s fiancee from the airport and witness a gang attempting to kidnap another woman who was being met by her friend (Sex & The City’s Kim Cattrall), and the gang ends up kidnapping Chi’s fiancee instead. A chase ensues and the gang is caught in the middle of an ancient feud between two Chinese societies. Some dudes who would later be the inspiration for Mortal Kombat character, Raiden (this guy has had so much influence on video games, holy SHIT), show up and kick everyone’s asses, forcing Jack and co. to retreat, regroup, and come up with a plan.

The rest of the movie is a mashup of so many genres (comedy, action, martial arts, horror, sci-fi, fantasy) it’s insane. And it’s all tied together by Jack who is such a blowhard, and constantly fails to see his many flaws/faults. He thinks he’s Conan the barbarian, but he’s more akin to Han Solo. Falling flat on his ass more often than not, all the while thinking he’s the lady’s man. My wife hadn’t seen this one, either. So, naturally, I made her watch it. It didn’t go over as bad as I thought it would. I think her being a SatC fan, the fact that Cattrall was in it softened the blow a little. She laughed, was grossed out, and even kind of scared at times. It could’ve gone worse. She didn’t love it, but didn’t hate it. This one has some really great 80’s practical effects on a different level apart from The Thing. It’s kind of apples and oranges because of the completely different tones of the films, but they’re all great feats to behold.

What are some of your favorite actor/director pairings? Let us know in the comments! 

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