6 Essential Elements to Make an 80s Movie

Ian-Fortey by Ian-Fortey on Apr. 21, 2014

So, you want to make an 80’s movie.  Don’t feel bad that it’s 2014, you’re never too late to make an 80s film, as long as you follow a few simple rules.  To start with, you’re probably going to need some terrible haircuts and clothes, but those are more refined details.  To get to the heart and soul of an 80s film, this is what you need, based entirely on every 80s movie ever made.  For some reason.

Sax Solos

The saxophone was invented in 1846 but apparently no one gave a damn until 1980.  At that point, it became the standard instrument for any and all action films.  The Lethal Weapon series drives this home with a furious point as every action in the movie is accompanied by a man shrieking into a sax, but let us not forget the killer sax interlude in Lost Boys, the love theme from Blade Runner and, you know, hundreds of others.  Basically score your movie like a low grade porno and you’ve got the mood set for 1980s shenanigans.

Dance Numbers

Why did 80s movies so frequently feature dance routines when history tells us people were no more inclined to dance at the drop of a hat than at any other time?  No one knows.  Nonetheless, feel free to watch Footloose, Teen Wolf, The Breakfast Club and most films by John Hughes, The Blues Brothers and numerous others.  In the 80s, music made you free, but only free enough to do what everyone else was doing.

For an added bonus, see if you can get everyone to dance to sax music.  Wouldn’t that be something?

Pretty Ugly/ Ugly Pretty Girls

Our standards of beauty have not changed very much from the 1980s, so it’s hard to understand female casting from back then.  There’s a strange trend of ugly girls cast as pretty girls and pretty girls cast as ugly girls that we may never understand.  Look no further than, again, John Hughes to see this in action as Molly Ringwald was apparently the most beautiful girl in Shermer, Illinois for some reason, and 3 separate movies tried to make us believe this.

Outside of John Hughes, Dirty Dancing wants us to be infatuated with Jennifer Grey, An Officer and a Gentleman had Deborah Winger, Raiders of the Lost Ark shoved Karen Allen in our faces and any movies featuring Geena Davis.  Are these women attractive or unattractive?  There’s no good answer.  It often depends on lighting and drunkenness and it’s just weird.  So hire a girl who’s attractive sometimes to be in your film and you’ll be set.

Montages

As Team America: World Police explained, you gotta have a montage. Only use proper spelling and grammar – you have to have a montage.  A montage is a great way to get from point A to Point B without actually boring us with reality.  All good 80s movies have montages, like awesome arm wrestling film Over the Top, Revenge of the Nerds, The Karate Kid and, of course, Rocky I and II.  Rocky couldn’t learn anything unless it was in montage form.

For extra effect, make sure that whatever your character accomplishes during the montage is something he has no business perfecting in such a short period of time.  Yes, the montage covers the passage of time, but it never comes close to covering enough.  Did Daniel really become a karate master in a few weeks?  Mr. Miyagi and that wax on bullshit must be amazing.

Pacing

The 80s was a simpler time.  No one had fancy cell phones or jet packs or Fleshlights like they do today.  All they had were fade haircuts and sports jackets and Day-Glo colors. How did they ever make do?

Pay attention to enough 80s films and you’ll start to notice bizarre issues with story pacing.  For instance, compare how many scenes occur in 80s films in which a character is scene parking a car, or even just driving from one location to another, to the same scenes in modern films.  Unless something important happens in the actual car, no one includes driving scenes now.  Back in the 80s, apparently driving was awesome because you got it all the time, complete with a full on parking job.  If you’re really lucky, you’d get “walking in the city” scenes, set to music.   These were interchangeable with beach scenes or mall scenes, none of which added anything to the film but did waste several minutes of screen time.

Anything Even Slightly Complex is Magical

Wax on.  Wax off.  That, somehow, is the key to karate.  That’s so much BS it should choke you out.  Want to create an entire woman from scratch? Use a Barbie and an 1980s computer program.  Skipping school for the day?  Why not become a national hero for the day, somehow. 

For reasons never touched on, the 80s presented a world in which there is a baseline of normality, and then anything outside of the normal is stunning and inexplicable.  How does Ferris Bueller manage to become the greatest boy in all of Chicago that one day?  Shouldn’t a kid with that kind of insane influence be a millionaire already?  And if Daniel can master karate after that kind of weak ass teaching, wouldn’t he be able to literally murder Jean Claude van Damme just by looking at him after a year of training?  And if those two nerds in Weird Science can make an actual, living woman, why are they ever doing anything else with their time?

Basically the 80s existed in a infomercial where no one could figure anything out, except for the main characters who were the guys who understood how to use a life’s rotisserie cooker or whatever and became amazing.  Put in an amazing character like that, who really isn’t amazing at all, just not as dumb as everyone else.