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The Lucky 13: 80’s Fantasy Adventure Films

March 2, 2013

“Jack the Giant Slayer” has hit the cinemas this weekend, the fantasy genre continues to thrive on itself in this new age. “Jack…”  is harmless fun and evokes a dash of that classic 80s fantasy adventure flair. For me, fantasy adventure films hit their pinnacle and pure enjoyment for fans during the 1980s. Here I’ll discuss my top 13 favorite 80s fantasy adventure films.

13. “Clash of the Titans” (1981) – Before it was bastardized by a CGI infused remake in 2009, this classic greek fantasy was infused with the magic of Ray Harryhausen classic stop-motion visual effects that are considered the element that makes this movie such a cult classic. Viewing this film it’s hard to not feel a sense of joy and nostalgia when you see those skeleton’s fight Perseus, or that classic moment when it rises from the sea, that ‘it’ would be…THE KRAKKKEEENNNN!!!!!

12. “Ladyhawke” (1985) – “Superman” filmmaker Richard Donner directs this mellow fantasy drama about a thief named The Mouse (Matthew Broderick), who escapes the dungeons of Aquila, setting in motion a chain of events that may save or destroy a beautiful woman and a brave captain. The two lovers are doomed to lifelong separation by a demonic curse invoked by the corrupt and jealous Bishop of Aquila: by day Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) is transformed into a hawk, while at night Navarre (Rutger Hauer) becomes a wolf. Imperius (Leo McKern), the monk who betrayed them, has found a way to break the curse, but only if he and the Mouse can get them back into Aquila to face the Bishop.

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11. “Conan the Barbarian” (1982) – AH-NULD! Such a classic, it’s on everyone’s list of favorite Schwarzenegger films to watch. Based on stories by Robert E. Howard, a pulp fiction writer of the 1930s, about the adventures of the eponymous character in a fictional pre-historic world of dark magic and savagery. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Earl Jones, and tells the story of a young barbarian (Schwarzenegger) who seeks vengeance for the death of his parents at the hands of Thulsa Doom (Jones), the leader of a snake cult. Go to YouTube like right NOW and blast that brilliant epic score by Basil Poledouris as soon as you can.

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10. “Excalibur” (1981) – This is one of those films I know for a fact many of my readers or even my friends have seen, you need to be a specific person to have seen “Excalibur”. Based purely from the 15th century Arthurian romance, Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. It stars Nigel Terry as Arthur, Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Liam Neeson as Gawain, Corin Redgrave as Cornwall, and some relatively unknown actor by the name of Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance. “Excalibur” features the music of Richard Wagner and Carl Orff, along with an original score by Trevor Jones.

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9. “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988) – Based on the outrageous tall tales that the 18th-century German nobleman Baron Münchhausen was alleged to have told about his wartime exploits against the Ottoman Empire. Terry Gilliam directs this zany off the wall adaptation featuring an all star cast including the likes of a young Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, and Robin Williams, John Neville gives a winning performance as the title character. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards.

8. “The NeverEnding Story” (1984) – “Das Boot” filmmaker, Wolfgang Peterson makes his English speaking debut in this beloved 80s fantasy. Bastian (Barret Oliver) is a young boy who lives a dreary life being tormented by school bullies. On one such occasion he escapes into a book shop where the old proprieter (Thomas Hill) reveals an ancient story-book to him, which he is warned can be dangerous. Shortly after, he “borrows” the book and begins to read it in the school attic where he is drawn into the mythical land of Fantasia, which desperately needs a hero to save it from destruction. To put it lightly, this film gave kids the idea back then of the ‘God-complex’.

7. “The Secret of NIMH” (1982) – Animation legend, Don Bluth, made his directoral debut with this animated cult hit about a fieldmouse named Mrs. Brisby, who must move her family to a safe location before the farmer plows the field where they live, but her invalid son Timmy cannot go outside due to his pneumonia. She enlists the aid of some highly intelligent, escaped lab rats that have built a subterranean society inside a rose bush near the farmer’s garden. The rats, led by the wise Nicodemus, decide to help her physically move her house to repay a debt of gratitude to her late husband, who made possible the rats’ escape from the laboratory. But things become complicated when some of the rats decide to use the situation to kill Nicodemus and make it appear to be accidental. The movie brings up some interesting notions about man vs. nature, the change in nature itself, and how man is the ultimate cause of it.

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6. Time Bandits” (1981) – Oh yes, Terry Gilliam makes it again on my list, “Time Bandits” is one of my ultimate childhood movies. I remember watching this movie many times with my mom, babysitters, and little brothers. It was either this, or “Ghostbusters” for me. It’s a simple little fable about a little boy who joins a band of dwarves along for the ride is the devilishly charming Robin Hood (John Cleese), and many more historical figures come into the picture.

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5. “Dragonslayer” (1981) – “Dragonslayer” was a Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Picture production, which feature a darker, realistic take on the dragon fantasy genre. Peter MacNicol gives a brilliant performance as a sorcerer’s apprentice who’s thrust into a dangerous quest to vanquish a fierce dragon. The movie brings back the old time notions of virgin sacrifices and symbolic meanings towards the beast itself. Visual effects were of course designed by the Lucas’ VFX company Industrial Light and Magic.

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4. “Willow” (1988) – I love “Willow”! I’ve got fond memories of this movie, I had always seemed to find myself watching this movie on a Saturday afternoon during my youth. A very young Warwick Davis stars in the title role as the eponymous lead hero: a reluctant farmer who plays a critical role in protecting a special baby from a tyrannical queen in a classic sword and sorcery setting that we know and love. Directed by Ron Howard, based on a story conceptualized by George Lucas.

3. “Labyrinth” (1986) – Jim Henson and his company created the fantastical world of “Labyrinth”, directed by Henson and scribed by fellow Monty Python member Terry Jones. It’s the movie many film geeks swoon over for many different reasons; the art direction, creature effects, for the guys a young vibrant Jennifer Connelly, or for the ladies, David Bowie (and his crazy bulge).

2. “Legend – the Director’s Cut” (1985) – Coming off his sci-fi epic, “Blade Runner”, Ridley Scott takes a crack at fantasy in the beloved cult movie, “Legend”. Much like “Blade Runner”“Legend” was a commercial failure, but found love in the video/DVD market. But, it was the Director’s cut that found the movie it’s notoriety amongst the film community. While Tangerine Dream did a brilliant job scoring the original cut, it was Jerry Goldsmith’s score I found to be a lot more potent for the Director’s Cut. Tom Cruise stars as a young man who must stop the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) from both destroying daylight, marrying the woman he loves, and killing off the last remaining unicorn.

1. “The Dark Crystal” (1982) – In my opinion, “The Dark Crystal” is the quint-essential dark fantasy film of the 1980s, not to mention Jim Henson’s best film. Directed by Henson and his partner in crime, Frank Oz, the film tells the story of Jen, an elflike ‘Gelfling’ on a quest to restore balance to his alien world by returning a lost shard to a powerful but broken gem. Although marketed as a family film, it was notably darker than the creators’ previous material. The animatronics used in the film were considered groundbreaking for its time, and they still stand the test of time even for today.

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