HomeMoviesQuarterly Look-Back: The Top 10 Best (and The Worst) Films of 1982

Quarterly Look-Back: The Top 10 Best (and The Worst) Films of 1982

The year was 1982. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was dominating the pop charts. The L.A. metal scene was beginning to rise to the top. EPCOT opened and millions across America watched David Letterman start his late night career. This year marks the 40th anniversary of a ton of great media — especially film. After viewing nearly 30 of the best, worst and most infamous films of 1982, I’m ranking the Top 10 flicks, as well as the WORST FILM of the year. Grab your Reese’s Pieces, origami unicorn and take a bike ride across the moon. This…is 1982.

Author’s Note: These are just my opinions. Friendly and respectable discourse is always welcome. Also, *minor spoilers*, of course.

For Tommy’s Full 1982 List check out his Letterboxd.

Song to Blast: Billie Jean by Michael Jackson (Thriller). 

10. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Forrest Whittaker, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Nicolas Cage, Amanda Wyss, Brian Backer, Anthony Edwards
Directed by:
Amy Heckerling
Where to Watch:
YouTube, Prime Video, Roku Channel, Apple TV

The ’80s are a popular time for pop culture nostalgists and watching films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High show us exactly why. High school is awkward, where most people discover their true selves and sexuality. Fast Times is easygoing from start to finish, delivering a variety of laughs and one-liners still quoted to this day. Plus, has anyone been able to be both as cool and uncool at the same time quite like Jeff Spicoli? All he needed was some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and he’s fiiiiine. 

9. First Blood
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, David Caruso, Chris Mulkey
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Where to Watch: YouTube, Prime Video, Google Play, Apple TV

Most people view the Rambo franchise as mindless action. This may be what the sequels became, but 1982’s First Blood is more of a beautifully crafted drama with deep subtext. John Rambo, the Vietnam vet with a blood lust, is just a normal man here, trying to live his life post-war. A series of miscommunications leads to an abuse of power via the police, who are all too interested in hunting this man, the way many Americans hunted the Vietcong. The irony and loss of innocence still resonates today, making this film more timeless than we realize. 

8. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Starring: Stacey Nelkin, Tom Akins, Dick Warlock, Nancy Kyles
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Where to Watch: YouTube, Prime Video, Google Play, Apple TV

You’re going to see lots of horror on this list. What better way than to start with one of the strangest, yet most captivating flicks? Many people were confused by Halloween III. No Michael Myers? A story about Stonehenge and making trick or treating masks? What is this? What it is is the absolute best ripoff of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a fun detective story filled with a variety of scares and practical effects. I’m so happy this flick became a cult classic that is fondly remembered—even if it doesn’t need to be a Halloween film.

7. Rocky III
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Burt Young
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Where to Watch: Hulu, HBO MAX, YouTube, Roku Channel, Google Play, Apple TV

“It’s the…eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight, rising up to the challenge of our rival!” THIS is the film people think about when they hear “Rocky”. The championship belt, the friendship with Apollo, the Survivor song and the total badass that is Clubber Lang. I stand by my opinion that Rocky is the most complete franchise in film (Rocky V never happened), and Rocky III is a major reason why.

Balboa himself has become a bit of a punchline, but Stallone delivers every time he puts on the gloves, delivering a fantastic performance that should have at least gotten him an Oscar nomination. Somehow, Mr. T’s Clubber Lang was nominated for a Golden Raspberry, which is sacrilegious. Even Hulk Hogan is fun in his short stint, and, oddly enough, Rocky III helped play a hand in the creation of WrestleMania. 

6. Tron
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, Dan Shor
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
Where to Watch: Disney+, Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play

The geek’s pick of 1982, Tron is the most fun movie most people haven’t seen. (It’s on Disney+, seriously, go watch it). Tron is the absolute best film about video games (don’t @ me), with enough ’80s cheese that is meant to be taken seriously. Gorgeous effects that I will die on a cross defending glitter the screen, burning bright red, blue and green into the viewer’s retina like its life depends on it. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner are the heroes we deserve, combatting the evil David Warner, who can easily terrify younger viewers. This movie has been paid homage so many times in modern media (South Park, for instance) and is one of the best levels in Kingdom Hearts II. Tron is a spectacle, one that still needs more recognition forty years later.

5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Starring: William Shatner, Ricardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kirstie Alley, George Takei, Paul Winfield
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Where to Watch: Paramount +, Prime Video,

I may get some hate here, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture is as boring as it gets. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing happens. The producers must have realized this, because the perfect 180 they flipped to create the amazing Wrath of Khan deserves all the praise its gotten since its inception. The cast of the Enterprise are on point here, with Shatner especially able to channel every emotion imaginable: anger, humor, fear, pain. Ricardo Montalban delivers one of the greatest villains of all time, Leonard Nimoy brings the teary eyes as Spock and, of course, the brilliant Trek effects are on full display. What else is there to say besides “KHAAAAAAAAAAN!”

4. Poltergeist
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Zelda Rubenstein
Directed by: Tobe Hooper (or so they say)
Where to Watch: HBO Max, YouTube, Apple, Google Play, Prime Video

An entire generation terrified with just two small words; “they’re here”. What is there to say? It’s Poltergeist, one of, if not THE best supernatural films ever made. Everything works here, whether you look at it from an acting standpoint or the effects. The cinematography is off the charts (probably because it was really directed by Steven Spielberg, but don’t tell anyone). Most importantly, the film is iconic from beginning to end. The television static, the closet ghosts, the clown, the skeletons (which may or may not have been real human remains), the face peeling, damn, Poltergeist is amazing, a very timely look at the horrors of America’s past. 

3. Blade Runner
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos, Brion James, Joanna Cassidy, M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Where to Watch: Netflix, HBO MAX, YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Prime Video

Okay, but which version am I alluding to here? Honestly, all of them. I own all five, I’ve seen all five and all five are epically told.
Blade Runner was the first film to break my brain at the way too early age of 8. I didn’t understand it, but I was captivated, so much so that I rewound the tape and watched it again, causing my parents to have to pay a whole $1 for a late fee. This is one of Scott’s best efforts, as he shows the ability to craft a universe that has been ripped off and paid homage to ever since. Harrison Ford is a powerhouse here, completely making you forget he’s Han Solo and Henry Jones. If you’ve never seen Blade Runner, go in as blind as possible for a surreal world of espionage.

2. The Thing
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter
Directed by: John Carpenter
Where to Watch: YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Prime Video

I’ve spoken a lot about effects in this piece (they’re impossible to avoid in this decade), but 1982’s The Thing is the pinnacle of special effects in my book. The Thing is a bloody good time, a body horror masterpiece that terrifies the audience into a puddle of sweat. It’s violent, it’s dirty and it makes you not trust what you think you know. You see, The Thing could succeed on special effects alone, but John Carpenter tells a story of trust vs. betrayal like no one else before or after him—so much so that there have been over forty years of theories on what happens once the credits roll. I may be a John Carpenter diehard (throw Kurt Russell in there while you’re at it), but The Thing is undeniably a horror icon showing us his best work. 

1. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Where to Watch: YouTube, Google Play, Apple, Prime Video

Beautiful, E.T. is absolutely beautiful and, though I’ve seen this movie well over a hundred times, it still makes me cry. Much like Spielberg’s Jaws, E.T. could have gone horribly wrong. However, Spielberg’s precision skill and a tad bit of luck blessed us with one of the most genuine films of all time. Henry Thomas and a very young Drew Barrymore are the benchmark for what child actors should bring to the table and Dee Wallace portrays a perfect mother by being anything but perfect. I digress, because you’ve seen it and you know all the best moments. This saved Reese’s Pieces (M+M’s sure feel stupid), it invited kids to go on many more adventures (latchkey kids were wild, trust me) and it makes everyone cry. You know the scene and I think you’re a liar if you say otherwise. Oh, and John Williams’s score is to die for. Can I gush enough? I love this movie. A clear number one and the definition of Spielbergian cinema!

Honorable Mentions

Class of 1984, 48 Hours, Creepshow, Pieces, Basket Case

Not Listed

The King of Comedy (opened wide release in 1983)

Worst Film 1982: Grease 2
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Maxwell Caufield, Adrian Zmed, Lorna Luft, Christopher MacDonald, Pamela Adlon.
Directed by: Patricia Birch.
Where to Watch: Hulu, STARZ, Prime Video, YouTube, Apple, Google Play

Oh. My. God. Have you seen it? No? Good, don’t. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of Grease, but Holy Hell, this is bad in every aspect of filmmaking. The songs suck, the acting sucks and it’s a crash course in what not to do with filmmaking. Just run away. 




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