HomeMoviesQuarterly Look-Back: The Top 10 Best (and The Worst) Films of 1983

Quarterly Look-Back: The Top 10 Best (and The Worst) Films of 1983

A Look Back at 1983

The Year was 1983. Super Marios Bros. was released across arcades in Japan. The last episode of M*A*S*H aired in the United States. Motorola released the first mobile phone and Tom Cruise starred in four, COUNT ‘EM, FOUR, films. 1983 marks the 40th anniversary of a ton of great media — especially film. After viewing over forty of the best, worst and most infamous films of 1983, my job here is to rank the Top 10 flicks, as well as the WORST FILM of 1983. Grab your switchblades, cram into the old family Ford Taurus and blast some Bob Segar. This … is 1983.

Author’s Note: These are just my opinions. Friendly and respectable discourse is always welcome. There will be minor spoilers. 

Full List on Letterboxd

Song to Blast: “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot (Metal Health

10. The Dead Zone

Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Martin Sheen

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Where to Watch: Prime Video (Sub), Paramount+ (Sub), Most Rental Platforms

Adaptations of the great Stephen King can be hit or miss. There are a TON of them, most left in the void of forgotteness (I’m looking at you, The Dark Tower). The Dead Zone, however, is one of the best, a gripping and bleak look at a man who has lost everything, but will still end up giving up everything. The Dead Zone boasts an all-time great performance by Christopher Walken, in an understated and heartbreaking portrayal. David Cronenberg lights up the screen, but not in the same way he does with his more well-known efforts. Missing is the off-the-wall body horror, but instead, a tale of mental horror and love lost. Though not as accessible as some other films on this list, The Dead Zone brings an uncertainty on a first viewing that can hardly be matched.

(Editor’s Note: There was a USA series starring Anthony Michael Hall based on the book as well.)

9. Valley Girl

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Deborah Foreman, Elizabeth Daily, Colleen Camp, 

Directed by: Martha Coolidge 

Where to Watch: Tubi (Free), Kanopy (Free), Most Rental Platforms 

What happens when a punk from the city meets and falls in love with a girl from the valley? Why, hijinx of course, not to mention a damn fine flick. Some may scoff at Valley Girl being on this list, but I feel this is one of those flicks that shows when the ’80s truly became the ’80s. The soundtrack, the costume design, the earnestness, it’s all here and it’s all glorious. It is impossible not to fall for Randy and Julie’s relationship; they are love. This is an all-time best performance from Nic Cage (yeah, I said it, fight me) and I dare anyone to say this isn’t Deborah Foreman’s best role. Both leads are vulnerable, just as we all are when love comes our way. If I could say one thing to this flick, it’s that I would stop the world and melt with you. 

The film remade and that remake was released during quarantine in 2020. Read Pop Break’s review here.

8. Something Wicked This Way Comes

Starring: Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, Royal Dano, Pam Grier

Directed by: Jack Clayton 

Where to Watch: Nowhere (at time of writing). I had to purchase an old DVD. 

Let me start by saying, it is absolutely tragic that Disney does not have this film on their platform. What they are ashamed of, I do not know, because Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the best films they’ve ever put out. Dark, mysterious and harrowing from beginning to end, this film doesn’t hold back, instead treating its audience like the children in it—with respect. It might be hard to see now, but if you can take yourself back to being a kid for the 100 minute runtime, this flick is terrifying, the perfect example of a movie we should show children to introduce them to the horror genre. Perfectly lit, perfectly scored and perfectly crafted to spook the ever-loving Hell out of children, with some of the best child acting of the 1980s, as well as a peak performance from Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce’s most sinister role. If you can find a DVD of this, buy it, because this movie is so worth your time. 

7. The Big Chill

Starring: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams, Kevin Costner (cameo)

Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan 

Where to Watch: HBO Max (Sub), Most Rental Platforms

It’s a movie about just hanging out with your homies, reliving old memories and realizing you’re getting older. Some might say that sounds boring, and I would have agreed in my younger ages, but as one gets older, they realize the beauty in just hanging out. Faced with their own mortality after the death of a friend, seven college friends meet up to just …hang. The Big Chill is a top notch ensemble piece, a tale of reminiscing and coming to terms with the fact that age, marriage and children will keep us apart from what we thought would never go away. The script really gives way to some nuanced performances here. Everything is subtle, said with a purpose, explained in great detail. If I were told our principal cast ad libbed most of their lines, I would believe it. 

6. Risky Business

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Nicholas Pryor, Janet Carroll, Richard Masur, Brons Pinchot, Curtis Armstrong, Megan Mullaley (cameo)

Directed by: Paul Brickman

Where to Watch: Most Rental Platforms

No decade quite nailed the coming-of-age story quite like the 1980s. John Hughes may have staked a claim to the most beloved films of that niche subgenre, but, for my money, no one made you believe it more than Tom Cruise (see the aforementioned four films in my prologue). Risky Business is peak Cruise, as he smoothly maneuvers his way through obstacles that no normal seventeen year old would, or should, be tasked with.

Cruise’s Joel Goodson set the stage for many who came after him: Zack Morris, Ferris Bueller, even a little bit of Bart Simpson. A troublemaker who gets in way over his head, but learns a lesson…kinda. I’m happy to say that Risky Business still holds up, an iconic piece of ’80s filmmaking. Even if you haven’t seen this film, you know the underwear slide, an absolute staple of pop culture. Cruise, as usual, is a powerhouse. Rebecca De Mornay is an incredibly underrated character as Lane the call girl and Joe Pantoliano shows early signs of brilliance at a young age. This movie is stellar, just like some old time rock and roll. 

5. The Outsiders

Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Leif Garrett, Glenn Withrow, Tom Waits, Tom Cruise 

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola 

Where to Watch: HBO Max (Sub), Most Rental Platforms 

“Back in my day, movies were just allowed to be movies. We didn’t have none of these underlying messages”. It’s a phrase I hear pretty much whenever I’m attempting to have a dialogue with a member of the casual movie going audience and I am quick to point out many films from back in their day, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Stand By Me and this entry, The Outsiders, did.

What’s unfairly looked at as a “man movie,” a true boys-will-be-boys picture, is really intended to show the viewer the exact opposite of that rhetoric. The movie, and of course the book, take a look at the way class division, peer pressure and mental health affect the development of young men. While global change can not be achieved through film, if enough people take a look at films like this for the right reason, you can attempt to understand people more. Add in an all-star cast (Tom Cruise, you’re here again!) and a director who knows no bounds of what limits to push in film and you have one of the best films of the 1980s. 

4. National Lampoon’s Vacation

Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, John Candy

Directed by: Harold Ramis

Where to Watch: Most Rental Platforms

As a young child I was severely disappointed that my family trips from California to Arizona were not filled with as many hijinks as The Griswold Family conjured up. Gun shots, sexy women drivers, dead dogs and grandmas are just some of the things I missed out on, but luckily, National Lampoon was there to make me laugh along the way. This is one of those flicks (like most comedies from the ’70s and ’80s) that people say doesn’t hold up. I disagree. A different time is in fact a different time and while some of these jokes may come off as crude nowadays, they’re all in good fun. Chevy Chase plays his usual jackass self, stumbling along like the father we all know and love. To keep Clark Griswold grounded is the fantastic Beverly D’Angelo, centering the comedy while providing a ton of her own. But it’s Randy Quaid’s Uncle Eddy that we all love and remember, a true sociopath redneck that many people have met but claim they aren’t. While I have a bigger soft spot for Christmas Vacation, there is no denying the original and its impact. 

3. Scarface

Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfieffer, Robert Loggia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, F. Murray Abraham

Directed by: Brian De Palma

Where to Watch: Hulu (Sub), Peacock (Sub), Most Rental Platforms 

Scarface is legendary, a film so well known, it’s impossible to say anything here that hasn’t been said before. But quitting while the going gets rough is not what I am paid to do, so here goes nothing! This flick is one hell of a fun ride. Some people like to throw out the word “OVERRATED” for popular movies — especially ones that came out before they were born. There is nothing overrated here. Scarface holds up just as well in 2023 as it did when I first saw it as a kid (listen, my parents tried, O.K.) and, I’m assuming, 1983.

It’s a tale of fame and failure, a brutal and honest look at The American Dream (much like another flick we’ll get to in 2013). Scarface is violent, filthy and pessimistic, carried by an electric performance from Al Pacino. Tony Montana might be someone you can’t root for, but Pacino is and deserves every ounce of praise he’s received for 40 years. De Palma directs his ass off, crafting a tale so epic, I don’t think he could ever top it. No sequel. No prequel. The rise and fall of Tony Montana in one take. Excellent flick!

2. The King of Comedy

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Where to Watch: Hulu (Sub), Plex (Sub), Most Rental Platforms

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An aspiring standup comedian with severe mental health issues commits a felony to get his act across to the masses. No, dear readers, it isn’t Joker but The King of Comedy, a movie Todd Phillips completely ripped off (that being said, I dig that flick). I mentioned in my entry for The Outsiders that men’s mental health has been prevalent in cinema for a long time. This is a big one, as Robert De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin stands in his own way, illuminating a delusion of grandeur he may never face. Things go south when he kidnaps his idol, late night host Jerry Langford (Lewis), threatening to kill him if he isn’t given television air time. Again, if you’ve seen Joker, you can see where this flick goes (sort of), but it’s important to remember how dark and cynical this movie is, especially for the time. 

S1. tar Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness

Directed by: Richard Marquand 

Where to Watch: Disney+ (Sub), Most Rental Platforms

Much like George Lucas himself, the first Star Wars flick discussed in these pieces is not the first one, as is tradition. Look, it’s Star Wars. These movies have been talked about and dissected for nearly 50 years. I’m just going to gush about this movie, because dammit, it deserves it. Some say Jedi is the worst of the original trilogy; it’s not. These are three perfect movies that will forever stand the test of time.

The set pieces are larger and more intimidating. The violence is a whole new level of insanity. The story between our three heroes comes to a crescendo so loud, it’s bound to blow up the nearest space station. Most importantly, the arc ends so perfectly between father, son and master, with Anakin Skywalker fulfilling the prophecy told from many years ago (trust me, Lucas totally had it planned, you can’t tell us otherwise). There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie, especially the Ewoks, who are both adorable and brutal.

Look, it’s Star Wars. You’ve either seen it or you haven’t. But it deserves to be number one. 

Honorable Mentions

Cujo, Sleepaway Camp, Terms of Endearment, WarGames, Christine, Mr. Mom, Psycho II, Rumble Fish, Eyes of Fire, Videodrome

Worst Film of Year

Amityville 3-D

Starring: Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, Robert Joy, Candy Clark, Meg Ryan, 

Directed by: Richard Fleischer 

Where to Watch: Tubi

Ugh. I have such a hard time talking about the worst movies of a certain year, especially forgettable pieces of crap like this. Take everything you know about the classic Amityville Horror and throw it out the window. Here we have a half-baked, boring and redundant attempt at a haunting, put together with shoddy 3-D and piss poor acting. Hey, at least the cover is cool. Also, I own this on Blu-Ray, but don’t hold that against me. 

Honorable Mentions

Sledgehammer, Never Say Never Again, Jaws 3-D, Losin’ It (look everyone, it’s Tom Cruise again!) 


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