Best Underrated Sci-fi/Fantasy Films of the 1980s (1)

Battle Beyond The Stars


Based on Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai”, but this time set in space, the film starts with finding a peaceful planet under the threat of invasion from an evil tyrant. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the rulers of the planet send out a young man to hire mercenaries to help defend the planet against an attack.

This is the film that is credited with the launching of the careers of James Cameron and James Horner, and it’s a fantastic little adventure. What it lacks in budget (just $2 million) it makes up for with a brilliantly written script by John Sayles and a fantastic cast, including George Peppard as a space cowboy and Robert Vaughn as a mysterious assassin. Ignore the dated effects, enjoy the script and performances, and marvel at the models. You’ll love this film, I promise.

Spacehunter – Adventures in the Forbidden Zone 2. SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983).

Starring Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald, Spacehunter tells the story of Wolff, a bit of a Han Solo character, who has taken on the task of rescuing three earth girls who have been captured by the evil Underdog (played brilliantly as ever by Michael Ironside) on a disease-riddled planet. During his mission he is joined by Nikki (Ringwald) who helps him track the location of the girls and their captor.

A favourite film from my childhood, a lot of people claimed this to be a cheap Star Wars rip-off, but for me it was an excellent and fun adventure — great vehicles and sets, lots of humour, and great acting from Ironside make it a fun film that has stood the test of time.

Labyrinth (film) 3. LABYRINTH (1983).

Forced to babysit her young brother, 15-year-old Sarah, frustrated by young Toby’s constant crying, wishes him to be taken by the Goblin King through a story. Unfortunately, Sarah’s childish wish comes true and her young brother is kidnapped by an evil yet charming Goblin King in a fantastical kingdom. The King gives her one chance to save her brother; all she has to do is navigate a fiendish Labyrinth and make it to his castle before midnight — if she doesn’t, Toby will be turned into a Goblin!

Directed by the master of puppets, Jim Henson, this magically musical fantasy is full of memorable characters, such as Hoggle (voiced by Brian Henson), Didymus and Ludo, brilliant puppet performances, amazing sets, and some real-catchy tunes (such as Dance Baby Dance) performed by Bowie himself, who is charmingly evil as the Goblin King. A fantastic family film with a few scares for the little ‘uns.

Krull 4. KRULL (1983).

When the Bride of Prince Colwyn is kidnapped by an invading alien called The Beast he goes on a quest to rescue her. Along the way he is joined by a ragtag gang of thieves and a cyclops and wizard. Facing superior technology (lasers against swords and spears) they have to fight their way to the seemingly impenetrable fortress, facing hoards of the alien forces and shape shifters along the way.

A brilliantly imaginative mix of Hi-Fis and fantasy with a top-notch British cast (Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Bernard Bresslaw and a young Todd Carty, to name a few), this film is well paced, funny, scary (as a kid the shape shifters scared the hell out of me), and exciting. Some people, again, say this is another Star Wars rip-off, and yes, there are some similarities, but unlike other more obvious rip-offs of the time, I think this film has managed to make itself unique enough to gain its much deserved cult-film status. A must-watch for all sci-fi and fantasy fans alike.

The Last Starfighter 5. THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984).

A kid who lives on a trailer park and dreams of a seemingly unobtainable greater life gets a chance for greatness beyond his wildest dreams after he beats an arcade game. After beating the game, which was actually a test to find worthy people, he is recruited by an enigmatic alien called Centauri into the Starfighter squadron to help fight an evil Emperor intent on taking over the galaxy, a conflict that mirrors the back story of the game he beat back on Earth.

Riding on the success of Tron with its ground-breaking CGI effects, The Last Starfighter is probably the first film I ever got to see with CGI (I unfortunately never got to see Tron until recently) and I was blown away by these then-unbelievable effects; even today, knowing when the film came out, I’m still impressed with the quality of animation. The story itself plays on every teen boy’s love of video games, and I guess every teen boy’s dream of actually being in a game for real. This film will always be one of my guilty pleasures.

Legend (film) 6. LEGEND (1985).

An evil demon known as “Darkness” (Tim Curry) plans to create eternal night and winter across the land by stealing the horn from the last of the unicorns, but his plan is put into jeopardy by a forest boy called Jack (Tom Cruise) and his gang of elves who go on a fantastic quest to thwart him and rescue his princess and bride to be.

I still remember going to see this fantastic film (directed by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott) and being utterly amazed by the magic, awed by the characters, especially the unicorns, and terrified by the evil Darkness (Tim Curry’s performance as Darkness was brilliantly over-acted, which worked so well with his costume/make-up and character). Seeing it now it amazes me just how dark the film was for a kid’s film, but I’m happy to say it has stood the test of time.

Ladyhawke 7. LADYHAWKE (1985).

Cursed by a jealous bishop, Captain Navarre and his love Isabeau are cursed — Navarre will become a wolf by night, while Isabeau will be a hawk by day. Feeling that there is no way of breaking this curse, Navarre is intent on revenge until pickpocket Mouse, who agrees to help him, also tries to convince him of a way to break the curse so they can both be together in human form once again.

As a kid I kind of avoided this film, since it was also a love story, and love stories weren’t cool to boys my age. But having since seen this I have fallen in love with it. Rutger Hauer is brilliant as Navarre, playing one of the rare good-guy roles in his acting career, and Michelle Pfeiffer is gorgeous and fun as Isabeau. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they were annoyed by Matthew Broderick’s performance as Phillipe the Mouse, but I found his character fun and well acted. Overall it’s a fantastic little film, with enough romance to keep the girls happy and enough action to keep the guys happy. One last thing: the soundtrack — at first it doesn’t seem to fit, but to me, it works perfectly!

Maximum Overdrive 8. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986).

A mysterious rogue comet has disastrous effects on Earth when the planet passes through;, somehow, the comet causes electrical machinery to come alive in a murderous way. The film takes place at a truck stop where a group of people have become trapped by these psychotic trucks which only want two things: fuel and to kill everyone inside.

Stephen King’s only directorial role created a film where logic has got to be left behind. This is a well-paced film. The trucks are a source of some fantastic action scenes, there is a great soundtrack by AC/DC, and Emilio Estevez is his usual cocky, brilliant self as the young hero of the movie. A brilliantly fun film that’s got its funny moments as well, and it’s well worth hearing Yeardley Smith (Lisa from The Simpsons) cursing and swearing in that oh-so recognisable voice of hers.

Willow 9. WILLOW (1988).

A dwarf by the name of Willow is entrusted with the safe return of a human baby to her own people. But as you may guess, things don’t quite go to plan, and he discovers the baby has a great destiny to bring the rule of an evil sorceress to an end, so his own destiny must change as he, accompanied by swordsman Madmartigan and a couple of annoying brownies, set off to help the young baby’s destiny realised and save the world.

I only recently got around to watching this gem of a movie. Starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer as the unlikely heroes, it’s a full-on, non-stop fantastical adventure featuring evil warriors, devil dogs, sorcery, two-headed dragons and plenty of laughs. A great film for those rainy Saturday afternoons with the family.

Slipstream 10. SLIPSTREAM (1989).

Set in a distant future where humans now live around a weather phenomenon called the Slipstream, the film tells the story of a bounty hunter who kidnaps a mysterious fugitive out of the custody of a pair of police officers, which results in a chase down the Slipstream in futuristic light aircraft.

Although this film has some slightly dodgy visual effects and corny dialogue, it’s still a well-paced chase film with cool planes, impressive locations and stunning cinematography. All this is supported by a great cast, including Mark Hamill, Bill Paxton and even the great Ben Kingsley pops up in a small part. But what makes this film wonderful in my opinion is Bob Peck’s portrayal of the mysterious, suited, poetry-quoting fugitive Byron, a great bit of acting in a very under-rated film.

Written by Stuart Hine — Mr. Shines Movie World

2 thoughts on “Best Underrated Sci-fi/Fantasy Films of the 1980s (1)

  1. I love this phrase: “Based on Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” — I mean, yes I could conjure two phrases about Hamlet and say it was based on Shakespeare….. That certainly does not imply that any of the deeper meaning behind the vague concept was discussed…. I laughed my ass off during the film — it was so bad but funny. Brilliantly written?!? umm, yeah…. uh huh.

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