40 Movies For 40 Years: 1987

I have fallen a bit behind in posting to this project. So there may be a few articles posted this week in order to get caught up to schedule.

In 1987 I had been alive for a solid 10 years. I distinctly remember going to a barbecue on my birthday, as we usually did since it was also the 4th of July. I walked to the sitting area on my uncle’s deck overlooking the lake and announced to my grandparents that I was a decade old. It didn’t impress them that much, especially since by that point they had over 50 years on me.

The year that I turned 10 was a pretty big year at the movies. Leonard Nimoy was working his directing chops with Three Men And A Baby, Michael Douglas had a Fatal Attraction, and Mel Gibson and Danny Glover started a franchise that spanned four films with the original Lethal Weapon.

The movie that came out that year that had the biggest impact on me is kind of embarrassing to admit. I may have to turn in my cinephile card once I admit how big of a fan that I am of Ernest Goes To Camp.

When I was a kid I was a big fan of Ernest P. Worrell. If you’ve never heard of him then you need to go to YouTube and at least watch some of the old commercials that he used to appear in. It was a weird thing that happened in the 80s, because usually a character that appears in commercials is owned by a brand like Flo, or Mayhem. But this time the character was owned by an ad company and was licensed out to advertise all kinds of products. The ones that I remember the best were for Mello Yello.

Ernest was played exquisitely by Jim Varney. He was the quintessential redneck, complete with a denim vest and ball cap. And in the commercials he used to address his unseen neighbor, Vern, whose point of view we were usually looking at him through. He tortured Vern, continuously terrorizing with his attempts to “help” him. He usually ended up demolishing part of Vern’s home or injuring him in some way.

Ernest first transitioned to film in Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam which went straight to video in 1986. It was a weird movie in which Jim Varney played multiple characters, only one of which was Ernest. Varney was a master of faces and voices. You can tell by watching his performances that Jerry Lewis had a huge influence over him and future comedians such as Jim Carrey drew inspiration from him…whether they admit to it or not.

Ernest Goes To Camp was the first theatrical movie that came out to feature Ernest. The story is something that we’ve seen a few times. Ernest gets a job as a cook at Camp Kikakee. He, being a perpetual 13 year old boy at heart, becomes fast friends with many of the children that attend the camp. And, when the camp is bought by a big corporation that plans to demolish it, he and those kids go to war to save it.

This movie is hilarious. There were a lot of movies that followed with Ernest in the title where Varney reprised his role, but this one was very different. Later movies tended to have more slapstick and almost skit-like things thrown in. They almost turned Ernest into a cartoon character and put him into situations that no human could survive. But with this movie it was almost like all the characters around him were from a different kind of movie. Ernest stood out because he was in normal surroundings. There weren’t any monsters coming after him like in Ernest Scared Stupid. He wasn’t saving Santa like in Ernest Saves Christmas. And he wasn’t becoming a basketball phenom like in Slam Dunk Ernest.

This movie had a ton of comedy which was great for the 10 year old me that loved watching the commercials every time they came on. But then later on in the movie when the camp is closing and Ernest seems to be losing his friends I discovered that there was more to this character than just a lot of sight gags. And I discovered the genius of Jim Varney whose career I would follow until his death in 2000 at the age of 50.

A lot of people look at the name Ernest on a movie poster and automatically assume that it’s going to be some stupid comedy that kills a few brain cells every minute that it’s on the screen. And if you’re watching some of the later direct-to-video films then those people would probably be right. But this first movie was an exception. This is a truly heartwarming story told through the eyes of an exceptionally funny character played by a talented comedian. I strongly recommend you take 90 minutes and give Ernest Goes To Camp a shot. It is my favorite movie of 1987.

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1986

1986 is a year that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Not because of any one particular movie that came out, but because of something that happened in the news.

When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. I read every book that my library had about the space program, the planets in our solar system, the moon, NASA…you name it. So, when I was I the third grade and we got the news that a teacher was going to go into space and conduct classes for us on television I was thrilled.

That was the year that the Challenger exploded a few second after blast off. The entire crew died.
The fact that we all saw it happen made it so much harder to deal with. It was an absolute defining moment in my life. It was the moment that I realized that not all the stories had a happy ending.
I just wanted to take a moment and acknowledge that at the top of this entry. But this blog is about movies, and there were a few of them in 1986.

Sigourney Weaver was fighting Aliens, Ralph Macchio was back in The Karate Kid Part II, and Matthew Broderick was making some comedy history with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But, for the second time in this series the film that made the biggest impact on me was a Star Trek movie. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

I wrote a while back about the fantastic movie that I thought Star Trek II was. Star Trek III has never been one of my favorites, even though it was the story of how Spock came back from the dead. But it was successful enough for Paramount to trust Leonard Nimoy to fill the director’s chair one more time. IV is the third part of the Star Trek trilogy, which is what a lot of fans call II, III, and IV since they have a story thread that runs through them starting with the death of Spock, then the destruction of the Enterprise, and finishing up here as the crew returns to Earth and takes on a new ship.

The difference in this movie and the others is that it is mostly a comedy, though the premise doesn’t seem very funny. In the 23rd century a mysterious probe show up out of nowhere and starts evaporating the Earth’s oceans. It is threatening the life of the planet. Just as this is happening the Klingon Bird of Prey that the Enterprise crew took over in the last movie show up. Spock does a little bit of magic reasoning and figures out that the probe is trying to communicate with what it thinks is the main life form of Earth, humpback wales. They were prominent in the oceans the last time the probe came around a few million year ago. But by this time they’re all gone. So, Kirk decides to do what any of us would do…go back in time and scoop up a couple of whales.

So, we get a really funny movie about Kirk, Spock, McCoy and company walking around in San Francisco in 1986. Most of them are human, but their reality is so far removed from what life was like in their ancient past that it’s hilarious to see them try to blend in. Some of the comedy that we got was Spock doing the nerve pinch on a bus punk, McCoy resurrecting a bed-ridden old lady with some future medicine, Scotty causing a paradox by inventing future materials, and Checkov asking various passersby where he can find the “nuclear wessel”.

As far as plot…there isn’t really much. This movie was supposed to be a light-hearted romp and give fans a welcomed breather after the heavy plots of the last two films. The crew had dealt with the death and resurrection of their friend. This time, they were looking for whales in the past.

That’s all that I really have to say about it. Because, it’s not the best Star Trek movie…but of all the movies that came out in 1986 it is the one that had the biggest impact on me. I love Star Trek…and I love time travel. Some of the best Star Trek episodes had to do with time travel, and this was the first film that dealt with it. It wasn’t the last and it didn’t even do it the best. That distinction belongs to First Contact. But, if you want to have a fun adventure with the crew of the Enterprise…er, HMS Bounty…The Voyage Home is the way to go.

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1985

1985. There were a lot of good movies that came out that year. Stallone was back in two of them, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV. Oprah had her acting debut in The Color Purple. And the world was learning that Goonies never say “die”.

It was the year that I turned 8 years old. I was in the third grade and I had developed a fascination with reading. I read every book that I could get my hands on. My town’s public library had become one of my favorite places, followed closely by my school library. And not only had I discovered a love of reading, I had discovered a love of science fiction.

One of my favorite books of that time was a “choose your own adventure” story. You would read the first couple of pages of the book and then it would give you a choice to make. The page that you read next would depend on what your choice was. It was great because you could go back over and over and make different decisions and have a whole new story. This particular story had to do with time travel. I thought that the concept of traveling to the past or to the distant future was intriguing. I used to run around in the woods behind my house and pretend that I had been transported to a prehistoric time when dinosaurs still lurked around every corner.

It should be no surprise to anyone that knows me that the movie from 1985 that has affected me the most was Back To The Future.

It was a classic and unexplainable trope in some of the old goofy sci fi stories that a teenage boy would be friends with some crazy old inventor who was usually called “Doctor” or “Professor”. It was a way to have a story for kids about someone their age having an adventure with technology that they couldn’t have created on their own. The Professor made the shrink ray or the clone maker. In this case, the Doc made the time machine.

Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, is friends with Doc Brown who created a time machine out of a DeLorean. The Doc’s machine runs off of plutonium which he stole from some Libyan terrorists and they track him down as he’s showing off his invention. The Doc is killed and Marty jumps into the DeLorean in order to get away, accidentally sending himself back in time 30 years to the year 1955.

Once he’s there he finds that his presence his disrupted history from occurring the way it should and that his existence in the future is in jeopardy. So, he get’s Doc’s younger self to help him solve the problem and send him back…to the future.

I get worked up just thinking about this movie. The premise is a little goofy. Yeah, it’s kind of weird for a 17-year-old kid to be friends with a man in his sixties or seventies, but it works to get us to the main part of the story which takes place in the 50s.

If there is one thing that this movie gets right it’s the feel of the 50s. You can almost believe that he really went there. The clothes, the music, the colors, the advertisements…all of it is there to create a sense of nostalgia. This movie wasn’t made for me. This movie was made for parents and for people just a little bit older than them. My mom was born in 1955. She was actually born on November 25, 1955, which is just a couple of weeks after the timeline of the movie. People that were a little older than that would remember this time from when they were kids and that’s who they were shooting for.

The thing that I like about this movie is that even though it has its roots in science fiction and it has a few scenes with special effects, it’s actually a pretty small film. Once Marty is transported to 1955, the movie depends on the story and the characters to carry it and not on special effects or CGI. And the characters absolutely delivered. Crispin Glover is a weird guy but nobody else could have played the role of George McFly. He was a coward that Marty helped to find his backbone and not only ensured that he and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) would get married but he actually made their future better. Thompson was great as Marty’s mom even though it was kind of creepy (really creepy) that she almost tries to “get with” Marty….**shiver**.

And who can forget Thomas F. Wilson as the big bully, Biff Tannen. Everyone has known a Biff in their life. He’s the guy that thinks he’s the greatest at everything but he’s really just a tiny weasel in a big suit.

Fox and Lloyd hold this movie together. I think that even though there was a huge age difference that they are one of the best comedy duos of all time. They have a chemistry between them that worked not only in this film but was the greatest part of the two sequels that came later. It seems so strange to find out that Fox almost didn’t play Marty. The part was actually given to Eric Stoltz because Fox was busy making Family Ties. They filmed almost the entire movie with Stoltz in the lead but just realized that the chemistry wasn’t there and the movie wasn’t working. They were able to work out a deal with NBC to get Fox at night and on the weekends and they reshot almost the whole film. If that had not happened then this series would not be the well loved classic that it is today.

I quote this movie so much that it’s come to be accepted by my family as part of my dialogue. How many times have I gotten into a car and said “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”? It’s a number that is too high to attain. “This is heavy” is a staple of mine as well.

And, yes, the paradox stuff doesn’t quite work out. We know that if you changed history and it was something that caused you to not exist that it would be pretty instantaneous. You wouldn’t watch a picture of your family slowly fade and then see your fingers and hand disappear. But this is a family comedy, not a straight up sci fi film, so it works.

So today I’d have to say that Back To The Future is not only my favorite time travel movie of all time, but it is definitely the most defining movie for me that came from 1985.

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1984

By 1984 I was old enough to start noticing that there might be some good TV shows and movies out there that didn’t involve cartoon animals and Muppets of various sizes. A lot of the hours that I spent in front of the television were in the company of Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. But I started to pay attention a little more often when my parents were watching their shows. I started noticing things like The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes Of Hazzard. Live action entertainment was just starting to peak my interest.

And it was a pretty good year for live action movies. Indiana Jones was exploring the Temple Of Doom, theaters were full of Gremlins, and the crew of the Enterprise was back in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.

A lot of the movies that came out in 1984 are on my list of some of the best of all time. One of these days I’ll make my top 100 list and all of the ones that I just mentioned will probably be on there. 1984 also had Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, Romancing The Stone, and Splash. All of these are fantastic movies, in my opinion. Some of them spawned franchises and some of them are considered classics today. But there was one movie that came out in 1984 that really affected my childhood more than any of the others…


I didn’t see the movie until after it had been out for a couple of years. I remember that my dad was going to watch it when it aired on HBO a few months after it had left theaters and invited me to watch it with him. But seeing the lady in the library burst into a scary monster was all that my seven-year-old eyes had to see to realize that it wasn’t the movie for me. I went and hid in my room until he called me back a couple of hours later to show me the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man that was rampaging New York City. That did get my attention, but not enough for me to brave that monster again. At least not for a while.

It was a year or so later before The Real Ghostbusters started coming on TV on Saturday mornings. I started watching that cartoon from the very first episode and I loved every second of it. The idea of a group of men that could battle ghosts with proton beams captured my imagination. I had my mom buy me action figures for my birthday so that I could make up my own stories. I bought myself a proton pack with a beam made of Nerf and ran around in the woods behind my house pretending to be on an adventure with Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston. Slimer was always hovering just over my shoulder, waiting to eat ever crumb that I might have dropped on the ground.

I was a full on Ghosthead…and I’d never watched the movie.

It wasn’t until the announcement of Ghostbusters 2 that I finally got brave enough to give the original another shot. I went to the local video store and rented it. I was probably 10 or 11 at this point so when I saw that library ghost this time she was not nearly as scary. In fact, I didn’t even think she looked real. I let out a deep and satisfying sigh of relief, sat back, and enjoyed one of the best movies ever made.

What I love about Ghostbusters is that it is a paranormal, science fiction, horror themed film…but first and foremost it is a comedy. They could have made a very serious and scary version of this same story, but the decision to make it funny and to fill it with actors that had cut their teeth on Saturday Night Live was genius. It gives us a jumping in point with the audience, because we know that this stuff isn’t real and we know that this stuff doesn’t even look real on the screen. By making sure that we know that it’s supposed to be funny then they know that we forgive some of the less than stunning special effects.

Not that all the effects are bad. Some of them are pretty good for 1984 standards. Stay Puft looked as real as he could. The images of a lot of the ghosts that escaped and ran loose in the city looked pretty good. The two gargoyles didn’t look great. They were going for a whole Harryhausen kind of stop-go animation that I never thought looked quite right even at the time, and completely takes my kids out of the movie today.

The characters make up for so much of that. The characters were so well laid out. We know exactly who these guys are from the very beginning. The personalities of Peter, Ray, and Egon…played by Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis…were telegraphed so well that they each filled a slot that was needed. We had the brain, the tech guy, and the street smart. Dana, played by Sigourney Weaver, and Louis, played by Rick Moranis, were great as well. Moranis adding the comedy sidekick character that he has always done so well.

The one character that I felt bad for was Winston, played by Ernie Hudson. This character was originally written for Eddie Murphy. Hudson stepped in after Murphy bailed. He thought that he was going to be one of them main characters and would be used throughout the movie. Eventually, his character was re-written so that he didn’t appear until halfway through the film and was only really given a handful of lines. Hudson took a bit of a hit with that. But, to his credit, he’s the one that still makes himself available at Ghostbusters events whenever he can.

So, as far as a sci-fi/horror movie it lacks some substance. The story is pretty simple and would be rather weak if it were being taken seriously. But the fact that this is the bottom layer of a cake in which the top layer is comedy it works just fine. It takes edge off and makes it so that even though we’re watching the fate of the city as well as that of the world…we’re having a good time.

It was followed by a sequel a few years later that take a lot of flak that I don’t think it deserves. How often do you get a sequel that compares to the original? Not very often. But it was fun.

And then there is the story of the 2016 reboot that got its legs knocked out from under them before it was even given a chance to stand up. I went to see it in the theater. It was not the terrible movie that the critics want to make it out to be. It was funny and it was a lot of fun to watch. It doesn’t compare to the original, but I never expected it to. I really hope that they get a chance to do another one, but that may be hoping for a lot.

So, in a year when so many of my favorite movies were released I can definitely say that only one had as big of an impact on who I am as this one. Ghostbusters will always be my favorite 1984 film. It possibly makes my top ten list. Maybe one day I’ll make that list and find out.

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1983

I turned 6 years old in 1983. That was the year that I started the first grade. That’s pretty much the only thing that I remember about being 6. I went to school and I watched a lot of Sesame Street. I wasn’t watching a lot of movies at the time but there were a lot of them coming out that year. John Travolta was Staying Alive, Matthew Broderick was playing War Games, and 007 was back in Octopussy.

I looked at the movies that were released in 1983 and I tried to really ask myself the tough questions. Is this really your favorite movie of the year or are you just saying that because of the others. Well, as I looked through the list once…twice…three times…there is no doubt that my favorite film of 1983 is Return Of The Jedi.

Jedi, as it’s called by fans, is the final installment of the original trilogy of Star Wars films. And, other than a couple of terrible Ewoks TV movies and a short lived cartoon called Droids, it was the last we would see of the Star Wars universe for over 15 years.

I say that it is my favorite movie of that year, but it is definitely the weakest film in the trilogy. The level that we were taken to in Empire could not possibly have been matched or brought back down with satisfaction. Audiences had already had an expectation of how the story was going to end and nothing that Lucas could have done was going to scratch the itch just right. So, we got the Ewoks…which were kind of a weird species to enter the franchise. They were small, cute, teddy bear like creatures that threatened our heroes with cannibalism and defeated an army of Storm Troopers with sticks and stones.

The story was a lot more loosely constructed than the last two had been. It was as if the studio decided that it was going to be three films and three films only. The trilogy was the king. If the story had possibly been fleshed out to four installments it might have connected a little better.

But for its faults it still has some great moments that are some of my favorites from the entire series. The scene in Jabba’s palace is a classic. The death of Yoda still makes my eye twitch when I see it. And the unexpected revelation that Luke and Leia were siblings…a revelation that was probably a shock to Lucas as well since no one really believes that he had planned that from the beginning.

Watching Vader sacrifice himself to save Luke was a wonderful scene as well. I don’t know if that one moment of goodness should really absolve him of all the death and torment that he had caused in his life, but it worked for the story.

So, every story has its ending…and while Jedi wasn’t a perfect ending to Star Wars, it is still a great installment in the franchise. And it is by far my favorite movie from 1983.

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1982

The school that I was enrolled in when I was very young was run by a church. They had classes for children as young as 3 which was when I was enrolled. They had three kindergarten classes but two of them were really just day care or preschool. When I turned 5 in 1982 I went to 5 year old kindergarten which is the real deal. So, by this point I thought I was a “big kid”.

The year that I became a “big kid” there were a lot of movies that came out. People believed in aliens again with ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, teenagers were learning some very bad things while watching Porky’s, and Stallone was taking on Mr. T in Rocky III.

If you’ve been reading this then you’ll know that in 1979 the Italian Stallion was in the ring with the USS Enterprise to earn the top spot on my list for that year. Rocky II won that battle. In the rematch the decision goes the other way.

My favorite movie of 1982 is, hands down, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.

I have loved all things Star Trek since I was ten years old. The pilot to The Next Generation (TNG) was heavily promoted and shown almost every day on television for about a month. So, I watched it because it was the 80s and there wasn’t much else to watch. I fell in love with Star Trek, which I now see as a miracle because the first season of TNG might contain some of the worst Star Trek episodes ever made. As I was watching it one evening my dad came into the room and I casually mentioned that I had never really watched an episode of the original series. He told me that they showed reruns late on Saturday night on our local TV station and that I could stay up and watch if I wanted.

The world of Star Trek opened up after that. I decided that I had to devour every morsel of Star Trek that was available to me. In this age before streaming media that meant that I had to wait until it actually came on TV. I would record episodes onto blank VHS tapes and watch them over and over.

I went to my local video store I rented the movies. At the time there were only four of them but I cycled through them about 12 or 13 times before my dad jury-rigged a way for me to copy them onto some blank tapes using two VCRs…a very illegal thing to do according the FBI warning at the beginning of the film but my dad probably saw it as saving him a lot of money in the long run.

My ten year old self knew that these films were meant to be watched in a particular order and when I started watching them that’s exactly how I did it. However, after I had seen all four about three times each I started focusing on my two favorites, II and IV.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is continuation of an episode of the original series entitled Space Seed. In that episode Kirk and crew meet a man who is a molecularly engineered super soldier by the name of Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban. At the end of the episode Kirk leaves him stranded on a planet where he can’t hurt anyone.

After some disappointing reviews of Star Trek: The Motion Picture Paramount made some changes before moving ahead with a second movie. It was decided to make this film a sequel to that famous episode. We meet Khan again at the very beginning and learn that Kirk actually stranded him and his crew on the wrong planet. Instead of being left in the Garden of Eden he was stranded on an inhospitable and barely survivable desert planet.

Chekov, who is now the first officer of another ship, find Khan and they immediately recognize each other. True Trek fans see the problem here since Space Seed was a season one episode and Chekov didn’t become a member of the crew until season two. Either way, Khan hijacks their ship and goes on a mission to not only get his revenge on Kirk for his fifteen years of exile, but also to steal the terraforming Genesis technology.

This movie is miles above The Motion Picture as far as quality. The characters feel more genuine and the whole thing just feels more like the original series. And it hearkens back to old naval military films…you know the ones that I’m talking about that have submarines stealthily making moves to hide from one another before one of them blows the other out of the ocean. This had that same kind of thing going on…but with starships.

In Space Seed, William Shatner had one of his famous fist fights with Montalban. In Star Trek II, Kirk and Kahn are never in the same place at the same time. All of their communication came from view screens and comm channels. And yet, the chemistry and the suspense are still there. This is the movie that made us realize that Star Trek might be able to pull off a film series after all.

The biggest thing that happened in Star Trek II is inarguably the death of Spock. Of course, going back and watching the film now with many years and a few dozen viewings having passed, I can see where it had been telegraphed from the very beginning. The words “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” were uttered very early on. Obviously, someone was going to sacrifice themselves for the safety of the crew. Turns out it was Spock.

We know now that Spock was destined to return to life a couple of years later when Star Trek III hit theaters. But at the time that scene occurred, the audience didn’t know he’d be back. Leonard Nimoy even said that he didn’t know he’d be back. Everyone thought that this was it for the character.

I even remember the first time that I saw it, which would have been sometime around 1987 or 1988. Star Trek was still new to me, especially the original series. But I was glued to that screen and when Spock weakly placed his hand on the glass to say goodbye to his friend…I had tears in my young eyes.

“It’s no big deal,” my dad had said. “They bring him back in the next one.”

The feeling of relief that washed over me was mixed with the anger that I had felt with my first spoiler experience.

A few years ago the film Star Trek Into Darkness tried to emotionally manipulate us by recreating the famous death scene. This time it was Kirk that sacrificed himself and Spock was trapped on the outside. It didn’t work…at least not for me. The main reason was that the reboot movies take place early in the careers of the Enterprise crew. That movie was set at the beginning of their original five year mission. So, in that universe, Kirk and Spock had only really known each other for a couple of years and they really didn’t like each other very much. In the original (Prime) universe the death scene took place about 15 years after the series. These two men had spent over a decade exploring the galaxy side by side. They were brothers.

Star Trek II is not only my favorite movie that was released in 1982…it is absolutely my favorite Star Trek film out of the 13 that have been released to date.

“Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most.... [voice breaks] human.”  --James T. Kirk

Why You Should Get A Flu Shot

This article originally appeared in last week's issue of The Leeds Tribune. I'm posting it here so it can be shared with people ou...