One of the Finest Years in Cinema History

Tom Jolliffe ventures back 40 years to explore the cinematic landscape of 1982…

1982 was a great year for films. It could well be argued too that 1982 might well be one of the finest years in cinema history. There’s an array of blockbuster hits, cult films, iconic films and initially maligned genre films now considered classics.

I’ll start with the big dog of the year for me. Blade Runner is my all time favourite film. In a magnificently strong year, the fact 1982 gave us Blade Runner is what stands out for me. In its original theatrical cut form, the film was greeted with middling reviews and disappointing box office. The big budget sci-fi had perfectionist Ridley Scott at his most obsessively pedantic. The film is crammed with so much detail, in one of the most immersive film worlds ever created. Of course it ran over budget and schedule as a consequence, which made the disappointing returns all the more frustrating for the studio.

10 years later, Scott’s director’s cut emerged and was greeted with the kind of adoration that had also been growing for its first version through the VHS era. An undoubted work of genius. The director’s cut has always been my preference too and it was the one I first encountered. Above all the exceptional visuals, astonishing score and philosophical backbone, the big standout is Rutger Hauer for me, who delivered an exceptional performance. 

Let’s look at some of the hits of the year. Steven Spielberg was on fire at this point, well established as the primo blockbuster director around. The previous year he’d given the world Raiders of the Lost Ark (which continued to gather box office in ’82), and this year he’d give a charming, quaint and enthralling tale of a young boy and his alien encounter. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was an instant hit, pretty soon exploding with merch and tie-ins the likes of which Lucas/Star Wars were enjoying.

Elsewhere, Sylvester Stallone had a very strong year. Rocky III saw Stallone duke it out with Mr. T (just prior to him becoming a TV legend in The A-Team) and Hulk Hogan (“Meatball!”). He also added to his list of iconic characters when he first portrayed John Rambo in First Blood. First Blood would prove more critically accepted (though far from universally adored) whilst Rocky III raked in a huge amount of money. Still, two hits for two of Stallone’s iconic characters.

Meanwhile, On Golden Pond was a surprise hit, and An Officer and a Gentleman perhaps a more expected big success. Combining success with Oscar glory, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi dominated the awards season winning eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Ben Kingsley).

The action landscape was well stuffed. Chuck Norris provided Silent Rage (something of a cult film now) as well as Forced Vengeance, continuing his popularity, just prior to becoming one of Cannon Films poster boys. Speaking of future Cannon stalwarts, Charles Bronson had Death Wish 2, greeted with abominable reviews and a little controversy (Michael Winner? Surely not) but now subject to some reappraise (if sometimes ironically).

The standout action film of the year (First Blood aside) would be 48 Hours, which provided a great star making platform for Eddie Murphy, and marked the best buddy cop film of the decade to that point. Elsewhere there were no shortage of exploitation action films too, with films like Bronx Warriors.

Another personal favourite of the year…Conan The Barbarian. This sword and sorcery epic, filled with gorgeous visuals, operatic style and an all time great musical score, had an artistry unlike most of its ilk (even going back to when these kind of films were prime B picture material). If Conan lead the way, films like The Sword and The Sorcerer proved surprisingly popular, as did Beastmaster (which would eventually become a franchise).

SEE ALSO: Conan the Barbarian: An underrated work of art which ushered in a decade of imitators

More family friendly fantasy arrived in the form of Jim Henson puppets with a film that took years to make, but disappointed in its financial returns. The Dark Crystal did eventually find an audience (particularly on home release). Tron was somewhat boundary pushing with its visual effects, and proved fairly popular. Certainly it has a lasting legacy, which was enough to see the recent reboot come to pass.

The horror genre was still booming. By this point in the early 80’s, franchise and IP was really kicking off. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was greeted with plenty of derision from critics and fans, who by this point had become accustomed to the iconic Michael Myers as the franchise baddie. Halloween III took the franchise bravely off into very different territory, without Myers featuring, and a heavy leaning toward a Twilight-Zone-esque sci-fi storyline. The legacy of the film has certainly grown.

Jason was also in on the threequel action with Friday the 13th: Part III while Poltergeist (with Spielberg’s influence adding weight to the production) proved popular. It’s an undoubted horror classic, directed by Tobe Hooper.

Alongside these you had Amityville 2, and some early video favourites like Basket Case, Xtro and Pieces added to the popularity of trash horror in the video stores. Dario Argento continued a run of great horror with Tenebrae. The most significant however, and certainly best work of the genre, came with John Carpenter’s The Thing.

The remake featured a dazzling array of gruesome practical effects, but also taut human tension, slow burning atmosphere and a dread filled score from Ennio Morricone. The Thing didn’t come out the traps as a bonafide masterpiece. Critics were positive, if not overwhelmingly so, and the box office couldn’t match some of its rivals. In time however, it’s considered one of the genre greats.

Comedy was a little indifferent, but there were plenty of popular hits. Fast Times at Ridgemont High offered screwball comedy, coming of age insight, killer lines, a great soundtrack and memorable performances. In an era where the teen coming of age film would become a little dominated by John Hughes, Fast Times proved one that opened the doorway for that blend of riotous, near the knuckle comedy, with some heart too. Plus it’s got Phoebe Cates, and cinema needed/needs more Phoebe Cates.

Airplane 2 was a solid sequel in a way Grease 2 most definitely wasn’t. The King of Comedy was another stroke of brilliance from Martin Scorsese, in a decade that would feel oddly undervalued for the great auteur. Certainly, The King of Comedy wasn’t then appreciated for being quite the masterpiece it really is. It took a decade or two for people to fully appreciate just how great it is.

Diner was also underrated, a kind of American Graffiti-esque tale of youthful folly (albeit guys in their 20’s, rather than teens about to hit College). Diner also showcased the immense talent of Mickey Rourke whose 80’s output was impressive and eclectic, before his career hit the skids. Speaking of underrated and American Graffiti, Ron Howard (star of Lucas’ 1973 classic) took the directors chair for Night Shift, a star studded and underappreciated comedy that was an early standout for Michael Keaton.

The drama scene, as well as some of the aforementioned films, featured the Paul Newman/Sidney Lumet courtroom classic The Verdict, the unforgettable Sophie’s Choice (so much of which is anchored by Meryl Streep’s astonishing performance), The World According to Garp, The Draughtsman’s Contract (Peter Greenaway) and Ingmar Bergman’s last (and hefty) masterpiece Fanny and Alexander.

What are your favourite films from 1982? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…

SEE ALSO: The Films of 1992: A Great Year For Movies

Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here. 


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