After the dark and depressing cinematic landscape of the 1970s, things bounced back with energy and vibrancy. Much like the music landscape, movies were filled with manic energy, brightness, and a wild sense of fun. Gone with the dreary dramas and thrillers of the ’70s, replaced with corny action films and silly slasher movies.
Of course, that’s not to say that the ’80s didn’t contain its fair share of prestigious dramas. They did, and they won awards. As is typically the case, these failed to find wide audiences. But these movies proved the exception, capturing both critical acclaim and a widespread acceptance within the pop culture landscape.
10 Out Of Africa (1985) – 7.2
Out of Africa is a very curious film. Directed by Sydney Pollack, the movie is based on Karen Blixen’s memoir of the same name, which was published back in 1937. The movie grossed a massive $227 million worldwide and earned an astounding seven awards at the 58th Academy Awards.
These included Best Sound, Original Score, Cinematography, Art Direction, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Director for Pollack, and Best Picture. However, it sits at just 7.2 on IMDb, proving the enormous gap that sometimes exists between critical and general audience reception.
9 Driving Miss Daisy (1989) – 7.3
Driving Miss Daisy is another movie proving the gap, as evident by its good, but certainly not stellar, 7.3 IMDb score. Based on Alfred Uhry’s play, Driving Miss Daisy grossed $145 million and earned four wins at the 62nd Academy Awards – Best Makeup, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Actress for Jessica Tandy, and Best Picture.
The latter proved particularly controversial, as many believed that My Left Foot was more deserving. Funnily enough, that movie only won two awards – Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor.
8 Terms Of Endearment (1983) – 7.4
It’s not often that a family-based comedy wins big at the Academy Awards, but Terms of Endearment is one of the exceptions. Written, produced, and directed by James L. Brooks from Larry McMurty’s 1975 novel, Terms of Endearment made a solid $164 million at the box office and stands with a solid, if not exceptional, 7.4 IMDb score.
This was the big movie of the 56th Academy Awards, earning eleven nominations and five wins. These included Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson, Actress for Shirley MacLaine, Director for Brooks, and Best Picture.
7 The Last Emperor (1987) – 7.7
Perhaps showing the biggest gap between critical appraisal and general audience enjoyment is The Last Emperor. Based on Puyi’s autobiography, From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Puyi, The Last Emperor earned just $44 million at the box office and sits at a not-excellent 7.7 on IMDb.
However, it is the most awarded film of the 1980s, taking home nine Oscars at the 60th Academy Awards. These included Best Sound, Original Score, Film Editing, Costume Design, Cinematography, Art Direction, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Director for Bernardo Bertolucci, and Best Picture.
6 E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – 7.8
Perhaps most surprising about E.T. is that it doesn’t even break the 8.0 barrier on IMDb, given its reputation as one of the best movies ever made. This movie further signified Steven Spielberg’s utter domination of the cinematic landscape, earning strong reviews and breaking numerous box office records.
It was a strong contender at the 55th Academy Awards, winning four – Best Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Original Score. However, it faced some significant competition…
5 Gandhi (1982) – 8.0
…and that competition was Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Serving as an epic biopic of Mahatma Gandhi (coming in at a beefy 191 minutes), Gandhi earned a respectable, if not captivating, $127 million at the box office.
However, the Academy loves a good biopic, and Gandhi earned eleven nominations and eight wins at the 55th Academy Awards. These included Best Film Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Screenplay, Actor for Ben Kingsley, Director for Attenborough, and Best Picture.
4 Rain Man (1988) – 8.0
An all-time classic, Rain Man was a huge hit when originally released in 1988. It grossed $354 million worldwide and earned widespread acclaim for its touching and hilarious road story. It was the big movie at the 61st Academy Awards, earning eight nominations and four wins – the most of any movie that night.
Its wins included Best Screenplay, Actor for Dustin Hoffman, Director for Barry Levinson, and Best Picture. It was just one win away from the Big Five – that being Best Actress, which went to Jodie Foster in The Accused.
3 Platoon (1986) – 8.1
One of the great war movies, Oliver Stone’s Platoon was modeled after the director’s experiences in Vietnam and primarily concerns the morality of war. The movie was a modest success at the box office, grossing $138 million. It was more successful at the 59th Academy Awards, where it earned eight nominations and four wins.
These included Best Film Editing, Sound, Director for Stone, and Best Picture. Despite two nominations in the Supporting Actor category (for both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe), that awarded ended up going to Michael Caine for Hannah and Her Sisters.
2 Amadeus (1984) – 8.3
Amadeus serves as a fictionalized biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with Tom Hulce serving as the legendary composer. Despite its hefty 161 minute running time, Amadeus proved a big success at the box office, grossing $90 million. Its 8.3 IMDb rating also places it at #83 on the site’s Top Rated Movies list.
It was also the big movie of the 57th Academy Awards, earning eleven nominations and eight wins – the second most of the entire 1980s. These included Best Costume Design, Makeup, Sound, Art Direction, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Actor for F. Murray Abraham, Director for Miloš Forman, and Best Picture.
1 Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) – 8.4
Further proving Spielberg’s dominance was Raiders of the Lost Ark, often considered the definitive adventure movie. The movie is obviously a huge success, and it has collected $389 million in box office takings throughout its lifetime. It was also the highest-grossing film of 1981 with $212 million, and its 8.4 IMDb rating places it at #57 on the Top Rated Movies list.
It was also a success at the 54th Academy Awards, winning five. These included Best Art Direction, Sound, Film Editing, and Visual Effects, and it was also the recipient of a Special Achievement Academy Award for Sound Effects Editing.
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