6 Must See Movies from 1986

by Joel G. Robertson

1986. This year was not nearly as difficult as the previous two when it came to making my selections. Not to say I didn’t have a wide variety to choose from, including barely remembered oddities and “once upon a time hits” that people struggle to remember.

Truth is, I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go for horror, sci-fi, and action. For me, these have proven to be the most challenging categories. This is especially true for horror as it’s the one I grew up most slavishly devoted to. However, this list, while representing my personal taste (or lack thereof) is meant for you, the faithful film fan.

And as you’ll see from my choices below, all three picks from the aforementioned categories are almost interchangeable when it comes to genre definitions (okay, my action pick wouldn’t really fit in either sci-fi or horror, but it definitely falls under the larger horror/sci-fi umbrella of fantasy).

However, comedy proved the most difficult to decide on for this year. “Why?” you ask. It’s simple really. I asked myself, “Self, would the faithful film fans want to go high brow with picks like Paul Mazursky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law, or Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters?”

Better yet (and certainly more my style), would you prefer low brow titles like John Landis’s Three Amigos, Allan Metter’s Back to School, or Harold Ramis’s Club Paradise?

Or should would you really want to go for the gold and champion some true (and unintentional) comedy classics like Shanghai Surprise starring then husband and wife Sean Penn and Madonna, King Kong Lives starring Linda Hamilton, or Under the Cherry Moon starring Prince?

The answer is: None of the above (although Back to School came in a close contender for the top spot mainly because it features William Zabka, an actor who perfectly embodied 1980s douchebaggery with virtually every character he played).

So instead, I decided you deserve the more unconventional and, hopefully, interesting pick for this category.

But these are only my picks and with all the great movies in ’86, I’m sure you have a few must sees to tell us about in the comments section!

Horror:

The FlyRated: R; Dir. David Cronenberg; Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and John Getz.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a scientist obsessed with his newest creation: a teleportation machine; however, when he tests the machine using himself as a subject, he doesn’t notice his fly companion and the DNA of Brundle and the fly are blended together.

The Fly Trailer

Movie Trivia:

  • Chris Walas, who worked on The Fly’s creature effects, also did the creature work for Gremlins and worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Enemy Mine, Arachnophobia, and Naked Lunch.
  • Stars Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis were married after making The Fly.
  • Director Cronenberg is rumored to be making a remake of The Fly. If he does, it would make him the first and only filmmaker to direct a remake of a remake that he originally directed (got that?).

Comedy:

Little Shop of HorrorsRated: PG-13; Dir. Frank Oz; Starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, and Steve Martin.

A remake/musical based on the 1960 Roger Corman movie of the same title. Seymour Krelborn (Moranis) works for a florist (Gardenia) whose shop is located in poverty row. When Seymour realizes that a talking Venus Flytrap has a taste for human blood, he becomes a reluctant accomplice in finding food for the carnivorous plant.

Little Shop of Horrors Trailer

Movie Trivia:

  • Director Frank Oz was a member of Jim Henson’s muppet troupe and was the voice of characters Miss Piggy, Grover, Bert, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Yoda.
  • Actress Ellen Greene (Audrey) was the only member of the original off-Broadway cast to appear in the film.
  • Jim Henson’s son Brian was one of the puppeteers that controlled Audrey II.

Sci-Fi:

The Wraith - Rated: PG-13; Dir. Mike Marvin; Starring Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavettes, Sherilyn Fenn, and Randy Quaid.

After a young man is murdered by a vicious gang, a stranger (Charlie Sheen) shows up in town. Soon after his arrival, a mysterious car guided by an even more enigmatic driver begins taking out the gang members one by one.

The Wraith Trailer

Movie Trivia:

  • Actor Charlie Sheen appeared in the Academy Award winning Platoon the same year as The Wraith.
  • Actor Nick Cassavettes is the son of actor/director John Cassavettes and actress Gena Rowland. He went on to become a director of such films as Unhook the Stars (which starred his Rowlands) and Alpha Dog.
  • The car driven by the mysterious avenger is actually based on a prototype model, the Dodge M4S, that could go just a hair north of 194 mph and cost over $1 million smackers.

Drama:

Stand By MeRated: R; Dir. Rob Reiner; Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell.

A writer (Richard Dreyfuss) remembers a pivotal moment in his young life: the summer of 1959 when he and three friends went in search of a missing kid who’s been hit and killed by a train. Based on the Stephen King novella “The Body”.

Stand By Me Trailer

Movie Trivia:

  • Stand By Me was Wil Wheaton’s first starring role in a theatrical feature film. Previously he had done television and had a small role in The Last Starfighter (1984).
  • Stand By Me was Jerry O’Connell’s feature acting debut.
  • Rob Reiner has directed one other Stephen King adaptation, 1991′s Misery.

Action:

Big Trouble in Little ChinaRated: PG-13; Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong.

Jack Burton’s (Kurt Russell) a truck driver who agrees to help an old friend (Dennis Dun) track down a missing woman. Soon after he agrees to help, however, Jack, a reluctant and smart-alecky action hero, finds himself facing down ancient Chinese supernatural forces.

Big Trouble in Little China Trailer

Movie Trivia:

  • John Carpenter’s band, The Coupe DeVille’s performed the title song for the Big Trouble in Little China soundtrack.
  • Other members of the The Coupe DeVille’s are director Tommy Wallace (who directed Halloween 2) and director Nick Castle (who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween).
  • Star Kurt Russell has starred in 5 John Carpenter films including Big Trouble in Little China. The other four are Elvis (a 1979 T.V. movie), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), and Escape from L.A. (1996).

Family:

LabyrinthRated: PG; Dir. Jim Henson; Starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie.

When her baby stepbrother is kidnapped by The Goblin King (David Bowie), Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) must travel through a mystical labyrinth to get him back.

Labyrinth Trailer

Movie Trivia:

  • Labyrinth was director Jim Henson’s last theatrical feature film.
  • The baby who played Sarah’s stepbrother Toby was actually the son of Brian Froud, the conceptual designer behind Labyrinth and the Jim Henson-directed fantasy film The Dark Crystal (1982).
  • Actors Kenny Baker (R2-D2 in all six Star Wars movies) and Warwick Davis (Willow, Return of the Jedi, and Leprechaun) play members of the Goblin Corps.

Well, those are my 6 picks from ’86. I showed you mine, now it’s your turn to show me yours!

Until next time, remember, a flick is only forgotten if you’re not talking about it!

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About Joel Robertson

I'm the father of three boys and married to my high school sweetheart. I'm a former public school teacher (and still recovering from PTSD), reformed filmmaker, podcaster, writer, and fan of all things movie related.

21 comments to 6 Must See Movies from 1986

  • I haven’t seen THE WRAITH, but the rest are all good choices. The challenge of course is that 1986 was a phenomenal year for movies. ALIENS, AT CLOSE RANGE, BLUE VELVET, THE COLOR OF MONEY, F/X, HIGHLANDER, HOUSE, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, RIVER’S EDGE, RUTHLESS PEOPLE, SALVADOR and SOMETHING WILD were also all ’86 releases. No wonder I graduated high school wanting to be a filmmaker.

    • Hi Ian– Those are all great choices! Gotta be honest, after reading yours I’m having some mild regret as HOUSE and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS are two of my personal faves. :)

      And yes, ’86 was a good movie year for sure!

    • Hi fellas! I saw The Wraith years ago and I was on the edge of my seat enamored with what I thought was unbridled coolness. LoL. That title, in and of itself, is stellar. Big Trouble in Little China has always been one of my favorite movies. My big brother put me onto it and it’s definitely a must see 1986 classic!

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Stubbins, Joel G. Robertson. Joel G. Robertson said: "6 Must See Movies from 1986" is available for you! Be sure to leave your picks in the comments section! http://bit.ly/h3UGm0 [...]

  • Can’t really disagree with anything on here; the only one I haven’t seen from your list is The Wraith and I was very excited to see BTiLC, and LSoH (aka “Feed me, Seymour” or “Is that Gina and Pam from Martin?”)were included.

    As you pointed out in your intro 1986 was quite literally the year of forgotten flicks for me. I kept drawing a blank so often on these titles that I finally had to jot them down a while back (it was either that or I would have to get some creepy tattoos): AT CLOSE RANGE, AMERICAN ANTHEM, DESERT BLOOM and two honorable mentions in TV Movies THE WORST WITCH (I still very much prefer Mildred Hubble to Harry Potter) and FORTRESS.

    Although it’s not officially a Comedy, I do remember being quite amused with Christine Lahti and Mary Tyler Moore in JUST BETWEEN FRIENDS watching it as a pre-teen with my mother and three sisters. Thank you MTM for the (unintentionally) hilarious delivery of “Friend?” “You’re not my friend!” and what became the most mocked scene in our house to this day anytime anyone says “friend” or does something remotely annoying. The film also spawned a deep appreciation for Christine Lahti’s dimples -er comedic acting chops.

    Finally, I couldn’t decide between two grown up guilty pleasure picks featuring the big bad bayou of police corruption in Louisiana: NO MERCY and THE BIG EASY.

    • Hi RedKQueen– You gotta see THE WRAITH! It’s oozing with 1980s Charlie Sheen and Sherilyn Fenn goodness. :)

      My wife and I rented FORTRESS (I assume we’re talking about the one starring Rachel Ward and not the Christopher Lambert sci-fi actioner directed by Stuart Gordon from 1992, right? ;) ) several months ago based on several recommendations. Whoa, I did NOT see that ending coming! All I could think was, ‘Man! This was made for T.V.?’ And while I realize the gruesomeness is somewhat timid by today’s standards (see the awesome bloodletting of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD), I guess that it involved kids is what made it so disturbing. Speaking of, have you ever seen WHO COULD KILL A CHILD?, a Spanish film from 1976. It’s on Netflix and that’s another one that’ll make you look twice over your shoulder whenever you pass a schoolyard.

  • Stand By Me is one of my all time favorites, so a definite choice for Drama.

    There are a couple that might fall into the too obvious to include category, but I think you have to have Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Top Gun mentioned somewhere! Those would probably take my top spot for comedy and action.

    I would have listed Back to School ahead of Little Shop, but Ferris would be tops.

    Here are some other 1986 films worth mentioning (that you do not touch on):
    The Color of Money
    Hoosiers
    Pretty in Pink
    Platoon
    Rad
    Ruthless People
    Short Circuit
    Wildcats
    Armed and Dangerous (gotta love Candy and Levy)
    The Hitcher

    • Hi @OldSchool80s– Excellent choices all! I almost went w/ BACK TO SCHOOL, actually. And while it wasn’t mentioned because it’s everyone favorite, I agree that FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF is a must see! :)

  • Peter Nielsen

    Another great list, Joel
    All of them are favorites, with “Little Shop of Horrors”, “The Wraith” and “Big Trouble in Little China” taking the lead.

    I’ll just add to the list of “forgotten” flix from ’86:
    “The Hitcher” (as mentioned by OldSchool80s above)
    “The Name of the Rose”
    “Cobra” (What??.. Well I like it anyway. Great 80′s action with Stallone)
    “Three Amigos”
    “Howard the Duck” (Come ON?? What’s not to like? A talking duck and a VERY hot Lea Thompson)
    “Black Moon Rising”
    “8 Million Ways to Die”
    “Running Scared”
    “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
    “Witchboard”
    “Raw Deal”
    “Manhunter”
    “Jean de Florette” and also the second part “Manon des Source” (French cinema at its best)
    And there’s also “Sid and Nancy”, but does that really fit in the forgotten category?

    There are SO many great films to choose from during 1986…

    • Hi Peter–Excellent additions! And I love that you created such a copious list (just like @OldSchool80s and others are doing!). One of the things I want to achieve with these posts is to “get the ball rolling” so that you, the faithful film fan, can remember all your favs and help us to remember them too. Thanks for contributing! :)

      • Peter Nielsen

        It was my pleasure Joel. Have I mentioned that Forgotten Flix is a fantastic site? And this is not brown nosing in any way, I’m merely stating a fact.

        It’s great to revisit these movies and get one of two feelings. Either you think: Holy CRAP, how did I EVER think this was a good movie??
        Or: WOW… this movie is STILL friggin’ awesome!!

        And sometimes you rewatch a movie you didn’t like when you were young, and actually think differently about it now when you’re older and maybe more worldly wise… :-)

        • Peter–Thanks so much for those kind comments man! By the way, I’d never accuse you of brown nosing. Ass kissing, maybe, but never brown nosing. ;)

          Seriously though, it really means a lot to have you contributing to the site with your great movie recommendations. And I really hope to see more from you in the future, SHO’NUFF! :)

  • Just thought of another one for horror…have you seen DEADLY FRIEND? This one freaked me out as a kid.

    • RedKQueen– YES! I loved Deadly Friend! Of course, in retrospect not sure whether that was because of the movie or Ms. Kristy Swanson for whom I had a bit of a… let’s just call it a thang! ;) Great pick, though.

  • Y’all said and I’ll say it again – ’86 was a great year — Peter Bogdanovich talks about his youth and how he had some years where he saw 1,000 movies. We all have a few years where we were voracious consumers (before real life creeped in) the 80′s-90′s were mine.

    Some quick hits

    Ferris and Top Gun are two core movies in my life. Ferris taught me that you can break the third wall and speak directly to the camera.

    The Wraith – one of the great “saw it on HBO” movies. The ones you heard of, but couldnt believe how great they actually are — “The Hitcher” is another one of those, as is “The Hidden” (1987).

    Finally, Pretty in Pink is one of John Hughes most underrated films, and one of my favorites.

    Fascintating facts (to me at least) from ’86 box office:

    Bette Midler had two films in the top 11 (Ruthless People and Down and Out in Beverly Hills)

    Disney was still making money from theatrical releases of their classics – I miss those days, when it was an event. Today they try to make it an event when they re-release one on DVD (or on Blu-ray). Only problem is, every video store or library has a copy from the last release – so always have an option to see it. That being said Lady and the Tramp was the 33rd highest grossing film of 1986 (right ahead of Hoosiers, Soulman, and Wildcats — three great one word titles– seriously, could Soulman be made today). It was also ahead of Disney’s new release, The Great Mouse Detective (#38).

    Thanks for the memories

    • Dumbricht–Those are all great picks! I remember seeing RUTHLESS PEOPLE when I was a kid. I didn’t even realize until recently that it was made by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the trio that brought us AIRPLANE, KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, et al!

      And I agree with you about the Disney re-releases being an event back then. “Now on DVD” just doesn’t have quite the same “magical” effect, I guess.

  • oh god I’d totally forgotten about howard the duck – that was a classic movie! Think ferris bueller’s was my favourite movie from this year.

    • Hi Steve! Thanks for commenting and HOWARD THE DUCK is an interesting example of a “kids” movie gone wrong. Let’s see: Duck boobs? Check! Duck nudie magazine? Check! Human on duck lovin’? Check! :)

  • [...] to what is possibly one of the finest family films ever made, indeed it’s one of Joel’s Must See Movies from 1986: Labyrinth.  Again, most of the credit has to go to Jim Henson, but it’s a Lucasfilm production. [...]

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