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Best feel-good 80s movies to watch, straight from a Gen Xer

Back in the 1980s, multiplex movie theaters grew to offer more than 10 movie screens — and supersized movie theater candy and snacks matched the bigger-is-better-trend. The movie theater popcorn was great, but the suddenly enormous box of Milk Duds, giant pretzels, huge sodas, and other movie theater food made the concession stand a new and exciting experience all its own.

It’s no surprise that the first 19-screen multiplex opened in 1987 in Universal City, CA, as Cineplex joined forces with Universal Studios. But the Midwest was eager to go grand, too. By the late 80s, Studio 28 in Grand Rapids, Michigan expanded from 12 to 20 movie screens. Welcome, 6,000 movie theater-goers! New York boasted legendary movie theaters — or movie palaces as many of them were called — all around the city with beautiful movie theater carpet and opulent decor. Some of the more memorable places to see a movie were the Paramount Theatre, The Strand, The Theatre at Madison Square Garden, and Radio City Music Hall.

File:NYC Radio City Hall.JPG“File:NYC Radio City Hall.JPG” by Lesekreis is licensed under CC0 1.0

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So how much did a movie ticket cost in the 80s?  

According to AARP, “The average price of seeing a flick was $3.55 in 1985, not including popcorn and soda. Today? It’s $9.16, well above the inflation-adjusted 1985 price of $8.65. On the other hand, you can now get reclining leather seats, beer, and more or less edible pizza in the theater, too.”

How we knew movie showtimes in the 1980s

Remember newspapers? Well, back in the 80s, the best way to find out movie showtimes was looking them up in the newspaper.  Most parents had a subscription for the local newspaper, which was tossed on the driveway in a Wonder Bread bag by the neighborhood paperboy on his  bike. For us kids, it was a real thrill to scan the paper to see what was playing at your favorite theater and make a plan to meet up with friends.

Newspapers weren’t the only way to know movie showtimes. There was also the option to call individual theaters on the phone and listen to a recording of all the movies playing and the various times you could see them, but that required pulling out a ginormous phonebook to look all the theaters up individually in the yellow pages, so that was no fun. And the final option was to  drive by and check the movie theater marquee.

Then in 1989, along came Moviefone. It was pretty exciting at the time because you only had to call 1-800-777-FILM, enter your zip code, and you could hear all the movies playing near you. “Hello! And welcome to Moviefone!” The interactive experience with that familiar voice made movie-finding so much easier by streamlining the search.

As many Gen Xers know, there’s basically a Seinfeld for everything — so if you want to get a sense of the Moviefone experience, yes, there’s a Seinfeld for that. In “The Pool Guy” episode, Kramer’s new phone number is getting misdialed by people trying to call Moviefone to request movie times and locations; when he gets a call, he checks his newspaper and reads off the options to people in the distinctive Moviefone voice without revealing they dialed the wrong number. Watching that scene with George can still make us laugh just as hard today.

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How we bought movie tickets in the 1980s

Certain blockbuster movies, like Top Gun, Ghostbusters and E.T., would start queueing up hours beforehand so you just had to wait in line and hope they didn’t sell out before you got up to the window. And even then, if your group was lucky enough to score tickets, there was no guarantee you would be able to sit together. A favorite story in our house is remembering when my dad took my 13-year-old brother to Pizza Hut before seeing The Shining in June of 1980. My dad didn’t know what it was about but liked Jack Nicholson and there was a huge line so he figured it must be good.  My brother had to sit by himself two rows in front of him because it was sold out and there were no two seats together in the whole theater. Fast forward about 30 minutes — and they were both in total shock once the movie got going and the audience started screaming. Needless to say, my dad got my brother out of the theater real fast.

Thankfully, later this year, we’ll all be able to use the new Hollywood.com movie ticketing app to reserve seats together so we can hide behind our loved ones during the scary parts, lol. Sign up for email updates to be the first to know.

Big Hair, big heart, big movie theaters…and even bigger movie stars

Let’s talk about the 80s — and not just a movie at the movie theater — but the theater-going experience back then. By the 80s, movie theaters were central to the Gen Xer’s social life. We enjoyed expanded movie showtimes and more theaters in which to see them. Give us a mall with a movie theater in it and comfortable movie theater seats and we were in heaven. That’s where, as middle and high school kids, we’d meet up on the weekends — sometimes even staying a few hours through an afternoon movie marathon where you could pay a discount to watch two movies back-to-back. (Or if you really loved a movie, you’d just watch the same one twice, like I did with Dead Poet’s Society, Pretty in Pink, and Rainman.)  

After all, we didn’t have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, AppleTV+, Disney+, countless television channels,  — or even anything resembling On Demand cable. We had to wait around to see television shows once a week. Can you imagine? And we had to wait all year to catch a single airing of our favorite Christmas specials — so if you missed Rudolph or The Year Without A Santa Claus, you were SOL.  Better luck next year!

Video rental stores revolutionized movie-watching in the 80s.  To watch a movie at home you had to have a VHS player (or a Betamax if your parents got it wrong) and then you could rent a tape of the newest released movies or old favorites from Blockbuster Video or your local video store. Be Kind, Rewind! If you want to understand more about the Blockbuster era movie rentals, check out Netflix’s new documentary The Last Blockbuster.

Cable television really started to enjoy increasing popularity in the 80s as it began to mainstream into people’s homes, and HBO started offering movies, comedy specials, and concerts. I can tell you, that felt revolutionary at the time. It was like having a movie theater at home. Still, renting movies remained popular through the 90s because to watch what you wanted, when you wanted, was still mostly an elusive concept.

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For GenXers, 80s movies were all we talked about, thought about, and quoted

Wouldn’t it be great to take a Back to the Future Delorean car to visit the 80s for just a quick time travel trip? We wouldn’t change a thing. Except, perhaps, the skinny tie and mullets. OK, and maybe the stiff bangs and bad perms. Oh, and you can also keep the parachute pants, giant shoulder pads, and acid-washed jeans. 

The 80s movie-going experience ushered in (see what I did there?) a whole new coming of age genre that was unique to the culture of the times.  Love stories explored more complex themes, young adult movies captured teen angst in a way that movies before had not explored — thereby creating the need for a PG-13 rating in 1984 — and movie music soundtracks became a feature that were often as popular as the movie itself – and in many cases, even more so. (See: Purple Rain, Footloose, Some Kind of Wonderful, Top Gun.)

And just like Annie Potts’ character Iona in Pretty in Pink, we all love to OD on nostalgia from time to time, right? So grab yourself a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler or a nice cold HI-C, kick back on your futon, and join us for a major throwback-fest to some of the most defining Gen X movies of the 1980s, including popular quotes from 80s movies, soundtrack faves, and where to watch the best 80s movies.

Best 80s Movies – Teen Romance: Say Anything (1989)

Directed by Cameron Crowe, this movie is an 80s legend. It’s hard to think of a movie that captures first love better than this movie does. The romance between brainiac Diane (Ione Skye) and earnest Lloyd (John Cusack) remains etched in our brains for its vulnerability and total innocence. Who can hear Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” without thinking of Lloyd standing outside Diane’s window, his boombox held high in a desperate attempt to win her back, after her father encouraged her to end their relationship? Lloyd is a Romeo with hipster chutzpah; his real-life sister Joan Cusack, playing his on-screen sister Constance, brings an authenticity to his home life scenes.  When this movie hit the movie theaters, we ran to see the ethereal, quirky Ione Skye paired with the kind-hearted, quirky John Cusack. After all these years, it’s still perfect for anyone jonesing for an 80s movie that beautifully captures the high school-level intensity of falling in love for the first time.

Memorable Say Anything quote: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know as a career, I don’t want to do that.” – John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler when asked what he wants to do with his life.

Memorable song:  “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel 

Where to watch Say Anything: Buy or rent Say Anything on Amazon Prime.

Movie tickets sold: Say Anything was a worldwide success earning more than $20 million at the box office; the average price of a ticket in the U.S. in 1983 was $3.99

Best 80s Movies – Teen Romance: Sixteen Candles (1984)

John Hughes’s directorial debut hit movie theaters with a bang and was an instant success thanks to a hilarious script, a handsome love interest (Jake, played by Michael Shoeffling), and a relatable main character in 16-year-old Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald). Other notable cast members include: Anthony Michael Hall as Farmer Ted aka “The Geek,” John Cusack as Bryce, Haviland Morris (as Caroline), Blanche Baker (as Sam’s s