The Most Memorable Movies of All Time – Part 4: the 70s and 80s

Today I continue my series on memorable movies by looking at the movies of the 70s and 80s.  In particular, I think it is interesting to compare the most memorable movies with the movie selected as the best picture of the year.   At the end of this list I pick the most memorable movie of this time period.  In my last segment, I will pick the most memorable movie of all time using the finalist from each time period.  Of course, any list compilation is made to be disagreed with so I welcome other views on these movies.

To recap, here are the criteria for choosing the most memorable movie from each year:

  • Memorable movies become part of our culture.  They may directly become part of our culture, showcase stars who become part of our culture, or launch a genre that becomes part of our culture.
  • Sequels of memorable movies are not eligible.

To update my comparison of memorable movies versus Oscar winners, in the seventies and eighties two of the twenty Oscar winners I named as the most memorable movie of the year.  An additional seven were on my honorable mention list.  This is a higher percentage than we had in the previous four decades.  In total,of the 60 years I have examined so far, only five of the Academy Award winners made my list as the most memorable movie of the year.  An additional sixteen made my honorable mention list.  So 39 of the 60 Oscar winning movies during this period did not meet my criteria for being memorable.

1970 – MASH (Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould)

Quotes – Oh Frank, My lips are hot.  Kiss my hot lips.

Comments – This was a difficult year to pick the most memorable movie.  Airport is mostly memorable for spawning a series of disaster films, but Airport itself is less memorable.  Love Story has the top quote with “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  Patton begins with the highly memorable speech in front of the American flag.  MASH won out though for providing the most impact on our culture.  While it can certainly be argued that the TV show was more memorable than the movie, the movie is what started it all.  As an aside, it was an incredibly funny movie.

Honorable Mention – Love Story | Airport | Patton

Best Picture – Patton

1971 – Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood)

Quotes – Do I feel lucky, well do you punk?

Comments – Dirty Harry’s great line, frequently misquoted as “Do you feel lucky, punk?” catapulted this movie to become possibly the most memorable cop movie of all time.  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a very strong contender for the most memorable honor.  Gene Wilder’s classic performance as Willy Wonka far outshone Johnny Depp’s performance in the recent remake.

Honorable Mention – Fiddler on the Roof | The French Connection | A Clockwork Orange | Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Best Picture – The French Connection

1972 – The Godfather (Marlon Brando)

Quotes – I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Comments – The Godfather is unquestionably one of the most memorable movies of all time.  If you don’t agree, I’ll have to make you an offer you can’t refuse.  In most other years Deep Throat would be the most memorable movie both as the most memorable pornographic movie of all time and for its title being the namesake of the secret informant in the Watergate scandal.  Fortunately since The Godfather was the most memorable, I did not have to try to find an acceptable film clip from Deep Throat.

Honorable Mention – The Poseidon Adventure | Deep Throat | Cabaret | Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) | Last Tango in Paris | Man of La Mancha

Best Picture – The Godfather

1973 – The Exorcist (Linda Blair)

Quotes – Your mother sucks c**** in hell.

Comments – With green projectile vomit, Linda Blair’s head turning 360 degrees, and a sweet girl turning into a demon, The Excorcist may be the most talked about horror movie of all time.  As a side note, I loved the Sting in 1973.  It won best picture and it was the top grossing movie of the year.  At the time, I would have bet just about anything that The Sting would become a classic memorable movie.  Instead, it has virtually disappeared.

Honorable Mention – American Graffitti | The Way We Were | Soylent Green

Best Picture – The Sting

1974 – Blazing Saddles (Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder)

Non-Quote – The Campfire Scene

Comments – In 1974 Mel Brooks produced two of the most memorable comedies of all time in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.  Between the two, however, the competition of most memorable isn’t even close.  Blazing Saddles is ingrained in our culture as one of the funniest movies of all time.  Note that The Godfather II is not eligible as a sequel to a memorable movie.

Honorable Mention – Young Frankenstein | Benji | Earthquake

Best Picture – The Godfather Part II

1975 – Jaws (Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw)

Non-Quote – The Opening Swim

Comments – It is still hard to go to the beach without Jaws somewhere in your mind.  Jaws is highly memorable in its own right as one of the greatest suspense movies of all time.  I think that the score by John Williams is the best ever at having music heighten the emotional experience.  Moreover, it was the breakout movie that made Stephen Spielberg one of the most famous directors of all time.

Honorable Mention – The Rocky Horror Picture Show | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Best Picture – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

1976 – Rocky (Sylvester Stallone)

Non-Quote – Rocky Running Up The Steps

Comments –Rocky is the most famous boxing movie of all time and is the classic underdog story.   It introduced Stallone as one of the top action movie stars ever.  The stirring movie theme still makes the blood rush.

Honorable Mention – All the President’s Men |  The Bad News Bears | The Omen | Freaky Friday | Network | Taxi Driver

Best Picture – Rocky

1977 – Star Wars (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher)

Non-Quote – Use the force, Luke. | A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Comments –Of all the years and all the memorable movies, this is by far the easiest choice.  The Christmas after Star Wars was released, I worked in the toy department of a department store.  The Star Wars action figures were not yet available so we sold gift cards that could later be exchanged for the figures but could be placed under the tree right away.  In addition to being one of the most memorable movies of all time, Star Wars pioneered the tie in of toys and other merchandise to movies.  A long long time later, Star Wars toys are still among the most popular.  Star Wars has not left the forefront of our culture since its release and the new movie due later this year may be the most highly anticipated movie of all time.

Honorable Mention – Close Encounters of the Third Kind | Saturday Night Fever | Oh, God! |Annie Hall

Best Picture – Annie Hall

1978 – National Lampoon’s Animal House (John Belushi)

Quote – Toga!  Toga! | Double Secret Probation

Comments –In 1977 it was easy to pick the most memorable movie.  In 1978, it was much more difficult.  Animal House, Grease, and Superman are all strongly a part of our culture, but I believe Animal House was slightly above the rest.  It ranks as one of the funniest comedies of all time and spawned countless toga parties.

Honorable Mention – Grease | Superman | La Cage aux Folles | Halloween

Best Picture – The Deer Hunter

1979 – Alien (Sigourney Weaver)

Non-Quote – Alien bursting out of stomach

Comments –In my opinion, Alien is the scariest movie ever made.  The constant suspense of knowing the alien was somewhere in the ship and never knowing when it was going to strike kept me constantly at the edge of my seat.

Honorable Mention – Apocolypse Now | 10 | The Muppet Movie | Monty Python’s Life of Brian | The Warriors | Being There

Best Picture – Kramer vs. Kramer

1980 – Airplane! (Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty) 

Quote – And don’t call me Shirley

Comments –We go from 1979 from the scariest movie ever made to 1980 and the funniest movie ever made.  Airplane was the first in a long series of movies with quick silly gags piled one after the other.  It was the first and the best.  As a note, 1980 also marked the year for two great sequels:  The Empire Strikes Back and Superman II.  They are not listed because of my rule that sequels of memorable movies aren’t eligible.  This is probably a good moment to  comment on why I set up that rule.  I actually had Harry Potter primarily in mind.  For eight years we had a Harry Potter movie almost every year.  Clearly the Harry Potter franchise is highly memorable.  It is the franchise as a whole that becomes part of our culture, however, more than the individual films.  I did not want to debate which of the films was most memorable.  I therefore set the rule that the after the first memorable movie, the sequels are not eligible.  Therefore, while The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars franchise, it is not eligible this year.

Honorable Mention – 9 to 5 | The Blues Brothers  | Caddyshack | The Elephant Man | The Shining | Friday the 13th

Best Picture – Ordinary People

1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark

Quote – I hate Snakes! | Indiana Jones’ non Sword Fight

Comments – The year 1979 had the greatest horror/suspense film ever, 1980 had the greatest comedy, and 1981 had the greatest action adventure.  Harrison Ford was perfect as Indiana Jones, and the movie provided more thrills per minute than any movie ever.  Add the deft touch of humor and the magnificent soundtrack and you have an action adventure movie for the ages.

Honorable Mention – Arthur | Body Heat | Escape from New York | The Road Warrior

Best Picture – Chariots of Fire

1982 – E.T., the Extra Terrestrial (directed by Stephen Spielberg)

Quote – E.T. phone home.

Comments – Although 1982 had many memorable movies, I never had any doubt that E.T. would be my pick as most memorable movie of the year.  This Stephen Spielberg classic is still loved over forty years later.  For an example of how a movie effects the culture, in 1982 the St. Louis Cardinals had a rookie sensation named Willie McGee.  McGee was a bit unusual looking and got the nickname E.T. McGee, a nickname he was not particularly fund of.  In a playoff game against Atlanta, which I attended, McGee hit a long shot to right field.  By the time McGee reached third base, the outfielder hadn’t even retrieved the ball.  He could have crawled home.  He just dusted himself off though and stayed on third base, oblivious of the  shouts from his coach and the crowd to go home.  After the game, the joke in St. Louis was “What is the difference between E.T. and Willie McGee?”  E.T. went home.  Willie McGee stayed at third.

As a side note, after my earlier siting of my rules against sequels, someone might notice that Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan is on my honorable mention list.  To explain, my rule wasn’t against sequels, it was against the sequels of memorable movies.  While 1979’s Star Trek:  The Motion Picture might be considered memorable in the sense that it was the first Star Trek movie, the movie itself was so plodding, boring, and unmemorable that when they wrote Star Trek II and all other Star Trek sequels, the producers decided to act as if the first movie never existed, basically to create a time warp and wink it out of existence.  If the Star Trek people themselves deemed that movie to be unmemorable, who am I to argue.  Star Trek II therefore makes the list.

Honorable Mention – Tootsie | An Officer and a Gentleman | Porky’s |Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan  | Poltergeist | Gandhi | Blade Runner | Sophie’s Choice | Victor Victoria |World According to Garp | First Blood

Best Picture – Gandhi

1983 – National Lampoon’s Vacation (Chevy Chase)

Quote –  I don’t know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper.  It does fine by itself,

Comments –  This year was a major drop off in terms of memorable movies following a string of great years.  National Lampoon’s Vacation is a classic comedy that anybody who has made a cross country trek can identify with.  As a sequel, Return of the Jedi is not eligible.

Honorable Mention – Flashdance | Risky Business | The Big Chill | Scarface

Best Picture – Terms of Endearment

1984 – The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Quote –  I’ll be back.

Comments –  The Terminator is classic both as science fiction and as action adventure.   It made Schwarzenegger a mega-star.   The underlying premise, which I won’t mention as it would spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it, is brilliant.  This was of course followed by Terminator II which did tremendous box office and destroyed the brilliant premise of the first movie.

Honorable Mention – Ghostbusters | Beverly Hills Cop | Gremlins | The Karate Kid | Police Academy | Footloose | A Nightmare on Elm Street

Best Picture – Amadeus

1985 – Back to the Future (Michael J. Fox)

Quote –  Are you telling me that you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?

Comments –  The DeLorean car would have long been forgotten if not for this movie.  Michael J. Fox made this time travel movie a movie for all time.  As a fun note, Back to the Future II went forward to 2015.  Did you fly your car to work today?

Honorable Mention – The Color Purple | Cocoon | The Goonies | The Breakfast Club

Best Picture – Out of Africa

1986 – Top Gun (Tom Cruise)

Quote –  I feel the need, the need for speed.

Comments –  I love most of the memorable movies I discuss here.  I didn’t particularly like Top Gun.  Still, I have heard it referenced countless times over the years and I think it has had a bigger impact on American culture then two movies I liked much better, Crocodile Dundee and Little Shop of Horrors.  Overall, 1986 was a very forgettable year when it comes to memorable movies.

Honorable Mention – Crocodile Dundee | Little Shop of Horror

Best Picture – Platoon

1987 – The Princess Bride (Cary Elwes, Robin Wright)

Quote –  As you wish | Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.

Comments –  My first thought was that Fatal Attraction would be the most memorable movie of 1987.  That was before I realized that The Princess Bride came out in 1987.  I will confess that The Princess Bride is my favorite movie of all time.  It is a great action movie, a great comedy, and a great romance.  I personally must have quoted from this movie at least ten thousand times.  Could somebody else have quoted it more?  Inconceivable.

Honorable Mention – Fatal Attraction |Good Morning, Vietnam |Lethal Weapon |Dirty Dancing | Wall Street

Best Picture – The Last Emperor

1988 – Big (Tom Hanks)

Non-Quote –  Chopsticks on big piano at FAO Schwartz

Comments –  One could make a good argument for any of the honorable mention films to be called the most memorable movie of 1988, but in my opinion, Big with Tom Hanks stands out just a bit from the others.  This was not Tom Hanks first movie, but it is the movie that made him a major star.

Honorable Mention – Rain Man | Who Framed RogIer Rabbit |  Die Hard | Beetlejuice | Beaches | Bull Durham

Best Picture – Rain Man

1989 – When Harry Met Sally (Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan)

Non-Quote –  I’ll have what she’s having.

Comments –  This was a great year for memorable movies starting new trends.  The Little Mermaid led Disney’s second golden age of animation.  Batman started the trend of blockbuster, gritty superhero movies.  When Harry Met Sally led a wave of modern romantic comedies.  Any of these would be the most memorable movie in most years, but they all came out in 1989.  When Harry Met Sally wins by a nose.

Honorable Mention – Batman | Honey, I shrunk the Kids | The Little Mermaid | Driving Miss Daisy | Do the Right Thing | Major League | Roger & Me | Sex, Lies, and Videotape | Weekend at Bernie’s

Best Picture – Driving Miss Daisy

1970-1989 – Star Wars

4 thoughts on “The Most Memorable Movies of All Time – Part 4: the 70s and 80s

  1. Pingback: The Most Memorable Movies of All Time – Part 6: The Greatest Movie of All Time | Ralph Koppel

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