Top 10 Kids Movies of the 80's

A Top 10 List of 80's Movies that defined the decade for me.
October 11, 2010
When people remember their childhood, it's typically snippets of memorable events. A birthday party that your whole grade attended or a Christmas when it seemed like every present underneath the tree was for you.

For me it's a bit different, as my father pointed out the other day "you and your mother remember everything since birth." Not entirely true, but I do recall quite a bit. And of course, a big part of my younger years that I do recall were children's movies that would probably never be made today.

Many films made for kids of the eighties did not dumb things down, were often scary and contained adult themes. That's why most are still enjoyable to me as an adult. Oh, and the majority contain a so cheesy, it's awesome theme song! So, without further psycho-babble, I give to you my Top Ten Kids Movies from the 80's.

10. Transformers: The Movie

This animated feature did not make much money when it came out in 1986, but for kids growing up with toys that change from cars and jets to robots from another planet, this might as well have been Citizen Kane. This was back when Megatron was still a gun (something he should have been in the new films which suck anyway so who cares?) and was based on the tv series. It went beyond traditional film boundaries and actually killed off its two main characters in the first act. Granted it was probably only an attempt to sell more toys, but that's beside the point. Check out the deadly duel between Optimus Prime and Megatron below.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: "The Touch" by Stan Bush. Just try to listen to this song without doing an eighties hair-band leg kick.

Bonus Awesomeness: Orson Welles actually voices the character of Unicron, a robotic planet bent on destroying all others. It was the last role Welles played before he died.

9. The Secret of Nimh

This Don Bluth directed film came out in 1982 and centers around a group of mice and rats with human intelligence. The reason? They have been experimented on by scientists at N.I.M.H (the National Institute of Mental Health.) Mrs. Brisby needs to save her son Timmy who is battling a deadly bout of pneumonia, so she turns to the advanced society of rats for help. Although it's animated, the movie has the grittiness of film noir and I'm not an animation geek, but some of the scenes are gothic-looking and amazing. Plus, part of the plot involves a medallion. What's not to like?

Check out the trailer below and you can watch the entire movie right now on hulu.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: "Flying Dreams" Composed by Jerry Goldsmith and sung by Paul Williams

Bonus Awesomeness: It was virtually the first project for actors Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton who both voiced Brisby children and would later go on to fame in 90210 and "Stand By Me" respectively.

8. The Electric Grandmother

This selection could be a bit of a cheat, it is a movie, it was just never released in theaters. What makes it so awesome? Because it was a made-for-tv movie for kids that scared the bejesus out of me and may have stoked my irrational fear of old ladies. Well, actually I think my friend's grandmother who woke me up in the middle of the night during a sleepover may be more responsible, but regardless it was scary. Why? Well, for starters she could pour orange juice out of her finger and you had to plug her in. At one point, a kid goes into the basement to unplug granny and she wakes up suddenly with her eyes wide open. Gives me shivers just thinking about it. If that's not frightening enough for you. She comes via helicopter in a sarcophagus. Check out the clip below.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: The electric grandmother sings a creep-tastic lullaby to one of the kids. Sample lyrics "I know the secrets that Grandmothers know. Trust me to love you and help you to grow."

Bonus Awesomeness: The movie is based on a Ray Bradbury short story "I Sing the Body Electric." The story was previously brought to the small screen in an episode of the Twilight Zoneback in 1962.

7. Gremlins

You don't think this movie about murderous little green monsters attacking a small town is a kids movie? Think again. Released in 1984 and rated PG, Gremlins has become a cult classic and probably one of the more obvious choices on this list. Is it appropriate for children? Absolutely not. And that's why the MPAA caught hell from parents all around the country complaining about some of the more violent sequences. And by sequences I pretty much mean the entire movie. The film was so intense in spots, it (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) forced the MPAA to change its ratings system to include PG-13, instead of just PG and R. As soon as the extra mogwai turn into demonic reptiles, this film is full of death and destruction. Billy's mother takes on several gremlins in a kitchen killing-fest, culminating in one getting nuked in the microwave. Then as another is choking mom in the living room, Billy arrives home just in time to cut off its head with a sword. And the best part, there's the uplifting story from Kate (Phoebe Cates) explaining why she hates Christmas. Here's a hint as to why, if you ever have kids don't dress up as Santa and get stuck in the chimney. Merry Christmas kiddies, lets all roast chestnuts on the open fire oh wait, what's that smell?

Check out the gruesome kitchen scene below.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dah-Dun, Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dah-Dun, Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dah-Dun-Dun-Dun. Need I say more? That took me like five minutes to figure out how to phonetically write that. And I'm still not sure I succeeded. Take a listen to the audible version below.

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Bonus Awesomeness: Obviously, with a scary movie comes equally frightening toys, but some of the Gremlins action figures were down right realistic and horrifying. Check out this Stripe toy made by the now defunct LJN company. It's made for 3 and up (can't see anything wrong with that) and is more than a foot tall. Not surprisingly, this wasn't a big seller, so not a lot were made. So, if you happen to have one of these little orphans in your attic still in its package, it could be worth your while to throw it up on Ebay.

6. The Dark Crystal

I can't think of a more creative and genuine mind in the seventies and eighties than Jim Henson. Beloved for creating The Muppets, Henson took a big risk making The Dark Crystal in 1982 which features some very un-muppet-like monsters. The plot is a bit confusing, but essentially follows a young boy or Gelfling in this case named Jen on a journey to save the planet. He must do so by returning a small crystal shard back to the larger dark crystal. The film also includes two races that are tied together. The Mystics, sloth-like creatures who are wise and have Yoda-like knowledge and the evil Skeksis, think large, skinny rats with vulture heads, pleasant.

The rest if just filled with crazy visuals, including giant bugs that attack Jen, a hag with horns that can remove her own eye, huge giraffe-like landstriders and plenty more that makes this movie extremely bizarre, yet great at the same time. And what's truly astounding, it's all done with puppets.

Couldn't find too many clips, so here's the trailer below.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: The entire score to this movie was created by composer Trevor Jones and is widely considered one of the best film soundtracks of all-time. Take a listen to one tune below.

Bonus Awesomeness: Early drafts featured Jen traveling to an underworld and meeting a group of mining creatures. This idea later became the basis for Henson's Fraggle Rock series. There is also a sequel in the works called The Power of the Dark Crystal. However, as usual I'm highly skeptical of an eighties remake being anything but unnecessary. Oh and it's going to be in 3D and integrate CGI, so automatic point deductions there.

5. Mr. Boogedy

Another made-for-TV movie makes the list. And if the mechanical MeMe didn't make you check under the bed, this one surely did. Mr. Boogedy aired on the Wonderful World of Disney show in 1986. Richard Masur, who has made a career of playing small roles in dozens of projects, plays the father. He's a gag gift salesmen (think anything sold at Spencer Gifts) who moves his family into a rickety, old home in the made-up New England town of Lucifer Falls. However, once the gag clan arrives it becomes apparent the home is haunted by a 300-year-old pilgrim named William Hanover aka Mr. Boogedy. If viewers pay attention to back story, it's actually very frightening and serious stuff for kids. I won't ruin it too much, but lets just say Hanover became Boogedy after killing a woman who turned him down, her young son and himself. Nothing says Sunday night with the family like a cleverly hidden murder-suicide subplot!

What's that you say? No one would ever greenlight that kids movie! Watch below for proof.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: Boogedy, boogedy, boo!! (If you keep repeating it, it becomes a song) Okay, doesn't really apply here I was so close on this, but the movie's just too much of a childhood memory not to include in this list, theme song or no theme song.

Bonus Awesomeness: Mr. Boogedy has his own Facebook page! I think that makes up for no theme song. Check out his undead devotees here.

4. Return to Oz

Let me set the stage on this one. The Wizard of Oz stands as one of the greatest and most beloved motion pictures of all-time. Before VHS and DVD, I think it was played on prime time TV at least once a year and was typically a major event. So, for Disney to go out on a limb and try to make a sequel to this epic piece of film making was at the very least gutsy, if not incredibly foolish. It turned out to be a theatrical bomb, making only $11 million in 1985 with a budget of about $25 million. It was also the only non-animated film to be made about L. Frank Baum's incredible Oz series, however it was much more faithful to the books than the 1939 Judy Garland favorite. It's a combination of The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. So, what makes this worthy of a spot on the list? Much like other films I've mentioned, it's dark. Even before we get to Oz, young Dorothy is sent to electro-shock therapy for her recurring dreams of the Tin Woodsmen, Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. Then when she gets there, she gets attacked by men with wheels for hands and feet and an evil witch, who has dozens of inter-changeable heads!

Oh, does that headless woman scare you? Yeah, me too! Luckily, for Disney, the film has turned into a sort of cult classic. I think Oz fans are split on it, but for me it works. Just another bizarre film that has made me into the man I am today. No laughing. Look at the clip below, I dare you not to have nightmares.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: Scissor Sisters Return to Oz. Okay, so this has nothing to do with the actual music from the movie, which is actually beautifully composed by David Shire, but it's about the movie which clearly had an influence on this alternative band. Check out the fan-made video of the song matched with clips from the film below.

Bonus Awesomeness: The director of the movie Walter Murch was under siege from studio executives at Walt Disney just five weeks into filming and they were set to fire him, claiming it was not being made fast enough. However, his friend and Star Wars creator George Lucas stepped in, told Disney the movie was going to be great and convinced them to stick with Murch. Lucas for all his prequel errors was right on this one. Although, not at first because like I mentioned the film tanked at the box office.

3. The Neverending Story

If you've ever been totally immersed in a good book, this story of an avid, young reader takes that to a literal level. Trying to get away from bullies, Bastian stumbles upon a book shop in New York City and ends up swiping a novel called The Neverending Story. But he soon finds out, this is no ordinary book. The world is being destroyed by a powerful entity called the Nothing. Well, it has to be something? No, it's nothing. Sorry, couldn't resist the Seinfeld reference.

A young hero is tasked by the childlike Empress to save Fantasia from the Nothing and its wolf servant. Along the way we meet a Rock Biter, a flying dog or luck dragon and the boy, Bastian who is reading the book, yet the key to saving this parallel world. Not only is this movie intensely inventive, but it carries several important themes. The power of imagination, the need to keep your head up in the face of despair and of course the importance of reading. For fun just randomly blurt out, Say my name! at your next party and see how many people go Moonchild. I'm guessing not many, but it's a conversation starter.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: If you haven't heard this theme song, I suggest you take a listen below right now. Contagious eighties pop at its best. I guarantee you'll be humming it at work for the rest of the day. It's sung by Limahl the lead singer of Kajagoogoo who hit it big with Too Shy and a woman named Beth Anderson. Come on everybody now Turn around, look at what you see.

Okay, I have never seen that video before. That Limahl strikes me as a bit of a creepo, just a lot going on there. Two-tone mullet, spike, pencil beard. Just a bit much. Anyway, I digress.

Bonus Awesomeness: Nearly all of this film was shot in Germany. In fact, it was the most expensive movie filmed outside of the US and Russia at the time with a budget of 27 million dollars. That's one of the reasons why it's still popular in the European country. So popular, visitors to the Bavaria Filmplatz museum can actually have their picture taken on top of a life-sized Falkor (the luck dragon). Just think you could look as cool as these people.

2. The Goonies

Many may not consider The Goonies a kids movie. I would disagree. The majority of the characters are on the cusp of their teenage years and I consider any thirteen-year-old still a kid. I may have traded in my action figures for a nintendo around that age, but the notion of being a grown up was still a long ways away.

At any rate, let's get to the good stuff. This film is fun and is pretty much every kid's dream. Sean Astin plays Mikey Walsh, a nerdy kid with asthma who goes on an outrageous adventure with his best friends. In the end, not only does he save the day, but he gets to kiss the girl, find the treasure, fight on a pirate ship and beat the bad guys. The bad guys being Ma Fratelli and her two bumbling sons, all wonderfully played by Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi. This movie also has some classic moments, including Chunk telling the Fratellis everything and of course his truffle shuffle. Watch both below.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: Goonies R' Good Enough by Cyndi Lauper. Back before she was a has-been on The Apprentice, Lauper was actually kind of talented. One of her hits was this infectious song from The Goonies. Below is the video for the hit single, for some bizarre reason it stars many of the WWF stars of the day. Captain Lou Albano, the Iron Sheik, Rowdy Roddy Piper, etc. The beginning has virtually nothing to do with the movie until about three and a half minutes in. Feel free to fast-forward.

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Bonus Awesomeness: Cyndi Lauper's hit may not have even been the best song from the film. Composer Dave Grusin's Fratelli Chase kicks off the movie and is so memorable it has even been used in several trailers for other films, including Innerspace and Guarding Tess. It's the first song on the clip below. Take a listen.

1. The Last Unicorn

I feel like this movie has become a bit more mainstream over the past decade, but it was pretty hard to find a copy before dvd. On the surface, it may seem like it belongs on the front of a trapper keeper for an 8-year-old girl, but this film may have some of the heaviest themes on this list. This 1982 Rankin/Bass production was based on the novel by Peter Beagle. In it, a unicorn realizes she is the last of her kind. The rest have been round up by the phantom-esque Red Bull. So, she goes on a hunt to find the others. During her travels, she is caught by an evil witch, who is later murdered by a vengeful harpie. She also meets a magician named Schmendrick and a woman named Molly Grue. Much of this film is about the loss of innocence and in one scene Molly yells at the Unicorn for not being around when she was younger and new. Read into that what you will and watch below.

Later in the film, the unicorn is turned into a woman and falls in love with a prince. At one point, she begins to forget her past as a unicorn and does not want to return to her old body. This comes as King Haggard reveals he knows her true identity and wants to put her into the sea with the other unicorns. This scene includes some great voice acting by Christopher Lee.

Pretty grown up stuff packaged into a kids movie. And what about this scene? Something tells me the bosom tree would NOT make it into a children's movie today.

Eventually the unicorn is changed back by Schmendrick the magician, so she can fend off the red bull and free the other unicorns. However, she will always have the knowledge of being human and is no longer pure like the rest of the unicorns.

So cheesy, it's good theme song: Where to start? The band America feature several schmaltzy tunes that you can't help but love. The main theme, Last Unicorn, Man's Road and Into the Sea are all so wrong, yet so right. Just don't crank them with the windows down in your car. Could get embarrassing. Take a listen below, the first two clips cannot be embedded, so you'll have to click on the link after hitting play.

Bonus Awesomeness: Peter Beagle is the author of The Last Unicorn and also adapted the screenplay for this film. He actually came up with the idea for the book while on a retreat in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts in 1962. He wrote 80 pages, but was not happy with it. Three years later, his wife encouraged him to do a rewrite which eventually became his best-selling novel.

So, that's that. A bunch of movies that seem timeless to me and give me fond memories of days gone by.

Did I leave any deserving movies off of the list? Should a few not even be on here? Let me know what you think.
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