Over the Top
Sports movies as we know them today probably wouldn’t exist were it not for writer and actor Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 classic Rocky. The square-jawed superstar built his career and a movie franchise off the back of the Oscar-winning boxing movie – so it may be fair to assume that Stallone + any kind of macho sport = guaranteed cinematic gold.
As it turned out, Over the Top proved to be one of the most appropriately named movies ever. It’s staggeringly sentimental, mind-bogglingly melodramatic and cornier than a ton of Corn Flakes. Still, who among us can honestly say they’ve never turned their cap backwards before arm wrestling in honour of Lincoln Hawk?
Few movies sum up the bizarre brilliance of Jean-Claude Van Damme better than the one which gave him his first leading role: Bloodsport. The 1988 martial arts drama was described by its producer Mark DiSalle as being about “an American hero who fights for justice… and kicks the stuffing out of the bad guys.” Van Damme landed the role of Frank Dux after playing a number of minor supporting roles.
It’s fair to say the performance the Muscles from Brussels gives here is certainly memorable, with his eye-popping poses and facial expressions. Bloodsport is made all the more fascinating in that Van Damme’s character is modelled on the real-life martial artist Frank Dux, who claimed the story was true – although it’s since been established that this was whopping great lie.
When the topic is guilty pleasure movies made in the 1980s, we really shouldn’t overlook the films made in Australia at the time. BMX Bandits director Brian Trenchard-Smith was one of the biggest figures in ‘Ozploitation,’ with a plethora of so-bad-they’re-good movies to his name.
BMX Bandits is best remembered for starring a 16-year-old Nicole Kidman in what was only her second film. The teenage Kidman sprained her ankle during filming, and if you look very carefully you’ll notice that her BMX stunt double is actually a grown man in a wig. It’s a crazy bit of kid-friendly fun which encouraged many of us to attempt stunts we weren’t remotely capable of pulling off on our own BMXs back in the day!
Howard the Duck
Marvel Studios may now be arguably the most popular cinematic brand in the world, but things weren’t quite so rosy when the comics brand first made moves into film. You’d be forgiven for assuming that with producer George Lucas overseeing things, the first theatrical movie based on a Marvel comic book would be a guaranteed blockbuster. However, the film in question turned out to be Howard the Duck, one of the most notorious Hollywood misfires of all time.
The 1986 sci-fi comedy-adventure centres on Howard, an anthropomorphic duck who is mysteriously teleported from an alternate universe to the streets of Cleveland. Here, Howard befriends rock singer Beverly (Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson), with whom he develops – how do we put this – a somewhat questionable relationship for a PG-rated movie.
It was described by one reviewer as being “absolute rock-bottom fare, dispiriting for anyone who remembers what movie comedy should be.” Is 1987 fantasy rom-com Mannequin really that bad? Well… yes, it is. But we can’t help liking it anyway! The bonkers set-up sees ancient Egyptian woman Ema (Kim Catrall) reincarnated in the body of a department store dummy.
The film was a box office success despite its naysayers, even spawning a 1991 sequel called Mannequin Two: On the Move. Believe it or not, Mannequin even garnered an Oscar nomination, with Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now receiving a nod for Best Original Song.
Released in the wake of Back to the Future (although it was actually shot before), many of us expected this Michael J. Fox movie to be every bit as good. In fact, Teen Wolf isn’t remotely in the same league as the classic time-travelling comedy. The truth is, aside from the werewolf twist, Teen Wolf is actually a pretty bog-standard 80s high school comedy, described by one reviewer as “aggressively boring.”
Still, a little bit of that Michael J. Fox charm goes a long way, and we can’t deny having a whole lot of fun with Teen Wolf despite its obvious flaws. The movie boasts at least one sequence which became truly iconic, when the wolf teen ‘surfs’ on the roof of his van (naturally dubbed the Wolfmobile).
Plenty of people have long had a lot of love for ELO’s majestic Xanadu soundtrack, as well as the title song performed by Olivia Newton-John. However, if you haven’t actually seen the movie itself, you’ve missed out on a truly singular experience. Newton-John takes the lead as a beautiful ancient Greek muse who encourages lead character Sonny (Michael Beck) to build a roller disco – because why not?
It also boggles the mind that legendary song-and-dance man Gene Kelly agreed to appear in this overblown roller disco movie made by a bunch of youngsters who really didn’t know what they were doing. Despite how ill-conceived and unfocused it all is, there’s something about Xanadu’s ambitious vision and joyous spirit that’s truly infectious.
Death Wish 3
1974’s Death Wish was a hugely controversial but still widely acclaimed crime drama from director Michael Winner and actor Charles Bronson. When Bronson and Winner reunited for 1982’s Death Wish 2, the controversy was still intense, but the reviews were considerably less enthusiastic. However, on 1985’s third instalment the duo decided to throw any remnants of taste, decency or real-world logic out of the window altogether.
Death Wish 3 sees Bronson’s middle-aged vigilante Paul Kersey head into the mean streets of New York to visit an old army buddy, only to find him murdered by street punks. So begins Kersey’s battle against young urban gang members – which soon escalates into outright warfare on the scale of a Rambo movie.
You want to talk guilty pleasure? How about a naked vampire woman from outer space sucking the life out of everyone that crosses her path? Tobe Hooper may have directed horror classics The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist, but he’s also responsible for this astonishing 1985 oddity. Adapted from Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires, Lifeforce casts Mathilda May as the beautiful but deadly antagonist who’s notable for not having a stitch of clothing on in the bulk of her scenes.
Brought back to Earth from a space mission, the alien vampire woman sets about unleashing hell on the streets of London, and the only person with a chance of stopping her is a traumatised astronaut (the incredibly over-the-top Steve Railsback) who has developed a psychic link with her.
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
The breakdance craze stormed the world in the 80s – and for many, our first real exposure to it was the Breakin’ movies. Released only six months after 1984’s original Breakin’ (aka Breakdance: the Movie), sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo has one of the most memorably silly titles of all time. That’s entirely appropriate, though, given how utterly absurd things get in the movie itself.
While the original was a comparatively grounded rags-to-riches dance drama, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo is a day-glo fever dream come to life. The wafer-thin plot sees our street dancing heroes band together to help save a local community centre, which is being threatened by a shady businessman. But that’s just the glue that barely holds together the endless onslaught of dance sequences, most of which are astonishingly silly.
Everyone remembers Phoebe Cates for her performances in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Gremlins, both of which made her an early crush of millions. Cates also appeared in the somewhat less fondly remembered Private School, which also stars a young Matthew Modine. Produced at the height of the R-rated teen comedy boom in the wake of Animal House, the film ostensibly centres on Modine and Cates as Christine and Jim, a young couple in neighbouring boarding schools who are planning to lose their virginity together.
However, this story thread routinely takes a back seat to an overabundance of raunchy comedy set-pieces, many of them involving Michael Zorek’s comic relief character Bubba, and Betsy Russell’s object of desire Jordan. In many ways an early prototype for American Pie, Private School is filled to the brim with dim-witted hormonal boys falling over themselves to get a glimpse of ladies in compromising situations.
Patrick Swayze opted to take the lead role in hard-hitting 1989 romp Road House rather than appear alongside Sylvester Stallone in Tango & Cash. Action fans everywhere are pleased the actor made this decision, as the result was one of most unforgettably macho movies of the 80s. But any way you look at it, there’s really no denying that, as entertaining as Road House may be, good grief is it silly.
Swayze plays Dalton, the best bouncer in the business, who’s hired to help clean up a seedy roadside bar in Jasper, a small Missouri town. Once there, the uniquely philosophical doorman soon finds himself at loggerheads with corrupt businessman Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). Loaded with corny dialogue, gratuitous nudity and action that just keeps getting crazier, Road House is a paragon of guilty pleasure cinema.
Masters of the Universe
Back in the 80s, kids everywhere got very excited when we learned that beloved toy line and cartoon series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was getting a live-action movie. It’s fair to say the movie we got wasn’t exactly what anyone was expecting – but that’s not to say we didn’t still love it. Dolph Lundgren, fresh from his breakthrough role in Rocky IV, takes the lead as He-Man himself – despite the Swedish muscleman’s obvious difficulty with the English language at the time.
The filmmakers may have been aiming for something as big as Star Wars, but they didn’t have anything like the same budget – hence the bulk of the action takes place on boring old planet Earth, instead of He-Man’s home world of Eternia. Fans of the cartoon were annoyed by the deviations from the source material, whilst everyone else was just dumbfounded by how silly it all was.
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
Few movies push that good-bad angle to quite such an extreme as the first sequel to Silent Night, Deadly Night. The original movie, centred on a traumatised young man who goes on a killing spree in a Santa costume, was hugely controversial on release in 1984. The sequel actually proved to be even more of a shocker, but for altogether different reasons. That’s because Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 has the audacity to devote a staggering 40 minutes of its 88 minute running time to scenes recycled from the first film.
Then there’s the matter of central actor Eric Freeman’s performance as Ricky, little brother of the original movie’s psycho killer Billy, who recounts the events of the first film before going out on a killing spree of his own. Freeman’s performance is so staggeringly over-the-top it beggars belief – most memorably when he shoots a man taking out his trash with the unforgettable cry, “Garbage day!”
After the storming global success of Rocky and Rambo, Sylvester Stallone attempted to establish a third iconic action man role with 1986’s Cobra. While officially adapted from Paula Gosling’s novel Fair Game, Cobra was famously based on many of the ideas Stallone came up with when he was attached to star in Beverly Hills Cop. Seeing the end result, it’s not hard to see how Beverly Hills Cop’s producers balked at Stallone’s suggestions.
Stallone takes the lead as Lt. Cobretti, an ultra-macho cop who dresses in black, wears mirror shades indoors, shoots first and asks questions never. When a bizarre cult of serial killers terrorises the city, Cobretti is on the case, assigned to protect a model (Stallone’s then-wife Brigitte Nielsen) who can identify the cult’s hulking leader (Brian Thompson).
Stephen King presented one of the most legendary examples of why authors shouldn’t make movies based on their own books with this 1986 disasterpiece. The best-selling horror writer stepped behind the camera for the first time to call the shots on Maximum Overdrive, an adaptation of his 1973 story Trucks. Emilio Estevez stars as the gruff cook of a remote truck stop that finds itself besieged by phantom vehicles, after a bizarre phenomenon sees all the machines in the world suddenly gain sentience and turn on humanity.
By King’s own admission he was out of his depth, and heavily dependent on illicit substances at the time, which frankly is apparent from the writer-turned-director’s performance in the suitably outlandish trailer. Still, Maximum Overdrive has entertainment value aplenty in the so-bad-it’s-good stakes.
For a lot of us who got their earliest movie education through VHS rentals, Critters was one of our first steps into the murky waters of horror. But no matter whether you see it for the first time as a kid or an adult, we can all agree Critters is absolutely bonkers. The story takes place in a sleepy middle American town which gets a rude awakening when miniature flesh-eating monsters from outer space touch down at a local farm.
Many have pointed out the similarities between the film and Gremlins, which was released two years earlier, but director Stephen Herek insists the script for Critters was actually written years earlier. For all its absurdity, Critters proved popular enough to spawn three sequels. The franchise was rebooted in 2019 with web series Critters: A New Binge and TV movie Critters Attack!
Hell Comes to Frogtown
Outside of wrestling, the late ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper is best remembered for his role in John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live. Not quite so widely celebrated is the other movie Piper made in 1988: tongue-in-cheek post-apocalyptic adventure Hell Comes to Frogtown. Piper is Sam Hell (yes, really), possibly the last fertile man left alive in a ravaged nuclear wasteland where all other surviving males have been rendered sterile. Captured by a band of militant nurses including Conan the Barbarian’s Sandahl Bergman, Hell is tasked with replenishing the human race (yes, really!) – but first, he must rescue several virgin women who have been abducted by a band of amphibian mutant criminals from Frogtown.
At this point it should go without saying that Hell Comes to Frogtown is an extremely silly film – but it’s also clear that everyone involved was well aware of that fact. Indeed, as daft as the film may be, Hell Comes to Frogtown actually went down pretty well with critics, who recognised the filmmakers weren’t trying to make a masterpiece.
Never Too Young to Die
Before he was cast in beloved sitcom Full House, John Stamos tried his hand at being an action hero with Never Too Young to Die. This 1986 action-adventure was a teen-oriented, Americanised take on James Bond – and if you thought the Bond movies themselves got a bit crazy in the 80s, you haven’t seen anything yet. Stamos is Lance Stargrove, a high school gymnast who discovers his late father (one-time 007 George Lazenby) was really a secret agent.
Stargrove teams up with superspy Danja (played by pop singer Vanity, famed for the hit song Nasty Girl), and they launch into a series of ever more deranged battles. Never Too Young to Die flopped on release and left many of its cast embarrassed, but Stamos has come to embrace the film, declaring it to be “the best worst thing you will ever see.”
In the wake of Stand by Me, coming-of-age road movies centred on youngsters were all the rage. This, perhaps, explains how The Wizard got made – but it doesn’t account for what an utterly weird film it wound up being. On the one hand, The Wizard is a fairly serious, sensitive family film, with Fred Savage as a headstrong teen who runs away from home with his PTSD-stricken little brother (Luke Edwards), teaming up with another runaway (Jenny Lewis) along the way. However, whilst on the run they discover the troubled pre-teen has an uncanny knack for video games, and decide to enter him in a national video game championship – at which point the film becomes a blatant, feature-length Nintendo commercial.
As soon as the character issues take a back seat to video game wizardry, the tone of the movie is thrown wildly off, leaving us with an oddball blend of touching drama, broad comedy and kids’ wish fulfilment fantasy. But even though The Wizard may be startlingly misjudged, implausible and inconsistent, it’s hard not to get a bit caught up in the excitement as the race to become the national video game champion heats up.
The Toxic Avenger
No discussion of guilty pleasure movies of the 80s could be complete without a nod to the notorious Troma Entertainment. The New Jersey-based independent film company rose to prominence in the 80s with a series of singularly ridiculous low-budget schlockbusters. Without a doubt the most iconic Troma film of them all is The Toxic Avenger, 1984’s deranged, ultra-violent take on the superhero genre. The movie centres on Melvin, a put-upon weakling who accidentally falls into a vat of toxic waste and is reborn as a hulking, super-powered mutant.
Melvin (or ‘Toxie’ as he becomes known) pledges to use his newfound powers to protect the innocent and punish the guilty – resulting in levels of gore that will test the stomachs of most viewers. Pretty much the definition of an acquired taste, The Toxic Avenger goes out of its way to be as vulgar as possible – but for Troma fans, that’s all part of the fun.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that if he ever had to punish his children, he would sit them down and force them to watch Red Sonja. Is the Austrian Oak being a little hard on this 1985 fantasy adventure? Maybe; but then again, maybe not. Made at the height of the sword-and-sorcery boom, Red Sonja casts then-newcomer Brigitte Nielsen as the warrior woman of the title. When Sandahl Bergman’s evil Queen Gedren steals a mystic talisman with which she can destroy the world, Sonja sets out to stop her.
The character may be an offshoot of Robert E. Howard’s iconic hero Conan, but the filmmaking and storytelling here isn’t close to the same level as Schwarzenegger’s earlier movie Conan the Barbarian. Instead, Red Sonja is an exercise in arch camp, with Schwarzenegger and Nielsen seemingly competing to see who can give the more stilted, unconvincing performance.
Stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham enjoyed box office success with his Burt Reynolds collaborations, including Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run. But do you remember Needham’s ambitious 1982 movie Megaforce, an action-adventure that promised ‘the ultimate spectacle?’ If the answer’s no, that’s probably because it bombed spectacularly on release – though it’s since developed an enthusiastic cult following. Megaforce is a privately run army comprised of the best of the best from around the world, who operate in secret to keep the peace using state-of-the-art vehicles and weaponry; or rather, crazy space-age stuff that might have appeared high-tech at the time, but looks pretty laughable now.
If the whole thing seems suspiciously like a toy advert, that’s no accident: toymakers Mattel were deeply involved in the production, and provided most of the designs. Megaforce is hilariously dumb, but Barry Bostwick’s knowing performance as spandex-clad hero Ace Hunter suggests the cast were in on the joke.
Ninja III: The Domination
A name-only sequel to low-budget action movies Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, this movie is a whole new kind of crazy. Lucinda Dickey of the Breakin’ movies stars as an aerobics instructor and part-time telephone pole engineer (a curious sideline!) who stumbles across a mortally wounded ninja assassin. At the point of death, the evil ninja transfers his soul into the unwitting young woman, sending her world upside down.
The ensuing movie was memorably described in the documentary Electric Boogaloo as a combination of a ninja movie, The Exorcist and Flashdance. If possible, Ninja III: The Domination is even more ludicrous than it sounds, and it’s all the more entertaining for it. It’s got martial arts action, spandex-clad dance sequences, bizarre supernatural phenomena and incongruous neon lighting galore.
Hard Ticket to Hawaii
Another name that cannot go unmentioned when discussing ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ cinema is that of writer, director and producer Andy Sidaris. You might have never heard of him, but Sidaris enjoyed a long career calling the shots on some of the most ridiculously entertaining movies ever. It was on his 1987 film Hard Ticket to Hawaii that Sidaris really established his formula: beaches, babes and Bond-style action (but on a tiny fraction of the budget). Hard Ticket to Hawaii casts several former Playboy centrefold models as a team of secret agents on the job on the sunny shores of Hawaii.
The plot is a little hard to explain, but suffice to say it involves diamond smuggling, international espionage and a giant snake which has been driven insane after feeding on radioactive rats. Hey, stranger things have happened. While it’s clear Hard Ticket to Hawaii was made for about as much money as a standard Hollywood blockbuster spends on catering, it still manages to pile on eye candy of all kinds, with beautiful scenery, flashy vehicles and surprisingly well-executed action sequences.
After Teen Wolf proved a profitable concept, Hollywood hit on the idea of giving the concept a feminine twist. The result was 1989’s Teen Witch, and if you can make it through the film’s 94 minute running time without cringing, you’re made of stronger stuff than us. Robin Lively (elder sister of Blake) takes the lead as Louise, your classically awkward high schooler who it turns out has a big secret.
Without knowing it, Louise is a reincarnated witch, and on her 16th birthday she suddenly finds herself in command of supernatural powers. A resounding flop on release, Teen Witch has since developed an enthusiastic cult following thanks to its more outrageous elements, including occasional sidesteps into musical territory. The most unforgettably cheesy moment of all is an impromptu rap sequence which must be seen to be believed.
Back in the 80s, the Cold War was still pretty hot (as far as the movies went, at least). A number of films tackled the nightmare scenario of evil Commies occupying American soil, the most famous being Red Dawn. It’s really saying something that 1985’s Invasion U.S.A. is so paranoid and over the top, it makes Red Dawn look positively plausible. Co-written by leading man Chuck Norris, the movie sees the US come under attack from a coalition of Soviet and Cuban militants – at Christmas time, no less.
Legendary tough guy Norris is an ex-CIA agent turned Florida alligator wrangler(!), who sets about taking out the trash, armed with double Uzis, double denim, and of course his deadly roundhouse-kicking legs. The xenophobic overtones are impossible to ignore, but on the whole Invasion U.S.A. is far too cartoonish to take seriously, particularly with Norris coming out with such nonsensical one-liners as “I’ll hit you with so many rights, you’ll beg for a left.”
Jaws: The Revenge
There have been very few films in the past 50 years that have had a popular impact to rival that of Jaws. Nonetheless, studio Universal was keen to milk Steven Spielberg’s 1975 shark masterpiece for all it was worth with a succession of sequels. This reached a head with 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, one of the most startlingly deranged movies ever backed by a major Hollywood studio. As original star Roy Scheider refused to return, the fourth instalment centres instead on Lorraine Gary as Ellen, now the widow of Chief Brody, who lives in mortal fear of further shark attacks.
After the Brody family is indeed hit by yet another Great White attack, they leave Amity Island for the warmer climes of the Bahamas – yet somehow, that very same shark follows them there. Breathtaking in its insanity, Jaws: The Revenge co-stars Michael Caine, who famously remarked of the film, “I have never seen it but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built and it is terrific.”
Anyone who’s ever seen The Exorcist will doubtless have wondered, whatever happened to Oscar-nominated child actress Linda Blair? The answer – for better or worse – is that she wound up headlining movies like 1984’s Savage Streets. This bad girl exploitation revenge thriller is one of the most superlatively trashy movies you could ever hope to see (or not see, depending on your preferences). Blair stars as Brenda, a tough high school gang leader whose deaf-mute sister Heather (B-movie icon Linnea Quigley) is left comatose after a brutal attack from the male members of a rival gang.
This paves the way to Brenda taking even more brutal revenge, armed with a crossbow, a switchblade, a black spandex bodysuit and gallons of hairspray. Savage Streets is bursting at the seams with big hair, bad attitudes, excessive violence, unnecessary nudity and trash talk galore, and while it’s sure to offend many, it’s also guaranteed to delight bad movie aficionados.
Mac and Me
So-bad-they’re-good movies don’t come much more memorable than this legendarily terrible family sci-fi adventure. Mac and Me centres on a cute little creature from another world, who finds himself lost in the streets of middle America, and befriends a lonely young boy. If that sounds suspiciously like ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, that’s probably because the film is a bald-faced rip-off of Steven Spielberg’s classic. However, if Mac and Me seems shameless in its plagiarism, that’s nothing compared to how shameless it is with its product placement.
As might be surmised from the alien’s nickname, Mac and Me was partially financed by McDonald’s, and the film is packed with mentions of both the fast food restaurant chain and Coca-Cola. Things are only made all the more eyebrow-raising by the unlikely twists and turns taken by the plot, including some genuinely startling moments in which disabled young protagonist Eric (Jade Calegory) is thrown off a cliff, and caught in a barrage of gunfire.