Sometimes you’ll get home, turn on the television, and start watching a film halfway through. But even if you don’t know the title, director, or any of the actors involved, there are several very easy ways to tell at a glance whether the movie in question is from the 80s or not. So with this in mind, here’s our handy list of ten tell-tale signs...
1. Plasma Effects
If you wanted to make your audience believe that your movie’s protagonist was travelling back in time, encountering something supernatural or being reduced in size by a miniaturisation ray, there was one special effect to cover any eventuality. Perhaps mimicking those strange plasma globe things that became a popular novelty in the 80s, the animated lightning effect was among the most ubiquitous of the decade, appearing in almost every sci-fi, fantasy and horror movie you could care to name.
2. Montage with Upbeat Music
An 80s movie just wouldn’t be the same without a montage. Whether it’s Danny LaRusso awaiting his big fight in The Karate Kid (cut to Joe Esposito’s You’re The Best Around), the teenagers of Ferris Bueller exploring a Chicago art museum (to The Smiths), or Balboa training in the Rocky movies (Rocky IV was almost exclusively made up from musical montages), these sequences are quintessentially 80s.
It’ll probably seem inconceivable to youngsters in another few years that, back in the 80s, people used to play games on computers housed in gigantic slabs of chipboard. And although amusement arcades were still occasionally seen in 90s movies, their golden era had already passed. No, if you’re watching a movie that sees a youngster wrestling with an arcade machine - whether it’s Galaga in Wargames, or a kid getting beaten by Bad Dudes Vs Dragonninja as Steve Martin looks on in Parenthood, it’s more than likely that it’s from the 80s.
4. Teenagers with Random Adventures
If the 80s has taught us nothing else, it’s that teenagers got into all kind of entertaining and strange scrapes. If you thought Katniss Everdeen was unlucky for having to spend two hours up a tree to avoid a bunch of violent teen gladiators in The Hunger Games, the teenagers of Red Dawn managed to help fend off a full-scale communist invasion – and not a conveniently situated wasps’ nest in sight.
5. Evil, conniving rich people
The arrival of the 2008 financial crisis has seen the subject of this entry make a return appearance in movies, but the evil rich are still a particularly prominent figure in 80s cinema. From Belloq, the ‘champagne villain’ of Raiders Of The Lost Ark near the start of the decade, via the smug Duke and Duke of Trading Places, to the conniving Burke of Aliens, white collar villains were the big-screen, cartoonishly villainous analogues of the 80s yuppie phenomenon.
6. Gratuitous Sex Scenes
Now here’s one movie trapping we don’t see very often these days. Apparently killed off in the quest for a PG-13 certificate in modern films, the gratuitous sex scene reached its zenith in the 80s. A good example of this can be found in the 80s thriller No Mercy, in which Richard Gere’s tough Chicago cop went on the run from a crime lord with Kim Basinger in tow. Even though the spectre of death hangs over them, they still find time to stop off at a motel somewhere to engage in a raunchy, low-lit sex scene.
7. Steel Mill /Factory/ Warehouse Sequence
Sooner or later, characters in 80s movies always found themselves in some sort of industrial building. The Terminator concluded with a tense chase through a factory. RoboCop appeared to take place almost entirely in disused steel mills and warehouses. Schwarzenegger was stuck in a futuristic prison that looked more like an old factory than Wormwood Scrubs in 1987’s The Running Man. The conclusion of Sly Stallone’s Cobratook place in some sort of hellish smelting facility. Even the decade’s best dancers worked in steel mills - just look at Flashdance.
8. Dodgy Nightclub Sequences
Running close behind those steel mill sequences came the ones set in nightclubs. It became something of a legal requirement, it seemed, for 80s movies to have at least one scene set in the deafeningly noisy, blue-hued environs of a nightclub, with dozens of extras swaying awkwardly in huge shoulderpadded suits while desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the roving camera.
9. Helpless Female Bystanders
A somewhat strange trapping of 80s movies and TV, this phenomenon is best exemplified in Sly Stallone’s cop movie effort, Cobra. During the climactic fight sequence, in which Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti engages in hand-to-hand combat with a villain called Night Slasher (the hulking Brian Thompson), love interest Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen) simply stands around in the distance and watches the brawl unfold.
10. It ends a freezeframe
If you’re watching a movie and it suddenly stops approximately 100 minutes in, don’t worry - your Blu-ray player hasn’t crashed. It probably just means the movie you’ve been watching was made in the 80s. Used to singularly dramatic effect at the conclusion of the 1969 classic, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, the freezeframe ending became mysteriously popular among filmmakers a little over a decade later