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Quarantine life has me watch a ton of movies. Many are repeats, but even more are new to me. Of the latter set, quite a few are movies I never saw when they first came out, going all the way back to childhood (e.g., Taxi Driver). This past weekend, I watched Grosse Point Blank (1997) for the first time, which gave me a thought. I’ve noticed that 90s movies seem to hold up far better than 80s movies, and I’m not sure why. Is it because the filmmakers of the 90s were better at their craft, or is it because I’m more emotionally attached to the 90s? The latter makes more sense, but it could actually be both. Note: For the purposes of this post, my definition of “hold up” is I like the 80s or 90s movie even though I’ve seen it for the first time within the past 10 years. An equally interesting definition is Later generations like the movie. I’m curious as to whether any of you have had the same experiences in that regard as I did.
Is It Me?
I always try to place my bias in check, and I certainly have a bias when it comes to the 90s. Movies from a shared era follow similar themes, so a movie from a given era can often represent that era well. I don’t want to bring down the conversation, but to address this I have to point out a few things. My childhood wasn’t exactly happy, nor were my high school of college years. They were actually quite miserable, and I haven’t maintained the few, weak friendships I had from those eras. If it weren’t for Facebook, I would never have heard from them again, and that’s the extent of our relationships to this day. In fact, I have better online relationships with people I’ve never met. On the other hand, I finally had the “college experience” when I attended law school in my late 20s to early 30s. That was 1996-2000, and it was literally the best time of my life. I have close friendships with the people I met there, and whenever I drop into Chicago, my schedule is packed. This could certainly affect how I view movies from that era.
The Case Against the 80s
The best way to assess which decade holds up better is by watching movies for the first time at a much later date. I missed a ton, but I’m sure all of you missed at least a few. A good example of a cult classic that I didn’t see until after 2010 is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I don’t want to rain on your respective parades, but that was some stupid shit. To start, because of a scene appearing in the script that never made it to the screen, we know how Ferris financed this remarkably expensive day: He stole his parents’ bonds and cashed them in. I already hate this punk, though it wasn’t on screen, so perhaps we should ignore that one. That’s fine, because the dumbest part about the movie it its lesson. If you give it some thought, the moral of the story is “If your father claims you’re too irresponsible to drive his expensive sports car without destroying it, teach him a lesson by stealing the car, irresponsibly destroying it, and taking out a large percentage of his house along with it. That’ll show him!”
Only a kid in high school could get behind that.
Seriously, that’s stupid, but I fully expect you to like it if A) you’re in high school, or B) you first saw the movie when you were in high school. This is one of many examples of 80s movies I didn’t see until my 40s or later.
Other examples: The Dark Crystal (1982), Willow (1988)
Notable exception: The Princess Bride (1987). That holds up as well as any movie in history.
The Case for the 90s
The Big Lebowski. QED.
Alright, alright; here’s a little more. I first saw that movie about 5 years ago (2015 or so). It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and for a comedy to be funny to a later generation (which I effectively represent) says a lot about how well it was made. Usually, the joke gets lost on future generations. Dramas aren’t immune to this effect either. Grosse Point Blank did not evoke any emotional effect (other than some of the music), but I still enjoyed it more than I do most 80s movies.
Notable exception: American Pie (1999). Even though I still find the film funny, the surveillance scene doesn’t hold up well at all, though I understood that when I first saw it. I was in law school at the time and thought, “Everyone involved should go to jail.”
Facts are facts, but there’s no escaping the emotional bonds you have to media. Sometimes facts and emotional bonds are in sync. I suspect they are here. The 90s win.