What is the greatest year in movie history?
“The greatest year in movie history” is a hotly debated topic, especially with excellent years in recent times. There’s an argument to be made for any year, but here’s our answer for why it’s got to be 1982.
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
- Not much can be said about Steven Spielberg’s timeless story of a young boy who befriends an alien from outer space that hasn’t been said already. Smashing into the box office on June 11, 1982, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was an immediate hit, and surpassed then-record holder Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all time. E.T. held this record until Spielberg broke it again eleven years later with 1993’s Jurassic Park. This instant classic elevates the rest of the year, before we even get to the other movies!
- Richard Attenborough’s epic biographical drama based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi is nothing short of a masterpiece. It covers over fifty years of history, showing what the inspirational leader had to tolerate during his non-violent struggle for independence. Ben Kingsley stars as the titular character, delivering a performance where the actor is near-unrecognizable. Critics lauded Gandhi, honoring the film with several achievements at the 55th Academy Awards, including Best Director for Attenborough, Best Actor for Kingsley, and Best Picture.
- Rocky III
- The third installment of the Sylvester Stallone-led franchise is also the second to be directed by the star himself, and has even become the most iconic in the series. After two films of their rivalry front-and-center, protagonist Rocky and trainer Apollo Creed’s newfound friendship is much more fitting for the characters. The central conflict of this film is Rocky taking on and losing to the bad-to-the-bone James “Clubber” Lang, who is portrayed by the perfectly cast Mr T. Although this is the main plot, the themes surrounding this story are those of perseverance and determination, which anybody can appreciate. The film was also the debut of the iconic theme song, “Eye of the Tiger,” performed by Survivor. The song shot to the top of the charts when released alongside the movie. Rocky III also marks the best shape that Stallone has ever been in, according to the actor himself. He claims to have lowered his body fat percentage to a mere 2.9% - wow!
- Blade Runner
- Director Ridley Scott’s ambitious adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is one of the most influential films of all time, with its groundbreaking portrayal of a science fiction world as a realistic, lived-in setting. Although the plot of this film is rather simple, what made this movie have such a lasting impact on the industry was its use of practical effects and its overall production design. Science Fiction films until Blade Runner required a lot more suspension of disbelief, as the visuals still looked rather fantastical. Since ‘82, we’ve seen the influence of Scott’s vision in countless other stories, such as The Matrix (1999)or the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (2004), and of course, the sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
- John Carpenter’s The Thing
- This science fiction-body horror film set in Antarctica initially opened to negative critical reviews and a poor box office run, making just less than $20 million on its $15 million budget. Many industry experts cite the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial just two weeks prior to be the biggest detriment to The Thing’s initial lack of success. E.T. offered an optimistic family-friendly experience, while The Thing took a more nihilistic approach to alien life. Eventually, John Carpenter’s The Thing found an audience when it was released on home video and television, becoming a cult classic. Today, it is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential horror films ever made.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Going in a completely different direction than 1979’s Star Trek: the Motion Picture, The Wrath of Khan was the first successful transition of the Star Trek franchise from niche nerdom to popcorn entertainment. Ricardo Montalban’s electric return to the role of Khan from the show’s “Space Seed” episode in the first season helped warp this movie to the top spot at the box office. It broke the record for the highest gross on the first day of a film’s release, with over $14 million in profit. Renewed interest in the Star Trek franchise throughout the ‘80s can be traced back to the achievement of this one film, leading to the eventual success of its sequel films and continuing television programs, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, which debuted five years later.
- This Sydney Pollack-directed and Dustin Hoffman-led comedy about a volatile, perfection-driven actor who adopts a new identity as a woman to land a job was a national hit, becoming the 2nd highest grossing film of the year in North America, and also becoming the highest grossing comedy film of all time. The movie was nominated for ten Oscars at the 55th Academy Awards, with Jessica Lange taking home the sole achievement for Best Supporting Actress.
- This epic science-fiction adventure that delves inside a computer mainframe was first inspired by writer/director Steve Lisberger’s intrigue with the Pong video game from Atari in the mid-’70s. A blend of live-action and computer generated imagery, Tron released to moderate success in 1982. The film has since garnered a cult status, spawning an entire franchise that includes video games, comic books, and as of 2010, a sequel film: Tron: Legacy. Fans know this series by its defining backlit animation and of course, its synthesizer-heavy soundtrack.
- Tobe Hooper’s supernatural horror film was a major hit in 1982, becoming the 8th-highest grossing movie of the year in North America. Originally penned by Steven Spielberg, Hooper took over as director when a clause in Spielberg’s contract with Universal Pictures prevented him from directing any other film while preparing E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Hooper was a perfect fit though, as he was the director of 1974’s massively influential The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With both of these horror classics under his belt, it’s safe to say he’s a master of the genre.
These films are still beloved by fans everywhere, but haven’t aged as gracefully as the ones we’ve already discussed. That said, they still deserve an honorable mention.
- Launching the film career of Saturday Night Live star Eddie Murphy, this buddy cop action comedy is truly the first of its kind, inspiring other instant classics such as Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, and Rush Hour.
- Although the plot is your typical children’s fantasy film story, what makes The Dark Crystal such a great film is the excellent set design and the always incredible puppetry by Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
- First Blood is an action classic, establishing John Rambo in Sylvester Stallone’s first outing as the heroic war-vet-turned-survivalist. This would have made our actual list, but we didn’t want to steal any of Stallone’s glory from Rocky’s epic comeback.
- A staple of the high school coming-of-age genre, Fast Times is notable for its ensemble cast of celebrities before they were really famous. Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, and Judge Reinhold star in the film, but it also featured Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Forest Whitaker, and Anthony Edwards.
- The breakout film of superstar bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Conan was also the first majorly successful “sword and sorcery” blockbuster, inspiring many productions and being the standard by which success in the genre was measured.