Top 25 Films of 1987

From crime-torn cities to vampiric wastelands, welcome to prime time


It was fun going to the movies 30 years ago. Whether you loved drama, action, horror, or comedy, there was always something to find at the theater, and it was all original, especially when it came to genre films. Veteran filmmakers like Richard Donner, John McTiernan, and Paul Verhoeven were recalibrating the modern action film, while hungry visionaries such as Sam Raimi, Kathryn Bigelow, and Clive Barker were dreaming up new ways to scare audiences out of their seats. It was a very transitional time for the industry, both on the screen and behind the scenes, and this list captures that evolution.

Because really, all the talent behind every film on this list went on to do exceptional things or left a legacy that continues to impact the culture of cinema to this day. There’s the debut of young screenwriting champ Shane Black and the penultimate film by Stanley Kubrick. There’s a young Christian Bale earning his chops with Steven Spielberg and a wise Sean Connery mentoring a naive Kevin Costner. There’s a pair of dancing lovers for the ages and a pair of misfit comics trying to get home for the holidays. In between and all around are movies demanding your attention, your popcorn, and your love.

Welcome to prime time, bitches.


25. Dirty Dancing

dirty dancing Top 25 Films of 1987

Yeah, yeah, we know. From the clothes to the dancing to Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ iconic soundtrack duet “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, there’s virtually nothing about Dirty Dancing that fails to positively exude cheese. But we’d be remiss to assemble a list of classic ’87 movies without one of the most widely beloved films from that year, one immediately recognizable to even those who don’t watch many movies, if any at all. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey made their names on the dance-centric piece of late-summer escapism, even if their on-set chemistry may have ebbed and flowed dramatically through the film’s production, and the climactic lift has become so synonymous with exaggerated romance that it’s still known as the move from Dirty Dancing to all who’ve attempted it. Sure, it’s an exaggerated melodrama full of era-specific kitsch and far, far more time spent on an abortion subplot than you probably remember, but that plot is handled with unusual respect for the era, the onscreen chemistry between the leads smolders, and it’s the kind of feel-good movie that stands the test of time for many viewers.

Besides, when it comes to a best-of-the-year list, nobody puts Baby in the corner. — Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

24. The Lost Boys

lost boys hed Top 25 Films of 1987

Long before Twilight, one film decided to take a highly logical yet under-explored concept (at the time) and run with it: What if vampires were cool? And we’re not just talking about get-the-girl cool. We’re talking Jim Morrison poster hanging in your cave, checkin’ out shirtless saxophone bands, and bonfires at the beach cool. We’re talking about Kiefer Sutherland and Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure cool. But where many of the aspects of The Lost Boys serve as a relic, right down to the casting of both Coreys, Haim and Feldman, the film’s joyous blend of horror and humor serve as a roadmap for many of the great genre skirters that would follow. Holding the film together are a number of memorable performances, including the always sturdy Dianne Wiest as a mother dipping her toes into dating and Jason Patric in his star-making turn as vampire protagonist. And while the story of a family that moves to a new town that happens to be the murder capital of the world is inviting enough, really the movie excels when it’s resting on its attitude and world-building. It carefully decodes its rules for being a vampire, so when the climactic scenes and big reveals come by the end, the action can speak for itself. Also, bonus points for managing an all-time iconic movie poster. After The Lost Boys, vampires would regularly appear as cool-guy outsiders, but the possibility of joining them rarely felt this attractive. –Philip Cosores


23. The Witches of Eastwick

 Top 25 Films of 1987

In a more considered age of criticism, talk of how poorly so many ’80s films have aged tends to be a recurrent topic of conversation. The gender politics, the special effects, the frequently more exaggerated performances; you name it, it’s derided by someone. The Witches of Eastwick, by contrast, may lean into its campy indulgences and its excessive visual flourishes alike, but George Miller’s film about an unwitting coven of friends in Rhode Island is one of the few that may actually play better now than it once did. With Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne, the central devil of the protagonists’ dreams, Miller constructs a modern kind of horror: a handsome, silver-tongued man who knows how to get exactly what he wants, whenever he wants it, on little more than a whim. But when he’s tasked with taking on Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer at once, as women smart enough to see through his deceptions? He never stood a chance. — Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

22. Radio Days

radio days Top 25 Films of 1987

Sandwiched between September and Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days doesn’t hit as heavy on the grandiose pathos, but delivers a homespun nostalgia that packs just as much of a punch in miniature. In the film, Woody Allen tells of his childhood obsession with radio stars, sharing the vision of his youth for all to see. It helps, of course, that he was able to recruit a cast filled with the likes of Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Larry David, and Diane Keaton to make it all possible. Though the film tells a relatively small story, Allen makes it feel massive, a living tall tale blown up to fit a screen even larger than the young Allen could have ever imagined. Though he’d done plenty of work exploring his own biography, Radio Days is by far the most powerful and engaging of that subset of the legendary filmmaker’s career.–Lior Phillips

21. Withnail and I

withnail and i Top 25 Films of 1987

Not long after its release, Withnail and I quickly gained cult status, likely because there are so many people who have both been drunk at some point and laughed at the very fact of existence. The blacker-than-black comedy is the kind of film that can derive as much emotional resonance from a particularly grimy bottle of red wine as it can a hopeless character quoting Hamlet. Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann shine as the title characters, downing glass after glass of alcohol (not to mention a shot of lighter fluid) and making each oppressive day feel a little more gray than the last. Even more insane? The story is largely autobiographical, adapted from a script by director Bruce Robinson. No wonder all the gritty lows, unending benders, and existential inanity come across so naturally. Even better, Grant is allegedly a non-drinker. I guess that’s proof of the importance of writing. –Lior Phillips

20. Wall Street

wall street 1987 Top 25 Films of 1987

Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Okay, it’s admittedly not as much fun to watch Wall Street these days, especially knowing that our current Dickhead in Chief probably masturbated to the movie when it first dropped into theaters in 1987. But, that doesn’t change the fact that Oliver Stone’s rallying war cry against the movers and shakers and scumbags of our financial markets is any less compelling. Thirty years later, the stylish drama remains a vital piece of American cinema, if only for the way the film subverts its audience as they, much like Charlie Sheen’s naive Bud Fox, enjoy the pricey thrills of a social class that doesn’t even register on the spectrum. Michael Douglas, who won the Oscar for his role as Gordon Gekko, plays the ultimate baby boomer anti-hero to perfection, totally emblematic of the schmoozy excess that continues to win over the hearts of Americans with a little grease, a wicked smile, and capitalistic soliloquies. You might sit there in all your rage, but at least your morals get the happy ending. In reality, we’re stuck with this. –Michael Roffman


19. Empire of the Sun

empire of the sun Top 25 Films of 1987

Only Steven Spielberg could take a screenplay by legendary playwright Tom Stoppard, adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel by legendary novelist J.G. Ballard, and turn in a movie perhaps more visually stunning than anything word-related. There are sequences in Empire of the Sun, in fact, that are so visually appealing that they stand tall without the need for any dialogue at all. The film tells the story of a young boy named Jamie “Jim” Graham (Christian Bale) scraping by in Shanghai as WWII falls. His obsession with planes becomes his downfall when he stops to pick up a dropped toy, only to be cut off from his parents and left behind as the non-Chinese flee in the face of far more real planes dropping bombs. Jim is forced to rely on the kindness of beguiling but dangerous strangers (chief among them a top-tier outing from John Malkovich). And by the time he’s reunited with his family, Jim has seen too much, learned too much, felt too much. He has gotten through because he has changed, the impact of the war compressed into one irrevocably altered life. –Lior Phillips


18. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

a nightmare on elm street 3 dream warriors 1 Top 25 Films of 1987

Out of all the classic horror franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street is easily the most consistent of the bunch. Although none of its sequels ever captured the cutthroat horror of Wes Craven’s 1984 original, a couple of them came achingly close, and most will point to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. With Craven back behind the typewriter, righting his ship following 1985’s disappointing A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, it felt like the series had reconnected with its imaginative roots. Craven’s idea to have the sleep-deprived Elm Street kids fight together in their dreams totally flipped the script, introducing more sci-fi fantasy elements that would, in turn, expand the world. Even better, Heather Langenkamp returned to finish her story as surviving hero Nancy Thompson, serving this time as the mentor for the new cast of Dream Warriors. And unlike its predecessor, these kids are worth championing, coming in with interesting backstories that were punched up by co-writer Frank Darabont, whose knack for character is all over this movie. Toss in Bill Maher doppelgänger Craig Wasson, a lush score by Angelo Badalamenti, early performances by Larry Fishburne and Patricia Arquette, and jaw-dropping visuals by art director Mick Strawn, and you have one of the best sequels of all time. Not hyperbole. –Michael Roffman

17. Fatal Attraction

fatal attraction Top 25 Films of 1987

In the horror genre, there are few things quite as scary as a scorned lover. Sure, vampires and ghosts are spooky, but the man or woman who’s just a little too … always there … even once you’ve called it quits? Now that’s something terrifying, because we’ve all had that experience to one degree or another. Glenn Close brings that to its bloody conclusion in Fatal Attraction, menacing the family of Michael Douglas’s Dan Gallagher after he puts an end to their affair. The film has generated so much analysis — feminist, psychiatric, structural — but beyond its gender and relationship politics, Close and Douglas deliver thrilling performances that transcend even the jumps and leering threats. So next time you get creeped out by a monster hiding in the shadows, just remember: your significant other could be even scarier. –Lior Phillips

16. The Untouchables

 Top 25 Films of 1987

“What are you prepared to do?” Why, write about how great The Untouchables is for starters. Brian De Palma’s last great film (I’ll hear your M:I argument) brings a pop sensibility to the true-life story of agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his team of incorruptible cops (and one accountant). Together they try to take down the seemingly un-convictable mob boss Al Capone (Robert De Niro), who dominated the bootlegging of alcohol during Prohibition. The film features a welcomed over-the-top performance by De Niro (“Baseball!”) and is a highlight of the then-rising career of Costner, but it’s Connery’s role as mentor Jimmy Malone that steals the whole thing. The performance won Connery his first and only Oscar, and the relationship between Malone and Ness is the cornerstone of the whole enterprise. Their methods may be in opposition to one another, but they know they need to work together. Add the incredible ode to Battleship Potemkin via train station, a gangbusters score from legendary Ennio Morricone, and the reminder that casting Billy Drago in your movie is always a good thing, and its undeniable that The Untouchables is one of the best. “Never stop fighting till the fight is done.” I’ve made my case. –Justin Gerber

15. Predator

predator Top 25 Films of 1987

Predator is a film that could easily be overshadowed by the trivia involved in it, like being the only movie to cast two future governors and the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme was apparently fired from playing the titular role for kickboxing too much. But Predator is not just known for these fun facts because it’s such an inventive action film. The basic plot of a military team dropped into the jungle and fighting for their life against an alien isn’t really breaking new ground, but it’s all in the execution. For one, there’s the physical presence of the titular creator, which was enough to launch a character that would be present in comic books and films for the decades to follow. Second was in the details, including filming from the body-heat detecting view of the Predator and incorporating elements like neon blood and the ability to camouflage in the jungle. And, of course, there is the film’s star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger was coming into his own as a top-line star in the couple years preceding this movie, and Predator cemented that status as a guy that was more than just muscles, face, and an accent. Schwarzenegger had star presence, to the point where just watching him maneuver against the Predator with little dialogue is enough to be captivating. Armed with both a magnetic hero and a genuinely frightening villain, Predator is more than just a film at this point. It’s grown into a cultural pillar. –Philip Cosores


14. Hellraiser

hellraiser1987 e1505331661859 Top 25 Films of 1987

Where have all the great horror scores gone? Has anything carried the gothic weight of Christopher Young’s Hellraiser soundtrack this century? The composer’s various pieces of music sync perfectly with the hellscape presented to us in novelist Clive Barker’s directorial debut: an ominous toll of the bell before the dreaded Cenobites appear, overflowing horns and strings during the tone-setting opening credits, a soaring orchestra whilst a demon flies away to … wherever. Based on Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser is most famous for introducing us to one of the century’s finest horror icons in Pinhead (credited here as “Lead Cenobite”). Doug Bradley’s portrayal as the pinheaded one doesn’t take up much screen time, but his chalk-white, bloody presence makes one hell of an impact (cue Crypt-Keeper laugh). The main storyline ain’t half-bad either: A young woman must combat against her evil stepmother and, more horrifically, her skinned-alive uncle whose escaped Hell. It’s as fun as it sounds! 1987 was a solid year for the horror genre, and while Hellraiser isn’t the year’s best (trust us, keep reading), it’s certainly deserving of the conversation. Come for the horror, stay for the horror. “Jesus … wept.” –Justin Gerber


13. Full Metal Jacket

fmj Top 25 Films of 1987

As much as any other film about the Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket has influenced how the public (particularly those who weren’t around at the time) remember that conflict in all of its horrors. Stanley Kubrick’s investigation of the psychology behind men involuntarily sent through basic training and into unforgiving jungles might be an abstract approach to the topic in certain ways, but captures the sensations of being “in the shit” as well as any film has. Particularly in its iconic first third, featuring R. Lee Ermey’s unforgiving drill instructor and the sad saga of Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio), the film illustrates what good soldiering so often requires: a willingness to selectively forget the humanity of anybody on the other end of that gun barrel. Even as the film spirals into hellish panic later on, culminating in an unforgettable dirge through the mud and the “Mickey Mouse March”, Kubrick instinctively understands that war isn’t just hell. It becomes a way of life for those in it, from which there is no true return. You either go home with an American flag draped over your coffin, or you never truly return at all. — Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

12. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

planestrainsandautomobi Top 25 Films of 1987

Road trip movies are a dime a dozen. So are home-for-the-holidays films and odd-couple comedies. Decades later, these tried-and-true Hollywood formulas still hold up well enough, and the end credits generally roll by leaving us content. But at no point in John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles do we ever feel like the story unfolding before us has been merely plugged and chugged with new names, destinations, and gags. It surely helps having cast two legends in their prime, Steve Martin (as Neal the tight-ass) and John Candy (as Del the Pest), who turn every eye roll, forced smile, and throat clearing into a comedic masterclass. But, just as much, I think it’s that Neal’s last straw doesn’t snap two-thirds down the road with Del; he loses it in the first 20 minutes. And once he does that, the film has to go somewhere that a formula can’t take it. Maybe a place that leaves its odd couple drunk and laughing together after their rental car burned right down to the radio. Or a place where we learn that a pest has to bother others because there’s nobody else in the world left to bother with him. Yes, Neal and Del reach their destination, make it home for the holidays, and nearly kill each other in the process several times; all of that was bound to happen. But the fact that Hughes, Martin, and Candy leave us thinking about far more than a trip gone awry as the credits roll remains the reason we’re still talking about this film 30 years later. –Matt Melis

11. Good Morning, Vietnam

good morning vietnam robin williams Top 25 Films of 1987

Few actors had more quotable repertoires than Robin Williams, and even among those gems there’s not quite like revving up to a shout of “Good morning, Vietnam!” But beyond a notable title, the film is also perhaps the legendary comedic actor’s best performance, one in which he cracks wise as much and as fast as possible — until he just can’t anymore and shows the turbulent emotional core that we now all know was there the whole time. The Barry Levinson-directed film blurs the lines between tragedy and comedy, manic and depressive, war and peace, and Williams encompassed it all at once. The excellent cast of actors surrounding him — Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, and Robert Wuhl, among them — provide excellent ballast, each worthy of your attention, but then with a performance as fine as Williams’ its nearly impossible to look away. –Lior Phillips

10. The Last Emperor

the last emperor Top 25 Films of 1987

Even in the late ‘80s, the workings of Chinese culture and government remained shaded in mystery. By placing a young boy at the center of the film The Last Emperor, Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci eased the viewer into the complexities on the grandest scale. While other biopics focus on the events that changed the world, this film highlights just as much the people finding their footing while the world changes — chief among them, Puyi, the boy emperor. Though the film begins with Puyi as a political prisoner of the reigning Communists, a good deal of its plot is spent on getting there. The epic film then traces everything in the rise of the People’s Republic and the end of the feudal era in intimate details through the eyes of an emperor who was just a child when he was thrust into the center of the conflict. –Lior Phillips

09. Broadcast News

broadcast news Top 25 Films of 1987

James L. Brooks knew exactly what would happen to the media industry in 1987. The proof is all in Broadcast News, his super-sharp romantic-comedy that somehow feels like it belongs in the ’70s yet also right in the middle of the ’90s. The way he portrays the news room is so real and clinical, as if its A-list ensemble of Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, and William Hurt stumbled into All the President’s Men, only there’s a heart that beats throughout the halls with whiplash dialogue, sugary comedy, and a love triangle straight out of The Book of Aaron Sorkin. (Mind you, Sorkin has openly admitted that The Newsroom was influenced by the film.) But the film’s greatest strength is its ability at making a statement without shouting from the soapbox, and by that same measure, being romantic without shoving it down everyone’s throat with chocolates and cheap bubbly. Though, when you really break it down, the greatest romance in the film is Hunter’s commitment to truth and justice in the American free press, and while that may elicit an eye roll from all you cynics out there, that’s the kind of thing to appreciate today in our era of infinite stupidity, all of which is hinted at here in spectacular fashion. –Michael Roffman

08. Evil Dead II

evil dead 2 Top 25 Films of 1987

The Evil Dead is a terrifying movie. Evil Dead 2 is not. Even now, Sam Raimi’s elaborate “requel” to his 1983 splatter masterpiece is the kind of reimagining accomplished by very few filmmakers. It’s hilariously self-aware, excising much of the claustrophobic horror of the original for heavy doses of slapstick comedy, tongue-in-cheek gore, and boisterous dialogue. But Raimi gets away with it because he’s such a goddamn wizard behind the camera, turning what could have been a schlocky midnight rental into a filmmaker’s wet dream. The technicality alone earns this a place in film schools everywhere, but then you have the Chinmeister himself, Bruce Campbell, mopping up the scenery with one-liners for the ages and a physical performance that could give any one of the Three Stooges hemorrhoids. Together, Raimi and Campbell basically spend 84 minutes squeezing every dime out of the $3.6 mil dollars afforded by the late and great Dino De Laurentiis, whistling by with sawed-off shotguns, baboon-shrieking monsters, and demon hands. It’s never not stupid, but it’s also never not clever. No, this is the blueprint of an underrated auteur and the glory days of an anti-hero that defies all anti-heroes, a matchup as reckless as giving Ash the Necronomicon and yet as groovy as the experience itself. Come get some (again and again and again). –Michael Roffman

07. Moonstruck

moonstruck 1987 Top 25 Films of 1987

What does it mean to be in love? Is love really a high-falutin concept bathed in romantic walks on the beach, or fresh flowers delivered to your door? Is love really preconceived perfection? Director Norman Jewison and writer John Patrick Shanley don’t think so. Their smash hit, Moonstruck cleverly begs the question, “Is it normal just to settle in love?” This romantic comedy’s brain mines the depths of real lives, humor, and the grit at the bottom of the barrel of desire. It isn’t surprising that Shanley based the dialogue on real people: “I was on the train and I heard two women talking and they were talking in the exact style of Moonstruck,” he admitted to Bomb Magazine. It’s equally unsurprising that the formidable combo of be-dazzler Cher, Nicolas Cage, and Danny Aiello bring life to love’s confusion with warmth and charisma without resorting to cliched tropes. Moonstruck follows a widowed woman played so perfectly by Cher, who falls in love with her fiance’s spunky younger brother. Though she wasn’t far off of an Oscar nomination for Silkwood, Cher still wasn’t being given the credit she deserved for the depths of emotion she could portray — and Moonstruck changed that in one dazzling moment. –Lior Phillips

06. Near Dark

near dark Top 25 Films of 1987

Near Dark may not be the most acclaimed of Kathryn Bigelow’s features, but it’s among her indisputable best. A hybrid of the vampire and Western genres, her revisionist tale of eternal life accomplishes what precious few others do. It makes eternal life seem like an endless hell on Earth. After all, this is the kind of vampire story that only starts with young Caleb Colton being seduced by Mae, an attractive young drifter, and turned. The real battle comes in when Caleb is introduced to Mae’s family, a grim batch of nihilists cursed to remain in whatever bodies they had at the moment they too were turned. They kill, they pillage, and whatever morality they once possessed has long been overcome by time and hunger. Though there’s a certain sex appeal to Bigelow’s swaggering vampire clan, to be sure, Near Dark strips the genre to its most tender veins, to such a point where not even a well-timed blood transfusion can truly save its doomed lovers. It may not be the most iconic vampire movie ever made, but in a just world, it’d be regarded as one of the absolute exemplars of the genre. — Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

05. Wings of Desire

 Top 25 Films of 1987

Nearly a full decade after Wings of Desire was released, America did what it so often does and turned it into the entirely mediocre City of Angels. (It did at least give us the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris”, which is a confirmed timeless banger in some circles.) But no remake could have ever come close to approximating the power and resonance of Wim Wenders’ masterpiece, which follows Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander as angels who’ve wandered Berlin since before the dawn of man, and who find themselves tempted by the beauty and impermanence of mortality. One falls in love with a mortal, the other tries and fails to spare a human being their inevitable death, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play a show, and Wenders paints a portrait of the inherent need for connection between all beings, no matter their age or origin. There’s much to be said about the film’s understanding of humanity in the waning days of the Berlin Wall, but what lingers most is less the political commentary than the image of a man, finally a man, and bleeding for the first time. The things we take for granted, and that matter more than we can possibly fathom. — Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

04. The Princess Bride

screen shot 2017 09 13 at 2 53 00 pm Top 25 Films of 1987

Unless you’re more than 50 years old, chances are you saw The Princess Bride when you were young. It’s not a movie about children, or built on themes that would necessarily be deemed childish. Instead, it appeals to a sense of wonder and possibility that we associate with youth. It’s a film decidedly optimistic, that presumes a lack of cynicism in its audience. At its heart, The Princess Bride is a film where anything is possible, meant to be viewed at a time when that could still be true. That isn’t to say The Princess Bride doesn’t hold its own to adult viewings. Like the best family films, it only gets better with age, thanks to its sharp sense of humor and inventive sequences deserving of deeper appreciation. But the best part of The Princess Bride is that it’s a story, one chock full of, as Peter Falk sells it to a sick Fred Savage, “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Revenge. Giants. Monsters. Chases. Escapes. True love. Miracles.” What’s more, the movie was lucky to land a young Robin Wright and give signature roles to esteemed character actors such as Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, and Wallace Shawn — not to mention, the late wrestler Andre the Giant. At the time, the film came in the middle of a streak for director Rob Reiner, one that included Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery, and A Few Good Men. That could be among the best for any director ever, and The Princess Bride only adds range when placed in this group. But it’s truly a film that doesn’t hinge on any single aspect of its final presentation, becoming something that’s held more dear than movies usually are. –Philip Cosores

03. Lethal Weapon

lethal weapon Top 25 Films of 1987

Lethal Weapon is a national treasure. Shane Black’s crackerjack script about two unlikely Los Angeles cops united by the job is overwhelming for its sense of character and unnatural wit. Sure, much of that magic has to do with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson’s can’t-buy-that-chemistry, but everything inevitably goes back to the screenplay. Without all the gravitas that Black wires into every line of dialogue and every dislocated narrative quirk, the film would otherwise boil down to another buddy cop action vehicle in the vein of 48 Hours. But it’s not. There’s so much at stake, from an underlying suicide narrative to a third-act kidnapping, that you never really get the sense that everything’s going to turn out right. That tension alone sells the movie as “something more than,” but then you get all of Richard Donner’s chummy aesthetics — not to mention, that iconic score by the late Michael Kamen and would-be cokehead/guitar virtuoso Eric Clapton — and the whole thing becomes this Disney ride that may or may not have lost a few of its bolts. Yet unpredictability is king in the land of Lethal Weapon, where carnal instinct will either find you leaping off a dilapidated building or shoving Gary Busey’s pearly whites into a yard of mud. If that reasoning isn’t to your liking, why don’t you take my entire breakdown of the film and put it in ya mouth. –Michael Roffman

02. Raising Arizona

raising arizona Top 25 Films of 1987

Thirty years later, it’s safe to say the Coen brothers have range. Whether it’s adapting a cold and existential work like No Country For Old Men, crafting original goofball comedies like The Big Lebowski, or finding acclaim with regional noir like Fargo, the Coens take pride in never settling on a particular style, even if their work has become known by certain trademarks. This dates back to their second film, the hysterical and hopeful Raising Arizona. Coming on the heels of their acclaimed 1984 debut Blood Simple, the Coens deliberately took a left turn and wound up crafting a cable TV staple. The film proceeds with gusto, crafting its own vernacular for its characters out of the works of Faulkner, Steinbeck, and the Bible rather than actually researching the state of Arizona. The setting ultimately feels as tied to the American south as it does to the west, and settles on a comic book fantasy, where dreams and reality are often hard to tell apart. But aside from being a wickedly funny joy ride where cops (Holly Hunter) and crooks (a 22-year-old Nicolas Cage) can find love and family both inside and outside the law, what makes Raising Arizona a classic is how it refuses to settle on just being a comedy. The film’s willingness to show its affection for characters at which the audience is tempted to laugh is a humanizing maneuver set in the absurd. This would be a recurring theme in the Coen brothers’ work, but in 1987, it felt like something genius. –Phillip Cosores

01. Robocop

robocop 1987 Top 25 Films of 1987

There’s absolutely nothing like RoboCop, and there never will be again. To date, Paul Verhoeven’s cyberpunk masterpiece remains a brilliant example of how to do exploitation right. It’s raw, it’s unfriendly, it’s ugly, it’s brutal, it’s one of the most uncompromising films of all time. Yet there’s also something sleek and sophisticated about the inimitable production: it could be that million-dollar, DeLorean-esque suit or Basil Poledouris’ sultry score or the Academy Award-nominated sound design that brings the tragic son of a bitch to life. But really, it’s the whole package, a big bang of auteurish filmmaking that made Verhoeven an adjective overnight, from his manic politicizing to his cutthroat gore to the way he turns male machismo into some kind of torturous sadomasochism.

Good god is this movie such an essential product of its time, a hard-boiled fuck you to an overcapitalized era run on power, corruption, and lies. And that’s all RoboCop seeks to destroy; he’s a modern-day Frankenstein, stomping around the crime-ridden wastelands of a hyperbolic Detroit and crushing the very scum that put him in that jailhouse suit. It was a brilliant commentary then and it’s even smarter one now, especially as our spineless politicians are sounding more and more like Ronny Cox’s villainous Dick Jones, failing to remember their pledge to Americans everywhere: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law. For Christ’s sake, where are you, Murphy? –Michael Roffman

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