Near Dark (1987) | Kathryn Bigelow



Adrian Pasdar stars as Caleb Colton, a young and somewhat passive small-town guy in Oklahoma who has his eye set on a visiting mysterious boyish beauty named Mae (Jenny Wright).  Caleb and Mae spend the night talking and flirting, but Mae has to make it home before the sun comes up, for reasons that aren’t too clear for Caleb.  Before the end of the evening, Mae bites Caleb on the neck, although she doesn’t really drink his blood, setting forth a reaction in his body that makes him very strong and agile, fry up in direct sunlight, and crave human blood himself.  Before Caleb can get home, he is “adopted” by his new family, a clan of immortals with the same condition he is in, although they aren’t taking too kindly to Mae’s decision to “turn” Caleb into one of them, especially since she must feed him from her own blood.  Caleb doesn’t want to kill other humans like the others, but to be part of them, he finds he must, because he can’t survive on his own.  Tensions flare in the group, as well as within Caleb himself, as to what the proper thing to do is. Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, and Tim Thomerson, and Bill Paxton get supporting roles. Kathryn Bigelow’s debut as a solo director.


The Hitcher (1986) | Robert Harmon



C. Thomas Howell stars as Jim Halsey, a young Chicago native driving a car cross-country to California. The Texas road he’s currently on is lonely and Jim is tired, but he spies a way he might stay awake in the form of hitchhiker John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). It doesn’t take long before Jim becomes unnerved by his new passenger, as Ryder claims he’s decapitated viciously the last person to give him a ride and that he will do the same to Jim. Jim finds a way to kick Ryder out of the vehicle, but he keeps showing up again, killing more victims along the way. Things go from horrific to maddening once the grisly body count rises and Jim becomes implicated in the murders, as all signs seem to point to him.  Jennifer Jason Leigh gets a supporting role in this stylish and twisted cult thriller.


Road Games (1981) | Richard Franklin



Road Games (aka Roadgames) is a Hitchcockian suspense-thriller set primarily out on the open roads running through the Australian outback. Jamie Lee Curtis is Pamela, who, along with independent truck driver Pat Quid (Stacy Keach) and his pet dingo Boswell, tries to get to the bottom of a story which might connect a series of killings which have surfaced around Australia to a mysterious driver of a creepy looking van that’s on the road with them, as Quid attempts to deliver a rig full of pork to Perth, which is undergoing a meat shortage at the time due to butchers going on strike. As the trucker drives on toward his destination, he gets into greater danger, including stirring up the locals into thinking the serial killer they’ve been hearing about on the radio might be Quid himself. A self-described student of Hitchcock, Richard Franklin, directs, from a script by Everett De Roche. Quentin Tarantino claims it is one of his all-time favorite Australian films.


Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) | George Miller & George Ogilvie



In this entry of the Mad Max series, set a few years after the events of The Road WarriorMax’s nomadic travels lead him to Bartertown, which, as the name implies, is the methane-fueled hub where anyone can go to exchange something they have for something they need.  The town is overseen by Aunty (Tina Turner), though it is really run by a dwarf named Master (Angelo Rossito), who gets into a scuffle with Max, where the only resolution anyone will abide by is to battle to the death in a caged arena called ‘Thunderdome’.  Following his ordeal, Max manages to make his way to a desert oasis full of children awaiting the return of adults, and who see Max as a messianic figure named Captain Walker, foretold to come back to them and take them to the fabled Tomorrow-morrow Land with his magic. Mel Gibson returns in his last portrayal of the titular anti-hero. George Miller directs the action sequences with his friend George Ogilvie making his feature film debut directing the scenes of dialogue and drama.


Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) | George Miller



Max’s wanderings through the now lawless Wasteland formerly known as Australia take him to a fortified oil refinery where there’s plenty of precious fuel, but a vicious gang of murdering marauders, led by a hockey-masked and muscle-bound leader named Lord Humungus, wants to get their hands on it, giving the residents an ultimatum of imminent death should they not comply with their demands.  The colony living there needs to escape in a hurry but wants their fuel. Max strikes a bargain — he’ll secure an abandoned big rig for them to haul their fuel in exchange for as much gas as he can carry away in his car.  The problem is that the Marauders aren’t going to let anyone escape without a fight. Mel Gibson stars in this phenomenal action-packed follow-up to Mad Max.  George Miller returns to direct this iconic entry in the series.


Mad Max (1979) | George Miller



Set in the near future, Mel Gibson stars as the titular Max, one of the best police officers working for the MFP fighting against the increasingly hostile lands, full of marauding car and biker gangs who have no regard for life, or for laws, and especially not for law officers.  One such gang of bikers, led by a psychopath named Toecutter, is on the rampage and is targeting MFP officers who’ve messed with their way of doing things, putting them all in potential harm’s way.  A family man, Max doesn’t know if he’s really cut out to put his neck on the line in a losing battle against anarchy.  He soon discovers there is not much escape from the criminal element that has permeated everywhere, and it’s kill or be killed in the lawless and bloodthirsty territories.  George Miller directs in this wildly successful action vehicle that propelled Mel Gibson, and Australian cinema itself, to even greater success.


Escape from New York (1981) | John Carpenter



Escape from New York is set in a future 1997, during a time when, after the crime rate has skyrocketed out of control, the island of Manhattan has been turned into an ultra-maximum security prison where the worst of the worst violent criminals are put to live in a state of walled-in anarchy. A potential global crisis emerges when Air Force One is hijacked, forcing the President’s (Donald Pleasance) escape pod to crash land on the island, where he is immediately taken and held hostage by the criminals there, led by the vicious warlord, The Duke (Isaac Hayes). As they will kill the President if any cop sets foot on the premises, the government recruits eye patch-wearing Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former military hero turned criminal who has been recently sentenced to the island, in exchange for not only his freedom, but, due to a bomb implanted inside him set to detonate in mere hours, his life.  Plissken has less than 24 hours to get the President out alive so that he can get some critical information delivered in time for an important political conference that might save the planet from a dark destiny. Co-written, directed, and scored by John Carpenter.


Akira (1988) | Katsuhiro Otomo



In this breakthrough anime masterwork, Akira starts out in 1988, much of Tokyo is destroyed by a mysterious that spreads like a dome of energy over the city. The rest of the film is set in the year 2019, as we peek into the post-apocalyptic megalopolis that has been rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo, where the government is corrupt, civil unrest looms large, and biker gangs run the streets. One member of such a biker gang is Tetsuo Shima, who ends up seemingly running into an escapee from a government experiment who uses some sort of powers to protect himself from getting run over. The escapee is taken back into custody, as is Tetsuo, who also becomes part of the experiment to bring out his dormant psychic abilities, trying to give their subject the ability to read minds and perform telekinesis. However, due to Tetsuo’s difficult life, the powers he attains becomes more than the less-than-grounded lad can handle emotionally, so he springs himself from the lab and begins to wreak havoc on the streets of Neo-Tokyo, on a search for the powerful but absent entity known as Akira, who is seen as the person responsible for causing the explosion in 1988.  Tetsuo’s emergence raises the specter of Akira anew, as the protestors in the city see him as a force to stem the tide of a military takeover, with all of the tension threatening to destroy the city all over again if his friends can’t stop the rampage.  As the city seeks to rebuild, especially in the wake of the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games, the problems that once plagued the city have continued to manifest, with history doomed to repeat itself for never addressing the woes the first time around.


Blade Runner (1982) | Ridley Scott



The date is November 2019. The city is Los Angeles. Earth has undergone massive population explosions in the urban areas, the city landscape is a mish-mash of every culture, and almost everywhere you go there are advertisements. The most prominent of these advertisements is floating space-barge advertising the Off-World colonies, offering excitement and adventure. It appears there’s much excitement to be true, when six replicants (android-like creations that resemble humans in nearly every possible way, with the exception of enhanced agility and strength, constructed to work as slaves in off-world colonies) commit mutiny and escape to Earth, where they have been outlawed under penalty of death, to find a way to increase their four year lifespan, causing a Blade Runner named Deckard (Harrison Ford), a special LAPD task force whose job is to kill any and all replicants, to come out of retirement. This visionary sci-fi masterwork is directed by Ridley Scott.


Trancers (1984/1985) | Charles Band



Trancers starts off in the neon-tinged year of 2247, where we find much of old Los Angeles (now called “Angel City”) submerged by the ocean. Law enforcement officers called “Troopers”, like Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson), are taking down (referred to as “singeing”) “trancers”, which are weak-minded people (dubbed “squids”) who can easily come under the hypnotic, homicidal zombie-like spell (“not quite alive, not dead enough”) of nefarious Charles Manson-esque cult leader Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani), who Deth sees as responsible for the murder of his wife. Deth thinks he has taken down Whistler once and for all, only to learn that the telepathic supervillain is still alive, but has avoided Deth (and death) by traveling back in time to Los Angeles in late 1985 with something called “time serum”, where one can go back through time by their conscience into the body of another person in their direct family lineage of the past.

There and then, Whistler hopes to terminate the ancestors of the three-person “High Council of the Western Territories” members who took him down in 2247. Jack Deth always gets his man, so he too goes back in time to stop Whistler once and for all, inhabiting his consciousness into one of his own ancestors, a sleazeball journalist named Philip Dethton, who happens to be a dead ringer. Along with Phil’s young girlfriend Leena (Helen Hunt), Deth is going to be crafty to take down his target, as Whistler is inhabiting the body of his own ancestor, who happens to be an LAPD detective, and has already channeled a number of “trancers” to his cause to protect him as he tries to take down the last Council member’s ancestor, a down-and-out, alcoholic ex-pro baseball pitcher currently living on Skid Row (Biff Manard).


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) | James Cameron



Linda Hamilton returns as buffed out Sarah Connor, the mother of humanity’s future savior, now holed up in a mental institution for her claims that the world is going to end in an apocalyptic nuclear war instigated by a sentient advanced computer system.  That savior, John (Edward Furlong), is a rebellious teen living in foster care who soon learns his mother isn’t a crackpot after all after being chased by a cop who is actually a T-1000 model Terminator – a shape-shifting, liquid metallic artificial entity (Robert Patrick)sent from the future to kill him.  John’s own savior is a T-800 cybernetic organism (Arnold Schwarzenegger) identical to the one sent to kill Sarah years before, only this time, his future self reprogrammed one of them to send back and protect the boy and mother.  However, the older model is barely a match for the nearly indestructible, futuristic killing machine, and a chase ensues that sees Sarah and company trying to stay alive while destroying the path to humanity’s downfall, the advancements learned through the finding of the chip and hand remnant from the previous T-800 machine. James Cameron co-writes and directs this big-budget smash.


The Terminator (1984) | James Cameron



The simple premise: A killer android (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back to 1984 to assassinate the mother (Linda Hamilton) of a resistance leader of the future. A soldier of that resistance (Michael Biehn) is also sent back to protect her from harm, but the killer android is virtually unstoppable in its mission. This classic science fiction/action/horror/thriller represents the best in all of those genres that the 1980s has to offer.  James Cameron put his name on the map with this action masterpiece.


Hands of Steel (1986) | Sergio Martino



Hands of Steel is an Italian-produced film obviously influenced by James Cameron’s The Terminator if combined with the basic plot of First Blood. Set in the near future, we find a beefy thug (Daniel Greene) has been brainwashed by the evil head of a pollution-spewing corporation called the Turner Foundation, headed by John Saxon’s Francis Turner, we soon learn, to assassinate a popular ecological guru leading an environmental movement that is set to make major radical changes to the drastically worsening country. But he’s no ordinary thug; Paco Queruak is a war veteran that was left for dead before getting his body used for a radical cyborg assassin experiment, rendering him with an electronic mind and a body of hardened steel, underneath his very human-like exterior. However, at the last second, his human side begins to question what he’s doing, leaving him on the run from the organization that made him in order to hide their tracks. Paco goes on the lam to his old stomping grounds in Arizona, where he meets a lovely motel and bar owner named Linda who offers him room and board in exchange for doing some chores around the property.  Meanwhile, he engages the locals in arm wrestling contests he can easily best them in. Meanwhile, he’s being pursued by a world-class hitman, and also the FBI.


Cyborg (1989) | Albert Pyun



In the future, New York, after the dreaded nuclear holocaust, is a wasteland of lawlessness and gangland thuggery. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a skilled martial arts warrior named Gibson Rickenbacker, a “slinger”(aka, a mercenary for hire helping refugees), who fights for and rescues a woman named Pearl Prophet from a horde of marauders. It turns out that the woman is a woman no longer, but rather, a cyborg transformed in order to gather information and transport it to Atlanta in the hope of turning the tide on the widespread plague that has threatened humanity with extinction. However, the leader of the marauders is the fearsome psychopath, Fender Tremolo, a man who has history with Gibson and has ruined his life in the past. Fender steals her back because he wants the cure for himself, and it’s up to Gibson, along with his newly found tag-along Nady Simmons, to become Earth’s last hope.


RoboCop (1987) | Paul Verhoeven



RoboCop is set in near-future Detroit, where the city streets are just about completely dominated by the criminal element, while the police are neither respected nor welcome; they are virtually walking targets out there.  Desperate to clean up the crime-ridden community and build a gleaming new one in its place, the government officials turn to OCP, Omni Consumer Products, to build and manufacture the future of law enforcement, robotic police that are more powerful and well-armed than anything anyone has ever seen.  However, when the first prototypes prove inconsistent, the city officials balk at the idea, so an upstart faction within the OCP comes up with a newer, more “human” cop, a cyborg built using the remnant body of downed officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), and dubbed simply as “RoboCop”.Things proceed splendidly for the RoboCop program, that is, until the human side of the cyborg begins to recollect his past life as Murphy, plagued with flashbacks to the family he lost and the psychopathic criminals who all but ended his life as he knew it.  Determined to bring the bad guys that did him in to justice, RoboCop sets out on a mission of his own, not realizing that the gang in question is actually in cahoots with a rogue entity within the OCP, who for all intents and purposes, also own the city, the police department, and the machine side of Murphy. Paul Verhoeven directs this scathing and potent satire on American commercialism and privatization.