Five holiday classics from the 80’s to revisit

With the recent resurgence of 80's culture in the zeitgeist, WSS recommends a diverse list of films released in this period to shake up your holiday viewing queue.

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Chevy Chase in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Harry Westergaard, Film Critic/Reporter

Recently, there has been an influx in nostalgia for the ‘80s in popular culture. This is in part due to the popularity of Stranger Things, but it was already a growing subculture that was simply boosted by the release of the show. Now, all the sudden everyone is quick to add a quick dash of nostalgia when possible. The fashions, styles, video game consoles, and, of course, movies. With the holidays in full swing, here are a few holiday classics released in the 80’s to enjoy this month.

  1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

Though not technically a Christmas movie, it would be remiss not to include the only great Thanksgiving movie on the list. The film pairs Steve Martin and John Candy as Neal Page and Del Griffith, two men with contrasting personalities who keep running into each other as Page races to get home in time for Thanksgiving. Martin and Candy are hilarious in their roles, both playing the typical archetypes they are renowned for. But what sets the film apart from the other features is the sincerity in the characters. Both are well developed, and while the majority of the film is screwball comedy, the scenes that do switch over resonate without being excessive. A perfect comedy with a big heart, this is quintessential viewing for any ‘80s aficionado.

 

  1. Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard II (1990)

A masterly constructed action movie that happens to take place at Christmas, the first Die Hard is a good way to inject some much-needed action into your holiday rotation. Bruce Willis plays John McClane as more of an everyman than your typical action hero. He’s an NYC cop who unwittingly becomes the only hope for a group of hostages once the Nakatomi Tower is taken over by a group of terrorists, who are led by Alan Rickman in a deliciously evil turn as Hans Gruber. McClane and Gruber match wits in a thrilling action picture that doesn’t have a boring moment from start to finish.

Also of note is the film’s sequel, released shortly after the first. It bears much in common with the first installment, and is slightly superior in my opinion, perfecting the format in the height of the series. Willis returns, this time at an airport that’s been held up by, you guessed it, more terrorists. The film has just enough in common with the first film to do service to it, without being a senseless retread. One of the finest additions is Dennis Franz as the crass, loud mouthed, chief of security at the airport. It’s just as thrilling as the first, and then some. Plus, the inclusion of actual snow gives this entry more of a Christmas feel.

 

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Taking a different direction from its lewd predecessors, the third installment in the National Lampoon series starring Chevy Chase gives us a holiday film that encapsulates the suburban Christmas experience. Clark Griswold strives to have the perfect Christmas with his family, but his plans are frequently thwarted by eccentric family members and fate. Chase gives one of his more memorable performances as Clark, and Randy Quaid is marvelous as redneck cousin Eddy. The film manages to keep you laughing with incessant gags for just about all of its runtime. To describe it as a “laugh a minute” is an understatement for this masterpiece of broad comedy stylings.

 

  1. Scrooged (1988)

It was hard to narrow it down to just one ‘80s A Christmas Carol (the TV-movie version with George C. Scott is one of the better adaptations) but I decided that you can’t go wrong with Scrooged. This is the definitive modern adaptation of the classic story, starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross. He’s a grouchy TV executive in this iteration, who is — ironically — preparing a live broadcast version of A Christmas Carol. Murray has quite the range, but a number of his most popular roles are as jerks, so it makes sense for him to portray the ultimate jerk as a Scrooge character. He pulls this off seamlessly. The film, directed by Richard Donner, uses the original framework of Dickens’ original tale to make a fresh contemporary adaptation. What you get is just enough of the original story and enough new stuff. A hilarious update of a Christmas classic!

 

  1. A Christmas Story (1983)

What better way to finish off the list than with A Christmas Story. This is not only a great Christmas movie but a great film in general. What can I say about it that hasn’t already been said? It portrays the season to us from a youthful, nostalgic perspective full of wit. Many of us viewing the film see a younger version of ourselves in Ralphie, which is one reason why the film has such a mass appeal. If you are older, it serves as a wistful reflection on times past. If you are younger, it captures the world perfectly. The comedy ranges from broad to screwball to just plain weird. It’s a film that has something for just about everyone. If I may be so bold, it really isn’t Christmas without at least one viewing of this film.