Travel back in time with these 80s-themed TV shows and movies
Pile on the lip gloss, hike up that skirt, and rock that bad reputation, because Abe Sylvia’s Dirty Girl headed to Netflix last year. Set in 1987, the story follows Danielle (Juno Temple) – the high school “dirty girl” – as she runs away from her bad reputation with her chubby bud Clarke, a bag of flour called Joan, and a Walkman full of glorious 80s tunes.
The 80s were quite a decade, filled with cheesy haircuts, outrageous fashion, and a newfound penchant for overconsumption. As such, it makes for a great era in which to set a story. Based on an era of bright colors and bad attitudes, here are the top ten modern TV shows and movies set in the Decade of Decadence.
American Psycho (2000)
While Bret Easton Ellis was not the biggest fan of Mary Harron’s adaptation, American Psycho is a masterpiece in its own right. Starring Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) as the last man on Earth you’d want between your legs, the film offers a hyperbolic portrait into the sadistically sinister nature of American yuppy culture.
The Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men) absolutely triumphed with this neo-noir dark comedy crime film, about Jerry Lundegaard’s (William H. Macy) inept crime we witness crumble to pieces due to his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the friggin’ pregnant “Minnesota nice” Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand).
Donnie Darko (2001)
Combining coming-of-age themes with time travel and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) as a troubled teenager plagued by visions of a dude in a sinister looking rabbit suit, the 80s setting of Donnie Darko worked perfectly as the backdrop for this modern-day tragedy, making good use of the soundtrack with gems such as Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.
Party Monster (2003)
Macaulay Culkin, (Home Alone) Seth Green, (Without a Paddle) and a buttload of drugs feature in this mind-bending journey into the life of the Club Kid King, Michael Alig. This film provides a colorful look into the late 80s New York rave counterculture and how the group’s leader spiraled from opulence and exclusivity to violent drug-fuelled mayhem (and an eventual murder sentence).
This is England (2006)
Crack on those Cherry Reds, a pair of braces, and get your Moonstomp on! We’re headed to a 1983 England in which a skinhead divide causes friction outside of the country’s burgeoning counterculture. The film follows a group of young skinheads in northern England, their stories illustrating how the subculture – which has its roots in 60s West Indies culture, particularly ska, soul, and reggae music – became adopted by the far-right, which led to damaging divisions both in and outside of the scene.
Stranger Things (2016 – )
The Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things is everything we love about the 80s – the synthy pop intro, the warm neon-lit visuals, songs from Joy Division & The Clash, geeky kids and preppy teens, all of which are tied together by a coming-of-age story (with a side order of terrifying trips into the Upside Down).
Freaks and Geeks (1999 – 2000)
Created by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and executive-produced by Judd Apatow, (This is 40) the cult comedy took us back to the 80s, to a high school where two very different sets of teenagers existed. Chronicling the typical teen turmoils – acceptance, drugs, drinking, and bullying – the show is well-remembered for its distinctive tone as well as launching the careers of James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Jason Segel (The Muppets), and Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express).
Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch’s female-led show is a body slam of a hit, tracing a fictionalized telling of the famed television franchise Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The show takes us on a brightly-colored journey back to the 80s, offering a bone-crunching look into the personal and professional lives of a group of women who perform for the wrestling organization in Los Angeles.
The Americans (2013 – )
The Americans is the best show on TV. It just is – you don’t have to agree with us, but we’re sticking by our opinion. Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields’s portrait of two Russian spies thrust together to form a makeshift family in 80s America has added new layers to its storyline and characters season by season. Overall it’s a fantastically addictive and original show, and, in the words of Paste, “The Americans may well turn out to be the last great drama of television’s most recent Golden Age.”
Halt and Catch Fire (2014 – 17)
In this stunningly underrated TV show, the 80s-set tech-based drama chronicles the boom of personal computers between the first iteration of Microsoft Word in 1983 and Windows 95. The enthralling central relationship focuses on Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé) & Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) – two women who attempt to found a tech company and spend the next few years discovering what they’re willing to sacrifice in the effort.