There was a time, long before iPhones, long before the Internet, prior even to the advent of the DVD and stadium seating in movie theaters, when fantasy movies were not the big budget blockbusters they are today. Before Peter Jackson was ordained from on high to grace us with a (relatively) faithful, three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, fantasy as a genre in Hollywood was pretty dead. The 1990s in particular was a drought of fantasy so extreme that people did crazy things, like listen to Limp Bizkit and dance the Macarena (Wikipedia those if you have questions). There weren’t even any good B movies; the fantasy movie-going public were left with pitiful dregs the likes of Dragonheart, Kull the Conqueror, and Encino Man. (Just kidding about that last one. Encino Man is a documentary about Pauly Shore.)
But let’s go back a decade, to a more magical time: the 1980s. Yes, that one, the one you know from theme parties and Taylor Swift’s new album. The one with music made by people older than your parents. This was Nuncle Jim’s early childhood, a time of Transformers and Capri Sun and Ronald Reagan. People still smoked cigarettes indoors, back then, and there were payphones. There were actually quite a few fantasy movies made during the ’80s. It was a good time for fantasy, in the sense that at least it was getting made. This was probably due both to legitimate popularity (a lot of modern classic fantasy novels were written or begun in the 1980s), and the fact that Hollywood still made movies that weren’t expected to make $1 billion internationally. Like I said, it was a different time.
And in addition to all the wonderful books Nuncle Jim read, there were lots of wonderful (and not so wonderful) movies that he watched that influenced the geeky course of his life going forward. And if he’s being honest, he probably owes just as much to these pulpy, low-budget films as he does to the books he’s read. So here’s a list of the ones that stand out in Nuncle Jim’s memory.
I will now end this belabored narrative device and switch to the first person, so as to list the influential movies in question, which are listed with a short explanation in no particular order.