It’s my birthday at the end of the week and it got me thinking about how sometimes it seems that a lot of the movies and television shows I love best or seem to connect with were released in the year of by birth, 1987. This is, of course, just an illusion, because as far as iconic films and masterpieces of cinema go, 1987 was certainly no 1939. All the same, there are some classic and enduring movies that came out the year I was born – some which have stood the test of time, and others perhaps that are specific to my own tastes – so let’s look at some of the best of 1987.
The Princess Bride
We’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of this classic fairytale film, which astoundingly bombed at the box office upon its release. Most people blame the marketing department for not knowing how to represent the movie to its audiences. Regardless, The Princess Bride has proven a modern classic in the years since, thanks to a humorous, exciting, and romantic narrative and some wonderfully canny performances by a fantastic cast (which includes Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk, and really just too many more to mention). Elwes recently released a memoir of the making of the movie, which is getting some excellent reviews. According to Elwes, they always knew they had made a special movie, and to have it become such a cult classic years later is endlessly pleasing.
Withnail and I
Let’s go to the complete opposite end of the movie spectrum and talk about a drug addled lost weekend featuring Richard E. Grant as the bombastic Withnail and Paul McGann as the more reasonable Marwood. The two play a pair of out of work actors who begin to collapse into themselves in a haze of drug fueled paranoia. They decide they must get out of the toxic city for the weekend and take what turns out to be a dreary trip to the country. Both actors put in exceptional performances and create a unique relationship which is both inexplicable and deeply sympathetic. There’s something deeply human about their aimless bumbling and purposeless time passing – it’s both incredibly funny and terribly sad.
The last of the Star Wars films was a mere four years old when Mel Brooks released his classic parody of the franchise. Imagine being that fresh from ending a legendary trilogy and seeing Spaceballs just a few years later. Spaceballs is perhaps the most relevant of Brooks’s parodies at the time of release, but the adroit comedian knows how to choose material which will never age. The film is perhaps as funny now as it has ever been, especially to an audience which is perhaps even more steeped in Star Wars than ever before. Brooks must have had a hunch that George Lucas’s epic space opera was built to last. While many of the jokes are funny on their own, many of them are incredibly specific to the films – characters like Dark Helmet and Yoghurt, or the “jamming” of the sensor array, or the power of the Schwartz. While you don’t necessarily have to know Star Wars to love Spaceballs, it certainly helps.
Less Than Zero
This is just after Robert Downey Jr.’s time as a cast member on Saturday Night Live (yes, that was a thing) and the actor was finding far more success in films than he had on the sketch comedy show. Like with most things, Downey Jr. didn’t quite fit the label. Less Than Zero is the story of a young college student who comes home for break and discovers that his best friend has a terrible drug problem. Go figure that Downey Jr. plays the friend in trouble. The movie is perhaps all too close to life, knowing what we know now about Downey Jr.’s struggle at the time, but it makes for a raw and honest watch. The movie also features James Spader as probably the most interesting character, the local drug dealer.
The Living Daylights
This is the first of two outings for Timothy Dalton as the legendary spy James Bond. The movies, unfortunately, are pretty terrible and extremely dated. Which is a pity, because Dalton made for an excellent 007. He had the looks, the class, the humor – he just didn’t have the box office or the critics. He did manage to have Christopher Walken as one of the most ridiculous Bond Villains ever, and the movies are incredibly watchable in a campy sort of way. Aside from that, they’re mostly pretty anonymous. It’s kind of like someone decided they wanted to make the ultimate Bond film and in the effort made a completely generic spy movie.
Steve Martin is a known comedic talent, but not everyone is aware of his incredible skills as a writer. Martin starred in and adapted the screenplay for this take on the classic Cyrano De Bergerac play and the results are magical. Not only is Martin’s performance funny, sensitive, and romantic, but so is the writing. The dialogue flows seamlessly from naturalistic to poetic. The scenes of Martin wooing Daryl Hannah are almost lyrical, while the daytime scenes has a hint of that classic Martin bite underneath his gentle fire chief’s exterior. Martin did a lot of movies around this time that split the difference between whimsical and darkly comedic, and between comedy and drama.
Bonus – Star Trek: The Next Generation
I can’t not mention the fact that Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in the year of my birth. There are a few films in this list that I feel were made specifically for me, but none more than this thoughtful, quixotic, and intelligent spin off. I love its moral complexities and social conundrums, it’s passion for exploration and discovery, it’s reliance on science, it’s curiosity – everything that we need in the world to make it work better. It’s all in Star Trek.