Romance in the movies has been around for as long as movies have been around (see: 1896’s The Kiss, for example). And while Hollywood’s Golden Age was loaded with love, there was something about romance in the films of the 1980s that set those films apart. Oh sure, the 1980s didn’t quite offer Nick and Nora, or Rhett and Scarlett, or even Frankie and Annette, but they still offered plenty in the way of love and romance. Like, totally.
5. Richard Collier and Elise McKenna from Somewhere in Time
Ask for a time-travel movie from the 1980s and most people will mention Back to the Future. But five years before Marty McFly went back to 1955 to make sure his parents hooked up at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, there was Somewhere in Time (1980), the tale of modern-day playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), who becomes so smitten with a photograph of 1912 actress Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), he removes all references to present day and uses hypnosis to travel back to 1912 to find his true love. Some would cross town for love while others would cross the country … but only Collier will cross eras.
A modern adaptation of a classic tale, Roxanne (1987) finds Daryl Hannah as the titular love interest to Steve Martin’s C.D. Bales (C.D. … Cyrano de Bergerac … get it?). Bales … complete with long, de Bergerac-like nose … is the charming and witty chief of a small-town fire department who finds himself smitten with Roxanne. The problem is that Roxanne is smitten with the new, hunky firefighter on the force, Chris (Rick Rossovich). Bales, intensely self-conscious about his physical appearance, feeds Chris line after line of breathtaking dialogue in an effort to woo Roxanne, using the strapping young fireman’s manly good looks as something of a romance surrogate. Martin is simply wonderful in this role, with the bar/darts scene a standout not only for the film, but for Martin’s career.
No decade, not even the totally tubular eighties, is ever so self-aware or self-aggrandizing as to not be fit for a fairy tale. Every decade has at least one, and the 1980s are no exception. In this case, that fairy tale is one not just for the ‘80s, but for the ages – Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride (1987). As told by a grandfather (Peter Falk) to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), The Princess Bride is the story of the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright), a princess who is held captive by Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), who plans to marry her whether she likes it or not (and she doesn’t). Buttercup’s only hope is to be rescued by her true love, Westley (Cary Elwes), who needs the help of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and the mighty Fezzik (Andre the Giant) to save the day. This film is simply glorious, with the right amounts of romance, swashbuckling action, and humor throughout. It’s also one of those wildly quotable films whose lines have worked their way into the everyday English lexicon.
As film lovers, we know scenes from movies and lines of dialogue that have defined movie history. But every so often, a film comes along that offers a nothing more than an image that is immediately recognizable, one that summons full recall of not only the scene from which it came, but also the act of the story and the entire film itself. Such is the scene from 1989’s Say Anything …, that finds Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) standing beneath the window of love interest Diane Cort (Ione Skye), holding overhead a boombox that blasts Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” See what I mean? Instant recall. A late entry into the ‘80s teen comedy genre, Say Anything … features Cusack and Skye as recent high school grads who find themselves falling for each other, but Lloyd’s laid-back personality and loose plans for the future don’t quite mesh with Diane’s over-achieving future plans – plans that are more her father’s than her own. Another film rich with dialogue, this film happens to offer my favorite line from the 1980s: “I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”
The late ‘80s and ‘90s ushered in a style of romantic comedies that the studios, as studios are wont to do, pounced on and replicated and exploited ad nauseum. The poster girl for those RomComs was Meg Ryan, known best for a trio of such successful films. The latter two, 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle and 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, feature Ryan paired with Hollywood icon Tom Hanks, but her first entry, and the one that really launched the genre for that era, and the one that is, for my money, still the best modern day romantic comedy ever made, is 1989’s When Harry Met Sally…, co-starring Billy Crystal. Harry and Sally first meet when they share a Chicago-to-New York drive as college grads. They bicker for most of the trip and part ways once in the Big Apple. Five years later they run into each other when they share an airline flight, and again don’t quite connect. Five years after that, they meet in a bookstore and begin a friendship that blossoms into something so much more. I cannot stress enough the significance of this entry in the history film. The Nora Ephron-penned, Rob Reiner-directed movie is sheer perfection, and a wonderful bridge between two decades that were to become so vastly different both culturally and cinematically.