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American Cinema of the 1980s

Themes and Variations

Edited by Stephen Prince

Publication Year: 2007

During the 1980s, American cinema underwent enormous transformations. Blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and The Empire Strikes Back grabbed huge revenues for the studios. At the same time, the growth of home video led to new and creative opportunities for independent film production, resulting in many of the decade's best films. Both large- and small-scale filmmakers responded to the social, political, and cultural conditions of the time. Also during this time, Hollywood launched a long-awaited cycle of films about the Vietnam War, exploring its impact both at home and abroad. But science fiction remained the era's most popular genre, ranging from upbeat fantasies to dark, dystopic visions. Bringing together original essays by ten respected scholars in the field, American Cinema of the 1980s examines the films that marked the decade.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series Information

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

Timeline. The 1980s

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pp. xi-xvi

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Introduction. Movies and the 1980s

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pp. 1-21

The 1980s significantly transformed the nation’s political culture, as it did the Hollywood industry and its products. Today, the United States is an extremely conservative nation, and the turn toward right-wing policies began in the eighties with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Today, Hollywood filmmaking is beset by out-of-control production costs...

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1980. Movies and the New Woman

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pp. 22-42

A time “to imagine,” to groove on rock ’n’ roll and dream of a more utopian and egalitarian world, faded as the Reagan era dawned. On 8 December, a month after the former actor and governor of California was elected president, John Lennon was fatally shot outside his home at The Dakota apartment building in New York City. For millions of his mourning...

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1981. Movies and Looking Back to the Future

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pp. 43-62

In a year that witnessed serious assassination attempts on both the U.S. president and the pope, the successful assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, the birth of the first American test tube baby, and the unanimous confirmation of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice, discourses of possibility and constraint...

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1982. Movies and Other Worlds

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pp. 63-81

Ronald Reagan was in the middle of his first term in office as president. His prospects for a second term looked bleak. By the end of the year, the U.S. economy was still in recession, with the manufacturing, auto, and housing industries in decline and unemployment over 10 percent. The administration slashed the federal budget for domestic outlays...

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1983. Movies and Reaganism

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pp. 82-106

It was a year of Dickensian dualities, a year of looking forward and looking back, of suffering economic growth and economic decline, of tax cuts and tax increases, of supporting Central American governments and Central American insurgents. Americans witnessed an increase in home sales and an increase in homelessness, military humiliation...

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1984. Movies and Battles over Reaganite Conservatism

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pp. 107-125

In November Ronald Reagan was reelected as president of the United States in a landslide. It was perhaps the high point of Reaganite conservatism, and many popular films of the period articulated conservative discourses associated with Reaganism. The former Hollywood movie actor frequently used film phrases and quotations to promote his conservative...

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1985. Movies and Political Landscapes

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pp. 126-144

The world was changing from a landscape still defined primarily by post–World War II political liberalism and economic security to the increasingly conservative and fiscally uncertain terrain that we now inhabit. President Ronald Reagan—former actor and former Democrat now reborn as the popular Republican leader of a new conservatism—began his...

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1986. Movies and Fissures in Reagan’s America

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pp. 145-166

The New York Mets defeated the Boston Red Sox in the seventh game of the World Series to become champions of baseball; the Nobel Peace Prize went to Elie Wiesel; Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove captured the Pulitzer Prize for fiction; and popular music took an international turn with the We Are the World album and Paul Simon’s Graceland. But the most...

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1987. Movies and the Closing of the Reagan Era

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pp. 167-187

The most significant films of the year provide an interesting if sometimes veiled commentary on the national scene, whether through plot, characterization, theme, tone, and/or atmosphere. Their meanings are often embedded in and seem to grow out of their historical settings and some of the concerns that prevailed then. As the two-term Reagan...

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1988. Movies and Images of Reality

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pp. 188-209

This was the year in which things were not as they seemed. As the Reagan administration wound to a close in this, its last full year in office, a dialogue began that examined how well the retiring president had delivered on his promise of restoring America to its traditional values of godliness and family and thus to its former greatness. For eight years, Reagan had used his...

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1989. Movies and the American Dream

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pp. 210-232

By the end of the decade, mainstream American cinema was redefining the upper limits of profitability for the global entertainment industry. Hollywood was realizing record levels of financial success and business was growing in all directions as the blockbuster phenomenon reached staggering heights by the last summer of the eighties. Yet, even as...

Select Academy Awards, 1980-1989

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pp. 233-238

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 239-244


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pp. 245-246


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pp. 247-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780813543024
E-ISBN-10: 0813543029
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813540337
Print-ISBN-10: 081354033X

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 33 photographs
Publication Year: 2007