Theme Tuesday: Movies of 1980

This week on Theme Tuesday, we’re going to focus on the year 1980- and specifically, films and film trailers that were released that year.  Let’s see what treasures await us from that time!


The Empire Strikes Back Director Irvin Kershner recently passed away. 1980 was the premiere date of that film, so I’ll lead off today with an original TV trailer for the best film in the Star Wars saga, in honor of Kershner.

Airplane! was also released in 1980, and in an unfortunate and curious parallel its star, Leslie Nielsen, also recently passed on.  Still relevant today (witness the “Hi, Jack!” sequence in context of the recent mess with the TSA) , here’s the original, full-length trailer for the movie, which is in large extent a parody mashup of the trailers for Jaws and Airport 1975.

Leslie Nielsen also appeared in the Canadian 1980 horror film Prom Night, which also featured ‘scream queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis. This was not Curtis’s first film – that was John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978 – but her signing on for the cast made it possible for this film to be released. (Carpenter, meanwhile, released the unsuccessful The Fog, also starring Curtis, in 1980.) Prom Night was remade in 2008, but here’s the original trailer.

Superman II was released in 1980 in Europe and Australia, with the US release following in the summer of 1981. There was a lot of controversy about this film, as director Richard Donner (The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, etc) had actually completed two-thirds of the film by 1977, but was removed from the project by the producers over financial and artistic disputes.  A number of edits of the film exist, with the newest version released on DVD in 2006 as “The Richard Donner Cut”.

The Shining‘s original trailer from 1980 is a minimalist masterpiece. No words are necessary- only an angry buzz of voices that builds slow-boiling tension leading to the now-iconic image of a blood-soaked hotel hallway.  What you may not have known is that the shot and all the elements in it are actually an incredibly detailed miniature set. Urban legend also says that the MPAA did not at that time allow blood to be shown in trailers, but Kubrick convinced them it was actually rusty water. (Perhaps he should have just said it was red rum?)

1980 was a great year for horror and exploitation films: among those released all in this year were Alligator, Cannibal Holocaust, Altered States, Silent ScreamDon’t Go in the House, Watcher in the Woods and I Spit On Your Grave. Another iconic horror film was released this year: Friday the 13th. Originally known as “Long Night at Camp Blood”, 13th was directly inspired by Halloween and the works of italian grindhouse filmmakers. Of course, a million sequels featuring Jason later, it’s often now overlooked that the original killer of Friday the 13th was Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s mother.

Flash Gordon – the one with the soundtrack by Queen – also came out this year. The screenwriter of the film, Lorenzo Semple, Jr., also wrote a number of episodes of the campy 60’s TV version of Batman and also its 1966 movie – the one with the exploding shark.

The Blues Brothers was packed with cameos from R&B legends like Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Ray Charles.  The first of a very long line of spin-off films from the late-night television comedy anthology Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers actually briefly halted production to watch the filming of a scene from Steve McQueen’s The Hunter that was taking place in Chicago at the same time. Dan Ackroyd said, “They drove a car off the (Marina Towers), and I remember we stopped our own unit to watch. We were being towed around Lower Wacker in the Blues Mobile.”

By the way, you might have noticed that several of these trailers (especially the horror films) feature a very distinctive ‘gritty’ voice. The man in question is Percy Rodriguez. There have been many great “movie trailer voices” throughout the years, and sadly most of them have now left us. In the 50’s and 60’s, the voice was Art Gilmore. Percy took over a lot of the 70’s and early 80’s, and Don Lafontaine took the reins after that, becoming the “In a world where…” man, occasionally confused with Peter Cullen, the distinctive voice of Optimus Prime from The Transformers. A bit of a sidetrack there, but too interesting not to mention!

Back on the comedy track, 9 to 5‘s trailer almost barely mentions the stars of the film at all! Instead, it serves as a gently cynical snapshot of the life of a secretary in the 80’s, parodying mental hygiene films with a voice over ripe for sampling. The film was highest-grossing comedy of the year, returning $103 million in boxoffice and spawning a Billboard #1 hit, as well as serving as the launch vehicle for Dolly Parton – this was her first film.

Okay, this final trailer is cheating a little bit, but I think you’ll see why it was necessary to include. Reassembled from a variety of lost elements, this trailer is actually, confusingly, an ad for an issue of the Radio Times promoting the release of the second radio series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide. That series began airing on Radio 4 in 1980. The upshot of all this is that this is basically a lost ad for the “Secondary Phase”, long before it was actually called that.