10 History Movies from the 80s So Bad, They're Actually Good
The '80s were the era of action movies, it seems; period pieces? Not so much. Judging by this list, historical movies in the 1980s were, well, let's just say "creative" with their interpretation of history.
1. Young Guns (1988)
Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid? I mean, why not? The film dives into the Lincoln County War and does its best to make Western shootouts look like '80s music videos. Estevez and his band of outlaws ride around shooting things and escaping from the law. Kiefer Sutherland's in it too, giving the whole thing a Brat Pack vibe. Historical accuracy is not the point here.
2. The Mission (1986)
Okay, this one actually got an Oscar nod, but it's still so painfully '80s. Robert De Niro is a former slave trader turned Jesuit who joins Jeremy Irons in saving a South American native tribe from Portuguese colonizers. It sounds good on paper, but the execution turns into a confusing mess of good intentions and an iconic but somewhat distracting Ennio Morricone score. Plus, De Niro as a priest? C'mon.
3. The Last Emperor (1987)
Sure, it won a bunch of Academy Awards, but let's be honest here for a minute: it's still a cheese-fest. The movie tells the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, from opulent childhood to his imprisonment by the Communist regime. The costumes are fab, and the Forbidden City looks great, but the whole thing is so heavy-handed that you can't help but laugh. Was it worth the $44 million box office gross? Debatable.
4. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1982)
Gerard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus? Yep, you read that right. The film portrays Columbus as a well-intentioned explorer who doesn't mean to bring about the downfall of native civilizations. Riiight. From sailing through stormy seas to discovering the New World, it's a spectacle that only the '80s could make palatable. It tried to be grand but ended up being grandly amusing.
5. Revolution (1985)
Al Pacino, an Englishman? In this movie, he is. Pacino plays Tom, a fur trapper who reluctantly gets pulled into the American Revolution. From the loss of his son to shooting Redcoats, it's a melodramatic romp that aims for emotional depth but mostly hits the funny bone. The British soldiers skate on ice while firing muskets? You can't make this stuff up.
6. Lady Jane (1986)
Who knew the Nine Days' Queen could be such a drama queen? Helena Bonham Carter stars as Lady Jane Grey, the poor girl manipulated into taking the English throne. She's married off, gets a taste of power, and then—spoiler alert—loses her head. It's a soap opera that plays fast and loose with the facts, but hey, it's so over-the-top that you can't help but be entertained.
7. Quest for Fire (1981)
Picture this: cavemen, but make it '80s. This film takes us back to prehistoric times, following a trio of cavemen who lose their tribe's fire and have to, well, quest for more. They fight woolly mammoths, encounter other tribes, and learn how to create fire. It's like a National Geographic special met a Hollywood producer, and the rest is history—or prehistory?
8. The Bounty (1984)
Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins set sail in this retelling of the famous mutiny on the HMS Bounty. Hopkins is Captain Bligh, a man with zero people skills, and Gibson is Fletcher Christian, who leads the mutiny. The oceanic drama unfolds with overacting aplenty. Did it make waves in cinematic history? Not really. But it's a shipload of fun.
9. Tai-Pan (1986)
Ever wondered what Dynasty would look like if it were set in 19th-century Hong Kong? Well, wonder no more. Dirk Struan is a Scottish trader looking to establish his business in newly colonized Hong Kong, but of course, there's betrayal, forbidden love, and plenty of ham-fisted dialogue. The plot may be more twisted than a pretzel, but that's why we love it, right?
10. Cal (1984)
Helen Mirren and John Lynch star in this tale set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Lynch plays Cal, a young man involved with the Irish Republican Army, who falls in love with Marcella, a widow of a man he helped murder. Yeah, it's as complicated as it sounds. While the film tries for serious political commentary, it mostly delivers '80s melodrama at its finest.