The Most Underrated Historical Dramas of the 1980s, Ranked
The '80 were a time of some seriously underrated cinema.
While you were busy watching Indiana Jones, you might've missed out on some pretty amazing historical dramas that, sadly, flew under the radar.
1. Matewan (1987)
Set in 1920s West Virginia, Matewan zeroes in on the coal miner strikes. You've got Joe Kenehan, a union organizer, coming into town to help the local miners fight against the Stone Mountain Coal Company. Tensions ignite between the company's hired guns and the ragtag group of miners. Mix in some racial tension between Italian immigrants, Black miners, and the local white guys, and you've got a powder keg ready to blow.
2. The Bounty (1984)
Set sail on the HMS Bounty with the infamous Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian. The film recounts the real-life mutiny aboard the British ship. Bligh is the kind of boss no one wants—harsh, cruel, and downright petty. After enduring Bligh's tyranny, Christian leads a mutiny, taking over the ship and setting Bligh and his loyalists adrift in a small boat. Christian and his crew then make for Tahiti, but spoiler alert: paradise isn't all it's cracked up to be.
3. Revolution (1985)
Set during the American Revolution, this Al Pacino starrer follows Tom Dobb, a New York fur trapper. Tom isn't initially keen on the whole independence thing, but when his son Ned is conscripted into the Continental Army, Daddy Dobb joins the fight. We've got battles, family drama, and even a love interest in the form of Daisy McConnahay, an aristocrat turned rebel.
4. Angry Harvest (1985)
Ever thought of WWII from the perspective of a Polish farmer? Nope, me neither. But Angry Harvest takes us there. Leon Wolny, a well-to-do but lonely Catholic farmer, finds a Jewish woman, Rosa, hiding from the Nazis. He offers her refuge, but his intentions aren't purely altruistic. Leon's desire for Rosa grows while they both live under the constant threat of discovery.
5. Walker (1987)
Nicaragua, the 1850s. This one follows William Walker, an American doctor, lawyer, and journalist who fancies himself a bit of an imperialist. Frustrated with America's anti-slavery stance, Walker sets off to Nicaragua with a band of mercenaries to establish a new, slave-friendly regime.
6. Come See the Paradise (1990)
It's technically a 1990 release, but it's got '80s DNA written all over it. The movie follows the lives of a Japanese-American family living in California during WWII. Jack McGurn is an Irish-American who falls head over heels for Lily, a beautiful Japanese woman. They marry against all odds, only for Lily and her family to be interned after Pearl Harbor.
7. Eleni (1985)
Nick Gage, an American journalist, returns to his birthplace in Greece to uncover the truth about his mother Eleni's execution during the Greek Civil War. Eleni had arranged for Nick and his sisters to escape their communist-occupied village, but paid the ultimate price. The film is a dual timeline of Nick's investigation and flashbacks to his mom's life-and-death choices.
8. Eight Men Out (1988)
This drama brings to life the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, where eight players from the Chicago White Sox purposely lost the World Series for a bribe. You've got "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, a superbly talented but naive outfielder, and "Chick" Gandil, the team's first baseman who's the brains behind the operation. As the scam unfolds, the players grapple with guilt, public scrutiny, and, of course, their own teammates.
9. A World Apart (1988)
The apartheid struggle in South Africa is at the center of the story in this film based on true events. Diana Roth is a white journalist and anti-apartheid activist who gets detained for her writings. Her daughter Molly, who is 13, is left to live in the world without her mom. While Diana fights for the greater good, Molly grapples with feeling abandoned.
10. Empire of the Sun (1987)
A Spielberg classic that doesn't get enough love. A young British boy named Jim gets separated from his parents in Shanghai during WWII and ends up in a Japanese internment camp. The movie captures his fight for survival and his odd friendship with an American hustler, Basie. Little Jim goes through the wringer, but his spirit and imagination keep him afloat in a world gone mad.
11. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
The 1968 Prague Spring; this one's a tangled mix of love and politics. Tomas is a womanizing surgeon who falls for Tereza, a young and innocent woman. Their love story is complicated by Tomas' ongoing affair with Sabina, a free-spirited artist. As Soviet tanks roll into Czechoslovakia, the trio's relationships are put to the test.
12. The Killing Fields (1984)
In the midst of Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime, we follow Sydney Schanberg, an American journalist, and his Cambodian friend and translator Dith Pran. When the regime takes over, Schanberg manages to escape, but Pran is left behind and subjected to forced labor camps. Pran navigates survival while Schanberg tries to find a way to rescue him.
13. The Mission (1986)
Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons absolutely kill it in this tale of colonialism and religious strife. Set in 1750s South America, Irons plays a Jesuit priest who establishes a mission to convert the indigenous Guarani people to Christianity. De Niro is a slaver-turned-missionary who joins him. When Spain sells the land to Portugal, the mission comes under threat, forcing both men to make some agonizing choices.
14. Cry Freedom (1987)
A Denzel Washington masterpiece that's all about apartheid-era South Africa. Washington plays Steve Biko, a charismatic anti-apartheid activist, while Kevin Kline is Donald Woods, a journalist who becomes Biko's ally. After Biko is arrested and subsequently dies under suspicious circumstances, Woods makes it his mission to expose the truth, even if it means risking his life.