Top Ten Retro Movies
I feel like it’s time for another unnecessary top ten, this time of my ten favorite movies that feel “retro”. What is retro? Basically, I feel “retro” is any modern movie with a setting from a classic time period that inspires nostalgia, style or fashion of the period. Retro movies often tweak history just slightly to give their visual style a sharper or more interesting edge, and most retro movies are memorable because of their colorful visuals. Do these fit that bill?
10. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – This Mad Max outing is really driven by visuals and pulse-pounding action, but the setting feels retro to me. It’s inspired by old Mad Max films and apocalypse movies in general, as people race around trying to kill each other in cars. I guess that’s sorta retro, because they have old cars and old-school special effects. I think half the box office could be attributed to people wanting to relive those old Mel Gibson movies again.
9. It Follows (2015) – This movie is an example of horror done retro. This means it has a slower pace, and a tense plot like Halloween. But mostly, the style feels strangely retro, and the setting looks like it’s out of the past but the trick of this movie is that it also feels fresh and modern at the same time. Quite a feat. For example, there’s an old time organ player at the movies, which is sorta retro. I think it’s mostly the style that makes it seem like a 70s slasher or 80s creep movie, which is awesome because it makes the plot interesting to follow (zing, pun).
8. Flash Gordon (1980) – This cult movie is retro simply by definition. It’s way more colorful than it needs to be and hits you with action in a fun way, like the Batman TV show on steroids. Most of the performances are over-the-top and comedic on purpose, meant to inspire a sense of fun or nostalgia for the age of adventure originally captured in the Flash Gordon serials. It’s not even a very good movie, but most people like it for its style and eye-catching visuals.
7. The Untouchables (1987) – This Kevin Costner movie is crime drama done in a retro style, but it doesn’t go over-the-top like a Quentin Tarantino movie. It makes you think of the serials like Flash Gordon does, but it has sharper and cleaner visuals, not color exploding in your face. There’s a lot of grey and brown. When you see a 1930s Hudson on the road, it looks retro and very appropriate for the time period. It makes me think of the Robert Stack TV series of the same name and the style reminds me of Warner Baxter with his sharp-looking fedoras.
6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – The plot and the music make this movie retro. It’s something like a high school memory, of the crazy kids and the stuff we used to remember from our teenage years. It has car stories, sex stories, and kids in trouble, which is all the stuff that makes a high school movie work. The advertising for this movie was strangely colorful, which sorta isn’t how the entire movie works, but it initially pulls you in, I guess. I think this movie or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off both use high school memories to be comedic and retro. Either one would work here.
5. Dick Tracy (1990) – This colorful movie tries hard to be retro and probably inspired Frank Miller to go even further with Sin City. In fact, I can think of several things Frank Miller has done that feel retro, from his stories written about Batman to his crime movies and movies about Greeks. It’s all retro. His whole career is retro. Anyway, Dick Tracy was never this trippy before this movie came along. This is the first movie I can remember that had a retro style but took it to another level, like the 1989 Batman did with its gothic atmosphere. That’s one way to explain a guy in a yellow coat, I guess.
4. Pulp Fiction (1994) – This crime movie is neo-noir. It’s got all kinds of things packed together into one over-the-top package, like urban crime drama, gangster action, and pulp noir. That last bit is what interested me most about this movie, which I think is characterized best in the Bruce Willis section of the movie. His ‘man against the world’ plight feels very retro and his adventures are stylized and turned up to 11.
3. The Great Gatsby (2013) – The 2013 version of this movie is amusing retro, with its slick decor and outlandish costume design. Honestly, the movie is almost as colorful as Dick Tracy, and I could swear they made Tobey MacGwire’s blue eyes even more blue. The color is strangely muted in some parts and in-your-face in other parts, like the opening of candy-colored New York set in 1920. I think this version is too over-the-top. I like that word today.
2. Mars Attacks (1996) – The style choices in Mars Attacks make it visually retro, even at a glance. The alien characters are wild and colorful, like out of a 50s B-Movie but done in color. The whole thing reminds me of a 50s sci-fi movie poster, complete with all kinds of craziness. You’d be hard-pressed to decide whether this was a retro movie done in an over-the-top retro style or a modern movie with 50s over-the-top source material. I love the word over-the-top.
1. Back to the Future (1985) – Unlike Dick Tracy and Mars Attacks, Back to the Future is more subtle with its retro style. There’s plenty of high-tech gadgets and most the techno backbone of the movie feels familiar and simple. The setting in the past is retro by design but works best in its execution, when it contrasts a kid from the 80s with the 1950s. A lot of the technology is given simple explanations, like in many early sci-fi movies. Thanks DeLorean. The DeLorean is the perfect retro car made in the past meant to inspire visions of the future, and is the perfect fit for this movie.