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Evil Dead Trilogy (1981 - 1992)
In 1981, up and coming director Sam Raimi got his friends together to make a low-budget shocker about a cabin in the woods terrorized by demons unleashed by an evil book. The result made Raimi into a geek god and Bruce Campbell's Ash into the horror genre's most iconic human hero, returning for Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.
Blade Runner (1982)
And here's what we came here to fix. Based on Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," this is about a rogue group of artificial humans. Harrison Ford is a "Blade Runner" - a detective specialized in discerning renegade Replicants (artificial humans built for labor) from "real" people. When he encounters one so lifelike it even fools itself, he questions his morality and reality. Along with being a terrific thriller, this is also the movie that set down what an "urban future" would look like for the next few decades. (pictured)
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Less an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories than of the Frank Frazetta paintings that posthumously popularized them, this made Schwarzenegger a star and remains among the best adaptations of high fantasy ever. The effects? Dated. The acting? Iffy. But the note-perfect mythic dialogue and soaring direction by John Milius? Legendary. And the famous score by Basil Pouledoris? One of the finest ever.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Boy meets dog, boy loses dog ... but the dog is a cuddly, telekinetic space alien. It's the Rosetta Stone not only of post-Star Wars American geekdom (suburban calm, government/police heavies, outer space salvation and a soaring John Williams score) but of the Steven Spielberg ouvre as well (broken home, introverted youth, childhood-is-the-most-important-time-of-your-life). It's the modern day Old Yeller.
Indiana Jones Series (1982 - 2009)
The first wave of modern nerd movies can be handily summarized as "B-movies made into A-movies," and here's the ultimate example: The characters and story style of pre-WWII pulp adventures infused with real money, real talent and real smarts. Everyone making action films since has basically been trying to make Raiders of The Lost Ark again.
Star Trek - Parts II, III & IV (1982 - 1986)
The other films are for Trek completists only, for the most part. But the second, third and fourth comprise an interconnected trilogy that still represents the high water-mark of what a Trek movie can be. Wrath of Khan and Search For Spock blend the big idea adventure of the original series with top-tier filmmaking, while The Voyage Home makes Gene Roddenberry's ideal of future progress as explicit as it's ever been - sending The Enterprise crew to "barbaric" 20th Century America to stop an "unimportant" environmental catastrophe from causing Armageddon in their future. Watch these, then get back to me about how wonderful J.J. Abrams' dumbed-down Top Gun version was.
Using a mix of old and new effects techniques and a big hunk of Walt Disney's money, Steve Lisberger brought virtual reality to the screen a decade before the word even existed, fusing New Age philosophy, computer science theory and videogame culture into a one-of-a-kind creation that still seems ahead of its time today.
Someone thought Frank Herbert's impenetrable sci-fi magnum opus of spice, giant worms and alien political dynasties could be the next Star Wars. Someone else thought it would be a good idea to hire ultra-offbeat cult film icon David Lynch to direct it. A whole bunch of somebodies lost a fortune, but thanks to them we have one of the strangest big-budget genre films ever. It's the Leaning Tower of Pisa of movies: We know it's broken, but we can't stop looking at it.