The 1980s were all like …
but also …
The point is, the ’80s were a time when anything seemed possible: The Russians could nuke you at any second, you could become a magical tiger warrior or you might even end up on Star Search.
But behind all that glitz and glamor were the movies marketed to kids. The movies that molded children of the ’80s into the cynical, anxiety-ridden adults they are today.
And sure, we have the MCU exploring mature topics and being exposed to kids, but those reinforce things like teamwork and perseverance. All we ever learned in the ’80s was that literally nothing, not even our dreams, were safe.
All of the movies below are movies that were marketed to kids in the 1980s, and that most modern parents would never show to their kids today, and probably demand their removal from the internet.
And this isn’t some “oh kids used to be tougher but now everyone gets a participation trophy” kind of thing—these movies are absolutely terrifying.
The Dark Crystal — 1982
The Dark Crystal has become one of the most beloved cult films from its time. But it came out just before CGI was good enough, and cheap enough, to use in more movies, and after Jim Henson’s studio was already really good at puppets and whatnot.
The result was the stuff made of nightmares.
^^I mean, look at that! What the hell?!?!
AND THIS WAS MARKETED TO CHILDREN.
Notwithstanding the creepy as hey-all visuals, the story itself was pretty dark, including family-friendly themes such as genocide.
The story’s also way too complicated for anyone under the age of 12 to vaguely grasp (I’m still confused). This is an awesome movie, but it’s really freaky and completely, absolutely inappropriate for young children.
The NeverEnding Story — 1984
Turns out this story did actually have an ending, but not before children got to learn about the idea of complete nothingness erasing everything in existence — your house, your friends, your soul.
This was actually one of my favorite movies growing up — which explains why I turned into a cynical, maladjusted adult who’s constantly looking over his shoulder for the impending Nothing — or maybe a luck dragon that will take me away to his lair …
For as Falkor likes to remind us, he likes children.
As Bastian lives out the saga of Fantasia through his gender-questionable book counterpart, Atreyu, we dive into several kid-friendly moments along the way, such as: Atreyu’s beloved horse being slowly killed in the Swamps of Sadness; statues that will cut you in half with laser eyes for even considering passing them; and the horror of watching yourself become incorporated into a book as you’re reading it.
I used to have nightmares that I was watching TV and the characters would suddenly notice me and come out of the screen. I’m starting to think The NeverEnding Story put that idea in my head.
Return to Oz — 1985
Hey, a sequel to Wizard of Oz! And it’s rated PG, so obviously, this will be a winner for kids!
Either that or headless bodies will chase you into your nightmares.
Return to Oz has a really pleasant plot for kiddos, where Dorothy has nearly completely recovered from the “tornado incident,” but can’t seem to shut up about her adventures in Oz. Because, well, they were pretty damn magical.
Of course, in the real world, she sounds like a nut job, and Aunt Em sends her off to electro-shock therapy because she’s clearly loony.
A great message to send to kids: If you have too much imagination, we’ll shock you with electricity.
Of course, the electro-shock sends her back to Oz instead of curing her. OK, cool, this is where it gets good for kids … right?
Unfortunately, Dorothy returns to find the Emerald City in ruins and her old friends turned to stone. Welcome baaaaa-aaack!
But, luckily, she meets new friends. You know, like a totally not creepy PUMPKIN HEADED DUDE.
Along this fun-filled journey, Dorothy also encounters severed heads that come to life, a Nome King that eats her friends, and it bears repeating, a freaky psych hospital.
Go ahead, show this to your kids, who today are scared of the snow monster in Frozen.
Labyrinth – 1986
Ah, another Jim Henson production, which as we all know means it will be marketed to kids. Sweet, let’s fire up the ol’ VCR and show the kids this classic movie!
Or go ahead and scar them for life.
I’m not sure how the premise of a Goblin King stealing a baby in the night ever seemed like the right thing to market to kids, but hell, that’s what they did.
Like The Dark Crystal, this movie came out at a time when they were getting really good at puppets, and not quite good enough at CGI to include it. Which is to say, the effects are horrifically realistic and terrifying.
While, like all the movies on this list, Labyrinth has gone on to become a cult favorite, and rightfully so, I had no damn business seeing it at the age I did. And while I actually loved much of the movie, I still shudder a little bit when I see the Fireys—the red, furry creatures in the GIF above who can remove their own heads and insist that the protagonist, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), remove her own.
This is an awesome movie, but it sure as hell is not OK for young kids.
Care Bears II — 1986
Surely, SURELY there’s nothing to worry about when the cuddly, wuddly caring and kind Care Bears are involved …
I mean, as long as children aren’t portrayed as becoming possessed by an evil being that puts them in cages.
Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation is basically the Care Bears version of a summer camp horror movie. In fairness, the Care Bears do end up saving everyone, including the evil Dark Heart, through the power of caring … but not until countless toddlers were simply plopped in front of the TV and left to ponder what sort of evil being they were going to meet alone in the woods.
While these movies have given my therapist A LOT of work to do, they are, indeed, all pretty awesome in their own right. You should definitely pass the lineage of creepy ’80s fantasy films on in your family — just, you know, wait until the kids are a little older.
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