The legacy of movies released in the 1980s runs deep and wide, from Oscar-winning pictures like “Ordinary People,” “Amadeus” and “Terms of Endearment” to blockbusters including “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Back to the Future,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Flashdance” and “Risky Business” to teen-centric titles like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Say Anything,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.”
Perhaps that’s why CNN Originals decided to kick off its six-part series “The Movies” with “The Eighties.”
Not to mention the thrill of beginning the two-hour episode with Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese dissecting some of the elements of “Raging Bull.” Retro spoiler alert: De Niro gained 60 pounds for the role and says putting on the first 15 was fun — but after that it was drudgery.
Further discussion of films of the decade comes fast and furiously from the people who made them, including Steven Spielberg, Cameron Crowe, Rob Reiner and Ridley Scott, and actors who starred in them, like Tom Hanks, Molly Ringwald, Billy Crystal and Holly Hunter.
There is also interpretation from a newer generation of directors including Edgar Wright and John Singleton, who comments on the impact of Spike Lee’s films, including the 1989 breakout “Do the Right Thing.” The end credits of the episode memorialize Singleton, who died earlier this year.
Dance films. Dystopian movies. Actioners. Films about female empowerment and the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The ’80s seemingly had something for every stripe of filmgoer. Watching the series serves as a sort of discovery of films you may have heard about but never seen.
Each two-hour episode explores the cultural, societal and political impact that movies have had over the decades, beginning with films of the 1930s and continuing through what’s recently been screening at the local multiplex.
CNN VP of Original Series Lizzie Fox had a front-row seat overseeing the sprawling production.
We spoke with her about looking at films from the past through the lens of today, cinema’s indelible impact and surprising things the series uncovers.
You’ve worked with Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Mark Herzog on other historical docuseries for CNN. What is the “special sauce” they bring to “The Movies”?
Playtone and Herzog are some of the most talented documentary producers we’ve worked with at CNN. We are continually impressed with their ability to mine incredible archive, direct compelling interviews, and produce an enlightening narrative. And all without a narrator! Such a feat.
Tell us about the production schedule and process of deciding which films to spotlight?
We extended production on “The Movies” to over a year because we wanted to give the producers enough time to snag the best possible interviews and to edit six two-hour episodes. They conducted over 150 interviews and watched hundreds of movies; over 750 made the cut. In choosing which films to highlight, they looked at Oscar winners and nominees, biggest moneymakers of each year, best-of lists from dozens of critics, and also had the filmmakers, critics and historians interviewed for the series help guide them with the lesser-known films that merit mention.
What are some of the subjects of the most interesting interviews that viewers can look forward to?
There is an amazing scene in which Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis talk about the making of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Now that CGI is ubiquitous, it’s hard to imagine producing a live-action animation film without it. Hanks claims that “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is the most complicated film ever made. Which on face value you might question, but if you watch the episode it makes complete sense. It’s moments like this that the producers allow us to reframe nostalgic films in a whole new perspective and ultimately makes you want to go back and watch them again and again. And even if you’ve never seen “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” you’re going to want to watch it after hearing about it from Hanks.
Cameron Crowe also has a great moment when talking about the iconic scene in “Jerry Maguire.” He was nervous that the line “You complete me” would come off as too sappy. Cruise asked to take a shot at it, and now it’s one of the most iconic lines in romantic comedies of all time. It’s these little, personal moments throughout the series that gives a whole new meaning to films you already have such a fond memory of.
With “The Eighties,” many of the filmmakers involved are still active today. What struck you the most about seeing them talk about the films decades later?
We were struck by the fondness these filmmakers still have for their movies, and the memories they have of the process making them. Steven Spielberg’s interview in the episode is incredible. Hearing him talk about the making of “E.T.” and “Indiana Jones,” two films you almost immediately recall when thinking about that decade, is so enjoyable. In talking about “E.T.,” Spielberg mentions how he decided to combine two stories to make the film — one that was his personal story about how his parents’ divorce had affected him and his three sisters, along with a story about an alien being divorced from his family and is lost 3 million light years away from home. Saying that out loud sounds a bit nuts, but then we remember that “E.T.” is one the best films ever made, and you’re just so excited that this director is still contributing to film today.
Another thing you come to realize throughout the series is that so many of the directors we interviewed are total cinephiles, so they of course can reflect on their own films, but the depth of knowledge they have about the films that came before them is astounding.
Through the lens of 2019, what insights did you glean about the cultural influence of some of these groundbreaking films?
One of the most interesting moments to me in “The Eighties” episode is when film critic Jacqueline Coley reframes the film “9 to 5” as “a #MeToo film before the #MeToo movement.” This hilarious comedy also happens to be a severe indictment of the prototypical, egotistical male boss trying to keep working women from getting the equal treatment and pay they deserve. You have Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton’s characters demanding change in the workplace — a message that was just as important then as it is today. It also doesn’t hurt that the chemistry between those three actresses was perfection.
Overall, what would you like viewers to take away after viewing the series?
This series hopes to tell the story of our lives through the eyes of cinema. I’m hoping our viewers can’t help but enjoy it.
(“The Movies” premieres on CNN Sunday, July 7, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)