If you were a moviegoer in the 1980s, you were constantly confronted with imaginative questions that seemed cosmic and existential. Would humanity one day settle their differences here on Earth and learn to travel the stars as a united species? Or were we destined for a dystopian future where there is little to see but smoky skies and gigantic billboards? Did our advancing technology have the ability to literally absorb us or replace us entirely? Could we one day encounter extraterrestrial life that was intelligent and benevolent? Surely some of these questions would be answered in the distant year 2000.
Blade Runner, ET the Extra-Terrestrial, Tron, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, all published 40 years ago in the summer of 1982, have become seminal works that will define the next Years shape decades-long fantasy franchises. But what if this wasn’t the sci-fi cinema you grew up watching? What if you grew up in a later generation and only knew these films as famous if somewhat distant influences? Would they still look exciting, innovative and thought-provoking? Or – to counter another frightening speculation scenario – would they just look uncool?
To find out for ourselves, we recruited four contemporary stars – all born in the 21st century – and asked them to watch one of each of these seminal sci-fi films. They shared their reactions and reflections, didn’t judge the special effects too harshly, and still shed tears when they thought ET had died. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.
I knew that Khan was Captain Kirk’s most famous rival, and I found both their accomplishments [William Shatner as Kirk and Ricardo Montalbán as Khan] really captivating. Khan is a dictator in the way he runs his crew, and Kirk is – I use the word carefully – a diplomat who continues to consider his crew. Their back and forth and banter is very timely. It’s two confident men just trying to nudge each other, and Kirk knows just how to get under Khan’s skin, like when he says, “I laugh at the superior intellect.” It’s a really great reflection of how how well they know each other and how much they hate each other. I wouldn’t call it funny that the machoism of those responsible hasn’t changed in the future, but I find it very interesting. Like, yeah, that’s still two guys trying to see whose ship is bigger.
I don’t know how I made it this far not knowing that Spock would die at the end. I feel like a terrible franchisee. Even when I saw the title [of “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”]there was no world in my mind where Spock died [in “The Wrath of Khan”]. I thought oh he got lost in a space supermarket. At first I thought they’d find a way to save him. And then cut to: Kirk gives his eulogy and Scotty plays the bagpipes and I cry. When people think of best sci-fi brothers, they think of Kirk and Spock, and it’s heartbreaking to see that love somehow separated. It was heartbreaking but beautiful, and I hope one day to be loved like Kirk loves Spock.
A “Cobra Kai” star watches “Tron.”
The old Tron movie is one of my dad’s favorites. I went and saw Tron: Legacy [the sequel, from 2010] with him to the cinemas. I remember we came out at the end and he was just so disappointed. And I thought it was the best thing ever. For months my brother and I would play this phone app, which was like the light bikes in “Tron,” and we’d race each other and try to cut each other off. I still like Tron: Legacy, but I definitely think the first Tron is better – I feel like the new one doesn’t hold a candle to the old.
My dad still had his old Atari when I was very young and I grew up with it. My brother and I played pong together, a lot of Pac-Man. My mom kicked my ass in Donkey Kong. So I was very used to that era of games and that aesthetic. I giggled the whole time [“Tron”] with some effects that definitely look older. But I was actually quite impressed – I’ve been trying to think of how they could have done it with the technology of the time, and everything I could think of just sounds like so much work. I thought, dude, how do you do it back then? Holy cow, these people were devoted.
Young Jeff Bridges looks so different than I know Jeff Bridges. I was really shocked. I was surprised how charismatic he was. I thought of him in “True Grit”  – it’s so different. He was the hotshot programmer at this giant gaming company and it would have been easy to play him a little nerdy, make him run-of-the-mill. Back then, many programmers were stigmatized as weird people. But he played it straight all the time. He was far too confident. I thought that was pretty cool.
The star of “Ms. Marvel” watches “Blade Runner”.
I have a feeling it hit the mark. It’s weird because it’s set in 2019 and now it’s not the future anymore, it’s the past. But the film eventually caught up with reality. It gives you a good look at where humanity stands compared to how people envisioned the future in the 80’s. Forget the flying cars, electronics, and technology—I feel like everyone of my generation is always looking for a higher purpose, or trying to prove they’re worthy or special enough to step into the limelight, or just deserve more life. Watching it again, I sympathize a lot more with the Replicants than I didn’t expect.
I’ve always thought of Harrison Ford as this cool Han Solo-esque guy, but I’ve never looked too closely at his performance until now. Seeing his face getting alcohol at the bar after killing the snake lady [Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy] – oh god, the vulnerability. Roy [Batty, played by Rutger Hauer], especially, is just an outstanding character for me. He’s clearly meant to be the nemesis or villain. But the way he delivered his final speech — the awe on his face — he’s one of the few characters who truly realized how beautiful humanity and life is.
I felt super existential after watching this movie. I thought what does it mean to be human? What’s the meaning of life? The usual sober thoughts on a Friday afternoon. It’s crazy to think it didn’t get the attention it deserved when it first came out. To be honest, I was trying to get people to see this film. It’s a task. I don’t know if today’s casual cinema audience would invest in a film like this. It requires a lot of patience. I feel like loving it requires complete submission emotionally and psychologically. And when you do, it’s phenomenal.
That was one of my great childhood films. I had an anniversary DVD that I watched until it was scratched [expletive]. Then it was gone for a very long time, and then I saw it on 35 millimeters in a theater in Atlanta while I was filming Stranger Things. As a more educated person, I saw things very differently. For me it was a lot of nerdy stuff. That opening scene where the kids are playing Dungeons & Dragons, the way it’s lit – the whole room is basically dark except in the middle of the room where they’re sitting at the table and there’s this super bright light, that lights up the blackboard and the children. I thought this film was shot so well. But it’s Spielberg. No hot shot.
This film totally traumatized me. [E.T.’s apparent death] is a real slap in the face. But it’s so deserved. It’s such a chaotic scene and it turns into another movie. It’s going to be this really serious surgery. Oh, we may never see these characters again. These two are in real danger. You’re watching a movie, which is a totally fun adventure, and then something happens where you realize that life is precious and things can die. But it’s not a cynical film at all. It’s really incredibly cute. I was talking to my dad about it the other day and told him I’d really like to do a film that’s for kids, but I want to have a moment in it that scares them [expletive] out of them forever. It’s fun and remembered and it shapes who you are and what you fear and what your sensitivities are.