Early Movie Memories

VHS Tape: The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the JediIn the most recent Filmspotting podcast, the hosts recount their top 5 early film memories. As you might imagine, their memories are peppered with early 80s standards like Drive-In theaters, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., Top Gun, and others.

One thing I realized about my early movie experiences is that none of them are memories of going to a movie theater. For whatever reason, my family didn’t go to the theater that often when my brother and I were young. As such, most of my movies experiences came from HBO and the VCR. Since my parents recently cleaned out the VHS tape drawer, I got a hold of some of the old standards. For the most part, I’ve replaced these movies with DVDs, but I’ll probably keep the tapes out of sentimental value. Anyway, without further delay, here are my top 5 early movie memories (in no particular order).

  • The Terminator: I could be wrong, but I believe this to be the first non-cartoon movie I ever saw. Not exactly children’s fare, but it totally blew me away. When my family finally got a VCR, this was amongst the first movies we taped and I rewatched it countless times. We’re talking at least triple digits here. To this day, this remains one of my favorite movies of all time.
  • The Last Starfighter: When my parents finally broke down and purchased a VCR, this was the first movie we taped. It’s not fine cinema, but it’s fun stuff and it was the first movie I watched and rewatched. Ultimately, I think we ended up taping over this, but it still holds a certain sentimental value (like The Terminator, it was one of the first non-cartoons I had seen). This film is also the source of one of the single geekiest moments of my adult life: this movie came up during a lunch discussion, and someone asked what that special weapon they used at the end of the movie was called. Without hesitation, I responded “Deathblossom.” I don’t know why I would remember such a thing, but it was quite a moment.
  • The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi: Of course, these need to be on the list. More films that I captured on tape and watched over and over again (the tape label is pictured to the right). You’ll note that the original Star Wars is not on the tape. This is because that movie wasn’t on HBO that night, it was just Empire and Jedi. I don’t think it would have fit on the tape anyway. Also worth noting is that this is the pre-special edition version of the films, complete with crappy composite special effects (particularly funny looking when it came to tie fighters – I wish I had a video card that had video inputs so I could really show the difference between the old and the new). Nevertheless, those were the versions of the film that I fell in love with. A pity that we’ll probably never get those films re-released properly (and apparently the one coming in september is a crappy re-release of the old Laserdisc version). I vaguely remember this being in theaters (and the long lines stretching blocks away from the theater), though I was only 5 at the time and I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it in the theater. In any case, a cherished part of my childhood movie experience.
  • Batman: This was definitely not the first film I saw in the theater, but it is one of the most memorable. It was the first time, I think, that the hype of Hollywood really got to me (and apparently everyone else) and seeing the movie in the theater was a ton of fun. I specifically remember this because my family was on vacation in Ohio (visiting relatives) and I was pretty sure I was going to miss opening weekend, but it seemed that the family was into the idea so we did end up seeing it on opening night. I remember loving the movie, though I think I’ve grown out of that opinion a bit. I still like it, but it’s not as great as I once thought. In any case, this, to me was the start of hype and summer blockbusters for me. It seemed that there was a big movie like this every summer. I think I started to come down from that buzz by the time Terminator 2 let me down and the idea completely died with Independence Day.
  • Spaghetti Westerns: I vividly remember one summer where Cinemax was running a Western retrospective. I didn’t much care for Westerns and never really got why John Wayne was such a star (and still don’t, though I’m willing to bet I would if I went out and watched more of his movies!), but one Wednesday night at midnight, I caught For a Few Dollars More and it blew me away. Who knew a Western could be interesting? Come to think of it, this may have been a Clint Eastwood marathon too, because I remember watching a lot of his movies around the same time too. In any case, I remember the Spaghetti Westerns the most because they came on every Wednesday at midnight (and it was summer, so I didn’t have to worry about getting up for school in the morning – this may have contributed to the appeal) and each successive one I saw was better than the last (though I think I watched them in the wrong order). The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was my favorite, and would probably show up in my favorite all time movies list…
  • Honorable Mentions: Ghostbusters, Real Genius (I actually tried to build a laser after watching this movie. Unfortunately, flashlights and magnifying glasses do not a laser make.), Back to the Future, Top Gun, Commando, Predator, and Trading Places. Special notice goes to Halloween and Aliens for introducing me to the horror genre (I was a scaredy cat for most of my childhood, but those films started an interest that still holds today. I was forced to watch Halloween on, well, Halloween night one year when I was staying with a friend. I watched Aliens because someone told me that it was made by the same people that made The Terminator… In both cases, I realized that I liked the tension of the experience, and so I got over my fear of horror villains and monsters and started devouring horror movies). Really, there are a ton of others and I’m probably leaving some out here, but those were the ones that came to mind…

Because the grand majority of these were not seen in the theater, I find it difficult to place these experiences on a timeline. I saw most of them on cable (HBO for a time, then we switched to Cinemax when the family moved), which means it could be anytime up to a few years (and in some cases, a few decades) after the film was originally released (I had this same issue with my Atari retrospective because I only got gaming systems once the price came down significantly, so all my memories are displaced by a few years).

Also, there really needs to be an easier way to insert IMDB links into an entry or something. It looks like there might be some Movable Type hacks for this, but nothing that looks too comprehensive or stable. Maybe I should put on my programmer’s hat for a change (but don’t count on it).

Feel free to post your early movie memories in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Early Movie Memories”

  1. I remember a few pretty vividly:

    The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was actually “Runaway” with Tom Selleck. I was pretty young, but I remember seeing this at a drive-in theater near my home (now closed, but the giant sign remains). Christ, I’d have been five when I saw this. Crazy.

    The Star Wars trilogy was one of the earliest movies I remember watching over-and-over again. I used to watch it every time I went over to my grandmother’s house.

    Speaking of which, she let me watch Robocop when I was 8. Heh. Awesome.

    I also remember watching the Last Starfighter! A bunch of others, in no particular order (because, like you said, it’s hard to remember when they’re on VHS/Betamax- yes, we recorded things on Beta)- Dragon Slayer, Clash of the Titans, Zombie Lake (the edited version from Thriller Double Feature), Neverending Story, Willow, Ghostbusters, Road House, Eddie and the Cruisers. There are, of course, more, but those stick out- I *Hated* Road House and Eddie and the Cruisers, but my sister *loved* them, so they were on a lot.

  2. Holy crap, Runaway! I’ve had an upcoming post in mind for a while, sort of a play off the “Offbeat movie corner” posts I do. I’d call it “Bad movie corner.” Movies that I like despite the fact that they’re horrible. Runaway was one of the first that came to mind. As was Lone Wolf McQuade and Real Men. All of which have been on Encore/Starz recently. Ahhh, brings back some memories. It seems my tolerance for bad movies was much higher back then…

    I’ve only recently seen Road House all the way through. I’d seen bits and pieces before, but never the whole thing. It was fun enough, in a “So bad it’s good” kinda way. I’m really intrigued to hear Kevin Smith’s commentary on the newly released Road House DVD…

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