The 80s… the era of excess. The indulgent lifestyles of the 80s were exploited in many ways on the big screen, but we’re going to focus on one area in particular, extreme sports. You name it and there’s probably a cheesy movie about it in the 80s. Whether you’re looking for a cutback on a tasty wave or a judo air on an old vert ramp, this list of films has you covered.
List Criteria: No football allowed… the film must involve skateboarding, surfing, skiing, or BMX. There preferably needs to be some sort of competition involved, it’s not mandatory, but it helps. The film has to have a storyline – there are tons of great skate and surf videos from the 80s, but if there’s no plot they’re not making the cut.
Sidenote: A lot of these are available to watch online for free. I’ll do my best to include links below, you’re welcome.
SKATEBOARD MADNESS (Julian Pena Jr, 1980)
What’s it about?: A half-assed writer is given an ultimatum to get a killer story about skateboarding, or start looking for new employment. So he does what any self respecting journalist does, he goes out to find his scoop.
Why should I watch it?: Skateboard Madness isn’t a great movie, actually it’s somewhat lame. But it has a weird charm to it that makes it endearing. Skateboarding was also heading out of the 70s and it’s interesting to see how the sport was evolving… let’s not forget, there’s also extreme rollerskating in there too.
BMX BANDITS (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1983)
What’s it about?: A group of young BMX bikers stumble on a robbery plot and are forced to use their riding skills to help get the police involved before it’s too late.
Why should I watch it?: It’s one of Nicole Kidman’s first major roles, so that’s one reason. It’s also set in Sydney and feels a little different from all the other films on the list. It’s an entertaining story that doesn’t overstay its welcome and it will make you wanna drop your fixie for a fresh blue Mongoose instead.
HOT DOG… THE MOVIE (Peter Markle, 1984)
What’s it about?: A farm boy who rules at freestyle skiing heads to California to compete with the best of the best, along the way he picks up a runaway and proceeds to find himself involved in lots of parties, while still getting ready for the final contest.
Why should I watch it?: Take a little bit of Porky’s and mix it in with a ski film, how can you go wrong? This movie is a good time, filled with stupid laughs, and lots of T&A. It’s the essential 80s competition movie. I debated even adding skiing into the list of “extreme” sports, the only reason I did was to include this movie.
THRASHIN’ (Dave Winters, 1986)
What’s it about?: Two skateboard gangs go head to head while one member falls in love with the rival gang leader’s sister.
Why should I watch it?: Because you can see a young Josh Brolin in his prime, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the skateboard jousting fight, which is worth the price of admission alone.
RAD (Hal Needham, 1986)
What’s it about?: Cru Jones (what a great name) is a paperboy who’s looking to showcase his biking skills at Hell Track, a new course and home to the biggest race in BMX history.
Why should I watch it?: Ok here it comes: Aunt Becky from Full House is a hot BMXing bad ass, the twins and their ridiculous costumes, the BMX slow dance set to “Send Me An Angel”, the water slide scene, and the final race which is actually pretty rad… no pun intended. I was a massive fan of this film as a child, so it gets by on that fact, but for a first time watch be warned… it’s a little corny.
WINNERS TAKE ALL (Fritz Kiersch, 1987)
What’s it about?: A local motocross hotshot returns home to find admiration and praise of his success, but not everyone is impressed. He is pitted against his lifelong friend in a race to prove who has the skills to pay the bills.
Why should I watch it?: This film rips off Rad, except you have motocross instead of BMX. I know I didn’t include motocross up there in the list criteria, but it’s close enough to fit. Winners Take All is very cheesy and funny in a so-good-it’s-bad kind of way.
THE SEARCH FOR ANIMAL CHIN (Stacy Peralta, 1987)
What’s it about?: A group of skaters known as The Bones Brigade set out to find a missing legend known as Won Ton “Animal” Chin.
Why should I watch it?: This is a skate video more than a movie, but… it’s the first skate video to have a real plot and acting. The whole storyline aspect really didn’t become a “thing” in the skate world, so it’s kind of worth seeing for that alone. It’s cheap looking, the acting is shit, but the skating is old school greatness and that’s what you want from it anyways.
SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (Peter George, 1987)
What’s it about?: A group of neo-nazi surfers kill a man and his mama sets out to make sure they must die.
Why should I watch it?: As a big fan of Troma, there’s no way I’m not including this. It delivers the kind of cheesiness you’d expect from the people that brought you The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, but Surf Nazis Must Die is also kind of good. It incorporates a decent revenge angle, unlikable antagonists, and the synth score (which is the real star of the film) is truly amazing.
NORTH SHORE (William Phelps, 1987)
What’s it about?: Rick wins a local surf contest at a wave pool in Arizona. He takes his hard earned cash and spends the summer surfing the big waves at the North Shore of Hawaii. It’s a dream come true right? Well, he gets a wake up call pretty quick when he realizes Hawaii isn’t all that he thought it’d be.
Why should I watch it?: This is easily the best film on the list and one of my personal favorites that I’ve seen too many times to count. Is nostalgia involved? Yes, but I can’t help it. I’m like a mother who looks at her ugly child and thinks it’s beautiful. To me, it can do no wrong. It takes all the aspects of these films and manages to create a perfect installment within the genre. With insanely memorable characters and locations, this film is a true “must see” for 80s fans.
GLEAMING THE CUBE (Grayme Clifford, 1989)
What’s it about?: Christian Slater’s brother is murdered and he sets out with his board in order to find out who is responsible.
Why should I watch it?: Like North Shore and Rad, this was a big part of my childhood and it gets a nostalgia pass. However, it’s well constructed and has an interesting story that paces itself nicely. I also love Christian Slater’s performance, I don’t think the film would hold up as well with someone else as the lead.