If you were a moviegoer in the 1980s, you were constantly presented with imaginative questions that seemed cosmic and existential. Would humanity one day resolve its differences here on Earth and learn to travel the stars as a united species? Or were we destined for a dystopian future with little more to look at than smog skies and giant billboards? Did our advancing technology have the ability to take us literally or replace us completely? Could we ever encounter extraterrestrial life that was intelligent and benevolent? Some of these questions would certainly have been answered in the distant future year 2000.
‘Blade Runner’, ‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’, ‘Tron’ and ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’, all released 40 years ago, in the summer of ’82, have become foundational works and shape the following decades of fantasy franchises. But what if this wasn’t the science fiction cinema you grew up with? What if you came of age in a later generation and only knew these films as celebrated, if somewhat distant influences? Would they still seem exciting, innovative and thought-provoking? Or – to face another terrifying speculative scenario – wouldn’t they just seem cool?
To find out for ourselves, we turned on four stars of the present day — all born in the 21st century — and asked them each to watch one of those groundbreaking science fiction movies. They shared their reactions and reflections, didn’t judge the special effects too harshly, and still cried when they thought ET died. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.
I knew Khan was Captain Kirk’s most famous rival, and I loved both performances [William Shatner as Kirk and Ricardo Montalbán as Khan] really exciting. Khan is very much a dictator in the way he manages his crew, and Kirk is – I use the word very carefully – a diplomat who takes his crew into consideration. Their back-and-forth and their chatter is very much of the time. They’re two confident men just trying to poke at each other, and Kirk knows exactly how to get under Khan’s skin, like when he says, “I laugh at the superior intellect.” It really is a great reflection of how well they know each other and how deeply they hate each other. I wouldn’t call it funny that the machoism of the responsible men has not changed in the future, but I do find that very interesting. Like, yeah, these are still two guys trying to see whose ship is bigger.
I don’t know how I got this far without knowing Spock dies at the end. I feel like a terrible franchise member. 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 was like, oh, he was lost in a supermarket in space. At first I thought, they’re going to figure out 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 sci-fi’s best bros, they think of Kirk and Spock, and it’s heartbreaking to see that love somehow broken. It was heartbreaking but beautiful, and I hope one day to be loved the way Kirk loves Spock.
A star of “Cobra Kai” watches “Tron”.
The old movie “Tron” is one of my dad’s favorites. I went and saw “Tron: Legacy” [the sequel, from 2010] with him in the cinemas. I remember we came out at the end and he was just so disappointed. And I thought it was the best ever. Months after that, my brother and I played this phone app that was a bit like the light bikes in “Tron”, and we would 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 won’t light a candle with the old one.
When I was very young, my father still had his old Atari, and I grew up with that. My brother and I played Pong together, a lot of Pac-Man. My mom would kick me in the ass in Donkey Kong. So I was very used to that era of games and that aesthetic. I was laughing the whole time [“Tron”] with some effects that definitely look older. But I was actually quite impressed – trying to figure out how they could have done this with the technology back then, and all I could think of just sounds like so much work. I was like, dude, how did they do this then? Holy cow, these people were devoted.
Young Jeff Bridges looks so different than I know Jeff Bridges. I was really shocked. I was amazed at how charismatic he was. I thought of him in “True Grit”  – this is so different. He was the hotshot coder at this massive gaming company and it would have been easy to play him a little nerdy, make him more average. At the time, many programmers were stigmatized as strange people. But he played it straight the whole time. He was way too confident. I thought that was pretty cool.
The star of “Ms. Marvel” is watching “Blade Runner.”
I have a feeling it’s a bull’s eye. It’s weird because it’s set in 2019 and now it’s no longer the future, it’s the past. But the film finally caught up with reality. It gives you a good look at where humanity stands, versus how people in the 80s envisioned the future. Forget the flying cars, the electronics and technology – I feel like everyone of my generation is always looking for a higher purpose or trying to prove that they are enough or special enough to be in the spotlight, or just worth more life to be. I find that on rewatching, I sympathize with the replicants a lot more, in a way I didn’t expect.
I’ve always thought of Harrison Ford as this cool, Han Solo-esque dude, but I’ve never really watched his performance until now. See his face when he drank alcohol at the bar after killing the snake lady? [Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy] – oh, God, the vulnerability. Roy [Batty, played by Rutger Hauer], most importantly, is just a standout character for me. He is clearly meant to be the nemesis or the villain. But the way he delivered his last speech – the awe on his face – he’s one of the few characters who really realized how beautiful humanity and life are.
I felt super-existential after seeing this movie. I thought, what does it mean to be human? What is the meaning of life? The usual sober Friday afternoon thoughts. It’s crazy to think it didn’t get the attention it deserved when it came out in the first place. Honestly, I tried to get people to watch this movie. It’s a job. I don’t know if today’s mainstream movie audience would invest in a movie like this. It does require a lot of patience. I feel like you have to completely submit, emotionally and psychologically, to love it. And once you do, it’s phenomenal.
This was one of my great childhood movies. I had an anniversary DVD that I watched until it was scratched [expletive]. Then it went away for a really long time, and then I saw it at 35 millimeters in an Atlanta theater while I was filming ‘Stranger Things’. Seeing it as a more formed 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 for the center of the room, where they’re sitting at the table, and there’s a super bright light that illuminates the board and the children. I was like, this movie is shot so well. But it’s Spielberg. Not a hot take at all.
That movie 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 a very serious operation. Oh, we may never see these characters again. These two are in real danger. You watch a movie which is a really fun adventure and then something happens where you realize that life is precious and things can die. But it’s not a cynical movie at all. It’s actually incredibly sweet. I was talking to my father about it recently and I said to him: I would really like to make a movie that is for children, but I want a moment there when the [expletive] forever out of them. It’s fun and they remember it and it shapes who you are and what you’re afraid of and what your sensitivities are.