Flight of the Navigator: The Most Underrated Movies of the 1980s


Even though this Disney classic has fallen into relative obscurity, it’s hardly forgotten three decades later…

A lot of wonderful things were born in the 1980s, even if you weren’t. Please don’t make me rattle off a list. Obviously, the 80s were a time of excess, as the tale is told, but I like to refer to the time as “Peak White People!” (the exclamation point is absolutely required), a period when flamboyant self expression was prioritized over a sense of personal humility and shame in America. It’s not necessarily a time I wish to revisit, but it’s an awesome decade to reflect on  and even though it’s really not. The populace was both wearing clothes and consuming foods made of colors the world had never seen before. Hairstyles for men and women stretched as far as the eye could see. And movies… well, compared to right now, deals exclusively dealt from a deck of Ultra Safe Bets (“I’ll see your remake and comic book adaptation, and raise you one reboot and a series of sequelized spinoffs!”), but back then, it was almost like anything goes in movie theaters.


I don’t mean to downplay the importance of 70s films here. But I also wasn’t there (man!) I respect that they were made for a generation understandably more cynical and soured over shit like the battle for civil rights, Vietnam, and the Nixon administration. The gritty crime dramas, morose hippie flicks and grandiose Godfather-esque sagas with one foot still rooted in the pageantry of old-timey Hollywood. To say that the 1970s was one of the most important decades for movies is probably an understatement, but I’d also be lying if I said they were all that fun to revisit today. However, that all changed in 1977. You see where I’m going here, right?

star wars poster

STAR WARS: A Film A Lot of People Like! But I don’t want to linger too long on that. First of all, I love that the haircuts and clothing still keep it rooted in the 1970s. It’s weird to think about Star Wars as The Most Watched Movie of the 1970s, but unless you go out of your way to show your kid Fox and the Hound, it’s unlikely your children will ever see, let alone like, any movie from the 70s more than Star Wars. But more importantly for this piece, Star Wars feels like an 80s phenomenon because A) that’s when the phenomenon was in full swing (other than the Holiday special and some scant action figures, everything significant Star Wars event occurred after 1980) and B) that’s the period when Star Wars’ influence on films was the most profound.

flight of the navigator open

Perhaps the greatest things about Star Wars’ success (and not just expressly for the purposes of this article), was how wrong it proved everybody in the movie business. Nobody wanted to make it, nobody expected anybody to like it once it was miraculously made, and nobody anticipated there was money to be made after it was released in theaters. I expect you to know Star Wars history pretty fucking well by this point, dear reader, so believe me when I say that when it came to the movie beeswax, I can’t think of anything else in human history where so many supposed experts in their field had been wrong to such a drastic and embarrassing degree. (Okay, maybe Star Trek)

star-wars-1977 premiere
Put ya hands up if you’re difficult to demographically target

Usually when people are proven this fucking wrong, to such a spectacular degree, they get fired. Instead, the lesson of Star Wars (coupled with the rise of cable, VHS, and everything else that was beautiful about 80s excess) was that their was a world of other ideas the movie business had probably also been wrong about, like science fiction, were now fertile ground. If your script had a spaceship (or Steven Spielberg’s name on it) it had beyond a good chance of getting greenlit for the first time since the 1950s.

flight of the navigator ship

Oh yes, the 1970s is not without a few sci-fi classics. Feel free to name a few in your head, I’ll wait… now, how many of those films were maudlin political parables? Hell, how many 70s sci-fi movies end with the death of the main character or the complete destruction of society?! (Thank you, Planet of the Apes.) It took Star Wars to bring back the subgenre of Science Fiction of Adventure, or a look forward that didn’t involve a depressing dystopia wrapped in constant metaphors for THE FOLLY OF MAN’S HUBRIS

planet of the apes 1968
One of my favorite movies of all-time. But it may have ruined sci-fi in the 70s

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8 thoughts on “Flight of the Navigator: The Most Underrated Movies of the 1980s

  1. Love reading and hearing you or any of the other hosts talking about things you love as much as this Chris, very good read!

  2. Awesome stuff. I watched this movie many times in the 80s. I haven’t seen it in 25 years or whatever. The first GIF reminds me of The Host. Very cool.

  3. Fantastic stuff as always, Chris!
    Like most movies I watched as a kid, I somehow blocked out the insanely terrifying and psychologically scarring moments and only remembered the “cool stuff”. It was only after rewatching movies like Flight of the Navigator, Pinocchio and Dumbo years later that I realized how emotionally intense they really are!!
    Thanks for writing this!

  4. Fantastic job Chris. What a comprehensive write up! Seeing Condorman in any article always gives me a chuckle. It was one of those weird movies from my childhood that I’m almost convinced didn’t happen.

  5. “It was apparently released by Tri-Star Entertainment, and the packaging contains no mention of the company who made it. What the hell, Disney?!”Just want to state the film was made by independent company PSO, the UK blu-ray also wasn’t released by Disney, it was released by Second Sight. All this info is on the blu-ray packaging.

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