3. They Live (1988)
At the end of the Reagan years, when poor John Rambo had been co-opted by warmongers and shipped to Afghanistan to fight commies, somebody had to say something about the cruel effects of "trickle down economics" on the domestic front. That job fell to The Thing and Escape from New York director John Carpenter, whose They Live is a scathing indictment of the era smuggled inside a great action vehicle for WWF's most popular bad guy, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
Piper plays Nada, a working-class everyman who walks into town with nothing but his tools and his sleeping bag. While staying in a homeless camp he discovers a box of sunglasses that, when worn, reveal the skeletal faces of alien infiltrators. It turns out that the rich authorities of society are invaders in disguise, polluting the earth and hoarding money for the benefit of their race. Others are humans who have willingly sold out in exchange for high-paying jobs.
As Nada observes his surroundings and uncovers the conspiracy, Piper provides legendary one-liners, Carpenter pulls out the visual stops, and eventually all hell breaks loose.
They Live's standout action scene, a five-and-a-half-minute alley fight between Nada and his friend Frank (Keith David), who refuses to try on the sunglasses, is also the most effective part of its political subtext. Piper's world-class wrestling skills are pit against the lengths citizens will go to avoid knowing the truth. In The Matrix terms, Frank would really rather take the blue pill. Ignorance is bliss. But bliss isn't always an option.
Sadly, Carpenter's portrait of the class divide has stayed relevant long past its original Reaganomics context. You wish it felt dated.