The best '80s movies: the greatest films of the 1980s, ranked
Fantastic films from the 80s, an amazing decade of movies.
We had a lot of fun pulling together this list of the best '80s movies. We knew this was one impressive decade for film, but didn't quite realise how many of the most iconic and popular movies ever made hail from the 1980s. After all, it was a pioneering decade for so much: music; technology; er, fashion. But ‘80s cinema was a true golden period.
UPDATE: Our latest update stars two of the "most 80s" films in this entire list, arguably. First up we have Top Gun, the poster child for billboard-ready action blockbusters, and where Tom Cruise became a true action star in the minds of millions. And for something completely different, we have Labyrinth, which stars David Bowie in full giant barnet pomp, juggling crystal balls one-handed.
Unfortunately not everyone agrees the '80s was a great time for film. After the groundbreaking cinema of the ‘70s, the ‘80s were often seen as a bit of a disappointment. Compared with the serious, gritty films of the previous decade, it’s easy to see why. But then the ‘80s were about something else. While the blockbuster only really took shape in the late ‘70s, the ‘80s saw it in its prime, delivering hit after hit, commercially and critically and seeing top franchises, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars, kick off.
You can read our in-depth selections below. But, after much voting, it's been a head-to-head battle for some time. At the time of writing, Back To The Future is currently in the top spot, with Raiders Of The Lost Ark following close behind. But there's barely anything in it, so get voting if you don't agree.
Here’s our list of the 43 best films of the 1980s, many of which are also the best movies on Netflix right now.
- These are the best '90s movies
- The best movies of the 2000s revealed
- The best '70s movies: stunning films, each and every one.
Best 80s movies
1. Back to the FutureView at Amazon
Encapsulating everything that we love about ‘80s blockbusters, Robert Zemeckis’ flawless franchise-starter assembled a list of all the right ingredients.
Likable young lead? Check. Eccentric mentor? Check. Iconic soundtrack? Check. Groundbreaking special effects? Check. Damn, it had everything and it even spawned one of the greatest theme park rides ever.
2. Raiders of the Lost ArkView at Amazon
After George Lucas introduced the world of Star Wars to audiences, he decided to give his good friend Steven Spielberg a small gift. The character of Indiana Jones (originally Smith) came to life as an attempt to resurrect the adventure serials of the ‘30s.
In his first outing, he did this and more, turning an $18 million budget risk into a huge, franchise-starting, Oscar-winning blockbuster. Re-watching it now, it’s still hair-raisingly perfect stuff.
3. The Empire Strikes BackView at Amazon
While Star Wars introduced a thrilling new world with unique style and assurance, its first sequel took all the things we loved and somehow managed to improve upon them.
Although it’s now commonly seen as one of the few superior sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back received a surprisingly lukewarm response at the time from critics. Since then it’s been rediscovered as a darker, more complex offering than Star Wars.
4. The TerminatorView at Amazon
Although audiences had already seen Austrian bodybuiler Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan The Barbarian, it was James Cameron’s low-budget sci-fi thriller which truly launched his career.
It was also the first major movie for Cameron and the innovative use of cyborgs had a huge influence on the genre from then on. It also led to one of the finest sequels man has ever witnessed. Back slaps all round.
5. Die HardView at Amazon
The inarguable action movie highlight of the ‘80s saw Bruce Willis fighting bad guys and spouting one-liners in his soon-to-be trademark grubby vest. Keeping things simple, we had a maverick cop on one side and a bunch of terrorists on the other.
For brutal efficiency and sheer entertainment, it’s still hard to beat while the formula became endlessly copied by various action movie clones.
6. AliensView at Amazon
In creating a follow-up to Ridley Scott’s flawless sci-fi classic, James Cameron did the smartest thing. He went for something completely different. While Alien was about slow-build suspense, Aliens was about heart-thumping terror. Sigourney Weaver cemented her place as cinema’s most bad-ass heroine while the Alien universe opened itself up for numerous revisits.
7. GhostbustersView at Amazon
The ‘80s saw the beginning of a heckload of franchises and Ivan Reitman’s pitch perfect combination of comedy and horror was among the very best. In fact, it became the most commercially successful comedy of the decade while giving us one of the era’s most quotable, and yes eventually rather annoying, slogans. Who ya gonna call?
8. Blade RunnerView at Amazon
One of the many entries on the list which didn’t receive the reaction it deserved on release, it took many years for audiences to finally appreciate Ridley Scott’s bleak sci-fi masterpiece.
Years later, various cuts and restorations turned it into a deserved cult hit. It was a big decade for the genre but Scott’s dystopian thriller was arguably the darkest and most daring of the lot.
9. E.T.View at Amazon
Continuing what would be another banner decade, Steven Spielberg’s iconic sci-fi adventure was a perfect antitode to the post-Alien horrors that suggested all extra terrestrials would be thirsty for blood.
At the time, it surpassed Star Wars to become the highest-grossing movie ever released. A sequel called E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears was originally in the pipeline but Spielberg canned it, believing that it would affect our collective memory of the original. Good move.
10. The ShiningView at Amazon
Although it deviated quite dramatically from Stephen King’s original novel, Stanley Kubrick’s chilling tale of a haunted hotel is often referred to as the scariest film ever made.
It’s easy to see why with Jack Nicholson’s unhinged performance and Kubrick’s masterful direction combining to create something that still creates discussion to this day. Weird to think that at the time, it was nominated for two Razzie awards.
11. Ferris Bueller's Day OffView at Amazon
Yet another high school movie that became a classic in the ‘80s, this comedy subverted the genre by positioning most of the action outside of the high school. Matthew Broderick’s laid-back man of mischief was an enviable classmate, even if he never actually turned up to class.
The film showcased the reckless fun of pulling a sickie, even if we did worry somewhat for Ferris’s future in the workplace…
12. The Breakfast ClubBuy Now
Pretty much everything you know about the teen movie genre was created in one foul swoop in this seminal John Hughes classic. The jock, the geek, the princess, the goth and the drifter were all humanised and Hughes boasted an uncanny knack of getting into the minds of teenagers.
It influenced dozens of movies in its wake, including The Faculty, which was created as a direct homage.
13. Stand By MeView at Amazon
The first Stephen King adaptation that didn’t focus on horror, Rob Reiner’s sweet, but not saccharine, coming-of-age film became one of the defining films of the era. Focusing on four boys in search of a dead body, it tapped into what kids talk about when they’re by themselves.
You know, like cherry Pez. It also featured early appearances from John Cusack, Kiefer Sutherland and River Phoenix.
14. Full Metal JacketView at Amazon
Stanley Kubrick’s second entry on the list was another film that showed the darker side of the Vietnam War. Like Platoon, it didn’t glorify the soldiers involved and was a harrowing watch. It further showed the incredibly versatility of Kubrick as a director as he went from a horror to war seamlessly.
We were also given one of the most fearsome bad guys in cinema history in R Lee Ermey’s brutal Gunnery Sergeant.
15. PlatoonView at Amazon
Oliver Stone’s harrowing war epic helped to define him as one of the decade’s most important directors and the film deservedly picked up Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, among others.
Based loosely on Stone’s first-hand experience of the Vietnam war, the film was a deliberate antidote to John Wayne’s The Green Berets, which many thought glorified the conflict.
16. Airplane!View at Amazon
The funniest film of the decade was also one of the very first. The 70s were full of increasingly overwrought disaster movies, ripe for ridicule and the team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker decided that a spoof was well overdue.
It emerged as Shirley the greatest example of the genre still to this day, with an endlessly quotable stream of killer lines. It’s also one of the few films that can actually pull off an exclamation mark in the title.
17. ScarfaceView at Amazon
Brian De Palma’s wildly stylised gangster epic gave Al Pacino one of his most memorable performances as cocaine kingpin Tony Montana and shocked audiences at the time with its graphic violence and drug use.
In fact, during the film’s initial screening, there were numerous walkouts while Dustin Hoffman reportedly fell asleep. The film still has the power to shock even to this day. Quite a tough one to sleep through though…
Arnold Schwarzenegger movies were ten-a-penny in the '80s but there is something we love about the ridiculously schlocky Predator. The movie is a fantastic cat-and-mouse thriller that combines the horrors of war with a badass alien from another planet. The testosterone in this movie is rife but it's really about how machismo doesn't win out in the end - cunning does.
19. The ThingView at Amazon
John Carpenter’s gruesome update of the ‘50s sci-fi horror was yet another ‘80s movie that failed to make an impression on its initial release. After the friendliness of E.T., the shocking violence of The Thing was not what audiences wanted.
In the years since, it’s been regarded as one of the scariest and most effective horror films ever made. The special effects hold up to this day while the bleak tone distinguishes it from its peers.
20. Lethal Weapon
Quite how the Lethal Weapon franchise got family friendly further down the line is beyond us, given in the first film Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) goes home every night to put a loaded gun in his mouth but that's the power of the characters in Lethal Weapon. Scripted effortlessly by a then-young Shane Black and directed brilliantly by Richard Donner this is a film that melds black comedy with action seamlessly
21. RobocopBuy on Amazon Prime Video
If ever there was an 80s movie that sums of the 80s perfectly, then Robocop would be it. Filled with excess - drugs, violence, consumerism, technology - the movie is a sly look at what could happen in a world where the US becomes a dictatorship run by one company. It’s brash, violent and one big ironic take on just how bad things can get in America - in short: a movie that still resonates today.
22. The Karate Kid
It's fantastic to see the legacy of The Karate Kid live on in the fantastic Cobra Kai TV show - but it's all down to the fantastic characters and plot of the original movie as to why that show works. As he did with Rocky, director John G. Avildsen creates a superb rags to riches tale of a skinny kid who gets taught the way of life (and karate) by a brilliant mentor. We could all do with a Mr Miyagi in our lives!
23. Coming To AmericaRent on Amazon Prime Video
Reteaming with Eddie Murphy after their hit Trading Places, director John Landis creates a fantastic platform for Murphy who plays multiple roles in the movie, as well as his main role of Prince Akeem Joffer, the prince of Zamunda. While some of the jokes thoroughly miss now, thanks to their sexist and racist content, there is still a lot to love here.
24. Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)
One of the greatest post apocalyptic action movies ever made, Mad Max 2 (released as The Road Warrior in the US) is a sequel that ups the ante of the original in every conceivable way. The world building director George Miller did with this film is because his budget was significantly increased. While the third instalment unfortunately didn't live up to the hype (er, Tina Turner stars), the recent-ish Fury Road proves that Miller is still one of the best action directors around
25. Fast Times at Ridgemont HighView at Amazon
Kicking off what would become the greatest decade for teen movies we’ve ever seen, Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe’s comedy was based on Crowe’s undercover findings of what goes on in high schools.
As well as being seen as a well-observed and funny look at teenage life, it was also a hotbed for talent featuring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage in early appearances.
26. Raising Arizona
Joel and Ethan Coen their jet-black film noir debut Blood Simple with the superb technicolour Raising Arizona. Featuring Nic Cage at his best (where his acting chops and bizarreness are shown off in equal measure), along with the brilliant Holly Hunter, the movie is an hilarious look at what happens when you take something that doesn’t belong to you - in this case, a baby.
27. Raging BullView at Amazon
Martin Scorsese’s searing portrait of a troubled boxer helped to begin another decade in style for De Niro, who was arguable the most acclaimed performer of the 70s. As Jake LaMotta, he gave a blistering turn, full of rage and jealousy and it earned him his second Oscar.
Sadly the film lost out to family drama Ordinary People for the Best Picture Oscar, a move that is still recognised as one of the biggest Academy Award travesties ever.
28. Wall StreetView at Amazon
Near the end of the ‘80s, Oliver Stone’s financial drama worked as both a massively entertaining thriller and also as a sort of historical bookmark. Typifying the excesses of the era with the focus on what you earn rather than what you do, it’s one of the most “eighties” films on the list.
In the same year as his role in Fatal Attraction, it was his iconic performance as Gordon Gekko that won Michael Douglas the Best Actor Oscar.
29. The GooniesView at Amazon
Speak to anyone who was a kid in the 80s and we’re pretty sure they’ll tell you that The Goonies was one of their favourite movies growing up. This 1985 classic adventure is about a group of kids who embark on a treasure hunt in an attempt to stop their homes being demolished. They have all kinds of obstacles to contend with, including traps and a criminal family, all while learning about friendship and working as a team. It’s a beloved movie for a reason and is still as fun to watch today as it was nearly forty years later.
30. Fatal AttractionView at Amazon
One of the scariest films of the decade didn’t focus on a monster or an alien but rather on a spurned lover. With fears of HIV spreading, the story of an affair that comes back to haunt a married man was timely and rather terrifying.
In just under two hours, Glenn Close managed to convince most of the audience to avoid indulging in extra-marital relations. The film also scored six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress.
31. Dirty Dancing
Despite the plot going into some pretty serious areas, Dirty Dancing was one of the most (literally) uplifting movies of the '80s, with the star charisma of Patrick Swayze melding perfectly with newcomer Jennifer Grey. Plucked from obscurity at a quiet holiday resort, Baby (Grey) is trained up by charismatic bad boy Johnny Castle to carry watermelons and have the time of her life dancing
32. PoltergeistView at Amazon
Poltergeist is a 1982 horror movie all about a suburban family who are haunted by evil spirits when their daughter is abducted by them. This movie is renowned for its special effects, which at the time were groundbreaking. It’s full of creepy moments, jump scares, and lots of memorable performances from the cast. It’s another movie in our list that truly stands the test of time.
33. The Princess BrideView now at Amazon
Despite growing into a cult classic, The Princess Bride was not a major hit at its release. It’s a fairytale adventure in which Westley, played by a young Carey Elwes, has to find his one true love after she is abducted by Prince Humperdinck. The most memorable character in this romp has to be Inigo Montoya, also responsible for the film’s most-quoted lines, played by Mandy Patinkin in his pre-bearded era.
34. Once Upon a Time in AmericaView at Amazon
Sergio Leone’s first and last (partly) English language film paired him with Robert De Niro, someone who knows a thing or two about the gangster genre. The sprawling epic spanned almost fifty years in the lives of New York’s underworld of crime and its running time has been a cause of controversy ever since its premiere at Cannes.
Originally 4 hours and 29 minutes, it was severely cut for American release, much to Leone’s distaste, but a restored version is now available.
35. Top GunView now at Amazon
Who would have thought Top Gun Maverick could successfully follow up this 1986 classic? It’s the film that truly propelled Tom Cruise into super-stardom, and one of the quintessential 80s blockbusters. Top Gun is a slice of action movie cheese grilled to perfection. Granted, Cruise has been in deeper and more dramatically rewarding movies. But if you’re willing to sink into this aggrandisement of the military, softened with a touch of homoeroticism, you’re in for a good time.
36. LabyrinthView now at Amazon
Not so much a best flat-out film of the 80s as one of the best films for people who were kids in the 1980s (and 90s), this Jim Henson dark fantasy musical is a campy family romp. It starts a lycra clad David Bowie as Jareth, an all-time iconic performance, and not just for the costume. While it pairs well with a dollop of nostalgia, the soundtrack contains some true bangers. And in the cohort of Dark Crystal, Neverending Story, it’s Labyrinth that holds up best these days for a casual, fun watch.
37. AmadeusView now at Amazon
Milos Foreman’s Amadeus is based on the real-life relationship between Mozart and his peer, and rival of sorts, Salieri. The older composer Salieri is riven with jealousy at the success and talents of Mozart, and plots his downfall. We have a feeling some of you may have been put off by Amadeus’s seemingly worthy subject matter, but this is a human movie above all else, with a funny and charming side to offset the bitterness of the core themes.
38. My Neighbour TotoroView now at Amazon
All of Studio Ghibli’s 80s movies are worth a watch, but My Neighbour Totoro is our number one recommendation for its sheer all-embracing charm. A pair of young school girls find a mysterious furry creature in the woods. It’s a magical movie, suffused with the wonder of nature and the power of a child’s imagination.
39. AkiraView now at Amazon
This film showed a generation that animated films aren’t just for kids. It’s actually totally unsuitable for younger kids, thanks to the violence and menace put up on screen. The story is centred around two teenagers living in a Tokyo rebuilt after the city was levelled in a nuclear explosion. But Tetsuo has been part of a secret government experiment and has powers he is not fully able to control. Carnage ensues.
While it may not be as iconic as Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter is a fantastic dip into the mythology of Hannibal Lector - this time played by the chilling Brian Cox. Directed by Michael Mann who pretty much made the look of the 80s with Miami Vice, this is a neo-noir wonder, filled with synths and suspense. Tom Noonan as The Tooth Fairy is worth the price of admission alone, but we also love the grizzled William Petersen as Will Graham.
41. Blue VelvetView at Amazon
While David Lynch had already made his mark as one of cinema’s most offbeat directors with Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Dune, it wasn’t until Blue Velvet that we finally saw what he was truly capable of.
One of the decade’s most experimental and daring films, it showed us suburban America in a way we’d never seen it before. Lynch’s film also became the topic of endless discussion for its mysterious themes and various interpretations.
42. The King of ComedyWatch now on Amazon Prime
The King of Comedy found itself with a whole new batch of fans, thanks to The Joker - a movie that plays (more than) homage to Martin Scorsese’s fantastic film. Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, someone who dreams of being a celebrity, creating his own talk show in his mother’s basement (and in his own mind). What ensues is a movie that shows how far people will go to gain celebrity status and what rejection does to those who are already of a fragile mind.
43. Do the Right ThingView at Amazon
Spike Lee’s controversial take on racial tension in Brooklyn gave the writer/director/actor a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It’s worth nothing that, as of 2018, only four black writers have ever been nominated in this category.
On a small budget, the film was a surprise hit and helped to establish Lee as one of the leading talents of the independent sphere going into the next decade…