ShortList is supported by you, our amazing readers. When you click through the links on our site and make a purchase we may earn a commission. Learn more

The best '80s movies: the best films of the 1980s

Fantastic films from the 80s, an amazing decade of movies.

The best '80s movies: the best films of the 1980s
Marc Chacksfield
02 September 2021

The ‘80s was a pioneering decade for so much: music; technology; er, fashion. But ‘80s cinema was a true golden period - you only have to look at our best '80s movies to see this.

Unfortunately not everyone agrees with this. After the groundbreaking cinema of the ‘70s, the ‘80s were often seen as a bit of a disappointment.

UPDATE: We have added to our best movies of the '80s list. There are now 35 of the best '80s movies to choose from - including some that should never have been left off, such as The Karate Kid, Dirty Dancing and Predator!

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.

You can read our in-depth selections below. But, after much voting, Back To The Future is currently third, with Raiders Of The Lost Ark on top.

So here’s our list of the 30 best films of the 1980s, many of which are also the best movies on Netflix right now.

Best 80s movies

Best 80s movies

1. The Empire Strikes Back

View at Amazon

Year: 1980


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.

679
161
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

View at Amazon

Year: 1981


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.

692
177
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

3. Back to the Future

View at Amazon

Year: 1985


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.

693
198
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

4. The Terminator

View at Amazon

Year: 1984


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.

612
145
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

5. Die Hard

View at Amazon

Year: 1988



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.

616
178
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

6. Aliens

View at Amazon

Year: 1986


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.

594
158
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

7. Ghostbusters

View at Amazon

Year: 1984

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?

571
191
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

8. Blade Runner

View at Amazon

Year: 1982

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.

569
208
Thanks for voting

Year: 1982


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.

533
200
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

10. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Rent £3.49 (HD) / Buy £4.49 (HD) / Free with Prime
View at Amazon

Year: 1986


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…

548
228
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

11. The Shining

View at Amazon

Year: 1980

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.

499
199
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

12. The Breakfast Club

Buy Now

Year: 1985


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.

507
208
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

13. Stand By Me

View at Amazon

Year: 1986


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.

473
179
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

14. Full Metal Jacket

View at Amazon

Year: 1987


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.

488
195
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

15. Airplane!

View at Amazon

Year: 1980


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.

471
208
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

16. Platoon

View at Amazon

Year: 1986


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.

444
185
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

17. Scarface

View at Amazon

Year: 1983

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…

437
213
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

18. Robocop (1987)

£7.99
Buy 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.

269
122
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

19. The Thing

View at Amazon

Year: 1982

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.

387
247
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

20. Coming To America (1988)

£3.49
Rent 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.

262
158
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

21. Raging Bull

View at Amazon

Year: 1980


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.

315
248
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

22. Predator

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.

70
7
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

23. 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

68
8
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

24. Raising Arizona (1987)

£3.49
Rent on Amazon Prime Video

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.

210
159
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

25. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

View at Amazon

Year: 1982

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.

321
272
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

26. Wall Street

View at Amazon

Year: 1987


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.

308
262
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

27. 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!

52
15
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

28. Fatal Attraction

View at Amazon

Year: 1987


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.

289
257
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

29. 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

42
14
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

30. 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

38
27
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

31. Once Upon a Time in America

View at Amazon

Year: 1984

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.

268
276
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

32. Manhunter (1986)

£7.99
Buy on Amazon

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.

118
184
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

33. Blue Velvet

View at Amazon

Year: 1986


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.


224
306
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

34. The King of Comedy (1983)

Watch 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.

84
196
Thanks for voting
Best 80s movies

35. Do the Right Thing

View at Amazon

Year: 1989


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…

399
707
Thanks for voting

SOMETHING MISSING FROM OUR SHORTLIST?

Tell us about it, and if enough people agree we'll add it in.

Essential Streaming Deals, FREE TRIALS

1. Disney+ 7 days free
1. Disney+ 7 days free
£5.99 p/m after trial
2. Three months Amazon Music Unlimited for free
2. Three months Amazon Music Unlimited for free
DON'T MISS OUT
3. Prime Video 30 day Free Trial
3. Prime Video 30 day Free Trial
£7.99 p/m after 30 day trial
4. NOW TV Entertainment, 7 Days free
4. NOW TV Entertainment, 7 Days free
£8.99 p/m after trial (£20.98 Inc. Cinema)
5. NOW TV Sky Cinema, 7 Days free
5. NOW TV Sky Cinema, 7 Days free
£11.99 p/m after trail
6. NOW TV Kids, 7 Days free
6. NOW TV Kids, 7 Days free
£3.99 p/m after 7 day trail
7. NOW TV Hayu, 7 Days free
7. NOW TV Hayu, 7 Days free
£3.99 p/m after 7 day trail
8. Sky Sports, NOW TV
8. Sky Sports, NOW TV
£11.99 p/w after trail
9. Apple TV 7 day trial
9. Apple TV 7 day trial
£4.99 p/m after 7 day trial
10. Britbox 30 day Free Trial
10. Britbox 30 day Free Trial
£5.99 p/m after 30 day trail