After a recent social media discussion over best movies of the 1980’s, I couldn’t resist putting together my own list. It took about 1 minute of list creation to discover that my favorite 80s movies fall into two general categories: “80s Great” and “Classics Made in the 80s.” A crude division, but it really works. Humor me…
The classics just happened to be made in the 80s, but are timeless movies. They’ll be understood and endeared decades from now, and don’t depend on any kind of cultural zeitgeist that you just had to be there to understand.
On the other hand, there were some movies that were great for the 80s, but seeing them now…welllll… Hey, I’m not judging. Cheesy, oversimplified or hyper-dated can still be fun, but perspective always changes in the rearview mirror. Even James Dean loses a little cool if you don’t consider the time and context. Ok, maybe not James Dean, but you get the point.
I don’t know if movies like The Breakfast Club or Say Anything will be relatable in another 50 years, but in the 80s – they captured the moment perfectly.
All my opinion and in purely alphabetical order for each list…
80s Great – cuz they may not work in any other decade
- Airplane – taking puns to their highest level ever.
- Back to the Future – more prophecy now than fiction, you have no 80s cred without a soft spot for this movie
- Better Off Dead – John Cusack and an Asian kid who learned English through Howard Cosell. Need I say more?
- Beverly Hills Cop – Eddie Murphy + Action Movie = Good Times
- Big – this cherish every moment in life tale could be on the Classic list, but every decade produces a movie like this. This one just worked in the 80s.
- The Breakfast Club – Music, attitudes, struggles, fashion. This is the 80s.
- Caddyshack – Best. Sports. Comedy. Ever.
- Christmas Vacation – “That there…that’s an R.V.” If this isn’t familiar, you have a piece of your soul missing and you don’t even know it.
- Coming to America – in this pre-cursor to WacArnolds jokes, this ludicrous only in the 80s plot brings an African prince to America to find a wife. Standard lunacy follows.
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High – stereotyping everything about 80s high schools. It just works.
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – skipping school done right.
- Ghostbusters – it’s a comedy about busting ghosts. Must watch.
- Goonies – classic 80s kids adventure, but done SO well. Spielberg really can tell a story.
- Gremlins – cheesy, corporate, family horror. I can’t even explain why I like this movie, I just do.
- Karate Kid – newcomer/underdog/blue collar kid teams up with karate instructor drunk from Japan to defeat rich jerks. Only works in 1984. “Get him a body bag. Yeahhh!”
- The NeverEnding Story – It’s so epically and cheesily 80s, it just had to be on the list. Kids adventure, imaginary fantasy, bad special effects, terrible dialogue. So much fun!
- Pretty in Pink – John Hughes…you do 80’s youth better than anyone. This one is no exception.
- Princess Bride – Columbo tells Kevin Arnold bedtime stories featuring Andre the Giant. This was actually a movie…and it rocked.
- Say Anything – IMO, the movie that made John Cusack. So very 80s and enjoyable. Good story to this day.
- Sixteen Candles – a teen movie that actually captured a feeling. Rare in any decade.
- Terminator – Both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movie. Worth the watch. Most of their movies that followed…not so much.
- Top Gun – You weren’t more 80’s cool than Tom Cruise playing Navy F-14 pilot “Maverick” cool. It’s just not possible.
- Trading Places – Wonderfully using stereotypes and social stigmas for humor, my favorite Eddie Murphy movie.
- Tron – It made CGI in movies mainstream with a great story. Still a fun watch.
- Weird Science – Who says you can’t create a supermodel and a nuclear weapon with the same machine?
Classics Made in the 80s – entertaining forever
- 1984 – Orwell’s timeless tale of government gone wild. Read the book. Watch the movie.
- Batman – Tim Burton took comic book movies to a new place, and deserves a ton of credit for making that happen.
- The Blues Brothers – “There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it.”
- Chariots of Fire – Dealing with issues of racism, religion and personal ambition, this movie covered a lot of ground in the 80s.
- A Christmas Story – The 24-hour marathons each December still pay homage to this comedy classic.
- Dead Poets Society – Possibly Robin Williams’ best, this story inspired and challenged everyone who saw it.
- Die Hard – With this movie, Bruce Willis changed action movies forever! Wit plus gratuitous explosions clearly equals enjoyable forever.
- Elephant Man – The heartbreaking biography forces you to be a more compassionate and empathetic person. Rare movie making.
- Empire of the Sun – An adult world of a WW2 Japanese prison camp seen through the eyes of a child. Fascinating story.
- ET – Who would have ever thought a kid befriend an alien could touch so many people.
- Full Metal Jacket – One of multiple 80s movies that featured a thought provoking view of Vietnam era military activities. Kubrick being Kubrick.
- Ghandi – A well done biography of a great and fascinating man.
- Hoosiers – One of the greatest underdog stories of all time for basketball fans, and based on actual events.
- Indiana Jones – An archeologist action hero. Only George Lucas AND Steven Spielberg pull off something like this.
- The Little Mermaid – With very few exceptions, Disney Studios was terrible in the 80s. Ariel was an exception, returning them back to their winning formula.
- Once Upon a Time in America – Very few movies have done a better job portraying Nitty-gritty NYC in the gangster era.
- The Outsiders – some tales of friendship and loyalty will last forever. Add this one to your list.
- Platoon – The loosely biographical film by Oliver Stone took us inside the soldier’s heads in Vietnam. Occasionally chilling, but always insightful, one of the best films of the 80s.
- Raging Bull – Scorsese, Di Nero, Pesci. It always works.
- Rainman – IMO – both Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman’s best movie. Learning self-lessness – definitely, definitely…worth your time.
- Scarface – The modern gangster film blew up screens and minds.
- Stand By Me – On everyone’s list of great films to come out of the 80s, this tale of loyalty and friendship will be a good one 50 years from now.
- Star Wars – I know the first one came out in ‘77, but Star Wars dominated the 80s with the final two along with toys, TV and everything else that peaked in the 80s.
- The Shining – Slow moving terror done just right. Just brilliant.
- Wall Street – I don’t know about you, but I hated and admired Gordon Gekko at the same time. What a great character.
Believe or not, limiting these lists to just 25 each was incredibly difficult. There are too many honorable mentions to even mention, so I won’t. But, this is – of course – THE definitive top 25 1980s movie list.