The 15 Best Movies of the 1980s

Ellie Tishdale

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The ‘80s are considered intoxicating to people who didn’t live through them, from ‘80s fashion to heavy pop music. The vast quantity of great movies released during this decade also contributes to the fondness with which they are remembered. Here are 15 of the best movies from the iconic period of the ‘80s:

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Photo Credit: Cinematograph.

Fanny and Alexander could be rightly considered the peak of Ingmar Bergman’s filmmaking career. This movie is a family drama that has light supernatural/fantastical elements. It centers on two children who face hardship after their father dies and their mother remarries. Although initially meant to be a miniseries, it became a 188-minute-long film.

The Terminator (1984)

Arnold Schwartzengger The terminator Orion Pictures
Photo Credit: Orion Pictures.

The Terminator brought not just James Cameron to the limelight but also Arnold Schwarzenegger, making him one of the biggest stars of the next decade. Although it ultimately became a long-running franchise, this first installment remains the most self-contained and direct while also being the most narratively compelling of the lot.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Dead Poets Society Touchstone Pictures
Photo Credit: Touchstone Pictures.

This movie was a great ending note to the ’80s. Dead Poets Society is considered one of the best films that starred Robin Williams. Although the premise of an unusual teacher trying to change the lives of his students is considered cliché, this movie broke barriers. It’s emotionally compelling and inspiring.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Photo Credit: Amblin Entertainment.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial belongs to the club of Steven Spielberg movies that have received the adoration they deserve. A great family movie that follows the story of a young boy befriending a lost alien on Earth, it ranks among Spielberg’s greatest works of all time. Whether you watch it as a kid or an adult, it’s an enjoyable movie.

Stand by Me (1986)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Stand by Me is considered one of the best coming-of-age movies of all time. Considered one of the best Stephen King film adaptations, it follows four young boys going on a morbid adventure. We’re given some of the best performances by the four leads. It’s a wonderful and expertly crafted movie.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

The ’80s wouldn’t be complete without mentioning John Hughes. The Breakfast Club is a top contender for the spot of the best movie in Hughes’s filmography. It’s a teen movie that somehow avoids feeling cheesy or dated—a straightforward, well-written, and satisfying classic.

Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

Raging Bull is one of Martin Scorsese’s best films. This movie tells the story of a volatile boxer played by Robert De Niro, who won an Oscar for it. Although the fact that it wasn’t a box office hit caused Scorsese anxiety, Raging Bull was hailed by critics as the best boxing movie of all time.

Airplane! (1980)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Forty years after its initial release, this movie is considered hilarious and the standard by which other spoofs are measured. Airplane! is a lightning-fast cavalcade of slapstick, wordplay, and humor. While spoofing wasn’t invented by David and Jerry Zucker, they certainly perfected it with this movie.

The Shining (1980)

The Shining Warner Bros
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

It’s known that Stephen King didn’t famously like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his horror movie, but fans beg to differ. It follows the ominous, idiosyncratic, and terrifying story of a man going crazy at an isolated hotel.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas paid homage to their ’70s childhood adventures. Their film, starring Harrison Ford, showcased quality within commercial boundaries. It also exemplified how popcorn entertainment can be both cleverly crafted and successful.

Tootsie (1982)

Photo Credit: Mirage Enterprises.

Cross-dressing has been a part of movies since the earliest times. However, it hadn’t been done with sharp wits and a precise satirical purpose before Tootsie. Dustin Hoffman plays the role of a struggling actor who gets a part in a soap opera after pretending to be a woman. The film’s commentary on sexism remains relevant today.

Ran (1985)

Photo Credit: Rialto Pictures.

An epic movie by legendary director Akira Kurosawa, Ran is a dark take on King Lear. It’s regarded as one of Akira’s masterpieces. It’s a visually compelling movie on greed. The battle scenes, amplified by 1,400 handmade costumes, are some of the most striking ever made.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Photo Credit: Studio Ghibli.

Regarded as one of the greatest animated Japanese movies of all time, Grave of the Fireflies is a heartbreaking anti-war movie. Grave of the Fireflies powerfully conveys the human toll of war, earning its reputation as one of the saddest films. It follows a pair of siblings trying to survive after their mother is killed in an air raid.

Die Hard (1988)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

A John McTiernan all-time classic, Die Hard is the perfect action movie. It places Bruce Willis as a pissed-off cop in a glass tower. He has to fight against terrorists in the film. The influence of Die Hard is unmeasurable, as it’s the final word on high-octane Hollywood film craft.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Ghostbusters remains a vital transitional gem. With its sci-fi skit humor and portrayal of paranormal chaos, director Ivan Reitman captures the essence of New York City. The film’s blend of comedy and supernatural elements, alongside iconic scenes, solidifies its lasting appeal.