25 Most Underrated Movies From the 80s

Joseph Thornton

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The 80s was a decade of iconic movies, but some gems were overlooked by audiences. In this post, we’ll shine a spotlight on 25 underrated ’80s movies we should talk about more, from quirky comedies to haunting thrillers.

Manhunter (1986)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Notably overshadowed by later adaptations of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels, “Manhunter” still stands as a thrilling ’80s crime film. Director Michael Mann’s stylistic touch, complemented by intense performances, brings a fresh flavor to this gripping tale.

River’s Edge (1986)

Photo Credit: Island Pictures.

Dealing with a disconcerting depiction of teen indifference in suburban America, “River’s Edge” forces viewers to confront an uncomfortable reality. This dark exploration, featuring stellar performances from Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover, demands attention.

Near Dark (1987)

Photo Credit: FM Entertainment.

With an unusual blend of horror, western, and romance, “Near Dark” offers a gritty and stylish perspective on the vampire genre. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this film remains a unique piece of ’80s cinema that is often overlooked.

The Last Emperor (1987)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Delving into the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, “The Last Emperor” offers a rich historical narrative. Despite its Oscar win, this stunning film by Bernardo Bertolucci frequently fades into the backdrop of ’80s film discourse.

Local Hero (1983)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

“Local Hero” weaves a unique tale about an oil executive from Houston venturing into a small Scottish village. Through its perfect mix of humor, drama, and environmental concerns, this charming film by Bill Forsyth stands out as an underappreciated gem.

Repo Man (1984)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

“Repo Man” marries science fiction, comedy, and punk rock into an extraordinary cinematic package. Directed by Alex Cox, the film features an exceptional performance by Emilio Estevez, and takes a surreal, satirical look at America in the Reagan era.

After Hours (1985)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

“Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” is a thrilling journey through a single night in New York City. Although often forgotten, the film’s blend of dark comedy and surreal elements carves out its unique space in ’80s cinema.

They Live (1988)

They Live Alive Films
Photo Credit: Alive Films.

John Carpenter’s “They Live” artfully blends science fiction, action, and social commentary into a compelling narrative. With its relevant themes of consumerism and media manipulation, this film remains an essential yet under-recognized part of ’80s cinema.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

The Secret Of NIMH (1982) - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

Breaking from typical children’s narratives of the ’80s, “The Secret of NIMH” is a beautifully animated feature by Don Bluth. With a darker, more complex storyline, this film shines as an underrated treasure.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

Photo Credit: Palace Pictures.

Blending black comedy, romance, and crime, Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” shocks and intrigues. With Helen Mirren’s stellar performance and extravagant sets and costumes, it offers a unique ’80s cinematic experience.

Videodrome (1983)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” presents a startling mix of body horror and media commentary. Its thought-provoking themes on technology’s influence on society, underscored by shocking imagery, make it an essential yet underappreciated ’80s film.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

The Last Starfighter Lorimar Film Entertainment
Photo Credit: Lorimar Film Entertainment.

“The Last Starfighter” is a delightful space adventure that seamlessly blends coming-of-age themes with pioneering CGI effects. Its optimistic charm elevates it beyond the norm of ’80s sci-fi films.

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Photo Credit: New Yorker Films.

“My Dinner with Andre” offers a unique cinematic experience. Louis Malle’s film, consisting mostly of a restaurant conversation between two friends, uses philosophical dialogue and strong performances to distinguish itself as an often-overlooked classic.

Something Wild (1986)

Photo Credit: MGM.

Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” spins a unique road movie narrative, filled with comedy, romance, and crime. With memorable performances by Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith, this vibrant, unpredictable film deserves much more attention.

Streets of Fire (1984)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

“Streets of Fire” combines action, drama, and musical elements into a rock & roll fable. Walter Hill’s film, known for its distinctive style, memorable music, and energetic performances, makes it an underrated piece of ’80s cinema.

Mystery Train (1989)

Photo Credit: Orion Classics.

“Mystery Train”, a series of interconnected stories set in Memphis, offers a unique perspective of the city. Jim Jarmusch’s cool aesthetic, great soundtrack, and dry humor make it a standout of ’80s cinema.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The zany humor and cult status of “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” make it a fun, eccentric standout of ’80s cinema. This science-fiction adventure deserves more attention than it often receives.

True Stories (1986)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

“True Stories”, David Byrne’s exploration of a small Texas town’s quirks through a musical comedy, radiates oddball charm and unique style. This film remains an underseen treasure of the ’80s.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Photo Credit: Orion Pictures.

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” explores love and freedom amidst the Prague Spring. Director Philip Kaufman crafts a sensual, intellectual film, bolstered by deep emotional resonance and strong performances.

Paris, Texas (1984)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Despite winning the Palme d’Or, Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas” often gets overshadowed by flashier ’80s films. This beautifully shot drama about love and loss remains a cinematic jewel.

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Photo Credit: HandMade Films.

“The Long Good Friday” provides a gritty portrayal of London’s underworld. John Mackenzie’s film is enriched by Bob Hoskins’ powerful performance and sharp social commentary, making it a compelling, underrated classic.

Dead Ringers (1988)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

“Dead Ringers” is a chilling exploration of identity and obsession, featuring Jeremy Irons in a brilliant dual role. David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller stands as an underseen but standout film of the ’80s.

The Killing Fields (1984)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

“The Killing Fields” offers a poignant portrayal of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Roland Joffé’s film is compelling and impactful, with powerful performances making it a must-watch of ’80s cinema, even if often overlooked.

Raising Arizona (1987)

Raising Arizona 20th Century Studios
Photo Credit: 20th Century Studios.

“Raising Arizona” showcases the Coen Brothers’ distinct humor in a quirky, fast-paced comedy. Despite being frequently overlooked, the film’s wild antics and unforgettable characters make it a hilarious gem of the ’80s.

Body Heat (1981)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

“Body Heat” is a captivating neo-noir thriller by Lawrence Kasdan. Its steamy narrative, heightened by strong performances from William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, makes it a tantalizing watch, often slipping under the radar.