26 Best 80s Movies That Defined the Decade

The 1980s were a decade defined by blockbuster movies that saw moviegoers visiting cinemas in droves. The best 80s movies broke the mold of what a popular film could be. Today, we’re inundated with superhero movies, reboots, and CGI-riddled films that hope to please a global audience. The 1980s were more focused on American audiences and the stories that appealed to us most. Imagine a world in which a John Hughes figure dominated the movies today! The Brat Pack films were a phenomenon that would likely not be greenlit today.

So, what were the best 80s movies? Honestly, they were all over the place, and it is hard to define what constituted an 80s blockbuster. We’ll look at great movies that aged well and still feel fresh, relevant, and entertaining today! These movies defined the decade and changed the art of film for the better all while dazzling audiences and lodging themselves in our hearts. Let’s take a look at some satisfying movies that you should definitely catch if you have not had the pleasure yet!

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Would you believe that almost every major film school program asks students to study this wacky movie? Who Framed Roger Rabbit might be a fun-for-all-ages movie, but its technological advances were groundbreaking at the time. The movie centers around Detective Eddie Valiant, a cartoon-hating detective who ends up being a cartoon rabbit’s only hope to prove his innocence after being accused of murder. It’s a wild romp that you should really check out if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s rated PG and it’s a blast to watch with kids!

The Goonies (1985)

best 80s movies

The Goonies is a hallmark of the 80s with just about every blockbuster movie trope slammed into one adventure film. Although he did not direct, Steven Spielberg did write and executive produce this one. The Goonies tells the story of a group of misfit kids who discover an ancient map and decide to follow it to a long-lost treasure. It’s an absolutely stupid blast.

The movie has some problematic elements, like many films of the day, and we urge you to think about if it’s appropriate to watch with children. If you’re revisiting this film as an adult for the first time, you’re not going to believe your parents let you watch this. It’s one of the quintessential best 80s movies that every person should try to see!

Do the Right Thing (1989)

26 Best 80s Movies

One of Spike Lee‘s finest, Do the Right Thing is sensual and unconventional in all the right ways. The film takes place on the hottest day of the year on a street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. As tensions sizzle, violence erupts and it’s clear that the heat has brought out the worst in everyone. The ensemble cast makes this movie truly unforgettable. There are so many excellent actors in this movie that you forgot were in this movie. Samuel L. Jackson, Ossie DavisRuby DeeGiancarlo EspositoBill NunnFrankie FaisonJohn Turturro, and Rosie Perez are all in this classic movie.

Paris, Texas (1984)

Here’s one you might have missed. Paris, Texas is not just one of the best 80s movies, it’s one of the best ever made. The film is directed by Wim Wenders and written by the late, Pulitzer Prize-winning, playwright Sam Shepard.

At its center, Paris, Texas is a character study and road movie that follows Travis (played expertly by Harry Dean Stanton) a vagabond who comes out of the desert and reconnects with his 7-year-old son. The pair travel through the American Southwest in hopes of finding Travis’s missing wife. We can’t say enough good about this gorgeous movie! If you haven’t, please give this one a try. It will touch you all the way in the soul you forgot you had. 

9 to 5 (1980)

26 Best 80s Movies

Dolly Parton is joined by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin who play three employees of an egotistical bigot who decide to turn the tables on him. Come for the performances and stay for one of the best original songs in any movie ever. Ever! This movie is so enjoyable and its unapologetic feminist themes arrived right on time for many professional women in the 1980s. It’s definitely one of the best 80s movies.

Steel Magnolias (1989)

26 Best 80s Movies

More Dolly? Why not! This very funny and campy drama follows the lives of a tight-knit group of beauticians in a small Louisiana town. Shirley MacLaineOlympia DukakisSally FieldJulia RobertsDaryl Hannah, and Parton round out the cast and they do not disappoint! This deep-fried classic is one you enjoy more every time you see it.

The Fly (1986)

26 Best 80s Movies

In the mood for really gross? The Fly is a remake of a classic 1958 sci-fi film, but in this instance, the remake is more widely remembered than the original. Directed by the master of body horror, David CronenbergThe Fly is a truly gut-churning movie with insane makeup and practical effects. Jeff Goldblum will make you feel a certain way at the start of this one before it goes downhill, quickly. He plays an eccentric scientist who slowly transforms into a hybrid human/fly creature after an experiment goes terribly wrong.

Heathers (1989)

The black comedy, Heathers was a complete and total theatrical failure that only benefitted from the advent of the VHS tape. Critics widely panned the film but that didn’t stop its growing cult following from spreading the love. Heathers became a cult classic because of its ironic, angsty, dry humor that permeates every single scene. The film follows Veronica (played brilliantly by Winona Ryder) who teams up with a troubled boy to take down the high school clique she’s a part of known as “the Heathers.” This one earns a spot on the best 80s movies list for the line “gag me with a spoon, Heather” and that line alone.

The Color Purple (1985)

26 Best 80s Movies

Alice Walker‘s masterpiece got the movie treatment from Steven Spielberg in 1985. While uneven, the film is unforgettable thanks to some of the best performances ever caught on camera. Oprah WinfreyWhoopi GoldbergDanny Glover, and Margaret Avery are completely captivating in this classic. The film is set in the early 1900s and follows Celie, who, after suffering years of abuse struggles to find her identity. It’s heartbreaking and powerful. It’s one of the best 80s movies for the incredible performances that will stay with you for life!

The Princess Bride (1987)

Baby Mandy Patinkin? Check! Rob Reiner? Check! The Princess Bride is as hilarious today as it was 30 years ago. The movie is structured as a children’s story being told to a sick boy by his grandfather who reads him the story of a farmboy-turned-pirate and his quest to be reunited with his one true love. It’s a complete blast that’s truly a timeless classic. This is another PG affair so be sure to invite the kids along for the ride if you’re not too tired of them yet. 

Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

26 Best 80s Movies

Gorillas in the Mist tells the story of Dian Fossey, a research scientist who travels to Africa to study the vanishing gorillas in the mountains of Uganda and Rwanda. As she develops a bond with the animals, she realizes that the poachers who hunt them need to be stopped. She decides to fight to protect them but it quickly becomes perilous. This based on a true story film is one of the best 80s movies!

Out of Africa (1985) 

A study on wealth, class, colonialism, racism, and sexism, Out of Africa is a movie that manages to do a ton with a very simple story. A Danish Baroness (played by Meryl Streep) moves to Africa to start a plantation, after she finds out her husband has been faithful to her, she reevaluates her life. What results is an affair with a big-game hunter. Ultimately, she must choose between love and personal growth. This movie swept the Oscars in 1986 making it one of the most celebrated best 80s movies.

Amadeus (1984)

26 Best 80s Movies

If you love classical music, Amadeus is the arty biopic you need in your life. The film follows the troubled life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as told by his rival Antonio Salieri, who claimed he murdered the genius composer. This film is somehow timeless and perfectly indicative of the 1980s. We feel like this is one of the best 80s movies that went on to influence the work of directors like Baz Luhrmann.

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Moonstruck (1987)

“Snap out of it!” Cher is a dream in this 80s romance film that also stars Nicolas Cage. Cher plays Loretta Castorini a bookkeeper who falls for the brother of the man she is engaged to marry. Come for Cher and stay for the legendary Olympia Dukakis

The Shining (1980)

26 Best 80s Movies

The Shining is likely the best Stephen King adaptation even though he hated it. Director Stanley Kubrick delivers one of the most highly-regarded horror movies ever made. It’s got everything you want in a scary movie: a psychic kid, a deranged father, ghosts, Shelley Duvall. As with many of these classics, you likely know the premise but if you have never seen it, do yourself a favor and take your first trip to the Overlook Hotel for one of the very best 80s movies.

Beetlejuice (1988)

A classic Tim Burton film, Beetlejuice is delightfully weird and is slightly scary at times. The cast of this film, alone, is reason enough to revisit it. We think kids will love Michael Keaton’s unhinged performance in this fun horror film. It’s so off base that it feels like one of the best 80s movies that truly captures the ethos of the moment.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) 

There have been a number of developments in CGI since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was released in the late 1980s. The premise is the perfect vehicle for an adventure film: a scientist shrinks his kids and they must survive the big scary world while being very, very small. The movie has all the elements you need for an exciting, family-friendly movie. 

Poltergeist (1982)

26 Best 80s Movies

The original Poltergeist is pretty darn scary, but we think most probably handle it. Be sure to skip this movie if you’re currently having an in-ground pool dug. The original is much better than the remake so be sure to go back to the OG. It’s one of the best 80s movies that tackles capitalism and colonialism.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

26 Best 80s Movies

This dark children’s fantasy movie is very strange and somehow managed to terrify every small child that saw it in the 1980s. The characters are wonderful and the adventure plot of a boy saving a fictional world from demise feels timely. It’s one of the best 80s movies for kids.

The Secret of Nimh (1982)

We don’t know about you, but this movie terrified us when we were kids. One of the few animated films to make the best 80s movies list, The Secret of Nimh is the dark fairy tale that seemed to be everywhere in the decade.

Mommie Dearest (1981)

26 Best 80s Movies

Mommie Dearest is the high camp movie about an abusive mother and movie star Joan Crawford. The film was based on a memoir by Christina Crawford. Faye Dunaway stars as Crawford and her brilliant performance was so potent that the movie derailed her career. “No more wire hangers!” will be seared into your brain after watching Mommie Dearest, one of the best 80s movies!

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

26 Best 80s Movies

The 80s were all about the Spielberg and the thrilling blockbusters he served happy audiences. Raiders of the Lost Ark is possibly one of his finest that, for the most part, holds up rather well. Yes, we all need to watch a Nazi-killing archeologist played by Harrison Ford. It’s one of the best 80s movies and a truly enduring classic.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Molly Ringwald was the 1980s it-girl beloved in many John Hughes films that really defined the era for teens coming up in it. Sixteen Candles is one of the very best teen movies of all time and a true contender for one of the best 80s movies about romance.

The Terminator (1984)

26 Best 80s Movies

An amazing action thriller, The Terminator was a dystopian sci-fi movie that has inspired many, many others. People tend to remember Arnold Schwarzenegger most from the movie but Linda Hamilton is the real MVP in the movie. The Terminator launched an entire franchise and proved itself one of the best 80s movies!

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

26 Best 80s Movies

Ferris Bueller is a character who lived every teen’s dream in the 1980s. If you ever skipped school with your best friend, your day was likely compared to that of Bueller’s. This was another one of Hughes’ hits and one of the most iconic and best 80s movies.

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Raising Arizona (1987)

The Coen brothers have carved out a niche for quirky, smart, and very funny movies with very dull but likable characters. We now consider them auteurs but Raising Arizona put the filmmakers on the map. The same could be said of Blood Simple but we have an affinity for this very funny movie. The film stars Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter and both are geniuses in one of the very best 80s movies! But, please, don’t steal any babies, folks!

There you go! We just scratched the surface but we feel these films are some of the best 80s movies made at a time when things seemed rather strange in American society. We shared with your the best 80s movies from just about every genre from children’s movies to horror films. We hope you feel the urge to watch one of these amazing movies as they really are gems!

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