The 1980s have a special place in the pop culture canon. It turns out a lot of great movies came out in this decade, which means limiting them to a list is not as easy as it sounds. While plenty of beloved films won’t be seen here, we did our very best to make sure we included iconic and important films of the decade, from surefire classics to cult favorites. In that conversation, the inevitable question always comes up: what are the best ‘80s movies of all time? Let’s not waste any more time and get right down to ranking.
Top 80s Movies
25. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy blew up in a major way with the release of the well-loved Beverly Hills Cop, an action comedy film about Axel Foley, a Detroit cop who goes to Beverly Hills to unofficially investigate the murder of his best friend. A cop film mixed with a fish-out-of-water story, the film successfully sells itself as a comedy, while also featuring exciting action and fun characters for Murphy to riff on.
Beverly Hills Cop ended up being the biggest film of 1984, staying at number one for 13 consecutive weeks. While a success on its own, it garnered two sequels, with a possible fourth film sometime in the future.
Classic 80s Movies
24. The Last Emperor (1987)
Not every movie can win nine Academy Awards, but then not every movie is The Last Emperor. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and shot by famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, The Last Emperor tells the life story of Puyi, who took the throne at China’s Forbidden City at age 3. From there, political and cultural changes in China, as well as around the world, cause him to go from place to place.
An epic biography, featuring Peter O’Toole and Joan Chen, The Last Emperor is a highly romantic look at a man who tried to find his place in a world that was constantly changing. It may not be too accurate to history, and choosing to have all the cast speak English may be a bit jarring, but there’s no denying the film’s grand yet intimate vision.
23. Airplane! (1980)
One of the earliest David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams parody films, Airplane! has gone down in history as one of the funniest films ever made. While some of the humor is dated, it gets by with non-stop gags and bizarre humor, all of which help elevate this film from ever being stale.
From Leslie Neilsen’s dead-serious doctor to the inflatable autopilot, the amount of jokes crammed into Airplane! is almost too much. But it managed to work and be a huge success, generating one sequel and more parody films directed by the Zucker brothers starring Neilsen, who found a second life as a comedic actor.
Top 80s Movies
22. This is Spinal Tap (1983)
Not many movies can claim to have invented a new genre of movie, but This is Spinal Tap is arguably one of them. Presented as a “rockumentary,” the film details Spinal Tap’s 1982 US comeback tour and all the failings that come with it. Whether it’s their new album’s cover (which is so offensive that, to solve the problem, they make the artwork black, and only black) or cancellations across the country, very little goes their way.
The brainchild of Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, This is Spinal Tap has garnered a legion of fans, including actual musicians, who have claimed it to be so realistic it hurts. The film also added some new phrases to the English lexicon, such as “up to eleven.” The band also managed to break free of the film and become legitimate, with concerts and reunions since the film’s original release.
21. Videodrome (1983)
Director David Cronenberg is known for his body horror, and Videodrome is a perfect example of this. Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry, the film focuses on a TV producer in Toronto who stumbles across a bizarre television signal. This results in him falling into a black hole of sick thrills and warping reality, which includes the changing and mutilation of the body.
Admittedly, Videodrome is not for the faint heart, and the film was not a hit at the time of release. However, the VFX were highly praised, and the film has been seen as ahead of its time, garnering later acclaim and receiving cult classic status.
Popular 80s Movies
20. Tootsie (1982)
It’s a wild idea: unwanted actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) can’t get work, so he decides to dress up like a woman and become Dorothy Michaels. He/She gets a role on a popular sitcom and becomes a huge sensation across America. But the facade can’t last forever, can it?Directed by Sydney Pollack, Tootsie touches on gender, sexism, and the absurdity of soap operas. Not every aspect of Tootsie works (like the dated theme song “It Might Be You”), but the movie was a smash hit, both financially and critically. It stands as one of Hoffman’s best performances with a heartfelt message and great comedic moments.
Underrated 80s Movies
19. Repo Man (1984)
What do you get when you combine science-fiction, political and social commentary, punk rock, and Los Angeles car culture?
You get Alex Cox’s Repo Man, a cult classic of otherworldly proportions. Following one suburban punk (Emilio Estevez) and an old repo man (Harry Dean Stanton), the film goes from one scene to the next while a dangerous and lucrative Chevy Malibu is on the prowl. It’s definitely not the most conventional movie out there, but it’s critical acclaim and fanbase prove it to be one of the most unique films of its decade.
80s Teen Movies
18. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Whether it’s the use of Yello’s “Oh Yeah,” the Chicago scenery, Ben Stein’s economics teacher, or the eternal but ironic SAVE FERRIS, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has made an impact on pop culture like few other movies have.
The simple story of “one man’s struggle to take it easy,” Matthew Broderick takes full command this movie, breaking the fourth wall constantly and taking his girlfriend and best friend along with him. Cameron (Alan Ruck) managed to end up being a true fan favorite, with many fans seeing the movie being about him and not Ferris.
Director John Hughes says he made the film as a love letter to the city of Chicago, and luckily it’s that and more. As pure fun and teenage abandon, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stands tall, even if Ferris himself has been subject to criticism over the years. At least no one’s criticizing the film’s unique and beloved soundtrack.
17. Aliens (1986)
After proving himself with The Terminator, writer-director James Cameron took a stab at the Alien franchise with Aliens, a movie that proved there’s a lot you can do with a sequel to an established classic.
Sigourney Weaver returned as Ellen Ripley, along with a new cast of characters, who go to the planet where the titular alien was first found. Taking the horror elements of the first film and mixing them with action sensibilities, Cameron created his own masterpiece in the franchise, proving that not all sequels need to be rehashes of the original. It's not only one of the best '80s movies of all time, it's also one of James Cameron's best films.
Classic 80s Movie
16. Blade Runner (1982)
An influence on science-fiction films the world over, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner did not immediately make an impact when it first came out. Over the years, however, its reputation grew, especially when a director’s cut was officially released ten years later.
Focusing on a titular Blade Runner (Harrison Ford) on the hunt for missing replicants (advanced humanoid robots), the film presents a near future that has caught the imagination of audiences everywhere. It also influenced the look of many futuristic sci-fi tales, from literature to video games, as well as cinema. To say that it is one of the best sci-fi movies of all time would be an understatement.
Famous 80s Movies
15. The Blues Brothers (1980)
Arguably the best Saturday Night Live skit-turned-movie, The Blues Brothers is in an insane adventure that must be seen to be believed. Based on Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s characters (who also put on some real-life shows), the film chronicles the titular brothers on “a mission from God” to save their childhood orphanage.
Featuring iconic music artists, including James Brown, Arethea Franklin, and Ray Charles, a killer soundtrack, and a plethora of side characters, The Blues Brothers is an outrageous comedy of epic proportions that also has a life of its own outside the silver screen.
Popular 80s Movies
14. RoboCop (1987)
A smash hit that brought with it two sequels, a reboot, TV series, and even a children’s cartoon, RoboCop tells the violent story of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who nearly dies in the line of duty. But he is revived as RoboCop, part man, part machine, all cop.
While definitely an adult superhero action movie, RoboCop is also known for its pitch-black comedy satire, to the point where one could argue that the film is ultimately an action comedy.
Good 80s Movies
13. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars was already a phenomenon when it reached new heights with The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas, along with director Irvin Kershner, and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, improved upon what they had done in A New Hope by fleshing out characters and having a more personal story for all involved.
Sure, nearly everyone by now knows about the film’s big twist, but it was still a huge deal at the time. It helped make a sure-fire hit into an even bigger hit, one which helped define the decade of the 1980s for generations worldwide. These days, Empire is seen as the best Star Wars film, or at least the best one of the original trilogy.
Iconic 80s Movies
12. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters was a bit unprecedented: A big budget comedy that also told a science-fiction story about paranormal activity in New York City. It probably shouldn’t have worked, but stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote a script that managed to me more than it seemed, with the help of director Ivan Reitman.
Along with the talents of Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, and of course, Rick Moranis, Ghostbusters was not only a huge hit, but a major phenomenon that has lived on. Along with acquiring a dedicated fanbase, the film was also critically lauded and has been seen as a smart take on Reagan-era America. And we can’t forget Ray Parker Jr.’s undying theme song, one of the best movie songs ever.
Classic 80s Movies
11. Blue Velvet (1986)
Weirdo mastermind David Lynch took a more accessible approach to his style with Blue Velvet, a movie which intentionally hides its darkness under a bright and cheery location. Starring Kyle MacLachlan as a college student returning home who finds a severed ear in the grass, the film has our protagonist enter a seedy and creep crime underworld.
Along with scene-stealer extraordinaire Dennis Hopper and the always terrific Laura Dern, Lynch crafts one of the best thrillers that mingles with concepts of soap operas, horror films, and the bizarre. The result is one of the director’s most acclaimed movies and one of the best movies of the 1980s.
10. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter may have started a movement with Halloween in 1978, but most would agree his best movie is The Thing. It's based on the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr., which was also made into a film in 1951 (as The Thing from Another World). This version deals with a team of researchers in Antarctica who come across an alien life form. However, it is far from friendly, as it begins to attack the crew. What’s worse, it can morph to look like any one of them, creating intense paranoia among the survivors.
One of the few Carpenter films scored by someone other than himself, The Thing is widely recognized as one of the decade’s best horror movies. It’s probably most famous for its insane visual effects, which feature incredible creature work. But the film also works as a story about what happens when a group of men are faced with an unknown enemy in a remote area with no communication to the outside world.
Popular 80s Movies
9. Die Hard (1988)
Adapting Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, John McTiernan’s Die Hard helped make Bruce Willis a bonafide action star. It established a high-water mark for the best action movies and changed the direction of action movies for at least a decade, if not more.
The simple setup of an off-duty NYPD cop visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles for Christmas, Die Hard pitted one lone guy, with no backup or plan, to take on a group of supposed terrorists who attack the company Christmas party. What ensues is an action-packed and suspenseful classic, featuring memorable one-liners, characters, catchphrases, and explosions.
On top of making Willis an action star, Die Hard also produced four additional sequels, with director McTiernan returning for the third film, Die Hard with a Vengeance. It also marked the film debut of Alan Rickman, who played one of the best realistic villains, Hans Gruber.
Most Popular 80s Movies
8. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Spielberg already made a masterpiece with Jaws in 1975, but he and George Lucas figured they could make another one, too. Raiders of the Lost Ark is pure pulp fantasy, a tribute to older adventure serials of cinema’s yesteryear, starring Harrison Ford as the immortal Indiana Jones, an archaeologist who also goes treasure hunting (but don’t worry, he wants to put it in a museum).
While it would spawn a huge franchise with sequels, TV shows, and video games, the original has maintained a critical and fan favorite. Featuring memorable villains, a huge trap ball, and snakes, Raiders is packed with non-stop excitement that has kept audiences entertained for almost forty years and counting.
80s Teen Movies
7. The Breakfast Club (1985)
John Hughes made a big name for himself in the 1980s, writing, producing, and directing several films about and catered towards the youth of the day. No film of his garnered as much acclaim, especially in retrospect, as The Breakfast Club.
Starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy, the film told the simple story of a group of teens in detention. It’s with that simple premise that Hughes was able to craft a story dealing with contemporary struggles, prejudices, and the harsh realities that we face.
Aside from being a major ‘80s touchstone, the film also featured the Simple Minds song “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” a song that broke free from its associated source and has become as memorable and loved as the film itself.
Popular 80s Movies
6. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick was already a famous and revered filmmaker before 1980, but The Shining helped him gain additional clout for taking on the horror genre and making one of the best horror films ever made.
Starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, along with Scatman Crothers, Kubrick managed to create a unique sense of dread, one which crept in as you watched Jack succumb to madness. Or is he succumbing to the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel? Or could it be that his personal demons are coming back to overtake him? The Shining offers no clear answers as it continually keeps you on the edge.
The Shining also has the advantage of being one of the more accessible horror films out there, with its lack of violence and gore. But when your movie is mostly about ghosts and paranoia, you don’t need too much blood to keep audiences frightened. Having Jack Nicholson play your psycho helps, too.
5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to make not one but two classic ‘80s movies. E.T. tells the family-friendly story of Elliott, who comes across an extra-terrestrial who just wants to go back home. While Elliott and his siblings keep E.T. out of harm’s way, the government starts investigating, leading to an unforgettable third act climax.
As a heartwarming movie that looks at aliens in an optimistic light, it ended up being the highest grossing film at the time, before being surpassed by Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park nine years later. While it didn’t start a huge franchise full of sequels, it did inspire one ill-fated Atari video game and a Universal Studios theme park ride.
Classic 80s Movies
4. Amadeus (1984)
Director Milos Forman was already a revered and successful Czech filmmaker, having won immense acclaim with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But his reputation would be solidified further with his adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, which tells a fictional tale of a rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham).
Abraham got a fountain of praise for his role, requiring him to play both a young and old Salieri. And while the film may have taken intense liberties with the truth, it was always Shaffer and Forman’s intention to use these real life figures to tell a story of creative genius and how that can affect others, along with the genius themselves. The result was a huge hit all around, which included people rediscovering Salieri’s music.
Best 80s Movies
3. Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of all time, and many agree that Raging Bull is one of Scorsese's best movies, if not his very best. Based on the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta, the film chronicles his life both in and out of the ring, showing us a destructive storm of a human being.
Shot in stark black-and-white, with great performances from Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull is more than one of the best sports movies, it’s an examination of one man’s inherent downfall. Adding to the narrative is Thelma Schoonmaker’s superb editing, which creates a world so full of force and power that we’re delirious by the time the film comes to an end.
Classic 80s Movies
2. Back to the Future (1985)
Directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis (with Bob Gale), and starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as the eccentric Doc Brown, Back to the Future might just be the definitive time travel movie. The film has our hero accidentally travel back to 1955, intervening with his parents and accidentally changing the course of history. He only has one shot to go back to his present, and he needs a younger version of Doc Brown to help him.
It’s a crazy premise, but the execution is borderline flawless. The performances are on point, including Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover as Marty’s parents, as is the comedic timing, dialogue, and script. And we can’t forget the music — one of the best needle drops in cinema and not one but two theme songs from the legendary Huey Lewis and the News (“The Power of Love” and “Back in Time”).
Top 80s Movies
1. Do the Right Thing (1989)
One of Spike Lee’s earliest films, Do the Right Thing stands as one of his most acclaimed, often being called Lee's greatest work, and easily one of the best ‘80s movies of all time. Set during one hot summer on a Brooklyn block, the movie tells the story of various characters, all of whom have something to say, and how the tensions of the moment explode into violence.
While very obviously a film about race relations and the relations people share with one another, Do the Right Thing is also a fairly entertaining movie. Featuring unique vignettes, colorful cinematography, and instantly memorable characters, along with a powerful soundtrack. It manages to tell an important story with serious themes while also keeping audiences engaged with its world, echoing our own.
Best ‘80s Vampire Movies
While we looked over the best of the best of ‘80s movies, now you can dig deeper into the subgenre of ‘80s vampire movies. We’ve compiled a list for filmmakers that covers some well-known vampire films, along with a few hidden gems along the way.