Updated On: February 29, 2024 by   Esraa Mahmoud   Esraa Mahmoud  

While there are many memorable eras in the history of cinema, the 1980s remains one of the best of these eras, with some stuck-to-the-mind masterpieces that we can never get bored of watching over and over!

The 1980s’ array of gems manages to create a cult in modern pop culture. While the boomer generation was experiencing what many would consider the biggest highlights of their lives, a new age of films was beginning.

Interestingly, many directors who are still rocking the cinema scene with their works today released their first works back in the 80s. What also distinguishes the movies from the 1980s era is that it was around that time that the use of special effects saw the light of day. True, it was not as mind-blowing as now, but it was pretty exhilarating at that time!

Best Movies From the 80s:

While the list of movies from the 80s is extremely long, we stopped to ask which movies from the 80s were particularly popular and what makes them the best works of the decade. Let’s find out!

Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Star Wars collection is one of the most successful films of all time! The success story began in 1977 when the first part was released. Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel. In the second feature film, the fifth episode of the Star Wars saga, the rebels leave their base on the ice planet, Hoth, after an attack by Darth Vader.

Luke Skywalker, meanwhile, wants to be trained by Jedi master Yoda. Han Solo and Princess Leia are captured by Darth Vader, and when Luke Skywalker tries to help them, he too falls into Darth Vader’s net. In the final battle, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader finally face each other. 

The film was a hit at the time of its release— and it is for all Star Wars fans. It was nominated for numerous awards, and it snatched two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and a BAFTA, among many others.

Ultimately, The Empire Strikes Back is a film that stays with you long after the credits roll. It’s a testament to the power of storytelling to explore the darkest corners of the human experience while still offering a glimmer of hope for the future.

It’s no wonder that the film is often considered by many fans to be the best Star Wars film. It’s a dark and exhilarating journey that deepens the mythology of the saga while pushing its characters to their limits. So, if you haven’t experienced it yet, prepare to be challenged, surprised, and ultimately moved by this timeless classic.

Shining (1980)

The former teacher and writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) wants to finally finish writing his novel. So, he applied for the job of caretaker of a small mountain hotel in Colorado, which is closed for the winter season. But because work alone does not seem to make one happy, Jack loses his mind more and more and begins to mercilessly terrorise his own family members..

Radical in thought, provocative in execution: Stanley Kubrick’s horror thriller, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, was everything the audience hoped a horror film would be becoming a cult film!

This genre masterpiece is perhaps the most successful horror film of all time. Jack Nicholson’s flawless and absolutely frightening acting performance and story left such a long-lasting impression that effortlessly placed the film among the best films of all time, and not just movies from the 80s.

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Harrison Ford sets out in search of the lost Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament in his Indiana Jones debut. Because it is said to have supernatural powers, the Nazis also set out to find the old piece. An adventurous race against time begins.

The first part of the cult film series is a firework of never-ending adrenaline and an escapist genre film of the first order that hardly gives you a chance to catch your breath. Steven Spielberg proved once again that he is one of the best craftsmen in his guild.

Full of action and mind-blowing special effects, the film was a significant success at the time, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1981. With such success comes many nominations and awards, among which are five Academy Awards, seven Saturn Awards, and one BAFTA.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

It is almost impossible to talk about movies from the 80s without mentioning this one! Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, is more than just a science fiction film. It’s a timeless story of friendship, wonder, and the power of imagination that has captivated audiences for generations.

The film tells the tale of Elliott, a lonely boy who befriends a gentle alien stranded on Earth. Despite their differences, they forge a deep bond, communicating through telepathy and shared experiences. Their journey, filled with laughter, tears, and thrilling escapades, becomes a metaphor for childhood itself.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was one of the best-selling and most rented movies on VHS in the 80s. The film was nominated for nine awards at the 55th Academy Awards, and it went home winning four of them: Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing. In addition to two Golden Globes awards and five Saturn Awards!

Blade Runner (1982)

In a dystopian universe, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner in charge of tracking down replicants declared illegal. But he gradually falls under the spell of Rachel (Sean Young), a replicant with a fictional emotional memory, assistant and product of Eldon Tyrell.

Blade Runner became a cult film over the years and is regarded by many as one of the all-time best science fiction films.

Scarface (1983)

“Say hello to my little friend.” Is there anyone who doesn’t know this phrase or the masterpiece film where it was said….we highly doubt it!

 True to the motto “from rags to riches”, Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Al Pacino) climbed the Mafia career ladder in the 1980s until he was the most feared mobster in the world. Revenge and brutality are his trademarks. Legendary is the scene in which he is entirely high with a machine gun and slaughters everything around him.

It is, above all, the scenes of raw violence— so exaggerated that they can be considered an art form— as well as the pointed dialogues and, of course, Pacino’s knock-down performance that makes Scarface one of the best Mafia films of all time.

Whether it is the impeccable acting, the fantastic music or the excellent screenplay, Scarface has undoubtedly left its scar on the history of cinema, becoming a renowned cult classic!

Footloose (1984)

In Beaumont, a small mid-western town, Ren arrives from Chicago and encounters a conservative society that forbids dancing and rock music after an accident with the son of the all-powerful minister.

A scenario inspired by the town of Elmore City, which had banned dancing for 90 years. After trying to ignore the community’s sclerotic moral injunctions, Ren and two friends finally fight it, trying to prove that dancing does not lead to depravity.

The film’s soundtrack sold over nine million copies in the U.S., and the film was made into a musical of the same name.

Ghostbusters (1984)

The three friends, ex-university professors Dr Peter Venkman, Dr Ray Stantz and Dr Egon Spengler, have specialised in paranormal events. They decide to go into business for themselves as ghost hunters in New York because the metropolis is haunted by more or less gruesome monstrous monsters.

Back in 1984, the supernatural comedy became a box office hit and catapulted Bill Murray (who constantly improvised during filming!) into superstar spheres while cementing Dan Akroyd’s career just a little bit more.

Ghostbusters elevated not only ghost science but also the genre of sci-fi comedy to an art form – and, along with Star Wars, perfected merchandise marketing. Today, Ghostbusters is one of the most successful films of all time.

Back to the Future (1985)

The father of all time travel movies tells the story of teenager Marty McFly, who accidentally travels back to the year 1955 with the help of a time machine of the strange Doc Browns. Now it’s up to him alone to make sure his future parents actually fall in love — otherwise, he himself will never be born.

Back to the Future is a tremendous milestone in comedy and in the time travel genre. The original ideas, the light-footed humour and the mix of sci-fi and romantic comedy are still convincing today. This hybrid of nostalgia and modernity, which embodies the 80s like no other film, has grossed around 400 million US dollars worldwide, making Back to the Future one of the most successful films of all time.

Top Gun(1986)

It was action-packed, romance-packed and everything in between! That’s right; we are talking about TOP GUN! The story of the US Navy fighter pilot Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell caused some controversy among critics at the time.

Starring a young Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky yet talented Navy pilot, Top Gun captured the hearts of audiences with its blend of high-octane action, steamy romance, and a soundtrack that’s practically etched into our DNA.

We follow Maverick (Cruise), a reckless yet talented pilot at the elite Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School. Maverick thrives on pushing boundaries and flying by the seat of his pants, often to the exasperation of his instructor, the by-the-book Viper (Tom Skerritt).

Top Gun (1986) isn’t just a movie; it’s a cultural phenomenon. Released at the height of the Cold War, it catapulted Tom Cruise to superstardom, fueled a surge in Navy recruitment, and left audiences with an insatiable appetite for aerial dogfights, volleyball montages, and Kenny Loggins power ballads.

Top Gun‘s legacy is undeniable. It revitalised the Navy recruitment drive, launched Cruise’s career into the stratosphere, and set the template for countless action films to come. Beyond its entertainment value, it offered a glimpse into a world of dedication, camaraderie, and pushing the limits, both physical and emotional.

 The sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, was released in 2022, surpassing the first film’s commercial and critical success!

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Dirty Dancing is THE dance movie of all time. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey are still in our heads today in their roles as Johnny and Baby.

Fun fact: the famous scene where Johnny and Baby practice their dance and crawl towards each other on the floor was not supposed to be part of the movie. The two were warming up for the upcoming scene. Director Emile Ardolino liked this improvisation so much that he kept it in the film!

The film was a hit back then, with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey receiving raving reviews for their performances along with the film’s soundtrack by Jimmy Ienner, which won two multi-platinum albums and multiple singles.

Notably of the memorable soundtrack is the song (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Die Hard (1988)

New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is looking forward to a contemplative Christmas with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), whom he hasn’t seen for half a year due to professional reasons. When he wants to visit her at the Christmas party of her company in the high-rise building Nakatomi Plaza, it is stormed by terrorists.

Only the skilled (and taciturn) policeman John can escape and begins a brutal and quite creative game of cat and mouse with the bad guys. In the end, only one side can win – and soon, the terrorists begin to fall like dominoes.

For cineastes, modern action cinema was rooted in 1988 – and wears the strikingly masculine face of Bruce Willis, who, despite a career that continues to this day, to many fans,  has never given such a stellar performance as in this fight-and-violence spectacle whose script shines with wit, self-deprecating overtones, pointed dialogue, lots of banging, a cool-headed hero and a tension screw that is tightened almost by the minute.

Rain Man (1988)

Considered one of the first films to deal with autism, Rain Man, directed by Barry Levinson, features Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), a young, broke car dealer who, after the death of his father, discovers that he has an older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who is autistic.

What follows is a memorable road trip across the United States during which the two brothers will get to know each other.

The 80s masterpiece Rain Man was a massive, critical and commercial hit, making $354.8 million, while its budget was $25 million.  Intriguingly, until 2022, the film holds the record for being the first and only film to garner the Academy Awards, along with three other Academy Awards and the Golden Bear for Best Picture.

When Harry Met Sally…(1989)

No films from the 80s list would be complete without mentioning this one! When Harry Met Sally is a mythical romantic comedy released in 1989 that reunites Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, who played Sally and Harry, who get along like cats and dogs in college before meeting again in New York five years later. They are engaged, and everything is going well in their lives. Then they meet again five years later, single…. Well, you know the rest…

The film’s brilliance lies in its sharp dialogue, penned by Nora Ephron. The witty banter between Harry and Sally is filled with quotable lines that resonate with anyone who’s ever questioned the nature of love and friendship.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

John Keating is an English teacher with a unique approach who teaches at the austere Welton Academy in Vermont. His credo is to make his students’ personalities blossom and give them a taste of freedom. An anti-conformist practice that will lead a group of students to revive the Dead Poets’ Society, a group of free spirits of which John was a member in his youth.

 But in 1959, this kind of revolutionary action went against the rigid rules of American society. For this role of a teacher that every student would dream of having, Robin Williams was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1990.

The film has also had its fair share of awards, winning the BAFTA Award for Best Film, in addition to the César Award and the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Film. The film’s writer, Schulman, also won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The 1980s was a decade of innovation, diversity, and entertainment in cinema. The best movies of the 1980s are not only the ones that made the most money or won the most awards but also the ones that left a lasting impact on the viewers and the critics. The best movies of the 1980s are the ones that challenged, inspired, and entertained us and that still resonate with us today. 

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