25 Best 80s Movies You Gotta See
By LEAH HALL
APR 5, 2021
The Eighties were an incredible decade—whether we were learning about Reaganomics, trying to copycat the latest Madonna outfit, or spending hours watching the cool new channel called MTV—whatever we did, we did it big. Same goes for the films of the 80s as well. We had big blockbusters, the high school movie took center stage, and comedy was king. For many of us, this list of 25 films is a trip down memory lane to some of the seminal films of your youth: first dates and slumber parties spent watching these characters draw you into their epic story. So crack open a bottle of wine and have a blast from the past movie night with your gal pals. For the some of you, you may have not even been born when these movies came out (no shame in the 90s game—we’ve got a movies list for that decade too), and we’d advise that you start watching this list pronto! Don’t let the eighties be a cliche Halloween costume. Watch these movies and you’ll get a taste for what it was really like. And if you’re looking for a more meaty cinema watching challenge, check out our list of the Best Classic Movies to Watch in Your Lifetime.
1 Top Gun
This film is a “highway to the danger zone”! (C’mon, we had to!) This blockbuster action film tells the story of elite Navy fighter pilots as they train to take on the toughest challenges an aircraft carrier can throw at them—all while navigating competition, love, and loss. Keep an eye out for the sequel, which was originally set for a 2020 release, but was put on hold because of the pandemic. Rumor has it you’ll be able to check it out in theaters in July 2021.
2 The Breakfast Club
When it comes to the famous “Brat Pack” and the films of director John Hughes, we could probably fill this whole list, so we’ll reserve a special spot for cult classic The Breakfast Club. Watch your favorite misfits as they spend the day in detention, discovering there is more they have in common than what keeps them apart. Hughes delivers on witty dialogue and breakout performances by Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Ally Sheedy.
3 Say Anything
Who can say they didn’t secretly wish that one day they’d find their special someone outside their window reenacting the famous boombox scene from this classic Cameron Crowe film Say Anything? In this “opposites attract” love story, you too, will fall in love with Lloyd Dobbler (played by John Cusack) and relate to Diane’s (Ione Skye) struggle to be perfect and live up to her controlling dad’s expectations and standards. When she gives in to first love, we can’t help but ask, “Will love conquer all?”
Send Up The Heat!
Queen of the eighties Bette Midler takes us on a ride through the lifelong friendship of CC and Hillary, two unlikely friends who meet on the boardwalk as kids and remain close throughout the highs and lows of their careers, love lives, children, and show business. An endearing film about the power of friendship and the strength of women.
We all wished at times, when we were kids, that we could be like the grown-ups, but what if that wish actually came true? Twelve-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow), wishes to be “big” and wakes up to find that he is now an adult (played by Tom Hanks). Run out of his home, he must now navigate living in the big city, getting a job, and all the complications that come with getting promotions and even falling in love. This famously introduced many of us to the wonders of the toy store F.A.O. Schwartz, and we were never the same.
6 Dirty Dancing
Nobody puts this movie in a corner! And you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t seen the famous dance lift by now. But for those of you rock dwellers who may still be holding out on watching this movie—don’t wait any longer! Spending the summer at a sleepy camp in the Catskills is the last thing Baby (Jennifer Grey) wants to be doing before she goes off to the Peace Corp, but things get exciting when she meets dance instructor Johnny and he introduces her to the underground dancing scene. Working together to master a complicated dance for the last camp showcase of the summer, Johnny and Baby start to become more than just dance partners.
7 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris and his friends play the ultimate day of hooky in this raucous high school adventure. Trying to blow off some steam in the final days before graduation, Ferris calls in sick to school in order to steal a Ferrari and joyride through Chicago. Little does he know that his principal is on to his antics and is out to reveal him as the slacker he truly is.
Who knew being a part of the popular crowd could be so…deadly. Veronica (Winona Ryder) blindly follows along with her popular girl posse until she falls for bad boy J.D. (Christian Slater). When the leader of the clique is accidentally poisoned and her death is passed off as a suicide, Heather finds out that J.D. is not who he seems. Will she be able to stop him before he destroys everything that’s important to her?
9 Dead Poets Society
A new passionate English teacher, John Keating (played by Robin Williams) leads his new class at an all-boys preparatory school to new heights of learning and expression, using unconventional methods that push the boundaries of what the conservative students are used to. Facing pressures from parents and the culture around them to perform, they all must battle their own inner demons as they make their way in pursuing their dreams. Pro tip: A tear jerker. Have tissues handy.
10 Coming to America
On a mission to find his queen, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), prince of a prosperous African nation, travels to the Big Apple with his sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall). Disguising himself as a foreign exchange student, Akeem experiences all the highs and lows America has to offer along with falling in love with the beautiful Lisa. Will she still accept him after she finds out his true identity?
11 Stand By Me
Learning of a dead body in the area, four local Oregon boys trek to see it. Along the way, they encounter crazy old men, trains, leeches, and tell incredible stories around the campfire. An endearing adventure story about the power of friendship.
12 When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally
“I’ll have what she’s having.” “You realize of course that we could never be friends.” ” Baby fish mouth!” These are but a few of the iconic lines from this movie that have made their way into the cultural zeitgeist. A masterpiece written by Nora Ephron (can you tell the author is biased), all about the roller coaster ride of friendship and then true love of Harry Burns and Sally Albright. Told over several decades, we see Harry and Sally as they navigate a post-graduation move, careers, relationships, and lots of walking and talking. Their genuine humor and relatability will steal your heart, if they haven’t already.
13 Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Before the ride at Disneyland came the movie, a groundbreaking blockbuster of its time from acclaimed director Steven Spielberg and written by George Lucas. This is the first time we meet dashing archaeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, who has a penchant for recovering golden idols from booby trapped tombs (the famous rolling ball!), handling his whip, and rescuing the famous Ark of the Covenant all while fighting off the Nazi’s. The only thing Indiana isn’t good at—don’t mention the snakes. Never the snakes.
14 The Outsiders
This coming-of-age film tells the tale of rival gangs the Greasers and the Socials. A tragic rumble forces members of the Greasers face the music and come to terms with their rough and destructive lifestyles. Early stand-out performances by Tom Hanks, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Patrick Swayze.
15 E.T.,The Extra-Terrestrial
In this Spielberg classic, a gentle compassionate alien is stranded on earth with no way home. After being discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott, E.T. makes his way back to suburban California. Trying to keep E.T. under wraps ends up being a difficult task and eventually E.T. is found by a government agency which threatens any chance of ever returning to his planet and family.
16 The Princess Bride
Unofficially the official movie of all slumber parties, youth group lock-ins, and last days of school. We all wished we had grandpas that told stories like this one after seeing The Princess Bride for the first time. This fairytale tells the story of Buttercup and her one true love Westley as they navigate the evils around them in the land of Florin. Despite all the odds will twoo wuvvv, win out in the end?
17 The Color Purple
Based off the novel by Alice Walker, this expansive film tells the life-long story of Celie, a southern African American woman who experiences countless acts of abuse—even at the hand of some of the people meant to protect her. Celie dreams of going back to Africa one day to be with her sister once again. Nominated for ten Academy Awards, it features all-star performances by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
18 Back to the Future
California high schooler Marty McFly and his eccentric mentor Doc Brown take a crazy trip in a tricked-out Delorian back in time and meet his parents as teenagers. With his mom falling in love with him, run-ins with the local bully Biff, and finding out his dad is the neighborhood peeping tom, Marty definitely has his work cut out for him if he’s going to accomplish his mission of making sure his parents connect at the final dance of the year AND make it back to the year 1985 before the lightning strikes the clocktower.
19 Steel Magnolias
A beauty school graduate moves to a new town and sets up shop apprenticing at a beauty shop that hosts a regular group of strong, hilarious, and vibrant friends. Helping each other through love, loss, illness, and all the life changes in between, they show the indelible power of friendship to carry you through any circumstance.
20 The Goonies
With their homes under threat of foreclosure, a rag tag group of friends embarks on an unlikely treasure hunt in the coastal town of Astoria, Oregon. Armed with a map and a few actual tricks up their sleeves, the “Goonies” as they’ve dubbed themselves, make their way to the famed treasure of “One-Eyed Willy.” On their way they confront booby traps, armed robbers, a mysterious giant, and their own personal insecurities and fears, ultimately bringing them all closer to one another.
21 The Karate Kid
New kid in town Daniel is quickly bullied by the kids studying karate at the Cobra Kai dojo. Befriending an unassuming repairman, Mr. Miyagi—who happens to be a karate master himself—opens the door for Daniel to train in a different type of karate with the hopes of one day defeating his bullies at Cobra Kai.
Based on the mazes of M.C. Escher, this trippy sci-fi fantasy adventure story follows a young teenage girl as she travels through an elaborate maze to rescue her brother from the Goblin King (played by David Bowie). Jim Hensen, of Muppets and Sesame Street fame, directs and contributes dozens of new and exciting creatures to both fear and fall in love with.
“When there’s something strange, in the neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” If there were ever a movie tag line from the 80s that is universally loved, it’s this one from Ghostbusters. From the jump we are introduced to the slimy rascal of a ghost (nicknamed Slimer) and the four eccentric scientists who capture him and other ghosts around New York City. Things get more and more serious when a woman is possessed and brings all sorts of evil threats into the city—including the famous giant Marshmallow Man!
24 The Shining
For the horror movie lovers out there, the 80s had a lot to offer, including a slew of Stephen King film adaptations, with The Shining being the cream of the crop. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film follows writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family as they become winter caretakers for a large isolated hotel in the Colorado mountains. The hotel is not as it appears and soon Jack is plagued by psychic premonitions and visions that drive him deeper and deeper into madness and his family closer than ever to danger.
25 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The famed original Star Wars trilogy started in the 1970s, but 1983’s Return of the Jedi introduced us to many of our most beloved characters and brought together so many powerful story arches. Fresh from Jedi training with Yoda, Luke Skywalker seeks his father Darth Vader in one last attempt to bring him away from the Dark Side. Meanwhile, Leia is rescued by Han from maniacal Jabba the Hut and then both continue fighting with the Resistance to defeat the Empire and bring down the Death Star. If you’re already confused, watch it for the cute and feisty Ewoks and Leia’s girl power.