The 8 Most 80s Movies of the 1980s

The 1980’s is arguably the most recognisable decade ever. Whether it’s the sight of an oversized shoulder pad or the crisp sound of synthy Yamaha notes, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Its cinematic output followed suit by creating blockbuster, family-friendly fantasy romps and action heroes by the barrel full. Not to mention slasher movies and slapstick comedy capers.

The hairstyles may have been cheerfully forgotten, but the films have stood the test of time.

Our love affair with the 80’s is far from over with an endless stream of remakes such as Ghostbusters: Answer The Call (2016), The A-Team (2010) and Footloose (2011) already released –  and plenty more in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Glow’ have done their bit to quench our thirst for nostalgia (TFM has answered why we are desperate for remakes: The Era of Nostalgia in Cinema – Why Are We Watching So Many Remakes?).

But which films truly embody this golden age of film, and what characteristics make them so unapologetically 1980s?

1. Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Robert Zemeckis Michael J. Fox

Back to the Future II turned its 80’s amps up to 1.21 gigawatts and blasted a flying time-travelling Deloreon at the cinema screen. It’s a wonder that audiences didn’t run away screaming.

Robert Zemeckis directed one of the most visually “iconic 80’s” movies with self-drying jackets and some of the best Nike AirForce designs the world has ever seen.

With a hop-on hover board, this tech-filled action adventure fantasy sees Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) journey into the future with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) to rectify some of their children’s mistakes.

This addition to the franchise has everything that an 80’s audience would expect to see in the future, such as super 3.D holograms of yet another Jaws movie and Griff’s gang of Mad Max-esque cronies.

In what is arguably the most 80’s moment of all, we see the McFly family chow down on some re-hydrated Pizza Hut, while Marty gets fired via… a fax machine.

At least it wasn’t done on a pager.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 

Freddie Kruger

Just hearing the theme music to this classic 80’s slasher is enough to transport me back to the glorious decade, and I wasn’t even alive.

Wez Craven’s celebrated nightmare cretin Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has become the epitome of 80’s horror.

His striped jumper and knife gloves scared the socks off of 80’s teenagers, while introducing Johnny Depp in a crop top. How the fashion police didn’t murder him before Freddy did will always remain a mystery.

The film not only spurred on the slasher boom but also transferred over to the wrestling craze of the decade, with pro wrestlers such as Frightmare and Shane Helms naming special moves after the horror franchise.

Freddy didn’t stop selling out there, and managed to permeate into the growing rap scene with artists such as Will Smith, Jazzy Jeff and the Fat Boys dropping bars for Mr. Krueger.

He later went on to release his own album called Freddy’s Greatest Hits, featuring mellow jazzy classics such as Down in the Boiler Room. It can’t get more 80’s than that.

3. The NeverEnding Story (1984)

NeverEnding Story

I can justify why this is one of the most 80’s movies of the 1980’s with one name: Limahl.

While the majority of this movie is set in the make-believe land of Fantasia, where boom boxes and bangles are nowhere to be seen, Wolfgang Peterson delivers one of the most recognisable luck dragons of the decade.

Tired of school bullies, Bastian seeks refuge in an old book shop. It is there that he finds The NeverEnding Story which is full of blank pages.

However, when he returns to his school and hides away in the attic to take a closer look, the pages fill with words and he finds himself in the land of Fantasia. He is tasked with defeating The Nothing that has swept the land and save the Childlike Empress.

A staple in virtually everyone in the worlds’ childhood, it even refers back to other classics, as E.T and C-3PO can be spotted during the Ivory Tower scene.

Need I say more? We bow before your 1980s-ness.

4. Masters of the Universe (1987)

Dolph Lundgren He-Man

Thank God Dolph Lundgren dropped his degree to put his ridiculously ripped body on screen as the ultimate 80’s action figure, He-Man.

Gary Goddard created an intergalactic action hero that was able to effortlessly ride on Conan’s coat-tails while simultaneously annoying critics.

The plot tried to tie He-Man’s planet Eternia with Earth by having the gang lose their magic portal Cosmic Key, used to open the gates of Castle Greyskull.

It falls into the hands of some hapless humans who must help to save the day.

Frank Langella gives a standout performance amid a sea of seamless amateurs as Skeletor, while Courtney Cox crops up for no reason in particular.

He-Man may have been panned for being trashy and low-budget, but isn’t that what 80’s action movies are all about?

5. The Lost Boys (1987)

Lost Boys

The award for ‘best use of Echo and the Bunnymen’ goes to Joel Schumacher and his coming of age 80’s vampire extravaganza.

Starring the dynamic Corey duo (Haim and Feldman) and a scary peroxide version of Kiefer Sutherland, this movie delivers on every level.

When a mother and her children move in with their Grandpa in Santa Carla, the family soon learn that the town is overrun with vampires, but how long can they survive?

Whether its gore, laughter or a topless long-haired man, covered in baby oil wearing leather leggings playing a saxophone, and gyrating his crotch around while people head bang along; this film delivers.

How could you possibly want more? If you do, then you are greedy.

6. The Goonies (1985)

Goonies screengrab

They never say die and they never did get to tell us about the giant octopus, if The Goonies doesn’t make you weak in your nostalgic knees then there is something seriously wrong.

Richard Donner’s classic follows a group of youngsters who, upon realising their parents face eviction, embark on the adventure of a lifetime to find the long lost treasure of the infamous pirate One Eyed Willy, who was rumoured to have been marooned right near Astoria

Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough” was absolutely good enough to be an everlasting top 10 hit, and once again featured our favourite WWF pals, Roddy Piper and Andre the Giant et al.

The film itself is a staple of the decade with Nike dunks and dodgy workout gear aplenty.

The lovable Corey Feldman makes an appearance with an unfamiliar family-friendly version of Josh Brolin, sporting a sweat band throughout. Naturally.

7. Flashdance (1983)

Flashdance Stretch

Adrian Lyne managed to direct what is arguably the most aesthetically 80’s movie of all time with Flashdance.

Everyone knows the story of underdog Alex Owens, welder by day and exotic dancer by night; one who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.

This movie delivers the female dancing underdog version of Rocky, yet still packs a suitable amount of punch. What a feeling, indeed.

This film, alongside the likes of Fame (1980) catered to the Jane Fonda aerobics workout-aholics of the 80’s by showing plenty of scantily clad spandex montage sequences, and more high-kicks than a Vegas line-up.

Whether it’s the oversized off-the-shoulder jumper or the dancing around on the desk with a leotard and leg warmers-combo scene, you know Flashdance when you see it – and there’s no way anyone mistakes it for a 90’s movie…

8. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Kurt Russell John Carpenter

When a no-nonsense trucker, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) gets caught in the crosshairs of an ancient supernatural battle underneath the roads of Chinatown, we all rejoice at a fine example of 80’s comedy/action.

Russell and Carpenter had already took the horror crown earlier in the decade with The Thing (1982), and four years later the brilliant actor-director pair made a triumphant return.

Burton (“Jack Burton, me!”)  sports one of the most unashamedly 80’s mullets to be seen on screen, aside from Joan Cusack’s mega-do in Working Girl (1988), complete with a wife-beater vest and a can of Miller.

Featuring a bright red Pontiac Firebird (brought to fame by ‘Knight Rider’) the must-have-motor of the 80’s, a gang of Chinatown ‘street punks’ rigged out with logic-defying sunglasses and cheeky nods to Star Wars, this movie should be on the shelf of any serious 80’s movie masters.

Elizabeth Howlett

Multi-platform journalist and film psychoanalyst who loves 80s films, but doesn’t think much of John Hughes. Horror and fantasy theory is her jam and she can quote anything at the drop of a hat. Her brain holds more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at and she hums the theme to Jurassic Park without realising. Heir to the throne and rightful queen of puns – you owe her your allegiance.
Elizabeth Howlett

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