Top 20 Best Movies From the 1980's
|Best movies of all time. Photo: oventemple|
The '80s were a golden decade in film, boasting classic films that you'll have seen on multiple occasions even if you were a '90s or '00s baby. Dirty Dancing, Footloose, E.T...so many of our golden coming-of-age films were born in the '80s, and have proven themselves to be timeless classics in the decades since. It's hard to resist a walk down memory lane, especially when the movies are this freaking good. So we combed through every single movie from the 1980s to bring you this list of the decade's best films.
1. The Shining (1980)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel
From a certain perspective, all of Stanley Kubrick’s movies are horror films: 2001’s terrifying cosmic loneliness, Dr. Strangelove’s cheery annihilation, the death duels from Barry Lyndon. Which is all a way of saying that when the director finally got around to making a proper thriller, he paradoxically produced the ultimate comic satire on the American family. With blood in elevators. Essential, Timeout cited.
The recent documentary Room 237 has reignited interest in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's haunted-house masterpiece The Shining. That doc spins increasingly wild theories about the complexity of Kubrick's film, turning the work into a maze for the viewer to get lost in, much like Jack Nicholson's character in the film itself. It's great that Room 237 exists, if only to bring more people to The Shining, but truly the film doesn't need it. After all, there's no better place to get lost than in the long corridors of Kubrick's only horror movie.
2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels
The Empire Strikes Back is acknowledged as the best of all the Star Wars movies for good reason. To best understand why, though, one must watch it back-to-back with its 1977 predecessor. The two flicks are a study in both artistic growth and how filmmakers can push themselves while tackling the always risky "sequel." That's the long-winded explanation; simply put, The Empire Strikes Back marks the moment when George Lucas grew up.
Global anticipation was huge for the follow-up to Star Wars, but few were expecting this darkly sophisticated transitional tale, loaded with psychological trauma, unresolved daddy issues, massive action sequences and a wholly believable Muppet main character. George Lucas is due much of the credit, but we're happy he had the actors directed by Irvin Kershner.
3. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliot
Nazis, the Staff of Ra and a boulder the size of a small house were the order of the day for Harrison Ford in his first Indy outing. An archaeologist protagonist (proctologist?) may not sound all that exciting, but Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' franchise follow-up to Star Wars succeeded, among many other reasons, in not taking itself too seriously. Lesser prequels and sequels followed, but Raiders cemented a post-A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back Ford as a Hollywood heavyweight. Face-meltingly good stuff, according to Empireonline.
4. The Evil Dead (1981)
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Then-21-year-old filmmaker Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead isn't simply a rollercoaster ride of a movie—it's that flying-off-the-rails coaster from the beginning of Final Destination 3. Out of control from beginning to end, the future Spider-Man franchise director's (who's back in blockbuster form this month with Oz, the Great and Powerful) low-budget first effort is the purveyor of horror's "cabin in the woods" template.
A group of young, likable innocents head to a secluded, wooded crib, find an ancient evil text, and unleash plenty of gory slapstick comedy. All, mind you, produced with barely $400,000. The Evil Dead is a glowing testament to the power of imagination over money, Complex wrote.
5. Blade Runner (1982)
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, M. Emmett Walsh, James Earl Jones, Daryl Hannah
From composer Vangelis's first dissonant chords to the grime and neon of a future Los Angeles, Ridley Scott's (82) sci-fi classic — based on a Philip K. Dick novella — served up an atmospheric, noir-soaked dystopia. But it's the story of corporate exploitation and the question of AI/replicant self-consciousness that bedevils and touches even now.
The magic of Blade Runner is that it's technically anything but old-school. It's noir meets Ziggy Stardust, with the stunning set design shown in great detail through sprawling aerial shots. The world of Blade Runner is kaleidoscopic, full of neon lights and glowing vehicles that zoom through the sky. As Ford gets his Dick Tracy on, Scott goes to extensive lengths to one-up Fritz Lang's Metropolis, AARP cited.
6. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, C. Thomas Howell
We were all children once, heading into adulthood with wide eyes, innocence, and wonderment. No filmmaker in cinema's history has worked this angle better than Steven Spielberg, and few movies have bottled the feeling of pre-teen magic better than E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Spielberg hit a sentimental grand slam with the title character, a lovable space invader who befriends a young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) and becomes the best friend a kid could ever ask for. The relationship between Elliot and E.T. is the glue that binds Spielberg's flick; it's impossible to watch E.T. and not wish that a cuddly little alien would land in your own backyard.
7. The King of Comedy (1983)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott
Back in the '70s and '80s, whenever Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaborated, the results were psychologically complex, dark, and brilliant. In Taxi Driver, things were humorless and nightmarish; in Raging Bull, the mood was unapologetic, brutal, and sad. The King of Comedy, however, was something else altogether: simultaneously funny and creepy.
De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe comedian and all-around weirdo whose chance encounter with A-list stand-up funnyman Jerry Langford (the legendary Jerry Lewis) makes him think that his pipe dreams of becoming famous will turn into a reality. Because he's a nut-job, of course, one who then spends the rest of The King of Comedy obsessing over Langford and unknowingly being the celebrity's biggest stalker.
Toss some kidnapping and a wonderfully twisted performance from co-star Sandra Bernhard and you've got the best dark comedy of the 1980s.
8. The Right Stuff (1983)
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris
The women of Hidden Figures had the right stuff. The pen-protecting, black-rimmed engineers in last year's amazing Apollo 11 had it, too. But Philip Kaufman's (83) film of Tom Wolfe's New Journalism tome about the pilots who signed up for the NASA Mercury Mission — Chuck Yaeger, Alan Shepard, John Glenn among them — makes for one helluva ride (so much so that Nat Geo and Leo DiCaprio are producing a limited series based on the same material).
9. Ghostbusters (1984)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson
Back in 1984, Ghostbusters was the best thing to happen to underage horror fans since Scooby-Doo. That '80s babies break into cold sweats any time news breaks about the long-gestating and still indefinite Ghostbusters 3 is a testament to this all-star classic's greatness.
Never skimping on the supernatural, Ghostbusters dispenses big-budget special effects (that admittedly look hella cheesy today), well-timed and harmless scares (the Slimer scene), and lively banter among the three main 'Busters (Murray, Ramis, and Aykroyd). Like The Goonies, Ghostbusters is one of those formative 1980s treasures for anyone who came of age during the Reagan era.
10. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Joe Unger, Charles Fleischer
The hat, the glove, the sweater, the make-up. Freddy Krueger was always going to be an iconic villain, although nobody quite realized the extent to which he'd dominate the '80s. He became a stand-up comedian in the sequels, but here, in Wes Craven's original Nightmare, he's much talked about but little seen. And Robert Englund's monster is frightening too. Craven doesn't quite nail nightmare-logic in the way David Lynch does, but the first Elm Street still manages some extraordinary imagery: the rubber-wall loom over the bed; the marshmallow stairs; Amanda Wyss smeared across a ceiling. Not yet encumbered by the baggage to come, Freddy's at his most powerful here, Empireonline cited.
11. The Sure Thing (1985)
Director: Robert Reiner
Stars: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Viveca Lindfors và Nicollette Sheridan.
Chalk and cheese college students Gib and Alison become unlikely travel companions as they make their way from one side of the US to the other. Alison is on her way to meet her boyfriend. Gib is heading to the West Coast to be set up with a no-strings encounter with a friend of a friend who's seen his picture - a sure thing.
But despite Gib and Alison's initial dislike for one another, the time spent together seems to have an effect. Yep. You know where this one is going, according to Whathifi.
12. The Goonies (1985)
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen
Is it silly of us to truly believe that an adventure with lost treasure, secret caves, and treacherous bad guys is still out there waiting for us? Until we find that map, we’ll have to live vicariously through Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Kerri Green, and the rest of the Goonies in the Spielberg favorite that taught us three things: 1) Never say die, 2) avoid pianos with bone keys, and 3) Baby Ruths are ultimate friendship food, Harpersbazaar wrote.
13. Top Gun (1986)
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Tom Cruise, Terry McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards
The aviator glasses, the bigger-the-hair-the-closer-to-God blondes, the bad-ass devil-may-care Tom Cruise, the homoerotic volleyball—very few films sum up the '80s better than Top Gun. The action-drama about Navy fighter pilots became the highest-grossing movie in '86, and its aerial scenes are still thrilling to watch.
The film is still on everyone's favorite lists, and we're not sure if that's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or sincere. Like Roger Ebert said, "The good parts of this movie are so good, but the bad parts are relentless." We cringe at the bar sing-along to seduce women, but it's difficult not to be so amused by everything else that we stop channel surfing every time we catch it on TNT. It has the power.
14. Manhunter (1986)
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan, Kim Griest, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang
The great American director of crime movies, Michael Mann is at the top of his game with Manhunter, his adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, the novel that gave the world Hannibal Lecter. The cannibal (played by Brian Cox with less regal flourishes than Hopkins would bring to the role in The Silence of the Lambs) is called on by investigator Will Graham (William Petersen) to track down a brutal serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan).
Mann's direction reflects the '80s beautifully. The clothing and art direction shine just as bright as the synths that score the action. You won't forget the moonscape wallpaper lining the Tooth Fairy's kill room, and CSI will never feel the same again, word to Gil Grissom.
15. Evil Dead II (1987)
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Lots of people complained that the Evil Dead remake wasn't funny enough. Evil Dead II – occasionally subtitled 'Dead By Dawn' – has now so far eclipsed the original 'ultimate experience in grueling horror' in popular consciousness that we can't now imagine Bruce Campbell's Ash as anything but a hapless splatstick loon. The Evil Dead had gnarly energy, but Evil Dead 2 goes properly insane: the standout sequence being Campbell's bravura physical performance as Ash endures a lengthy battle with his own hand. The classic chainsaw/boomstick combo has recently been resurrected on TV, but it begins here. In a word, groovy, according to Empireonline.
16. RoboCop (1987)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Dan O'Herlihy, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise
Robocop is perhaps the closest any pure sci-fi film could ever come to also being a traditional superhero tale, albeit one that's darkly humorous and unflinchingly violent.
Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven's futuristic revenge saga could also be considered the strangest Charles Bronson movie ever made. Peter Weller stars as murdered Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, who's brought back to life in the form of a "six million dollars" half-man/half-robot hybrid of law enforcement mastery. Robo's sole mission is to locate those who killed him in his previous human life, thugs he recalls through fragmented memories.
A large part of Robocop's success is owed to Verhoeven's willingness to treat a gun-busting robot as a character with real soul; as Robo pumps lead into every bad guy within eyesight, we're rooting for him, not simply applauding the movie's over-the-top violence. Which, admittedly, is quite kick-ass, according to Complex
17. Coming to America (1988)
Director: John Landis
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, John Amos, Shari Headley, Eriq La Salle, Louie Anderson
Younger heads might not realize it due to his recent output of shit, but Eddie Murphy was once the funniest man in Hollywood. Coming to America is hands down his best movie, an airtight riot that's as funny today as it must've been back when it came out (most of us were younger than Bebe's kids at that time).
While we wait for Prince Akeem to return to America this December, get reacquainted with the 1988 rom-com that stars Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy. As Murphy does in a considerable chunk of his resume, he brilliantly plays multiple character roles, from the lead royal looking for a bride to the side-splitting Clarence the barber. Though Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, and Garcelle Beauvais are on hand also, Harpers Bazaar noted.
18. Die Hard (1988)
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Die Hard should be blushing. Since John McTiernan’s movie introduced the world to John McClane (Bruce Willis), a cynical NYPD officer trying to save his estranged wife and her colleagues from the terrorists who drop in on their high-rise office Christmas party, countless action movies have aped it, simply changing the location where the trapped lone hero fights against overwhelming odds to a train, a plane, a school, or the White House. None of these movies (or the four sequels) compares favorably to Die Hard, arguably the greatest action movie and the greatest Christmas movie of all time.
A loose adaptation of Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Die Hard matches its grand Cowboys-and-Indians spectacle of glass-shattering shootouts and roof explosions with heart and humor in an uncommonly average and relatable hero. Unlike typical steroidal action stars of the ‘80s (see: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who turned down the film), Willis was a comedic actor who had a receding hairline and clearly wasn’t living in the gym. He, like wise-cracking and self-deprecating McClane, was the perfect flawed fit to accentuate the enormity of the task and get invested viewers on the edge of their seats sweating out the twists and turns of his crazy night. Or rather, on the edge of their saddles screaming out “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”
19. The Killer (1989)
Director: John Woo
Stars: Yun-Fat Chow, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh
Adding 37 percent more slow-mo to the decade, John Woo exploded out of Hong Kong action cinema and into the international spotlight with a run of badass crime flicks in which Chow Yun-Fat wasted ruthless gangsters in big jackets and there would often be doves. Following A Better Tomorrow, Woo's pioneering use of gun-fu, a lucky charm in Yun-Fat and those doves all came together in blazing church-set crescendo to this attention-grabbing maelstrom of Triad carnage. Nestled amid the awesome pyrotechnics are ageless themes of honor and redemption worthy of Woo's main influences, Martin Scorsese and Jean-Pierre Melville.
20. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro
1989 was a very good year for the American independent film movement. Channeling the political awareness of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970s, Spike Lee and his late '80s brethren (Steven Soderbergh, Michael Moore, and Jim Jarmusch among them) heralded the arrival of a new kind of filmmaking.
On the outer cusp of the decade, Spike Lee wrote, directed, and produced what would become a piece of monumental American cinema. Politically, racially, and emotionally charged, the masterpiece drama infused with bits of humor is set on a single street in Brooklyn and unfolds over a single day at the height of summer, the bigotry, hatred, and racisms of the nabe’s locals simmering and bubbling until they come to a head and erupt into violence. Made 31 years ago—hell if it isn’t more relevant today.
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