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Best 80s Movies Everyone Needs to Watch

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By Dillon Wallace

Ahhh, the 1980s. How do you talk about one of the most unique decades in modern history? Where the fashion was frequently loud and always questionable. Where metal bands wore more makeup than the girls in your high school. And, where Cold War anxiety was still quietly brewing behind big blown out hair and shoulder pad everything. But, amidst the craze of new computer technologies from no name companies like Macintosh, a video game boom led by a jumpy fat Italian plumber, and shopping malls galore, one thing the decade nailed––that cherry on top of an already eccentric decade––was the movies!

 

For Hollywood, the 1980s were huge. Bigger than huge; it was the decade of the “blockbuster” (both, the term for popular movie and the beloved video rental store). It was a decade of hit after hit after hit, and thanks to budding special effects technologies, certain franchises and genres that were once just pure imagination now felt like reality. It was a tense decade that used comedic and adventurous films as a way to escape some of the horrors of real life.

 

So, buckle up and hit the gas because this DeLorean is cranking it up to 88 mph to go back in time to the decade that gave us some amazing classics. Here are the best 80s movies everyone needs to watch – and why!

 

The Goonies

What happens when you pair the success of Indiana Jones with a coming-of-age story about a loveable group of teenage misfits? You get lightning in a bottle. Or, in this case, maybe a pirate ship full of One-eyed Willie’s booty in a bottle.

 

Why is this a must watch? The performances of the young cast are incredible (and hilarious, I’m looking at you Chunk), and the journey they take throughout the film is nothing short of an unforgettable wild ride for the whole family. Also, the Fratellis and Sloth … need I say more?

 


Top Gun

The 1980s were full of films that were attached to iconic soundtracks. So much so, that it’s hard to delineate one without thinking or talking about the other. That perfectly applies to Tom Cruise’s Top Gun, quite possibly the film that lifted and solidified his heartthrob status … at least until everyone found out that he’s just kind of a weird dude. Sorry, Tommy.

 

Why is this a must watch? The film has amazing combat and real-life flight sequences, and the performances are nothing short of dramatic gold. Plus, there’s a volleyball scene where all the pilots are shirtless and flexing. You’re welcome ladies.

 


The Breakfast Club

Whether you were a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess or a criminal, high school wasn’t easy for anyone, and the Breakfast Club proved that. It’s a well-casted movie that stands the test of time for the way it portrayed the realities of high school.

 

Why is this a must watch? Because it was one of the first high school films to actually feel like high school. The idea that we’re all struggling to get by, regardless of how others perceive us.

 


Back to the Future

You knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time. Back to the Future might be the pinnacle film of the 1980s. A likable lead? Check. No shortage of adventure? Check. Great humor? Check. Cutting-edge special effects? Check. It was an imaginative journey back in time to save the future, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re all aboard the time-traveling DeLorean for a thrilling ride every time it’s on. 

 

Why is this a must watch? This was really Michael J. Fox’s breakout role, and to think that it almost wasn’t his for the taking. All I’m going to say is that the “Johnny B. Goode” scene at the high school dance may be one of my favorite scenes in film history. Period.

 


The Terminator

Long before he was governor of California and shortly after he won Mr. Universe, Arnold “The Bicep” Schwartzenegger found his footing as a bonafide action hero, although it took him playing the villain in The Terminator to really catapult his career. Everything in this movie from the acting to the music keeps you on the edge of your seat in thrilling suspense.

 

Why is this a must watch? Back when Hollywood had original ideas, creative movies like this one––about a robot sent back in time to kill the mother of the child that would lead the human resistance against the machines––were all the rage. Without movies like this, we may have never gotten The Matrix or Ex Machina.

 


Scarface

Who doesn’t love a good rags to riches story? Okay, so it may not portray the best message about how to achieve success, (being a drug lord and all), but you’ve still got to give Tony Montana’s character props for ambition, right?

 

Why is this a must watch?

Al Pacino shines in this Oliver Stone classic as a Cuban refugee who arrives in Miami penniless and goes on to become a powerful drug lord. Was he the original gangster? Probably not. But he's one of the OGs, and he delivers some of the most classic lines from the decade of film.

 

Dead Poets Society

The late great Robin Williams may have best been known for his hilarious comedic performances, but make no mistake, the man was a brilliant dramatic actor, and audiences got their first glimpse into his range in the coming of age Dead Poets Society.

 

Why is this a must watch?

It’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s relatable – all rolled into one timeless, time period movie. Carpe Diem, O Captain! My Captain!

 

Ghostbusters

You can’t talk about 80s films without throwing Ghostbusters into the mix. Led by a hilarious BIll Murry and a fellow all-star comedy cast, this movie catapulted a franchise that still holds strong with iterations today.

 

Why is this a must watch?

It scores huge points for originality, humor and special effects, and the awesome soundtrack … you’re already singing it aren’t you? Exactly.

 


Dirty Dancing

It doesn’t matter if you were male or female, Patrick Swayze was like the James Dean of the 80s. The Brad Pitt of the 90s. The Chris Hemsworth of the 2010s. He was cool, tough and he could dance and sing! That’s an unfair quadruple threat for the rest of mankind.

 

Why is this a must watch?

There’s a lot of reasons this movie is an annual repeat for viewers, but the biggest one being that infamous dance move. If you know, you know.

 


Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

How does it get any cooler than Han Solo? You up the ante by making him an adventure-seeking, treasure-hunting, scholastic-teaching badass on a quest to beat the Nazis on finding the holy Ark of the Covenant and prevent world domination.

 

Why is this a must watch?

Pure adventurous entertainment. Sure, there were adventure movies before Indiana Jones, and there have been several movies in the adventure drama after it, but Indiana Jones might be (probably is) the apex of them all.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

  • Stand by Me – Another coming-of-age story about a group of childhood friends out to find the body of a dead person. Sure, the plot sounds a little grotesque, but the journey they take is the ultimate testament in friendship.
  • Full Metal Jacket – You want a movie that will make you feel the psychological effects of warfare? Look no further, you’ve found it. Buckle up.
  • Karate Kid – Wax on. Wax off. Who doesn’t love a good movie about a victim sticking up to his bully? And nearly 40 years later, the cast is still kicking it (literally) in the Cobra Kai series.
  • Sixteen Candles – I don’t think anyone can argue that John Hughes was the master of the high school comedy/drama back in the 80s. 
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street – Welcome to the ultimate in 80s horror with the movie that spawned a cultural icon in Freddy Krueger. “One two Freddy’s coming for you. Three, four better lock the door …”
  • Die Hard – What makes this movie so great is that John McClane (Bruce Willis) isn’t a superhero. He’s just a normal guy (without shoes) on a mission to stop a terrorist takeover. But the bigger debate is this: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? 
  • Princes Bride – Romance, action, comedy, drama … this fairy tale of a movie has it all in spades.
  • Coming to America – Eddie Murphy was larger than life back in the 1980s. You can debate whether Coming to America or Beverly Hills Cop was his greatest film, but you’d be wrong if you chose the latter.

 

Seriously, making a list of the best films from the 1908s is a near impossible task because there were so many amazing films! Which begs the question, what was your favorite 80’s flick? Did it make the list?

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