Best movies of the 1980s

The 1980s was a great era for hairspray and big shoulder pads, and it was also a fantastic time for cinema.

The decade produced a huge number of fantastic movies, and created iconic movie stars from Bruce Willis to Matthew Broderick, many of whom continue to be the hottest properties in Hollywood today.

There were action adventure franchises created that would redefine the expectations of film fans, out-of-this-world sci-fi movies that are still today remembered as some of the very best – and of course teen comedies and dramas that have very much stood the test of time.

But what are the ten best movies of the era? Well, surely only a fool would even try to take such a brilliant decade of films and put them into a ranked list! Well, we’re sorry, but we had to give it a go. Even if you disagree with the list, you have to admit, it is a list with some very good movies on it!

For those who prefer watching to reading, scroll down the page and enjoy the trademark Screen OD video presentation of this list. However, if you’re more of a wordsmith, or simply don’t have time to watch it all right now, we present to you below the top ten in full for your entertainment

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The Top Ten Movies of the 1980s Ranked

10. The Breakfast Club

John Hughes’ 1985 coming-of-age drama is one of the most iconic of the era and its genre. Creating what the media called “the brat pack” the film tells the story of a group of teenagers from different high school groups who are forced to spend their Saturday mornings together in detention with their not so friendly assistant principle. It couldn’t be more 80s even if you gave the film a perm.

9. Aliens

The second film in James Cameron’s sci-fi franchise, this is a rare example – along with The Godfather Part II – of a sequel that is as fondly remembered as the original film, indeed some fans would argue it even surpassed it in quality and storytelling. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley in this stunning piece of cinema which seven years after the original was well worth the wait.

8. Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 military film is still regarded as one of the most accomplished and powerful of its genre. Charting the story of a group of marines as they go through a particularly harsh boot camp training experience before going off to fight in Vietnam, this is a hard hitting and truly brilliant piece of cinema that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Another John Hughes film, this teen comedy catapulted Matthew Broderick to fame as the titular Ferris Bueller a high school kid in a Chicago suburb who skips school only for his day to spiral out of control. It’s probably fair to say this a film that has inspired more truant than many others on record!

© 1986 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.

6. The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film based on a Stephen King novel is a truly mesmerising piece of psychological horror, and certainly isn’t one that anyone who has seen will forget in a hurry. Starring Jack Nicholson in one of the roles of his life as the terrifying Jack Torrance, The Shining remains one of the best-loved and most revered films of its type.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Steven Spielberg’s 1981 film starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, a globe trotting archaeologist at war with Nazi’s in pursuit of a lost Ark of the Covenant was a huge hit when it was released and has gone onto remain a classic of its genre and spawned a franchise that is still as popular today as it was way back in the 80s.

4. Ghostbusters

Probably the film with the most recognisable theme tune on this list, the 1984 supernatural comedy is one of the best known and best loved films of the decade which still has an army of fans across the globe. Starring brilliant performances from Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis, there’s only one question left at the end of this film… “Who you gonna call?”

3. The Empire Strikes Back

The tricky second album wasn’t tricky at all for George Lucas as Episode V (or Star Wars 2 as some people call it!) wowed audiences in 1980 as the second Star Wars film exploded onto cinema screens. Even with all the prequels, sequels and TV series made today, it is still considered by many fans of the franchise to be the ultimate Star Wars film.

2. Die Hard

Still today, this 1987 action adventure is the bar against which all films of its genre are measured. Starring Bruce Willis in his first outing as New York detective John McClaine as he gets caught up in a terrorist plot, this movie (whether it’s a Christmas film or not – let’s not start that) is one that will have all movie fans excited every time they see the opening sequences play out.

© 1985 Universal City Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

1. Back to the Future

The 80s was a time of brilliant sci-fi, and none of them sum it up better than this 1985 work of genius, starring Michael J Fox as Marty McFly. This time travelling adventure captures the imagination of everyone who sees it and spawned a franchise that is still very much part of popular culture today. And that soundtrack, well, that’s just an added piece of genius.

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Tim Glanfield

Tim Glanfield is a journalist, editor and broadcaster with more than 15 years experience writing about television, film and the entertainment business. He has been editor of, a writer for The Times (of London) and the Guardian as well as a freelance contributor to newspapers, magazines and websites across the world. He is author of the book Digital Economy or Bust: The Story of a New Media Startup and makes regular appearances on TV and radio in the UK.

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