Whether or not you were around during the '80s, there's something particularly appealing about that decade. From the fashion to the music to the films, it's hard not to look back with nostalgia, even if you weren't born in the 1980s. It was a golden era for popular culture. Many actors and directors had their start during that decade and grew into iconic Hollywood stars.
The '80s brought with it a rise in big blockbuster flicks, the emergence of romantic comedies, classic teen films, and so much more. Countless movies from that time remain as present in our culture today as if they were released this past weekend. So, it's nearly impossible to narrow down the best '80s movies to such a short list. However, we've accumulated some of the top can't-miss films.
Ordinary People (1980)
In the film adaptation of the book Ordinary People, Timothy Hutton plays the part of Conrad, who is suffering from severe depression following the death of his brother caused by a boating accident. His mother, Beth Jarrett, played by Mary Tyler Moore, and father, Calvin, played by Donald Sutherland are trying to get back to normal while navigating the murky waters of grief.
Calvin's father encourages him to visit a therapist, Dr. Berger, played by Judd Hirsch. It's an incredible Oscar-nominated drama that showcases the struggles of depression, family issues, and loss. Director Robert Redford and lead actor Timothy Hutton went home with much-deserved Oscars. Mary Tyler Moore and Judd Hirsch received Oscar nominations for their parts, revealing the depths they went to for their characters. A film that you should see at least once in your lifetime.
Stream on Max
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and won one for Best Sound. Starring Henry Thomas as Elliot, he befriends a small alien, dubbed E.T., who is left behind by his family's alien ship.
When Elliot introduces his new otherworldly friend to his two siblings Drew Barrymore as Gertie, and Robert MacNaughton as Michael, they try to keep the biggest secret of their lives from everyone around them. However, their biggest challenge is getting E.T. back in touch with his family, who is slowly deteriorating before them. While the movie is geared towards children, it appeals to the inner child within adults, making it a classic film that endures across the ages.
Stream on Peacock
The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid is one of those '80s movies that has seen a resurgence in our culture, in part thanks to the Netflix series Cobra Kai. Ralph Macchio stars as Daniel who has moved with his mom from New Jersey to Reseda, California. He finds a love interest in a local rich girl, Ali, played by Elisabeth Shue. However, Daniel's California dreams are dashed when he runs into local bullies, all karate students from the Cobra Kai studio.
It's when Daniel meets Mr. Miyagi, as played by Pat Morita, that things begin to shift. Receiving mentoring on karate techniques in unconventional ways and learning important life lessons, Daniel begins to learn to overcome his fear and fight back against his enemies. Pat Morita was rightly nominated for an Oscar for his role as Mr. Miyagi. Combined with incredible music, this is one of the best movies from the '80s.
Stream on Netflix
Back to the Future (1985)
Starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future is an impossible movie to forget. It all starts when Marty McFly goes to see Dr. Emmett Brown (or "Doc") in the middle of the night. He's shocked to see his friend's latest invention: a time machine.
As one would expect, everything goes wrong, and Marty hops into the time machine to get away. Thanks to fate, he ends up going back to the time of his parents' youth. When he gets in the way of their budding romance, things get a bit strange. Marty only has a little amount of time to fix things and make it home. With a blend of time travel, adventure, and even a little romance, it's a movie that embodies so much of what we loved about the '80s.
Stream on Peacock
Stand By Me (1986)
Considered one of the top-rated movies by IMDb and one of Stephen King's favorite adaptations of his books, it's hard to believe that Stand by Me is over 35 years old. Wil Wheaton stars as Gordie LaChance, the late River Phoenix as Chris Chambers, Corey Feldman as Teddy Duchamp, and Jerry O'Connell as Vern Tessio.
They are four friends setting out on a journey to find the body of a dead kid while getting used to the idea of growing up.
Richard Dreyfuss's narration as Gordie the adult, guides us through this incredible movie, giving us deeper insights into how things were when he was growing up. As much as there are sad moments in the film as each character faces his own personal struggles, there are still humorous moments that break up the tears. Rob Reiner's direction gave us a film that resonates with its audience well after it's over.
Stream on Netflix
The Goonies (1986)
In another Steven Spielbeg '80s classic, The Goonies focuses on Mikey, played by Sean Astin, and his three friends, Jeff Cohen as Chunk, Corey Feldman as Mouth, and Ke Huy Quan as Data, who discover an old treasure map in his attic. Insisting that it will lead them to real treasure, they head off to a nearby old restaurant which has turned into a criminal hideout.
Later joined by his brother, Brand, played by Josh Brolin, and soon after, two teen girls, one of whom has a romantic interest in Brand, they all go through a series of boobie traps and life threatening situations. But their single mission is clever: save the Goondocks. While it may not have received any awards, it's a movie that's likely on the favorite list of many kids who grew up in the '80s.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1989)
It's hard not to talk about the '80s movies without mentioning at least one John Hughes film. He was the director of many movies we remember from that time, including Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. However, one of his best is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, starring the decade's favorite family man, John Candy with comedian extraordinaire, Steve Martin.
When Steve Martin's Neal Page runs into trouble getting home, he gets help from John Candy's Del Griffith. Unfortunately, Del seems to be making it harder for Neal to get to his Thanksgiving dinner. In this holiday road movie, both unbelievable and hilarious circumstances bring the two closer together even as it seems to be taking Neal further away from home. Considering we lost both John Candy and John Hughes far too soon, it's a treasured movie that remains with us decades later.
Stream on Paramount Plus