The ‘80s are on everyone’s mind these days: a purple, synth-scored explosion of sex, action movies and the greatest blockbuster summer movies of all time. It’s a decade that perfected the Hollywood sci-fi masterpiece, but our list of the best ‘80s movies includes plenty of highbrow classics from legendary directors like Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, who owned the moment. Dive in to our 30 favorites—and turn your collar up.
“When you grow up, your heart dies,” says Ally Sheedy’s goth loner in this essential ’80s teen drama—no other words spoken in a John Hughes picture are as emblematic of his unerring sympathy for a young generation finding its footing. The Simple Minds song doesn’t hurt either.
Is it Martin Scorsese’s finest film? It’s certainly a strong contender (ba-da-bing!), and there’s little doubt that Robert De Niro’s performance is one of the all-time greats—not just for the remarkable physical transformation, but also for his embodiment of male sexual jealousy presenting itself as rage.
Steven Spielberg spent the early part of his career honing the template for the blockbuster. As perfect as 1975’s Jaws is, it’s Raiders of the Lost Ark where all the pieces come together in an unparalleled action classic. The movie’s DNA is taken from Hollywood’s forgotten cliffhangers, but the spirit is wholly modern: Keep up with this guy in the hat if you can.
Woody Allen is having a late-period resurgence with movies like Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris, but looking back over his career, there was no other filmmaker on the planet who, during the ’80s, blended high and low comedy with such confidence. This one is as towering as Annie Hall: a serious inquiry in neurotic Manhattan lifestyles, touched by philosophical grace and punk spirit.
James Cameron would go on to be able to claim the two highest-grossing movies in cinema history, but right here is the crux of his reputation. Aliens was an impossible assignment: Make a sequel to a revered sci-fi classic while adding your own imprint on the material. Cameron did that and more, turning Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley into an enduring feminist icon, amping up the military action and producing the most exhilarating roller-coaster ride of the decade.
As long as SNL launches new comedians into the stratosphere, it will have to contend with this ingenious transitional vehicle, the movie that gave improvisational skit humor a loony sci-fi sheen and turned NYC into a paranormal playground. Director Ivan Reitman doubles down on the earthy cheering crowds, the hot-dog vendors and a distinctly Kochian mayor.
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.
Spielberg’s childlike wonderment has no better conduit than this magical adventure, the essence of the director’s way into an audience’s heart. More subtly, E.T. is not simply a film about believing in dreams and wishing on stars. It’s a tale concerned with learning how to say goodbye and own your pain: Elliott is a young man by the end.
In a doomy 2019 L.A., Harrison Ford is the chilly dispatcher of android “replicants,” many of whom have more soul than he does. The forefather of this authenticity paranoia is source author Philip K. Dick, who saw Ridley Scott’s film shortly before his death and approved. But credit the director (and key collaborator Vangelis, who stirred the synths) for envisioning it all in a glinting, glitzy valley of self-regard, where women in nightclubs wear veils and humanity mourns itself.
And here it is, the most significant movie of the 1980s, a film that turned its viewers into secret detectives sniffing out the seedy underbelly of American suburbia. David Lynch‘s surreal adventure felt utterly fresh in its moment. It also inspired TV’s landmark Twin Peaks and enabled the most daring director of his generation to pursue his wildest dreams.
Report by Timeout