The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

By Rick Gonzales | Published

Greatest Movies of the 1980s

There is something about the decade of the ‘80s that really hits home, even for those who didn’t actually live through it. From its crazy sense of fashion to the pop music that was eerily synth-heavy, the ‘80s are often looked back on with a nostalgic smile. Another reason the ‘80s was a particularly good decade was because of the movies.

‘80s movies were just coming into their own. Blockbusters were being built, franchises were born, and cineplexes across the country were being filled up on a routine basis. So, based on GFR’s rating system, we have come up with the 10 greatest movies of the 1980s.

the shining

10. The Shining (1980)

Stephen King fans might disagree with this one (heck, Stephen King himself probably disagrees with this), but Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been said to be one of the scariest films from any decade. We know, Kubrick took liberties with King’s material, but in many instances, these liberties were quite effective.

The Shining tells the story of the Torrance’s, Jack, Wendy, and their young son Danny, who are caretakers at the Overlook Hotel, which shuts down for the winter. It doesn’t take long for strange occurrences to start causing Danny’s telepathic ability, called the Shining, to kick into overdrive. Suddenly, the hotel’s ghosts are out in full force and slowly Jack’s sanity comes into question. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd star.

blade runner

9. Blade Runner (1982)

You might be surprised to learn that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner did not fare well at the box office when it was first released in 1982. Not even Harrison Ford, who already had American Graffiti, Star Wars, Force 10 from Navarone, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark under his belt could get audiences into the theater for Blade Runner.

The film was based on Phillip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and tells the story of Rick Deckard (Ford) who, in future Los Angeles, reluctantly agrees to hunt down synthetic humans, or replicants, as they are on Earth illegally. This fantastic ‘80s science fiction movie also stars Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, and Daryl Hannah.

8. Amadeus (1984)

The life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is told brilliantly in this highly regarded ‘80s movie that was a big winner during awards season. The film stars Tom Hulce (Animal House) as the title character and F. Murray Abraham as Italian composer Salieri and in a very rare occurrence saw both stars get nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, which Abraham eventually took home.

The story follows Mozart and Salieri and the rivalry the two had. This rivalry ended with the death of Mozart, who was only 35 when he perished, and also with Salieri ending up in a psychiatric hospital.

7. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull rung in the decade of the ‘80s. The movie told the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta that was based on LaMotta’s memoir, Raging Bull: My Story. Robert De Niro played LaMotta and put his body under a difficult physical transformation (he gained 60 pounds) to portray LaMotta later in life.

Along with De Niro, this ‘80s movie also starred Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty in her first starring role.

opening scenes

6. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Another Harrison Ford franchise was born when he slipped on the fedora and cracked the whip for the first time as Indiana Jones. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the best of the ‘80s movies, we find our archeologist hero teaming up with his former love interest Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) in an effort to beat the Nazis to the Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis want it because legend says the Ark can make armies invincible.

Steven Spielberg brought the fun back to the movie theaters with Raiders of the Lost Ark and started a franchise that will be premiering its fifth film (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) on June 30, 2023.

5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Steven Spielberg was creating his legacy with his ‘80s movies and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was one of them. Spielberg was coming off the high that was Raiders of the Lost Ark when he brought to the world E.T., an extraterrestrial who just wanted to go home. But to get there, he would need the help of Elliott, Michael, and Gertie.

Henry Thomas starred as Elliott, a young boy who develops an immediate connection with E.T. and who realizes that E.T. will not survive if they can’t find a way to get him back onto his spaceship. The film also stars Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, and in only her second big-screen role, Drew Barrymore.

4. The Princess Bride (1987)

Rob Reiner directed this wonderful ‘80s movie from a script by William Goldman, which was based on Goldman’s novel of the same name. The story starts with a grandfather (Peter Falk) visiting his sick grandson (Fred Savage) and reading him a bedtime story. The story the grandfather chooses to read is The Princess Bride.

We are then transported into the story of Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright), whose love will be tested. There are pirates, outlaws, a smarmy Prince, an escape through the Fire Swamp, and a healer named Miracle Max. It’s all great fun.

3. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Skywalker Saga continued in 1980 with Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back which also saw the return of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, C-3PO, R2D2, and of course, Darth Vader. For this film, George Lucas stepped away from the director’s chair, handing over the reins to Irvin Kershner.

We pick up the action in this ‘80s movie three years after the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The Rebel Alliance is still fighting the Galactic Empire and Luke is off training to master the Force. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford all return.

2. Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future is another ‘80s movie that became the beginning of a blockbuster franchise. Michael J. Fox stars as Marty McFly, who is sent back in time in a Delorean by Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown. When Marty arrives back in time, he inadvertently stops his future mom and dad from falling in love, meaning his existence is now threatened.

Somehow Marty must first convince a young Doc Brown he is from the future, then they must figure out a way to get Marty’s parents to fall for each other and then get Marty back to his own time. This hit ‘80s movie spawned two sequels.

james cameron aliens

1. Aliens (1986)

James Cameron took what was successful in the 1979 Ridley Scott science fiction hit, Alien, and cranked out Aliens, the best film in the Alien franchise. In this one, Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley, the sole survivor of her crewmates’ alien encounter aboard the Nostromo. Ripley, after 57 years of floating in space in a rescue pod, is finally rescued.

She is pulled back into action when a transmission with a colony is lost and a rescue crew is being sent out to see what is wrong. The problem is that this colony was established on the same planet Ripley and her crew found the alien entity. Ripley is heading back to the planet with a spaceship filled with marines. What could go wrong?