Popular culture is obsessed with the '80s—Stranger Things, anyone?—and it's not hard to see why. The '80s were a golden decade in film, boasting classic movies that you've likely seen many times before even if you were a '90s or '00s baby. Dirty Dancing, Footloose, E.T...so many of our golden coming-of-age films were born in the '80s and have proven themselves to be very watchable in the decades since. That doesn't necessarily mean that the films have aged well—on the contrary, a lot of these are problematic when looked at with the benefit of hindsight. Which doesn't mean you can't watch these movies, per se, but that it's important to look at them through an analytical lens. We've added content warnings throughout to identify relevant subjects. (And if this list inspires you to take a walk down memory lane, take a gander at our list of the best '90s and '00s movies.)
Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick star in this romantic fantasy that, surprisingly, has no relation to 2018’s Lady Bird. Set in medieval France, Ladyhawke tells the story of a pickpocket and a knight on a journey to find love and defeat evil.
CW: mental illness, suicide. Long before Robert Pattinson, Ben Affleck, or Christian Bale ever set foot in the Batcave, Michael Keaton took on the role of the Caped Crusader. This take on the famous superhero, also starring Jack Nicholson as a particularly unhinged Joker, went on to become the fourth highest-grossing film of the entire decade.
'Rain Man' (1988)
CW: disability, mental illness, ableism. This story of Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) embarking on an eye-opening road trip with Raymond, the older autistic brother he never knew he had (played by Dustin Hoffman), ended up taking home half of the eight Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hoffman.
‘Baby Boom’ (1987)
CW: misogyny, racial slur. Diane Keaton plays a New York businesswoman who is forced to drop everything (job and relationship included) when an unexpected death leaves her the caretaker of a baby girl. Directed by Nancy Myers (who went on to make The Parent Trap, The Holiday, and The Intern), Baby Boom has all the makings of a classic ‘80s movie: gendered roles, slapstick humor, and shoulder pads.
'The Lost Boys' (1987)
Long before Twilight or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this comedy-horror film updated vampires for the modern age in an edgy and innovative way.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
CW: misogyny, homophobia, racial slurs, racism. Eddie Murphy as Detroit detective Alex Foley in Beverly Hills Cop made for a classically ’80s (and objectively hilarious) cult favorite. The movie went on to win the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture and snagged both Golden Globes and Academy Award nominations.
'Broadcast News' (1987)
CW: discussion of sexual assault. James L. Brooks's 1987 film told the story of two rival TV reporters and a producer.
Who could watch Alien without being completely and utterly captivated by Sigourney Weaver as badass Ripley?
'The Thing' (1982)
CW: animal cruelty. Call us wimps, but John Carpenter's The Thing is still frightening to this day.
'Blue Velvet' (1986)
CW: sexual assault, sexual violence, misogyny, sadomasochism. David Lynch's haunting mystery tells the story of Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), who finds a severed human ear and is set on a dramatic, terrifying journey.
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)
CW: consent, misogyny, animal cruelty, torture. The first of the epic Indian Jones franchise, Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark certainly didn't disappoint. Anyone who was able to come out of the film not in love with Harrison Ford as Indy was straight-up crazy.
'Mystic Pizza' (1988)
CW: classism. Matt Damon and Julia Roberts on the same screen? Yes please. Donald Petrie's 1988 hit tells the tale of three teenage girls working at a pizza parlor in Connecticut.
'The Terminator' (1984)
CW: animal cruelty. Who would've thought that the future governor of California would start his career as a sexy, time-traveling assassin? Arnold Schwarzenegger coined the now-famous phrase, "I'll be back," which turned out to be true—The Terminator continued into four sequels and a television series.
'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984)
CW: sexual violence, reference to suicide. A Nightmare on Elm Street was so damn good that it literally toyed with our perception of dreams versus reality. Doubling as a cinematic trailblazer and an absolutely haunting horror film, the story of Freddy Krueger still lives on in our nightmares today.
'The Karate Kid' (1984)
CW: assault. It's hard not to root for ultimate-underdog Ralph Macchio, who learns traditional martial arts from a progressive for the time Asian-American character, Mr. Miyagi, to combat the bullies wreaking havoc on his life.
'The Outsiders' (1983)
CW: sexual harassment, assault. Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 flick had a star-studded cast, to say the least: Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Diane Lane were all featured in the movie. An iconic coming-of-age drama, The Outsiders birthed the now-famous line, "Stay gold, Ponyboy."
'9 to 5' (1980)
CW: sexual harassment. This slightly dated but classic film offers a truly perfect combination of slapstick revenge comedy, ahead-of-its-time labor demands—flexible hours, equal pay, affordable childcare—and, of course, that incredible cast. And don't even get me started on the ultra-catchy theme song!
CW: sexual harassment. Launching one of the biggest cultural phenoms to date, Saturday Night Live stars Dan Aykroyd and Billy Murray had audiences in stitches as they filmed their adventures in fighting the supernatural. The film was so loved (despite several problems that are now acknowledged) that the franchise spawned multiple sequels, including 2017's all-women rendition starring Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones.
'Terms of Endearment' (1983)
CW: misogynistic comments. The strong mother-daughter bond between the two main characters in this film makes it hard not to get emotional, and the incredible performances by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger led to a Best Picture win, among four other Academy Awards.
The '80s brought horror to a new level with Spielberg's Poltergeist. Terrifying is an understatement when it comes to this supernatural-themed, suspense-filled story starring an actress too young to even get into the theater.
'Pretty in Pink' (1986)
CW: homophobic slur, misogyny. The outfits! The hair! Duckie! John Hughes crafted a masterpiece centered around a seemingly too-cool-to-care girl named Andie and her romantic struggles with the popular, rich boy. And like any good, somewhat dated high school movie, it ends with a totally '80s prom scene you have to see to believe.
'Stand by Me' (1986)
CW: homophobic slur, mental illness. Rob Reiner's film adaptation of Stephen King's novel brought four teenage boys together for a thrilling, coming-of-age drama.
'Top Gun' (1986)
With a 24-year-old Tom Cruise in uniform, it's no wonder Top Gun became an immediate, ridiculous favorite. Bless you, '80s.
'Blade Runner" (1982)
CW: assault, sexual assault, sexual violence, racial slur in older version. This science-fiction film starring Harrison Ford is a classic in the genre and a mind-bender to watch. Plus, it's required viewing if you want to watch the recent sequel co-starring Ryan Gosling.
'Say Anything' (1989)
CW: discussion of suicide. Opposites attract in this post-high school romance featuring heartthrobs John Cusack and Ione Skye. Say Anything proved that when things get rocky in a relationship, nothing beats standing outside your lover's window with a boombox. Does it read a little stalker-y these days? Sure, but Cusack's sweetness helps the behavior feel earnest, not creepy.
CW: suicide, discussion of suicide, sexual harassment. Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetleju…Don't say it a third time, because we're still convinced Tim Burton's creepy-as-hell character might appear. The 1988 flick gave the likes of Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, and Winona Ryder their starts.
'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)
Matthew Broderick made skipping school an event as Ferris Bueller, a teen with an elaborate plan to stay home "sick" from school and then an even more elaborate plan for what to do with the day instead. This hit film has everything we love about '80s movies: (sometimes irritating) teen angst, deadpan humor, and adventure—making it truly unforgettable.
'Do the Right Thing' (1989)
CW: racial slurs. Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing isn't just one of the best movies of the '80s, it's one of the best and most culturally significant films of all time. It was a critical and commercial success and nabbed Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello for his portrayal of Sal the pizzeria owner.
'The Princess Bride' (1987)
Rob Reiner's wildly loved fairy tale still holds up to this day. Mandy Patinkin in tights, stupid but quotable humor—what more could you ask for in an '80s movie?
'Dirty Dancing' (1987)
CW: abortion, misogyny. Summer romance, forbidden love (setting the weird age differential aside), killer dance moves, and a sexy leading man? Wayne Blair's 1987 knockout brought us an epic love story between quirky girl Baby and dark and brooding Johnny, and arguably the most iconic dance routine of all time.
'Back to the Future' (1985)
CW: sexual assault, incest. This sci-fi/comedy classic was a blockbuster success (it was the highest grossing movie of 1985) and catapulted Michael J. Fox to certified A-list status. In the movie, Marty McFly (Fox) travels back in time and puts his own existence into jeopardy when he interrupts his parents' meet-cute and is forced to play matchmaker to try to set things right.
'When Harry Met Sally...' (1989)
CW: misogyny. This rom-com classic from Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner tells the story of Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan), two best friends who fall for each other. The premise seems simple, but Ephron's script is a master class in character development and social psychology—and laugh out loud funny, too.
'Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back' (1980)
CW: torture. The second (in terms of release, anyway) Star Wars film kicked off the '80s with a bang. The Empire Strikes Back is widely considered to be the best film in the Star Wars franchise, and it's still a classic today.
'The Breakfast Club' (1985)
CW: sexual assault, sexual harassment, violence, homophobic slurs, abuse, attempted suicide. This John Hughes classic gave birth to high school stereotypes as we know them now: the jock, the princess, the nerd, the misunderstood rebel. Parts of it have aged poorly, and Molly Ringwald's article on the film is worth a read. While cognizant of all this, this problematic fave can still be viewed on its incredible merits—cue freeze frame.
Ruby was the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covered beauty across print and digital. Her work has appeared on The Zoe Report, Fashionista, and StyleCaster. Follow her on Instagram.
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