The Top 10 Movies from the 1980s

The Top 10 Movies from the 1980s

People often regard the 1980s as the pioneering decade for music, fashion, and technology. However, it was also a golden period for the cinema! Although many would not agree – especially when compared with the serious, gritty films of the ’70s – this claim remains true. With the blockbusters taking shape in the 1970s, the ’80s in its prime, did well to deliver consistent hits both in commercial terms and critical terms! This is exactly why the ’80s will always trigger nostalgia as far as movies are concerned, even if you didn’t live through the decade. It brilliantly ushered in the era that perfected the action movie and summer blockbuster!

A whole lot of great movies came out in this decade, as you are about to find out on this list. It was indeed a period when high concept films gained potent grounds. Movies could be easily understandable and marketable! Do not feel bad if your favorite does not make the list. There is only space for 10. However, be sure to trust that all movies on this list were groundbreaking and the decade’s phenomenal sensations!

Here are the top 10 movies from the 1980s!

10. Do the Right Thing (1989)

“Always do the right thing.”

Ossie Davis as Da Mayor in Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing

Being a movie that firmly helped set up Spike Lee as one of the best talents, Do the Right Thing has earned the number 10 spot on this list. This is the same movie with which the brilliant director used in giving his controversial take on racial tension in Brooklyn. It earned him a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and only 4 blacks have ever received nominations in this category. The movie turned out to be a surprise hit despite it being on a small budget. Do the Right Thing ranks amongst the most successful, socially provocative films that Hollywood has ever produced.

It manages to tell an immensely powerful story with serious themes, and at the same time, keep its viewers engaged in a world that mirrors our own. With acting talents like Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, John Turturro, and Giancarlo Esposito, this movie was able to keep people talking for decades! It reminds us that doing the right thing is not all that easy, especially in the face of hate. Audiences appreciate this movie for letting them think for themselves about what they have seen. It is no doubt one of Lee’s greatest works and one of the best movies of the ’80s!

Do the Right Thing tells a story that features the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn. Here, everything goes down on the street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. There is a whole lot of hate and bigotry smolders, which keeps on intensifying till it builds to the inevitable point of violence!

9. The Terminator (1984)

“This is great stuff. I could make a career out of this guy! You see how clever his part is? How it doesn’t require a shred of proof? Most paranoid delusions are intricate, but this is brilliant!”

Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman in The Terminator
The Terminator

Who can use a low budget to make a vastly high concept action film being a seminal debut? James Cameron can, and he did with The Terminator! He brought innovative use of cyborgs with a captivating story to further influence the sci-fi genre! This movie also led to one of the finest sequels the movie industry has ever seen. More so, it brought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career to the limelight and spotlight! This movie is all shades of cool, intense, and more so, shockingly re-watchable, leaving you glued to the movie screen for hours. The Terminator turned out to be one of the best films from the ’80s decade. It is one time-traveling sci-fi romance that still attracts the eye with its captivating content!

The Terminator tells the story of a human soldier sent from a far-future year – 2029 – to stop an almost indestructible killing machine. Skynet sent this machine, Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the same future to kill a young woman in the present day 1984, at the time. Being the antagonist, his mission is to eliminate her because her unborn son is the solution to humanity’s future chaos.

8. Raging Bull (1980)

“I’m the best, I can take it more than anybody.”

Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull
Raging Bull

This 8th placed movie made Martin Scorsese one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of all time. Many would even agree that Raging Bull is his absolute best! Scorsese shot the movie in a black and white cinematic fashion that mixes a perfect blend of godlike performances from Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and of course, Cathy Moriarty. It is also one of the best sports movies ever as it tells the tale of one man’s inherent downfall. With brilliant editing, Raging Bull creates a believable world that is full of force. Being a tragic portrait of a real person, this movie proves the potency of cinematic language and visuals flawlessly!

Raging Bull tells the story of boxer Jake La Motta. This movie features the chronicles of his life, both in the ring and out of it. In sum, the violence and temper of Jake La Motta lead him to the top of the ring while destroying his life outside of the ring. Hence, presenting to viewers a destructive storm of a human being.

7. Die Hard (1988)

“But, you have me at a loss. You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?”

Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard
Die Hard

Die Hard is succinctly the inarguable action movie highlight of the 1980s! This movie supplied a simple but vastly entertaining formula for brutal efficiency and sheer entertainment. Hence, it is easily one of the best movies from this decade and our number 7 on this list! Die Hard explores the situation of an ordinary man hurled into an extraordinary circumstance. To this day, it has established tropes and conventions, which has birthed several clones. Every element is simplistic, yet incredibly unique: tight script, memorable villain, an individual location, and a hard-willed hero from every-day. All these components make the movie a huge watershed moment for action movies! It was no doubt a game-changer that will always shine bright in our nostalgic minds of real action films.

It tells the story of an NYPD officer (Bruce Wills), who, from an unforeseen event, tries to save his wife and several other hostages. German terrorists invade a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles and have taken several hostages. It is now up to him to save the day!

6. Blade Runner (1982)

“It’s too bad; she won’t live. But then again, who does?”

Edward James Olmos as Gaff in Blade Runner
Blade Runner

Taking the 6th spot is Ridley Scott’s dystopian thriller Blade Runner! Amongst the several sci-fi movies that graced the ’80s decade, this was arguably the most daring and the darkest! Even though this movie did not make an immediate impact, it then made its mark to influence sci-fi fiction movies in the world. As the movie runs through the titular Blade Runner (Harrison Ford), hunting missing replicants (humanoid robots), the film gave a critical fictitious future that has grabbed viewers’ deepest thoughts. It questions what it means to be human in a technologically advanced world. Blade Runner has also influenced the high standard of futuristic sci-fi tales at all levels. Saying that this movie is one of the best sci-fi movies in this decade is a blatant understatement!

In this story, Blade Runner, Harrison Ford, sets out on the task of hunting and destroying stray replicants, advanced humanoid robots, who have gone AWOL. These replicants have stolen a ship in space and have gone to Earth to discover their true maker.

5. The Shining (1980)

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in!”

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining
The Shining

Being one of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces, The Shining easily stands out as one of the best horrors the world has ever seen! This easily makes it one of the best movies of the ’80s decade. The unique sense of dread made in this movie is one that can keep you shivering long after the credit rolls. Its musical scores are insane! The eerie visuals are something! I mean, who would not get creeped out watching Jack succumb to madness? Or the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel? Or the demons that haunt him?

Whichever it was, this movie keeps you on the edge till it ends. It is pure downtime evil and would frighten you, despite lacking actual brutality, lots of blood, and gore. With a brilliant performance from Jack Nicholson playing the psycho, you can be certain viewers will battle paranoia! It is no surprise that the movie is all shades of horror, being a Stephen King’s adaptation. The Shining simply shows how deep a man can fall when he allows his mind to wander with the vehicle of horror.

This movie succinctly tells the story of how a family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter. As they get acquainted with the unfamiliar environment, a sinister presence begins to influence the father into violence while his mind messes up with him. Meanwhile, his psychic son also shines in his part as he also sees frightening foreboding from the past and the future!

4. ALIENS (1986)

“They’re coming outta the walls. They’re coming outta the goddamn walls. Let’s book!”

Bill Paxton as Private Hudson in ALIENS

Taking the number 4 spot on this list is the iconic Aliens! After James Cameron did prove himself as a force to reckon with, with The Terminator, he cements his ingenuity with a massive move! He went ahead to further move the Alien franchise, birthing ALIENS. This shows everyone that there is a lot you can do with a fantastic sequel to birth a groundbreaking classic! James Cameron was very clever as he did not even try to reproduce the intense horror of ALIEN. Instead, he fills the movie with amazing action with a perfect blend of tension! This movie perfectly delivers on all cylinders, and of course, it cements Sigourney Weaver as one hell of a female hero!

In this movie, Sigourney Weaver comes back an Ellen Ripley with a new cast of people. Here, they return to the planet where the Nostromo had first discovered that titular alien. Unfortunately, upon their arrival, they realize it is now a colony of aliens! The plots get even thicker as the energetic Ripley steps in as the lead, with new characters joining her in this quest.

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

“You and I are very much alike. Archaeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the purer faith. Out methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.”

Paul Freeman as Belloq in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

When two maestros combine creative cerebral energy to come up with a movie, you can be sure to get an impressive result! Yes, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas joined forces to create our pick for 2nd runner up! This movie is a brilliant and undiluted pulp fantasy that stars Harrison Ford as the adventurous Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark did well to spawn a big franchise that birthed sequels, Video games, and TV shows. It has enjoyed critical acclaims and is noted to be one of the best movies from the ‘80s decade! This movie has turned out to be the fans’ favorite. With its memorable villains, snakes, and a huge trap ball, a never-ending excitement-filled Raiders of the Lost Arc has gifted its viewers decades of entertainment!

Set in 1936, Raiders of the Lost Ark tells the story of Indiana Jones. He is an adventurer and an archaeologist. Here, the American government hired him to look for and find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler’s Nazis lay their hands on it and get its great powers! Pretty awesome!

2. Back to The Future (1985)

“Wait A Minute, Doc. Are You Telling Me You Built a Time Machine…Out of A DeLorean?”

Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in Back to the Future
Back to the Future

Directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis, this brilliant 2nd placed movie was one of the best from the ‘80s! Back to the Future was succinctly the definitive time travel movie of the decade. The execution and turnout of this movie are close to flawless with outstanding performances. The comedic timing and dialogue are very witty, and who can forget the music? It is no doubt; part of the best needle drops in the cinema! Being a sci-fi movie, it had an excellent blend of groundbreaking special effects. This movie further is an accentuated watermark for director Robert Zemeckis, one that is very fond of gimmicks. He hit a grand slam home run and ordained a tidy three-part franchise. In a nutshell, Back to the Future did well to assemble all the right ingredients in a single movie!

In this movie, an accident flings Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox, back in time to the past, 1955, with the time-traveling DeLorean, which his friend, Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd, had invented. Having intervened with his parents and, as a result, change the course of history, he stands the risk of not existing anymore. Now, he must right the wrongs and seeks the help of the younger version of Doc Brown!

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

“Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”

Frank Oz as Yoda in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

The number one spot is the never-aging sci-fi thriller, Star Wars: Episode V–The Empire Strikes Back! Many fans of the Star Wars franchise believe this to be Star Wars’ single best movie! One that paved the way for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as well as Spaceballs. This movie proves just how potent a well-crafted space opera can be! Especially when apt attention to the characters who populate it spearheaded the film. It came with a brilliant twist that made this sequel a huge deal at the time.

Cementing the sci-fi genre, this movie made the Star Wars franchise a bigger hit. To this day, fans not only see this film as arguably the best Star Wars movie, but also as the one that helped to define the 1980s decade for generations across the world!

In this movie episode, Luke Skywalker starts his training with Yoda. This happens after the Empire overtook the Rebels on the Ice Planet Hoth. And while all this ensues, Darth Vader and a bounty hunter (Boba Fett) pursues Luke’s friends all over the galaxy.


As you might have already seen in the compilation of what deserves the title of the top 10 movies from the ‘80s, you will agree that the ‘80s was no joke as well. The decade ended with fantastic films that even this list could not take due to the 10 limited space. However, from Do the Right Thing down to Star Wars: Episode V–The Empire Strikes Back, the ’80s was no doubt phenomenal! It gave us consecutive hits and helped cement this decade as one at the forefront of brilliant blockbusters!

Author: Chris Ingledue 


Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

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