The 100 Greatest ’80s Movies of All Time (30-21)

It’s kinda crazy that a decade once labeled “the death of cinema” by critics, who accused it of killing the auteur era that produced twenty years of masterpieces by ushering in the age of the big-budget blockbuster, has now become the dominating force in pop culture. It has a stranglehold on nostalgia with no signs of letting go any time soon. While it is admittedly annoying that it’s so pervasive throughout every form of entertainment nowadays, it’s also not hard to see why creators have been obsessed with it for such a long time. Simply put, no other decade has produced as much material for nostalgia than the ’80s. I’m not just talking about the iconic characters, either. Every beloved classic that’s stood the test of time feels like it has at least one thing designed solely to stick with you forever. Whether it’s a catchy theme song, a costume, an iconic prop, or a cool-looking vehicle, the decade just nailed cool merch. That’s really what our nostalgia for that era boils down to: cool stuff we want to own, wear or drive. The ’80s produced a bunch of cool stuff and the vast majority of it came from its insane amount of amazing movies. This list is a collaborative effort to determine the best the decade had to offer. It’s a mix of nostalgia-heavy classics like Gremlins and Ghostbusters, critically acclaimed foreign and independent darlings like El Norte and Dekalog and everything in between. Except documentaries.

These are the 100 Greatest ’80s Movies of All Time.

30. The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell made The Evil Dead on a shoestring and the desire to avoid a normal life (Raimi has said he made a horror movie because he didn’t want to go to work in his dad’s store). With frenetic camerawork, inventive special effects, and a sense of humor with a distinct Dutch tilt, The Evil Dead crawled out of the woods of Tennessee (and the basements of Michigan) to conquer the video tape rental aisles of middle America. It made good on the promises that the drive-in grindhouse features that inspired it failed at – it gave us the goopy, dismembered goods in spades.  For me, it was my first movie rental, and it cemented my love of the horror genre for good. Perhaps the most successful cult movie of all time, The Evil Dead made sure Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell never had to live a normal life and inspired generations of fans. I’ve bought that damn movie like six times in different formats, and god help me I’ll probably do it again.

–Bob Cram

29. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is probably the only memorable and famous ’80s coming-of-age film that doesn’t have John Hughes’ DNA on it. Amy Heckerling directed this classic story from a screenplay by Cameron Crowe about a group of sophomores and their older friends as they navigate love and a future after high school. The ensemble cast is a who’s who list of future movie stars from Sean Penn and Judge Reinhold to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nicolas Cage (in his feature film debut). Fast Times is an accurate representation of teenagers and their day-to-day lives that just so happens to include one of the most memorable scenes from an ’80s movie (You know exactly which scene I’m talking about). The film isn’t afraid to pause the laughs for a serious moment or two to explore topics that continue to affect the majority of American teenagers, but it also isn’t afraid to get us back to smiling and laughing in the next scene. Fast Times might not be my go-to ’80s coming-of-age film, but it’s possibly one of the only films of the genre to perfectly nail the emotional and psychological feelings of teenage boys and girls and for that reason alone, it’s worth a spot on this list.

–Marmaduke Karlston

28. Stop Making Sense (1984)

If all you know of the Talking Heads are a handful of songs and David Byrne’s comically oversized suit, you need to watch this movie immediately. Shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater as a means to promote their new album Speaking in Tongues, Stop Making Sense is the greatest entry point any band could or will ever have. Jonathan Demme created the best snapshot of a band’s greatness in the history of concert docs and no band has ever looked better on film. David Byrne dances around like a witch casting a spell on both the audience and the viewer. Like a snake bewitching anyone within eyesight with its rhythmic moves but with far more energy. He literally bounces around the stage while dancing and singing. His poor backup dances have to play follow the leader and the leader is possessed by the ghost of ol’ “Tappy Feet” McGee. Don’t ask who that is because I just made them up. If you aren’t immediately a fan after watching this, your taste in music is wrong. Just YouTube the “Burning Down the House” number and try and try me that’s not the most entertaining thing you’ve seen in months.

–Sailor Monsoon

27. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

It hit theaters the year I was born, so for me, there is no life before “KHAAAAAAAAAAN!” As Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) faces something of a midlife crisis, an old rival resurfaces to draw him back into action at the helm of the USS Enterprise. Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) is the leader of a group of 20th Century superhumans whom Kirk and the Enterprise crew encountered in Season 1 of the original Star Trek television series in 1967. Predictably, Khan tries to kill Kirk and steal his ship, only to be defeated and left with his people on a fertile but uninhabited planet. In The Wrath of Khan, we see that planet again 15 years later, when a Starfleet crew is searching for a lifeless planet to become the home to the Genesis Project. Genesis (as its name suggests) aims to create life from nothing. We quickly learn that Khan’s new home became a desolate wasteland not long after his people were dropped there. Now, he is on the hunt for revenge against Kirk.

Simply watching Khan and Kirk play cat-and-mouse across the galaxy is good enough entertainment for this to be in the top 100 movies of the 1980s. Kirk is in fine form, and the banter is top-notch between him, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Bones (DeForest Kelley). As an added bonus, the film subtly explores the idea of creation, and whether humans should be in the business of doing it on a planetary level. (Spoiler alert: We probably shouldn’t.)

–R. J. Mathews

26. Brazil (1985)

Imagine Orwell’s 1984 as filmed by Fellini with a script by Monty Python and you’re really not far off in describing Terry Gilliam’s dystopian black comedy. Amazing set design, unforgettable imagery, and a great performance by Jonathan Price anchor a bizarre story of dreams, control, and destruction. You can describe Brazil but never explain it – like The Matrix it must be experienced. You should do that now, but don’t forget to get a receipt. And a receipt for your receipt.

–Bob Cram

25. Blade Runner (1982)

1982’s Blade Runner was director Ridley Scott’s second foray into the sci-fi genre, and while it didn’t have as smooth a journey to the affection of audiences as 1979’s Alien, it still went on to become a stone-cold classic, and one of the most influential films of all time. With Alien, Scott’s vision of the future was narrow, confined to the inhabitants of one ship and the terror unleashed on it. With Blade Runner, the scope became much bigger, the world-building more far-reaching. A rain-soaked, neon-drenched, cyberpunk dystopia was realized — one that to this day remains a touchstone for anyone trying to bring the future to life. The whole thing is tied together by a one-of-a-kind score from Vangelis, who we lost in 2022. More than that though, Blade Runner manages to avoid the kind of B-movie feeling that could be brought about by such obsessive attention to the little details of a fictional world. All that stuff can be appreciated as a textured backdrop for what is ultimately a “more human than human” story, preoccupied with philosophical questions. So yes, while it is a visually stunning film, the visual element isn’t the primary reason for its being great.

Obviously, there have been several cuts of the film, and there’s some disagreement about which cut is the best, what elements work, what elements don’t, and whether or not Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a replicant (he totally is), but there’s no debate about Blade Runner’s quality or its significance.

–D. N. Williams

24. Videodrome (1983)

I’m almost never in favor of remakes, but there’s an argument to be made for a Videodrome remake. The subject of David Cronenberg’s 1983 film is television, but more broadly it deals with the effect a technological advancement like TV has on human psychology, its pervasiveness of it, and how, at times, television can seem more real than reality.

I don’t know about you, but that sure as hell sounds a lot like what we’re facing with the modern cell phone. But in the case of the smartphone, the situation is actually much worse.

We carry them everywhere. The TV stayed at home. The algorithms of the apps we use on our smartphones are designed to hijack our own psychology and use it against us to monopolize our time. Young people actually prefer texting or Snapchatting or whatever the fuck these kids do these days to actually seeing each other in person and socializing. And whenever you do see a group of young people together in public, they are inevitably all on their phones, caught up in what’s happening with someone far, far away that they probably will never meet instead of enjoying time with the friends that are in front of them. (Talk about artifice trumping reality.) And with smartphones, bullying doesn’t stay at school. It follows the kid home and continues to besiege them at the one place that should be safe from all of that kind of shit. And we haven’t even touched on the dangerous streak of narcissism that has grown out of the need to compete with our peers on social media, to get clicks, likes, follows, etc.

I could go on and on. But I think you see my point. Smartphones are a horror story. And they actually make a better subject matter for Videodrome than video itself. But unless Cronenberg decides to remake his own film (And wouldn’t that be interesting?), we’ll just have to settle for the original. Next time you watch it, though, and it gets to the scene at the end where James Wood’s hand melds with the gun, imagine that gun is a smartphone, and you’ll see what I mean.

–Billy Dhalgren

23. Airplane! (1980)

Is Airplane! the greatest comedy of all time? Maybe not, but it’s certainly one of the funniest movies of the 1980s. (There was a study done that did find Airplane! contained the “most laughs per minute” of any comedy, so there’s that.) There are so many gags in the film that you can’t really digest all of them at once, you need to see the movie several times just to get a handle on the funny. Based on a serious disaster movie (1957s Zero Hour!) and parodying the already waning 1970s disaster movie craze, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, and David Zucker struck comedy gold by jamming jokes side-by-side with deadly serious dramatic actors. Actors like Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Peter Graves all proved to be more hilarious than any comedic actor could have been. Though Leslie Nielsen is primarily known for his comedies now, he was a “serious” actor before Airplane!. Jammed packed with hilarious lines – too many to even go into here – Airplane! is a joy to watch, even 40+ years later. Do yourself a favor and watch it now!

–Bob Cram

22. The Terminator (1984)

James Cameron’s The Terminator is proof positive that a genre film doesn’t need to cost $250 million in order to be successful. Made on a shoestring budget of around $6 million (probably less than the craft services cost on most blockbuster films today), Cameron’s film doesn’t waste a single shot conveying the story it wants to tell. Sure, some of the effects are a little hokey, but it doesn’t take away from the effectiveness of the storytelling. The Terminator could be a manual for aspiring genre filmmakers: get the story right, get the characters right, and cut all of the shit that doesn’t help with either of those facets of the film. Maybe someone should tell Cameron that before he spends a billion dollars making four effects demos and calling them Avatar sequels.

–Billy Dhalgren

21. Ghostbusters (1984)

Sailor screwed up (again) because I’d have personally put Ghostbusters in the top 10. I simply love this movie so damn much. Ghostbusters gets quoted all the time in my house. It’s another one of those films that when it’s on it just stays on. I remember seeing it in the theater as a kid (yes, I’m old) and loving it. Ghostbusters II not so much (Sue me). The whole crew is just on point in this movie. Bill Murray is absolutely fantastic as Peter Venkman, the woman-crazy, skeptic scientist. He just loves to bust Egon’s, Ray’s, and anyone else’s balls he sees fit throughout the film. Toss out the stupid Ray ghost BJ joke and the film is perfect.

–K. Alvarez

40-31 | 20-11

What are some of your favorite ’80s movies? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!