The library scene from 'The Breakfast Club'
(Universal Pictures)

The 20 Best ’80s Movies of All Time, Ranked

You’re asking me to do WHAT? Asking me to rank the best ’80s of all time is an impossible task. The subjectivity alone is going to fill the comments with angry screams, I know. But here goes nothing. Here is a list of the greatest films from the greatest decade for films of all time.

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20. My Neighbor Totoro

Cuddly monster Totoro celebrates in the moonlight with their babies and two little human girls in "My Neighbor Totoro"
(Studio Ghibli)

Starting off with the most adorable-wuviest-squishiest-feel-good movie on this list is Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro! What’s it about? Two little girls who move to the edge of a magical wood in rural Japan along with their father, who soon discover that the surrounding land is full of snuggly-looking creatures that just want them to have a good time! The cuddliest of them all is the man-cat-bear Totoro, who takes the sisters flying through the night and helps them grow giant trees in the backyard! Watching this film is like sipping hot cocoa with your baby boo while a blanket of freshly fallen snow covers the world outdoors. It’s just the feel-goodest film around.

19. Heathers

Winona Ryder as Veronica in Heathers
(New World Pictures)

Michael Lehmann’s Heathers is the exact opposite of My Neighbor Totoro. It’s cynical, dark, and tongue-in-cheek hilarious. The film revolves around a group of rich popular girls all named Heather, whose lives are upended when a weird kid shows up to school. What kind of weird kid? Does he eat the erasers off of pencils? Not quite. He prefers murdering popular kids and then staging their deaths as suicides. A commentary on class, bullying, and peer pressure, this movie is essentially the evil older sister of Mean Girls.

18. Beetlejuice

Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz in 'Beetlejuice'
(Warner Bros)

Tim Burton has been traumatizing children ever since the 80s! Beetlejuice is no exception. After a newlywed couple dies and returns as spooky ghosts, they find that their old house has new occupants. Hot Topic teen blueprint Lydia now shares the home with her snotty rich family, and the girl soon makes a connection with the ghosts. Eventually, the trio ends up hiring a particularly obnoxious spirit named Beetlejuice to rid the house of the family. It doesn’t go as planned. The film is perhaps Tim Burton’s best work. Who could forget the “Banana Boat” song sequence? Not I.

17. Full Metal Jacket

A drill sergeant screams at a line of recruits in "Full Metal Jacket"
(Warner Bros.)

Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is a difficult watch. While Vietnam was already a deeply unpopular war with the American public, Kubrick’s portrayal of the conflict made it downright deplorable. The film centers around a group of newly enlisted men who go through an abusive basic training only to be spat out into the nonsensical meat grinder known as the Tet Offensive. The film doesn’t shy away from portraying the horrors of war in full. The “get some” door gunner scene will haunt my nightmares.

16. Do The Right Thing

A young man in a Dodgers jersey stands in the street with arms folded in "Do The Right Thing"
(Universal Pictures)

Arguably Spike Lee’s finest film, Do The Right Thing is an ensemble piece about a Black community in Brooklyn and their tense relationship with the Italian American owners of a local pizzeria. One of the most quintessentially stylish films ever created, the seemingly disjointed story ends up culminating in an explosive climax that ends in tragedy. Do The Right Thing is a testament to the ever-present and ever-evolving struggle for racial justice in America.

15. Stand By Me

the boys of stand by me in the woods

In my opinion, this film is the greatest Steven King adaptation ever made. It might actually be BETTER than The Body, the original short story source material. One summer in a small town in Oregon, four young boys go on a quest to find the body of a missing boy. They get attacked by junkyard dogs, covered in leeches, and they nearly get hit by a train. At the same time, the boys have to face up against issues such as bullying, parental neglect, and the primal fear of death. Warning: this film will make you cry.

14. The Princess Bride

Westley and Princess Buttercup in the Princess Bride
(20th Century Fox)

The greatest love story ever told, this classic follows a beautiful young woman named Buttercup and her farmboy lover Wesley. After Wesley goes off on an adventure and is seemingly killed by pirates, the forlorn Buttercup agrees to marry the evil Prince Humperdink. But a mysterious masked mask (who looks suspiciously like her long-lost beloved) intends to save her. Joined by a revenge-seeking Spaniard and a gentle giant, the group mounts the most daring and romantic rescue ever put to film.

13. Akira

Tetsuo Shima in the 1988 movie Akira.

This film may in fact be the most seminal anime of all time. Without it there would be no Ghost In The Shell, no Cowboy Bebop, no cyberpunk genre as we know it. It’s about a young motocycle gang living in a cyberpunk dystopia. One day, a biker named Tetsuo comes across a young telekinetic boy who has escaped from a government facility. By coming in contact with the boy, Tetsuo begins to manifest bizarre psychic powers himself, and is captured by a shady government agency for scientific study. His friends attempt to rescue him, but Tetsuo’s new powers soon begin to untether him from his own humanity.

12. The Thing

the thing about to strike!

Arguably the scariest, grossest, and greatest horror movie of all time, The Thing is one of the most infamous films of the decade. A group of scientists in an Antarctic research facility discover an alien lifeform that can perfectly mimic any other life form it comes in contact with. This alien wants only one thing: to consume, and it happily sets its sights on the site’s staff. Because the alien is able to perfectly mimic human beings, the scientists don’t know who they can trust. Any mistake could lead them to a gruesome body-horrific end.

11. The Terminator

Arnold as the Terminator
(Orion Pictures)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a 200+lbs slab of beef with all of the charisma of a toaster, so someone came up with the perfect movie for him. The Austrian bodybuilder plays a single-minded android who travels back in time from a future ruled by robots in order to kill Sarah Connor, the woman who will one day become the mother of the leader of the human resistance. Luckily for Sarah, the human resistance has sent back a man named Kyle Reese in order to protect her. The pair have to fend off against the robot’s cybernetic onslaught, and end up falling in love in the process. Amazing action sequences and even better one-liners make this an 80s classic.

10. Blade Runner

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty in the rain
(Warner Bros.)

You know the competition is STIFF when one of the greatest films of all time is in TENTH PLACE on this list. Blade Runner is the shit but, unfortunately, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people just aren’t into it and that’s okay! See, Blade Runner is a science fiction noir thriller starring ’80s poster boy Harrison Ford. Ford plays a detective who has to stalk through a steaming cyberpunk jungle for replicants, highly sophisticated robots that look indistinguishable from humans. This movie also features an unforgettable (and highly improvised) performance from Rutger Hauer as the film’s main bad guy.

9. Ghostbusters

The four Ghostbusters stand in a line
(Columbia Pictures)

If movie soundtracks were all that I was considering for this list, this film would win. Never mind, the number one movie would still win, but this one would be a close second! Maybe third. WHATEVER. The Ghostbusters theme song is a BOP that has been playing at Halloween parties across America for over 50 YEARS. If you don’t know the plot, congrats on your mortgage downpayment for the rock you live under. The plot follows our paranormal scientists who start a ghost-hunting business in New York City and, once they begin to run afoul of a literal demon, they realize they’re in for the fight of their lives.

8. The Shining

A close up of Jack Torrence wearing a turtleneck sweater
(Warner Bros.)

This movie is a masterpiece of horror that has been scaring people for decades. Axes through doors, elevators gushing blood, and two creepy little girls? This movie’s like a spooky hotdog with all the horrific fixings. The Shining is about a writer who is hired as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, where he slowly succumbs to madness! Surprisingly, Stephen King hates this adaptation. King said this movie was “too cold and heartless” and I agree—this movie is a frigid watch.

7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The three friends from 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' in an art museum
(Paramount Pictures)

From the magical mind of ’80s film juggernaut John Hughes comes this comedic romp about three high schoolers who decide to play hooky. And my God, do they pick the perfect day to do it. They march in a parade, steal a car, and fool around in a pool while trying to avoid their doofus of a principal who is hellbent on expelling them. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the finest feel-good films of all time and features a surprising amount of character depth and heart. Alan Ruck especially shines as runaway rich Cameron Frye, who is also Ferris’ best friend.

6. Die Hard

Bruce Willis in the air vents!
(20th Century Fox)

This movie is the greatest Christmas movie of all time. And no, I will not be taking questions about that statement. Die Hard follows hardboiled police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) who has to rescue his estranged wife from a group of terrorists who have taken over a Los Angeles skyscraper. This movie has glorious gunfights, heart-exploding action sequences, and one of the greatest Alan Rickman performances of all time. And did I mention the one-liners? Yippee ki-yay, motherf**ker!

5. The Breakfast Club

The cast of the breakfast club

Another John Hughes masterpiece, The Breakfast Club sees a group of five high school students from different cliques end up in detention together. After getting over some initial animosity, the group soon bonds together through dance sequences and some downright touching scenes. John Hughes was a man who knew how to make comedy out of a character’s tragedy and that’s what makes him one of the greatest directors of all time.

4. Back To The Future

Marty and Doc looking dumbstruck
(Universal Pictures)

This movie is 1.21 gigawatts worth of a good time, and probably the first time “fun” time travel movie in existence. There’s absolutely nothing scientific or cerebral about Back to The Future and that’s what makes it so good. Marty McFly takes a ride back into 1955 in a souped-up DeLorean driven by his mad scientist friend Doc Brown. Marty has to make sure that his parents meet and fall in love in order to continue his own existence in the future. It would be easy, but his mom is pretty into him … yikes. I don’t even want to THINK about those existential implications.

3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

ET trying to phone home with Eliot
(Universal Pictures)

From good ol’ Steve Spielberg, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is about a kid who befriends an alien stranded on Earth! The good thing is he’s not one of those “lemme probe you” aliens, just a “hide in your closet and eat candy” kind. Things go awry when the government tries to capture E.T. and research him, but he and his new best friend make the most magical escape in the history of cinema: by riding a flying bike!

2. Raiders of The Lost Ark

Indy about to swipe a treasure
(Paramount Pictures)

Raiders of The Lost Ark introduced a new generation to the good ol’ fashioned American past time of Nazi punching. Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones, a debonair adventurer hunting for the the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. Too bad the Nazis are after it, too! This movie has some of the most stunning action sequences and set pieces of all time—and it’s all set to one of cinema’s finest film scores.

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

Luke and Vader lightsaber duel!
(20th Century Fox)

When it comes to sheer cultural impact, no other 1980s film comes close. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back may just be the most influential films EVER MADE. It’s a masterpiece on all fronts. It has groundbreaking special effects, an iconic score, unforgettable sound design, timeless costumes, and fantastic acting. You can’t get any better than this ’80s classic!

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Image of Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.