The 80s was a Mecca of awesome sci-fi and fantasy movies. That is the reason that there are 20 on this list instead of it being a top ten. The 80s was also a time when a lot of us were growing up, and because of that, we feel passionate ways about these movies. That was yet another reason to make this list a top 20. I can’t exclude Robocop from an 80s list about sci-fi just because I happen to like Fright Night better for whatever reason. And that sentence is why this is going to be a controversial list from some of you to read.
But some of the movies on this list are on here because they are so 80s in that puppet-tastic, synth heavy soundtrack kind of way. Some are on here for the opposite reason, because they are classics that transcend the 80s, or any particular time.
20. The NeverEnding Story- This list has already begun some outrage, because people who love this movie love this movie. And while I appreciate the imaginative nature of it, and the cool effects, I never really connected with it. There are 80s movies I like better, but this one has to make it to the list because it is so quintessential to the childhoods of so many people. But on the whole, it kind of freaked me out.
19. Spaceballs- This movie is pretty funny, but it isn’t Mel Brook’s best offering. It is a wonderful spoof of Star Wars, but it doesn’t reach the genius of many of Mel Brook’s other films. But, that aside, it pokes fun at 80s film culture with all of its merchandizing jokes, features Rick Moranis doing some of his best work, and Bill Pullman looking very, very…sigh.
18. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial- This is another film that defines the childhood of many people. But after having seen it a lot of times, I don’t find myself wanting to return to it in the way I do other films. It’s not one of those movies that a group of 20-somethings decides to sit around and watch, I’m not even sure it’s a movie that most people decide to sit around and watch. Pretty much everyone has seen it, and it is a classic for a lot of reasons, but it’s not a classic in that quotable, watch it until your VCR eats it kind of way that so many 80s movies are.
17. Labyrinth- Speaking of a movie that people watch until it eats their VCR… People who don’t like this movie don’t get it and probably never will. And their criticisms are valid. It is creepy and feels a little thrown together at times and there is far too much focus on David Bowie’s crotch. The people who do like it can see the true 80s classic that it is. And in a way, what is more 80s than a film that features the puffiest sleeves known to man, Jim Henson Puppets and David Bowie’s crotch?
16. Robocop- This movie is one of those films that is ridiculous and a classic at the same time. Watching it, viewers can easily see the hilarity of it, and yet something about it draws you in, and you can’t look away. The film is delightfully 80s, and the gore is sometimes campy and sometimes super realistic in an uncomfortable way.
15. The Evil Dead II- This film is too much fun, and also absolutely terrifying. Arguably the best of the Dead movies, the film features Bruce Campbell giving one of the cheesiest and most entertaining performances ever. Also there is some pretty neat stop motion. It is gory and strange and pretty much the same movie as the first one, but not quite (thank goodness because the tree rape is so wrong). And it is also really inventive.
14. The Terminator- Arguably the best Terminator film (although that really depends on how you feel about Terminator II: Judgment Day), the first movie showcases the best of James Cameron. I am of the school that feels like the man eventually got too much money, and therefore too much creative freedom, but his first great action film is also essential to any ranking of 80s movies.
13. Earth Girls Are Easy- Some of you are asking yourselves “What? What? What is that doing on this list?” Or at the very least “HOW could you rank that stupid movie above The NeverEnding Story? Kim, are you crazy?” The answer to your question is “Yes, I am crazy.” But also, have you watched it recently? The movie is a colorful 80s fantasy land, and it also happens to be a musical kind-of, and it also happens to be total fun. It was made in an era that was drenched in sci-fi/fantasy movies with aliens and strange occurrences. Earth Girls Are Easy is almost a spoof of that, and almost a loving addition to it. Also it features hilarious lines like “Hello, doctor, can I call your doctor, doctor?”
12. Beetlejuice- This film combines that budding greatness of Tim Burton’s aesthetic (before we got tired of it), with the wackiness of great supernatural 80s comedy. Also there’s the great Catherine O’Hara chewing up the scenery as Lydia’s horrible stepmother.
11. Back to The Future- This movie is just so fun. There is no getting around it. The quirky time travel high school flick is both wonderfully 80s (it can’t avoid it, being about time travel), and a classic that transcends the 80s. There are wonderful sci-fi tropes like the whacky mad scientist (gotta love Doc Brown), and bursts of originality like the DeLorean.
10. Blade Runner- Ridley Scott is wonderful at visuals, and that is what sets Blade Runner apart from a lot of the more serious sci-fi of the era. The asian influence juxtaposed with a film noir aesthetic makes for a perfect futuristic noir movie–one that happens to be about androids. It’s more of a film in the true sense of the word than a lot of the entraining romps on the list, but it is also flawed enough to be placed 10th. The director’s cut is worth a look.
9. The Princess Bride- I haven’t met a single person who has seen this movie who doesn’t love it. The Princess Bride is a complete adventure but with the kind of humorous asides that make it pretty obvious what decade it was made in. Billy Crystal’s cameo just smacks of that kooky time. But The Princess Bride also transcends that. Somehow it makes you feel like you are the little kid in the bed at the beginning being told a story that your family has loved for generations, and asking, “Is this a kissing book?”
8. Aliens- If you ask me, this is James Cameron’s best film. Although, it is not the best of the Alien series. (If it weren’t make in 1979, you can bet that Alien would be on here, and Aliens probably wouldn’t). But what James Cameron did in Aliens was create a franchise around the creature–as well as the iconic scene with Ripley in the Loader taking the Alien on in a fight.
7. Fright Night- A movie that not everyone has seen, but is definitely worth a look. Chris Sarandon (aka Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride) is a great, cheesy, kind of 80s, oddly sexy vampire. The movie is 80s camp at its best with some of the most inventive creature effects (Evil’s wolf scene anyone?), and some good old fashioned 80s dance scenes.
6. An American Werewolf in London- A classic of horror in its own right. The film is equal parts campy and scary and…weirdly funny for a horror film. The scene in the porno theatre is iconic, and the wolf effects are some of the best ever filmed. In fact, it’s the first film to win a best makeup oscar.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark- Indiana Jones is an iconic 80s hero, and this is the best film of the three (or four, I guess, if you want to count Crystal Skull ). It also features and awesome heroine and some great face-melting effects.
4. The Empire Strikes Back- If there is a movie better than The Raiders of the Lost Ark it is definitely The Empire Strikes Back. It deserves recognition not just because it is the best Star Wars film, but because of the countless iconic film moments in each scene. And because Hoth is awesome, and so is Cloud City.
3. Ghostbusters- Perhaps it’s in a controversial spot, but when it comes to 80s comedies, this film has to be at the top of the list. But, add the fantastical elements and it is still pretty strong. While Slimer and the StayPuft Marshmallow man are sure goofy, they are also super inventive and a ton of fun.
2. The Thing- When it comes to creature effects in the 80s, it just doesn’t get any better than John Carpenter’s The Thing. The sci-fi gore is fascinating, horrifying and unforgettable, as is the theme of isolation and mistrust throughout the film. It might be the pinnacle of 80s horror, if it weren’t for…
1. The Shining- Stephen King may have hated it, and that is understandable as it is far from the intentions of his book, but those complaints aside, the film is a masterpiece. It has as many iconic moments as the other films on this list, is still truly scary, is a film in the artistic sense of the word. The Shining is a film that transcends the decade it was made in, and is possibly the best sci-fi/fantasy film of the 1980s.