20 Essential ’80s Movies for the Ultimate Film Buff

From heartwarming extraterrestrial bonds to daring archaeology escapades, and from ghost-busting heroes to time-traveling adventures, these films captured the essence of an era. Here, I shall delve into 21 classics from the 1980s that may have faded in memory, but remain masterpieces.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Photo Credit: Amblin Entertainment.

The 1982  sci-fi family film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is centered around the themes of friendship, empathy, and exploring a connection between two worlds. Elliott discovers and befriends E.T., embarking on a heartwarming adventure to reunite E.T. with his home.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

At The Breakfast Club, there’s no one left out. Five diverse high school students end up in detention on a Saturday afternoon. The film is a journey into the challenges and complexities of teens. There’s also the nice transition from contrast and newness to connection and familiarity.

Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun (1986) - Paramount Pictures
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

This film was the advertisement the U.S. Navy needed to bring public awareness to its operations and increase interest. The recruitment rate increased the following year because of the film’s portrayal of the life of a fighter pilot. Tom Cruise’s impressive performance is one highlight that sticks with me.

Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

After their father’s death, two brothers grow from obvious differences to a place of understanding and compassion. A journey was all it took for the duo to bond. And I, along with many others, gained a sense of what it means to be autistic through this film.

The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies – Singing Or Not_ Warner Bros
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

We follow the adventure of four children on their quest to find a pirate’s treasure that will help save their homes. They meet the Fratellis, a family of criminals who want the treasure, too, and outsmart them. However, the real treasure turns out to be the bond and memories they created during their quest.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Michael Keaton – Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice) Warner Bros
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Beetlejuice interestingly manages to serve creepiness and fun in the right amounts. When Adam and Barbara (a ghost couple) fail to scare the Deetz family away from their home, they reach out to Beetlejuice to help. Eventually, all of them decide to live in harmony, except Beetlejuice.

First Blood (1982)

Photo Credit: Carolco Pictures.

A war veteran returns to the U.S. for peace and meets extreme misunderstanding. He must then rely on his combat skills to survive and reclaim his dignity. It’s an action film that steps into the human psyche. It’s based on a novel written by David Morrell.

Stand by Me (1986)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Stand by Me is a drama that makes you laugh and cry in equal measure; I know I did. Four boys go on an adventure to find a missing boy’s body. Through their journey, they lose innocence and gain experience while exhibiting the essence of friendship.

Ghostbusters (1984)

The Ghostbusters - Columbia Pictures
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

If there’s something strange in the neighborhood, who are you gonna call? Ghostbusters! They’re scientists who fight against and catch the evil ghosts terrorizing New York City with special tools. This movie is a truly fun and exciting sci-fi adventure.

Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

Based on the life of boxing champion Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull takes audiences on a ride as the famous boxer took out his internal struggles on his opponents in the boxing ring. Haunted by jealousy and rage, there is more to what his fists aim at.

The Lost Boys (1987)

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

A seemingly quiet town turns out to be a haven for teenage vampires who come out at night. Rebellion outruns bloodlust in The Lost Boys. With a motif of noisy motorcycles and rock music, this horror-humor mix is a ride you won’t forget so fast.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

The casual backpacking trip of two friends turns into a nightmare when they get bitten by a werewolf. Jack dies, and David survives his wounds, but he becomes a werewolf and struggles to come to terms with his new reality.

Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future - Universal Pictures
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Marty McFly is a teenager who accidentally travels back in time with a car built by his scientist friend. He ends up in the 1950s and faces the challenge of making sure his parents fall in love, or he won’t exist in the future—a must-watch for every film lover.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

If you need a guide on skipping school and having a blast without feeling guilty, this movie is your best bet. Ferris fools everyone into thinking he’s sick and spends the day with his best friend and girlfriend. This film has had a lot of teens consider taking a stand against authority.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Professor Indiana Jones is interested in getting hold of the biblical Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. With his whip and iconic fedora hat, we journey into mysterious lands and adventures. Power mustn’t fall into the wrong hands. The film boasts brilliant cinematography, which further enhances the action scenes.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

With Eddie Murphy on the screen, you’re sure to have a good laugh. A smart Detroit cop moves to Beverly Hills to investigate his friend’s murder. Mixing grit with glitz, he goes undercover. Beverly Hills Cop was the highest-grossing movie in 1984, and for good reason.

WarGames (1983)

Photo Credit: MGM.

It’s a race against time as David Lightman discovers the future of the world rests on his shoulders. After unknowingly gaining access to a military system intended to simulate nuclear war scenarios, he sparks conflict between the USA and the USSR while searching for a game.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Dead Poets Society Touchstone Pictures
Photo Credit: Touchstone Pictures.

This movie shows that even poetry can inspire people to take the bold step of breaking out stereotypes. John Keating, through his teaching of poetry, encourages his students to follow their passions and be authentically themselves.

The Karate Kid (1984)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

When you encounter an amazing mentor, your journey of self-discovery gets better. Being victimized by a bully requires Daniel to find a way to defend himself. Mr. Miyagi trains him in martial arts, helping him master his mind and teaching him some important lessons in the process.

Thief (1981)

Photo Credit: United Artists.

Frank plans to leave his illegal profession after one last diamond heist and settle down with his girlfriend, Jessie. He gets more than he bargained for as his dreams are threatened when he goes into business with Leo, who is determined to keep him in the life of crime.