These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

Join us in our decade-based film retrospective, as we delve backwards all the way from 2009 to 1910. Most decade-based best movie lists grant you a whooping 50-100 entries, which makes perfect sense given all the years you have to take into consideration. But what if you were defining a decade in just ten films? Which movies would you recommend to somebody who might only watch a handful from a given decade? This week, we look back at the Eighties.

For pure, unabashed entertainment, look no further than the eighties. This is, after all, the decade that granted us the ammunition for thousands upon thousands of pop cultural references that are still doing the rounds today. Here’s where Arnie thrived, where the Ghostbusters arrived, where Star Wars and Indiana Jones ruled the screen, where pulp, cheese, sex and violence overtook the mainstream cineplexes.

Yes, the eighties will always be remembered as an era that took pleasure in simply giving you a good time, assuring it is as the most plainly fun decade to have ever emerged in motion picture history. But there were works of artistry, too, with several directors moving into the great periods of their career. Of course, you’ll certainly have your own list of favourites, but here’s our pick for the 10 best movies of the eighties.


10. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) (Dir. Rob Reiner)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

“These go to eleven,” dumbfounds Christopher Guest’s Nigel Tufnel, surely one of the great comic creations of the past one hundred years. He’s talking to Rob Reiner’s humorously-named interviewer Marty DeBergi, of course, and Tufnel doesn’t quite grasp the concept of the situation at hand. I guess that’s all part and parcel of being in the world’s loudest rock band. This Is Spinal Tap was revolutionary in its mockumentary style, fooling many (though not on purpose) into believing they were viewing reality. The film itself is packed with great, idiosyncratic performances, and comic sequences that burst with invention. The years have been extremely kind too: This Is Spinal Tap is the funniest film of the 80s, and one of the funniest comedies of all-time.

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9. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

It could have been laughable, but Steven Spielberg managed to make his boy meets alien story something genuine and sincere: a motion picture that captured the hearts of everyone who went to see it. The story is a simple affair, one which concerns the friendship between a young boy named Elliot and E..T., a plant-based lifeform from outer space who is accidentally abandoned on our planet. E.T. is an unashamedly sentimental affair, a celebration of life, family and friendship, but the movie’s edgy humour and its antagonist shotgun-toting G-Men grant it personality. The set-pieces are now all but devoured by pop cultural aficionados, although there is truly no beating the final 15-minute bike chase sequence (emphasised by John Williams’ spelling score) for pure cinematic exhilaration.

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8. Goodbye Children (Au Revoir Les Efants) (1987) (Dir. Louis Malle)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

Louis Malle’s deeply affecting and achingly personal story about a WWII-era boarding school is both beautifully-rendered and ultimately heartbreaking, though Malle never settles for sentimentality and chooses to unfold the story with a natural precision. Goodbye, Children is not a complicated film: it’s a simple tale of two school boys who become friends, although one of these boys is being hidden by the boarding school from the Nazis under a false name because he is Jewish. As we watch these characters bond and grow, the painful realisation of inevitable future events begins to ease in, a notion confirmed by the film’s tasteful, subtle ending. There are many films about Nazi-occupied France, though Goodbye Children reins as one of the best. Its power is extraordinary, and its details will haunt you.

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7. Full Metal Jacket (1987) (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

Truly a movie in two halves, Stanley Kubrick’s mediation on war and its effect on human nature has endured as a classic of the genre, and certainly holds up as one of the master’s greatest achievements. Full Metal Jacket focuses on Pvt. Joker: we watch him triumph through the hell that is boot camp (where he and his company are terrorised by real-life drill instructor R. Lee Ermey) to the actual hell that is 1960s Vietnam. Though it’s been pondered as to what Kubrick was trying to say with Full Metal Jacket, it’s an unashamedly entertaining ride on even a surface level basis: Kubrick peppered the movie with a rocking soundtrack, glorious set-pieces and put them shoulder to shoulder with moments of genuine horror. As the movie ends with troops marching through a burned out city singing the theme from the Mickey Mouse club, there’s no doubt as to Full Metal Jacket’s lingering power.

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6. Back To The Future (1985) (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

The plot for Robert Zemeckis’ time-travel/high school movie amalgamation sounds ridiculous on paper, and yet the director managed to craft one of the most purely entertaining and genuinely likable movies ever made from its premise. Marty McFly, played with overwhelming affability by Michael J. Fox, finds himself transported back to 1955 by means of a time-travelling DeLorean. The movie zings thanks to a hilarious, self-referencing script, and the genius idea that forces Marty to hang out with his parents as teenagers. The heart of the movie, however, is in the relationship between Marty and Christopher Lloyd’s erratic Doc Brown, one of cinema’s best (and most unlikely) double acts. Not a moment is wasted, nor is there a single scene that steers the movie off-course. How exactly the messy premise emerged as perfectly as it did remains a mystery, but Zemeckis’ deserves maximum credit for getting the tone just right.

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5. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Dir. Irvin Kershner)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

The sequel to Star Wars had a hell of a lot riding on its shoulders, so much so that George Lucas assigned Irvin Kershner as director, presumably to avoid taking the blame should it all go horribly wrong. But Kershner delivered a movie arguably superior to the original, making the storyline darker and more intimate, granting the Star Wars franchise added weight in the process. The centre of the movie is, of course, the revelation that Darth Vader is actually Luke Skywalker’s father, but the build-up to this infamous moment remains gripping in every sense of the word. Not only did the special effects get better, but so did the script, this time with Lawrence Kasdan taking over from George Lucas. The Empire Strikes Back, then, is a film to match its reputation: a fantasy masterpiece, and the best Star Wars film ever made.

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4. Blade Runner (1982) (Dir. Ridley Scott)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

For Blade Runner, British director Ridley Scott insisted on perfection, much to the disillusion and suffering of his American film crew. Over thirty years later, though, nobody could claim that it wasn’t worth it: Blade Runner has emerged as the quintessential  sci-fi flick, the high-bar of the genre that other movies clam to imitate. Stunning in its visual scope, Blade Runner takes the subject matter from a Philip K. Dick story and injects it with gritty realism, as Harrison Ford’s broken cop Rick Deckard attempts to track down and terminate replicants (artificial human beings). Scott’s futuristic Los Angles is of cinema’s great dystopias, a blend of noir and cyberpunk aesthetics, but Blade Runner really works because of its story: what makes us human, and what does it all mean?, a question with an answer that fans of the movie are still trying to figure out.

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3. Raging Bull (1980) (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

From its beautifully-rendered, hypnotic opening title sequence, to its last very last scene which follows its broken hero into a life of mediocrity, Raging Bull feels like a defining work. Robert De Niro delivers his best ever performance as Jake La Motta, an ill-tempered middle-weight boxer whose inherent rage and sexual jealousy tear apart the lives of those around him. Martin Scorsese’s direction is impeccable, the picture filmed in crisp black and white that seems to cast the movie with a blunt, clear-headedness. Paul Schrader, who also worked with Scorsese and De Niro on Taxi Driver, delivers a script that is both heartbreaking and explosive. Three masters at work, and one perfect movie-going experience.

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2. Once Upon A Time In America (1984) (Dir. Sergio Leone)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

Disregarded and underrated for decades, Sergio Leone’s final (and arguably finest) film has only recently emerged as a lost work of classic cinema. Having been subjected to a seemingly endless amount of edits and cuts, Once Upon A Time In America makes the best impression seen in its original version, a version which spans well over three hours. But Leone’s love for cinema is apparent in every frame of this sad, decade-spinning story of failed dreams and lost relationships. A gangster picture, a love story, a picture about the bindings of friendship… Once Upon A Time In America is truly an epic in every sense, a movie that will stick in your mind long after you’ve seen it. Robert De Niro, as usual, delivers a fine performance, but this is Leone’s movie, the Italian master’s melancholic meditation on the American Dream.

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1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (Dir. Steven Spielberg)

%name These Go To Eleven: The 10 Best Films Of The Eighties

From the moment we first meet Indiana Jones – emerging from the shadows and brandishing a whip – you know you’re in for something special: Harrison Ford embodies his character, both a treasure hunter and archeology professor, with just the right amount of knowing irony. And this was a part that could’ve gone to Tom Selleck, a casting decision that might’ve dated Raiders of the Lost Ark way before its time. As it stands, Steven Spielberg’s fifth movie emerged as his best, an expertly-clad homage to all things serial that managed to transcend its origins. The set-pieces are glorious, the dialogue zings, and the entertainment value proves unmatched. Raiders of the Lost Ark is eighties cinema defined, a film which remains the absolute crowning achievement of the era. This is how you make a blockbuster.

Last time: Check out our best film lists for both The Nineties and The Noughties.

Next time: The Seventies get our top 10 film treatment, stay tuned.

Do you agree with our choices for the 10 best films of the Eighties? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • sixamcomics

    Basically, Harrison Ford was the best movie of the 80s;)

  • Blubberbob

    No Blue Velvet? Well, you can’t win them all. Still, a pretty good list, most of them I would’ve picked as well.

  • Ashotjan

    Where is Iron Eagle on this list? I am offended! LOL

  • Michael Garramone

    Some good picks, but no Aliens? List failed.

  • HackneyShark

    Sorry, but where was The Terminator?

  • ThatOneGuy

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Transformers: the Animated Movie. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The Black Cauldron. Ring any Bells???

    • Jon Dick Mccockerson the 3rd

      Transformers for sure!!! Unicron rules!

  • toby

    exactly, without Aliens (1986), this list is just not good enough.

  • Devon Brown

    Scarface should be up there.

  •ørbæk/606986910 Sverre Andreassen Bjørbæk

    So…what about The Thing then?? Beats E.T. by far!

  • jens

    wheres rambo

  • boogieman

    “Raising Arizona”? Anyone?

  • Chris Cobb


  • Larry Fenix

    Rambo 2?

  • Ferdinand Uziel Wang

    No Robocop? Terminator? Back to the Future was only at number 6? And where are Blue Thunder and Evil Dead 2? Wash your keyboards and apologize to your hands for making them type such blasphemy.

  • JBrotsis

    Very pleased to see BTTF and Indy on this list!

  • Jake Corleone

    You make a list about 80′s movies but not ONE action movie? Commando? Predator? The Terminator or First Blood?

  • Hasen

    You can’t make a top 10 list of 80s movies – there’s too many good ones! You haven’t even got ghostbusters on there for god’s sake. Even top 100 wouldn’t be enough. It was unsurpassed golden era for hollywood.

  • darth_conan

    Just no perfect listing could be pulled off for that era…….But to be sincere, your listing is wack..

  • DoctorX

    While I agree with the list and we need to make room for some great foreign films, the 80s was defined by slasher films and the best of them would be Nightmare on Elm Street. Give some love to horror films.

  • ecto1

    Where is Ghostbusters?

  • mario

    You guys forgot about the other Vietnam great film, Platoon, which won best picture. No offense to FMJ, but argue belly Platoon was a more
    powerful, riveting and by far a superior cast. Although Lee R. Ermey’s performance hit it out of the ball park and should of won an Oscar.
    Platoon best depicted a more realistic, true finding of what it was like in Vietnam.



  • EchoedTruth

    Empire Strikes Back is too low, and Aliens is arguably one of the greatest movies ever made, not just from the 80′s. This list fails.

    • Anndromeda

      Right, Empire should have been first.

  • Daniel Lostinmymind Kimble

    Where is The Breakfast Club in this list?? Did I miss it??

  • None

    Spinal Tap should have been rated #11 (with no 10), just for the humor value and Title tie in :-) IMHO

    • Anndromeda

      Yes, they should have been eleven!

    • Kai Gogi

      Good one!

  • Ripley426

    What?!!!No Motel Hell?!!!

  • bruce clark

    Platoon, Scarface, The Terminator are absent

  • filmfan

    Hell no I don’t agree with your list!!!!WTF is wrong with you people?!!! films that deserve to be on the list “Empire Strikes Back”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Back to the Future”, “This is Spinal Tap”, “E.T.” and “Full Metal Jacket”. Those are some of the films you think of when you think of the 80′s . That stupid ass nazi film you mentioned…huh? never even heard of nor have I ever been in a conversation with someone and had them say “Ya know what was the movie that absolutely defined the 80′s? “Goodbye Children”.” FUCK THAT! what about the films people actually have heard of and loved,,,”Pretty in Pink”, “Breakfast Club”, “Sixteen Candles”, “Dirty Dancing”, “Platoon” just to name a few. You don’t have the judgement God gave the common dog.

  • Anndromeda

    Return of the Jedi should be on this list.

    • Kai Gogi

      Ewoks ruined the movie. Empire Strikes Back was much darker and dramatic. I feel it is the best of all of them…we find out Vader is Luke’s father. Awesome!

  • Cameren Lee

    I would switch the top two, but besides this, pretty good!

  • greg

    What about Robocop?

  • Greatreign

    Anyone else smell a troll? First make a list you title “The Best” then make a completely subjective list. If I’m mistaken, maybe next time try Our Favorite or My favorite Movies From the 80s…

    • trollmoreplz

      I agree. Trolling big time here. Just collecting email addreses for spam…

  • Kai Gogi

    Weird Science should have made it! Or any John Hughes flick. They defined teen angst of the 80′s. The Terminator should have been on their too.

  • TiM

    Ghostbusters? Terminator? Aliens?

  • thislistsucks

    No fucking AMADEUS.
    I guess kids are making lists like that these days….

  • Victor Pleitez

    aliens is good runner up to this list. What sci fi action film doesn;t copy aliens.


    That’s what happens when a 20 yo hipster makes a list about 80′s movies…

  • TheFran

    Yup, Platoon way above Full Metal Jacket.

  • Buzz Mooney

    I am devastated…DEVASTATED, do you hear? To see that this list doesn’t include The Princess Bride! (1987) INCONCEIVABLE!!! :-) Seriously, though: Princess Bride was one of the most satisfying movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. Besides; who doesn’t know “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya…”

  • Raggedman

    What’s even more offensive than it’s exclusion from this list is the fact that I’m the only one who’s noticed that The Wrath of Kahn is missing

  • monkeybatvulturefrog

    R. LEE ERMEY, not Lee R. Ermey. For the love of chocolate, please do better research and proofreading before posting such drivel.