15 Best ’80s Movies – The Greatest Films of the 1980s

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15 Best ’80s Movies – The Greatest Films of the 1980s

Esquire/Elaine Chung

Cue: Ferris Bueller’s “Oh… Yeah” track. Hop in, we’re heading back to the future.

Despite their now retro feel, the ’80s have always maintained a sense of futurism to them. Dripping in chrome and neon, the decade welcomed a peak for New Wave culture and technological advancements galore. Even the decade’s objectively obsolete trends have an innovative spirit to them. (Sure, you laugh at leg warmers now, both those were a fashion statement and a practical purchase.)

With all of this risk-taking and rebelling, the ’80s also welcomed a vibrant energy of invention in its cinema. The decade ushered in something of a John Hughes-esque “coming of age” for the film industry as a whole, welcoming in next-level special effects, soundtracks, stories, and style. So, make sure your blow dryer’s unplugged and cozy up to one of these classic ’80s flicks.

Chicka-chickahhhh.

Do The Right Thing

The iconic follow-up to Spike Lee’s directorial debut She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing tells the tale of a single day in a Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Set on the hottest day of the year, the neighborhood meets its flashpoint when racial tensions begin to run high.

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The Shining

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and based off of a Stephen King novel, The Shining screams psychological horror. Literally. Jack Nicholson stars as an unstable writer who moves into the remote Overlook Hotel with his wife and son, played by Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd. The opportunity soon turns into a doomed fate when the writer’s son begins tapping into the hotel’s sinister history.

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Stand By Me

Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me is a timeless addition to the coming-of-age canon. Based off of Stephen King’s The Body and starring River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, and Jerry O’Connell, Stand By Me follows a crew of young boys on their journey to track down a dead body for a cash reward.

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The Breakfast Club

Don’t you forget to include this John Hughes classic in your ’80s movie night! The Breakfast Club has become a staple for many teenagers’ watch lists, as the film’s setting in a high school Saturday detention offers a perspective from many high school stereotypes. The brain, the athlete, the basket case—Oh, you get the point.

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When Harry Met Sally

Penned by Esquire alumna Nora Ephron and starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally asks the age-old question: Can men and women be friends without falling in love?

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The Color Purple

Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name and directed by Steven Spielberg, The Color Purple tells the story of a young Black woman living in Georgia who discovers her worth with the help of two fellow Black women. The film features outstanding performances from Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Akousa Busia.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The prototype for almost every American kid’s hookie dreams since 1986, John Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stars Matthew Broderick as a slick high schooler on his final absence before graduation.

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Back To The Future

Rick and Morty fans: Here is a required time-traveling visit back to the origins of America’s original mad scientist-teenager duo. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd star as Marty McFly and Doc, whose Delorean hits more speed bumps than expected on their trip back in time.

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Dead Poets Society

Sure, Robin Williams playing the role of wise elder has been played out a bit throughout movie history. But, if it works, it works. In this moving story, Williams stars as a new English teacher at an all boys preparatory school. Realizing how trapped in history and tradition that school is, he teaches them in invaluable lesson: to live in the present.

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Moonstruck

A whimsical love letter to Brooklyn, all things romantic, and Italian-Americans, Moonstruck is as wacky as it is wonderful. Cher stars as a widow who finds herself falling in love with her fiance’s brother, played by Nicholas Cage, but their forbidden affair is only the half of it.

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Amadeus

From Czech New Wave director Miloš Forman, Amadeus is the fictional biography of acclaimed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his fabricated rivalry with Italian composer Antonio Salieri.

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Dirty Dancing

Nobody leaves Dirty Dancing on the dusty VCR shelf. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze star in this ’80s-as-it-gets romance about a young woman on the brink of adulthood, who fulfills her longing for youthful freedom with an unexpected lover.

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Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket follows the members of a platoon of the U.S. Marines from their time in training camp to Vietnam. The film is as visually thrilling as it is gripping, with its narrative style falling in line with Kubrick’s acclaimed unique touch.

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E.T.

Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is right up there on peak movie magic. A feat of special effects for its time, E.T., tells the heartwarming tale of an unlikely friendship between a young boy and an alien who has landed in his backyard.

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Blade Runner

Although it was at first a flop in theatres, Blade Runner has made a name for itself to this day as one of the most beloved sci-fi movies in history. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film is set in the dystopian future of Los Angeles in 2019, where non-human “replicants” have made their way back to earth.

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