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20 Classic ’80s Movies That Still Hold Up

20 Classic '80s Movies That Still Hold Up

The 1980s was such an incredible decade for movies. The big hair, flashy outfits, and rock-heavy soundtracks made films from the era unmistakably vibrant and stylish. But it was also a simpler time in many ways – before streaming, social media, and all sorts of tech took over. Movies would really have your full attention, with the big screen being irresistible and extraordinary.



This is probably why ‘80s movies felt bigger, glossier, and more exciting than anything. Directors were pushing creative boundaries, using dazzling musical numbers and elaborate fight sequences, bringing futuristic worlds to life, and driving a story through passion and imagination. While the culture is vastly different today, certain classics from the 1980s still have a magical effect. They offer the perfect escape with their feel-good spirit, and their themes resonate just as strongly today.

Here are 20 timeless movies from the ‘80s that still hold up.

20 Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull

Raging Bull

Release Date
November 14, 1980

Martin Scorsese


Raging Bull is a biographical sports drama adapted from former middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta’s 1970 memoir by Martin Scorsese. Set against the gritty backdrop of the professional boxing scene in the 1950s, it follows the rise and fall of LaMotta after attaining the prestigious title. Despite being extremely talented, LaMotta’s violent behavior both in and out of the ring takes its toll, and he begins to struggle with his inner demons and descends into paranoia.

An Enduring Sports Drama

Scorsese captures a legend’s story using stunning black-and-white cinematography, where every punch feels brutal and raw. The unprecedented level of authenticity that Scorsese puts into depicting both the physical and emotional intensity of boxing and life outside of the ring is remarkable.

Still widely regarded for that, Raging Bull also features a transformative leading performance from Robert De Niro, who won his second Best Actor Oscar for portraying LaMotta with unflinching realism. Overall, it cemented Scorsese and De Niro as masters in their craft. Stream on Fubo TV.

19 The Shining (1980)

A list of the greatest movies of the 1980s would be incomplete without mentioning The Shining. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the movie revolves around Jack Torrance, who moves with his family to the isolated Overlook Hotel after taking a job at the hotel as an off-season caretaker. However, the job soon takes its toll and Jack begins to succumb to cabin fever. As dark supernatural forces influence Jack’s sanity, it puts his wife and son’s life in grave danger.

Offers a Bone-Chilling Glimpse into Madness

A psychological thriller that deep dives into the human psyche, The Shining is considered to be one of the finest horror adaptations of all time. Taking notes from Stephen King’s novel, Kubrick transforms the hotel and its desert sprawl as a character to create an unsettling and captivating atmosphere. Danny Lloyd and Shelley Duvall were undoubtedly brilliant.

But it is Jack Nicholson’s utterly unnerving performance as a man descending into madness that is legendary and still inescapable to some. Stream on Showtime.

Another masterpiece that has stood the test of time is Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The beloved blockbuster stunned everyone with its box office performance. Its premise saw a 10-year-old Elliott, who befriends an extraterrestrial being after he gets stranded on Earth. As the government agency attempts to look for and capture the alien, Elliot and his siblings keep him hidden and try to help him find a way home.

Teaches you About Friendship

Touching and thrilling in equal proportion, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a feel-good adventure dubbed as a sci-fi epic. By making 792 million dollars commercially, the movie surpassed the record set by Star Wars and held ground as the highest grossing movie of all time for 11 years. The reason behind its success was Spielberg and his ability to create pure magic out of a child’s imagination and innocence.

Driven by John Williams’ score, it starred Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, and Dee Wallace. Even today, the movie delights audiences of all ages. Rent on Apple TV.

Related: Here’s Why E.T. is Still One of Steven Spielberg’s Best Movies Of All Time

17 The Outsiders (1983)

Based on S. E. Hinton’s 1967 novel of the same name, this sublime blend of coming-of-age and crime drama takes you to 1960s Oklahoma, where teenagers are divided into the Greasers, and their rival gang, the Socials. When Ponyboy and Johnny, members of the former, get caught in a fight that ends with the death of a Social, they’re forced to either hide perpetually or face the brutal consequences of their actions when their warring gangs clash.

A Timeless Tale of Teen Rivalry and Tragedy

Featuring a young cast that would go on to encompass the industry’s most talented names, including Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, and Ralph Macchio, The Outsiders brought gritty realism to its portrayal of class divides. Helmed by Francis Ford Coppola, the movie is cinematic, honest, and entertaining. A cult classic for various reasons, it juggles themes that still resonate powerfully with the youth. Stream on Paramount+.

16 Sixteen Candles (1984)

The very first in a series of teenage comedies that John Hughes would write and direct, Sixteen Candles follows Samantha Baker on her milestone birthday – the sweet age of sixteen. Because her entire family is preoccupied with her older sister’s wedding preparations, they forget Samantha’s birthday. As an added ache, she faces humiliation from a thoughtless crush and a foreign exchange student takes her place at her grandmother’s.

John Hughes’ Unforgettable Directorial Debut

Starring a young and breathtaking Molly Ringwald alongside Michael Schoeffling, and Anthony Michael Hall, the movie offered heartwarming misadventures and proved that sometimes the best gifts are the ones you never expect.

Hughes understands adolescence with rare accuracy, and he presents the same hierarchy, heartache, and high school drama through one girl’s story. The movie not only launched Ringwald’s career but also established Hughes as a defining voice of his generation. Stream for free on Tubi TV.

15 Ghostbusters (1984)

A supernatural comedy driven by special effects and clever dialogue, Ghostbusters revolves around the events that take place after Peter Venkman, Raymond Stantz, and Egon Spengler, three eccentric scientists, lose their jobs at a university. In order to prove the existence of the paranormal, the trio sets up shop as a unique ghost removal service operating in New York City. As they attempt to stop an evil force, they arm themselves with proton packs and wit.

Quintessential ‘80s Buddy Comedy

Directed by Ivan Reitman, the blockbuster movie stars some of the century’s greatest comedians like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, who lend their timeless silliness and anarchic humor in making the movie exceptional. Not to forget, the startling visuals and impressive use of effects gave viewers memories of a lifetime. According to Roger Ebert, Ghostbusters is “an exception to the general rule that big special effects can wreck a comedy.” Stream on Hulu.

14 The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club Movie Poster

The Breakfast Club

Release Date
February 15, 1985

97 minutes

In The Breakfast Club, five high school teenagers from separate cliques are forced to spend a Saturday in detention together. As Brian, Andrew, Allison, Claire, and John gather in the school library and as the day begins to fade, they realize that, despite their vast differences, they have a lot in common with one another. As they all share deep feelings of insecurity, are extremely vulnerable, and have a rebellious side.

A Landmark in Filmmaking

The indie coming-of-age comedy is written and directed by the one and only John Hughes. Like he does with most of his ‘80s project, the essence of adolescence and teenage complexity is broken down to the bone in just one afternoon. The Breakfast Club starts as a superficial look at high school cliques and soon transforms into a poignant character study.

The excellent performances, an ionic rock and new wave soundtrack by Keith Forsey, and promoting the message of unity and acceptance are elements that make it a landmark. Stream on Max.

13 Back to the Future (1985)

A movie that invited us on an extraordinary time-traveling adventure, Back to the Future also kick-started a successful and esteemed science-fiction franchise. It centers around a California teenager, Marty McFly, who meets up with his eccentric scientist friend, Doc Brown, and is accidentally sent 30 years into the past. Now stranded in 1955, at a time when his parents were teenagers, Marty discovers them as they’re falling for each other. He must ensure the two get together at the local dance if he wants to get back to the future.

Filled with Equal Amounts of Adventure and Humor

A blockbuster that was rejected over forty times by various studios before it saw the light of day, Back to the Future is the ultimate and imaginative sci-fi film. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, the movie blends elements of action, comedy, and romance while remaining wildly entertaining and period-accurate.

Not only did the movie become the highest-grossing film of 1985, but it also won an Academy Award among many others, as well as praise for its imaginative storytelling and creative sound editing. Stream on Peacock Premium.

Related: Why the 1980s Was the Most Lighthearted Decade for Movies

12 Stand By Me (1986)

Adapted poignantly from Stephen King’s 1982 novellaThe Body, Stand By Me is a quintessential coming-of-age movie of the 1980s. This one doesn’t just hold up today, but it’s only aged sweeter with time. It follows four friends – Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern – who set out on a journey to look for the dead body of a missing boy. Along the way, they face obstacles, speak of their dreams and nightmares, and learn some harsh lessons about growing up.

An Ode to Boyhood and Growing Up

Set in small-town America during the late 1950s, the movie is a bittersweet exploration of childhood innocence, friendship, and undergoing change. Wil Wheaton was seen in a career-making turn as Gordie, with young stars like River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell delivering equally standout performances.

The beautiful direction and nostalgic soundtrack, too, has a strange allure to it. If watching the movie as a kid made you relate to the themes and topics, it is certain that Reiner’s film has the ability to strike a chord with you as an adult. Stream on Hulu.

11 Pretty in Pink (1986)

A movie that continues to resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of place, almost four decades after its release, Pretty in Pink centers around Andie Walsh, a girl from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Only ever hanging out with her friends, Andie is taken aback when the wealthy high school stud, Blane McDonnagh, bonds with her over their shared love for music and eventually asks her out. Meanwhile, Andie’s best friend, Duckie, tries to confess his feelings for her, leaving Andie to choose between the two before senior prom.

Honest Portrayal of High School Hierarchy

Directed by Howard Deutch, this teen rom-com is commonly identified as part of the “Brat Pack” films that ruled the decade. The movie illuminates the high school experience as well as the social divides, struggle for identity, and caste system with care, humor and heart.

Sure, it infuses teen flick conventions, but Pretty in Pink portrays teen obstacles with a thoughtful lens. Young leads Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy convey the bittersweet feeling of new love amidst social change with accuracy, with the ‘80s soundtrack adding levity. Rent on Apple TV.

10 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Written, co-produced, and directed by John Hughes, this iconic high school comedy is hailed as “the moviest movie” because of its capacity to evoke universal spirit of emotions. It follows super-slacker Ferris, who hashes out a brilliant scheme to take a day off from school and embark on a whirlwind adventure through downtown Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane and best friend Cameron. However, when the school principal catches a whiff of his plan, he decides to catch him red-handed. Meanwhile, Ferris narrowly avoids being caught by his parents.

Funny and Feel-Good

With Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Hughes fashioned a relatable and mischievous character, which was brought to life by Matthew Broderick. As Ferris, he was effortlessly cool, empathy-inducing, and a trend setter for all the slacker heroes that came after him.

Hughes also used a lyrical and vibrant style of direction that made the honest humor about youthful escapism more glorious than ever. A huge hit at the box office and with the critics, the movie captured the spirit of high school and the idea of living in the moment. Stream on Paramount+.

9 Dirty Dancing (1987)

dirty dancing

Dirty Dancing

Release Date
August 21, 1987

Emile Ardolino


Set against the backdrop of summer in a 1960s Catskills resort, Dirty Dancing tells the story of 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman, who is vacationing with her family. While mingling with the resort staff one night, Baby gets acquainted with Johnny Castle and the two share a brief dance, following which he becomes her instructor and the two fall passionately in love. Defying her parents’ wishes, Baby gets swept up in the staff’s late-night parties.

Redefines Dance as High-Art

Beyond its iconic dance sequences, exceptional soundtrack, and breakthrough performances from Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, the movie addressed issues of class and personal freedom. Director Elime Ardolino adapts a screenplay written by Eleanor Bergstein and neatly wraps it up in a story of love, passion, and self discovery. Dirty Dancing also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which, in addition to the sizzling romance and portrayal of dance as high-art made the movie an instant classic. Stream on Hulu.

8 Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

One of the many teen dramas written by John Hughes across the decade, Some Kind of Wonderful stars Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Lea Thompson as the main characters. Stoltz plays a mechanic/aspiring artist named Keith, who is bewitched by the most popular girl in school Amanda Jones (Thompson). He enlists help from his best friend/tomboy drummer Watts, played by Materson. On the cusp of graduation, Watts must come to terms with her own feelings for Keith and follow her heart.

The Ideal Underdog Romance

While not hugely promoted or well-received at the time of its release, Some Kind of Wonderful managed to cultivate devotion and adoration within fans because of its above-average storyline and refreshing tone. The actors were just breaking out, and yet, they handled the teenage confusion and desire to be accepted and understood quite deftly.

Featuring some of the best use of Lick the Tins’ Can’t Help Falling In Love, a perfect blend of playfulness and wit, and heartfelt friendships, the movie is worth rediscovering. Stream on Prime Video.

Related: Movies From the 80s That We Couldn’t Live Without

7 The Princess Bride (1987)

A classic fairy tale romance, The Princess Bride centers around the beautiful Princess Buttercup and her true love, farmhand Westley. Despite the differences in their social status, the two try to make it work. When Westley ventures out into the real world and is presumed dead, Buttercup finds herself being forced to marry the vengeful Prince Humperdinck. But the tale doesn’t go as expected and what ensues is an adventure of a lifetime.

True Love and Heroism Never Goes Out of Style

Adapted from William Goldman’s book of the same name, the movie remains decidedly rewatchable for its warmth, magic and humor. Under the sublime direction of Rob Reiner, comedic geniuses like Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn, and Mandy Patinkin, come together to tell a story within a story – one that juxtaposes romance, swashbuckling adventure, and countless laugh-out-loud moments.

The quotes that The Princess Bride gave birth to still pop into everyday conversations, and that alone is why it still holds up. Stream on Disney+.

6 They Live (1988)

they live

They Live

Release Date
November 23, 1988


Adapted from a short story, Eight O’Clock in the Morning, written by Ray Nelson, They Live is a science fiction horror that still holds up. John Nada is a homeless wanderer. One day, he discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world as it truly is. The sunglasses reveal subliminal text in advertisements and the media, and how the government manipulates society to maintain order. He also learns the truth about how the ruling class are just aliens in disguise.

An Eerie Genre Standout

When John Carpenter ideated They Live as a means of expressing his dissatisfaction towards politics and commercialization, he probably did not know the movie would become a cult classic. The mind-bending sci-fi- thriller stars WWE legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as the lead.

It combines intense alien invasion sequences as well as piercing social satire in a way that is brilliant, unmatched, and relevant. The movie also touches upon uncanny themes about control and media manipulation, which are terrifyingly aligned with today’s world. Rent on Apple TV.

5 Working Girl (1988)

Working Girl (1988)

Release Date
December 21, 1988

113 Minutes

Working Girl follows Tess McGill, a young and ambitious secretary, who dreams of financial independence and climbing the Wall Street ladder. When her boss suffers an injury on a skiing trip, Tess seizes the opportunity to step in, showcase her talents, and impress a client with an investment idea of her own. However, the brighter she shines, the more attention Tess draws. And soon. A cunning nemesis and an unlikely suitor seek her.

A Comedy Ahead of its Time

Director Mike Nichols made this feminist Cinderella story before the term went mainstream. Working Girl’s take on ambition, gender roles, and workplace politics inspired discussions about equality and empowerment amongst viewers. Refreshing, witty, and insightful, the movie remains relevant today because of how it celebrates women who take charge.

Additionally, it features a star-making turn from Melanie Griffith, who was nominated for Best Actress Oscar, as well as power duo Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. Stream on Peacock Premium.

4 Die Hard (1988)

die hard

Die Hard

Release Date
July 15, 1988


It may seem to some that Die Hard was just another action blockbuster, but looking back, you realize how the movie turned an office Christmas party into the ultimate survival showdown and redefined heroism for decades to come. The movie centers around NYPD cop John McClane who travels to Los Angeles to spend the holidays with his estranged wife. But when a group of criminals led by Hans Gruber take control of the high-rise building she works at, John steps up to single-handedly save the day.

A Trend-Setting Action Classic

Under the direction of John McTiernan, this amazing thriller blessed the world with one of the greatest on-screen action heroes in the form of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. The movie balances nail-biting suspense as well as the right doses of humor. From the ingenious plot to the brave action choreography, every element worked together to make Die Hard an instant classic. Even after over three decades, the movie provides escapism and entertainment. Rent on Apple TV.

3 Say Anything (1989)

Everyone remembers Say Anything for that one scene where John Cusack stands in a park outside of Diane’s bedroom window, holds a boombox in the air, and blasts “In Your Eyes” to express his feelings. The Cameron Crowe-directed romantic comedy has a premise that resembles many rom-coms that came before and after. Lloyd is a kind-hearted underachiever who falls hard for a girl way out of his league – Diane, the valedictorian. When Diane’s father disapproves of their relationship, she’s forced to make a tough choice.

Known For the Iconic Boombox Scene

Regardless, Crowe’s feature directorial debut is adored to this day because it stands out in its ability to depict love’s heart-racing highs and crushing lows in the most realistic ways possible.

Lloyd and Diane’s story exists in real life, which is why John Cusack and Ione Skye are still relatable. The movie’s earnest perspective, subtle melodrama, and enduring sentiment have turned it into a timeless classic. Rent on Apple TV.

Related: 10 Cheesy Movies from the 1980s That We Actually Miss

2 Dead Poets Society (1989)

This ultimate dark academia throwback takes you to a fictional elite all-boys boarding school, Welton Academy, in 1959, where Todd Anderson begins his junior year and shares a room with one of the most talented students, Neil Perry. A passionate and unconventional English teacher named John Keating, on his very first day, inspires his students to break free and “seize the day.” While his unorthodox methods encourage the students to understand art and poetry, tensions with the administration rise.

Holds Up for its Enduring Message

Dead Poets Society is one of the most inspirational movies ever made. It not only encourages self-expression but also cultivates a love of learning in the old generation and new. Anchored by a career-defining performance from Robin Williams, the movie highlights the transformative effects of joy and creativity on pupils. Peter Weir also infused the narrative with subtle rebellion and heartbreak, which only makes the experience of being young more universally relatable. Rent on Apple TV.

1 When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

A romantic comedy that has been defining friendship (and eventually dating) goals way before hashtags and right swipes were a thing, When Harry Met Sally… is the ideal ’80s movie. The titular characters shared one car ride together years ago and ended up becoming best friends. However, the one question of sex or romance fitting into their relationship loomed at all times. As Harry and Sally maintain their friendship, their romantic attraction towards one another only grows stronger.

Witty and Honest Look at Relationships

Rob Reiner crafted one of the most timeless romantic comedies ever. Despite evolving gender roles and changing relationship terminologies, When Harry Met Sally… still feels giddily modern. Part of the longevity goes to the iconic performances from Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, who share a chemistry that was a pure delight from start to finish.

The crackling dialogue, the unforgettable “I’ll have what she’s having,” and relatable themes around human connection, the movie is as warm and beautiful as the day it first premiered. Rent on Apple TV.

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