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Here are the best 80s movies streaming on Netflix, Disney Plus, and more
It’s a pretty dark time in the movie industry at the moment. The rise of the streaming era, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, has caused a huge decline in people going to theaters. Many pop culture film fans are now looking back to a decade when it seemed great movies were coming to theaters every single week. Yep, we are talking about the 1980s. But in that flood of films, what were the best 80s movies, and what streaming services have them available for anyone to watch anywhere and at any time they want?
In this article, we will attempt to list the best 80s movies, in our opinion, and where they are available to stream from services like Netflix, Disney Plus, and more. Keep in mind that many of these films switch streaming services from time to time, so we will update this article when that happens.
Best 80s movies
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Director Steven Spielberg needed a big hit following the critical and box office bomb 1941, released in 1979. He decided to work with another big movie maker at the time, George Lucas of the Star Wars franchise, to create a new action hero and a movie that was largely inspired by the Saturday afternoon movie serials that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. What they came up with was this 1981 classic starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
Set in 1936, the film is an almost non-stop action adventure, as Jones, the brave but still somewhat vulnerable archaeologist tries to take the Ark of the Covenant away from the Nazis, who want it for their nefarious ends. There’s lots of humor, and some great action set pieces, and Ford is perfect as this gruff hero who is always, as he said, “…. making it up as I go” to the best effect. This is definitely one of the best 80s movies to try out first.
James Cameron only directed one movie before this 1984 film, but the sci-fi action film instantly made him a major cinema creator. It also turned Arnold Schwarzenegger from an actor who could only play Conan The Barbarian into one that could play far more roles. His portrayal of the cyborg title character, who has to kill the mother of the human resistance in a future run by the evil AI Skynet, is perfect, and Cameron helps him with a tight story, some impressive Terminator effects, and some interesting story twists.
Tom Cruise was already a major star with his roles in other popular 80s movies like Risky Business and Top Gun. However, his career went up to another level with this 1988 movie, which won the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, who discovered after his father died that he has an autistic older brother with a talent for math, Ray, played by Dustin Hoffman. The two brothers try to get to know each other on a road trip that changes both their lives forever. Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in this film, which has inspired many homages and parodies.
Back to the Future
This 1985 film came out of nowhere to become one of the most beloved and best 80s movies. Michael J. Fox became a star with his role as Marty McFly, a teen who inadvertently goes back in time 30 years and then interferes with how his mom and dad met as teenagers. Can he set things right before he and his family disappear from existence? Christoper Lloyd gives the performance of his life as Emmett “Doc” Brown, who created the time machine that sends Marty back to 1955. He also plays his younger self, who has to help Marty go back to the future (roll credits). While the two sequels of this movie are very good as well, nothing really beats the original.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
After Star Wars became a massive pop culture-changing hit in 1977, fans wondered if the sequel could come close to the original in terms of quality. Thankfully, that was never an issue with this 1980 movie, thanks in no small part to the director Irvin Kershner. He helped give The Empire Strikes Back some human depth compared to Star Wars, while producer and co-writer George Lucas contributed the rest: the snow battle on Hoth, the new Jedi mentor Yoda, and some new relationships between the main characters that were very unexpected at the time. Indeed, a major revelation near the end of the movie will still shock anyone who has never seen the movie before.
Stephen King may not like this adaptation of his novel by director Stanley Kubrick, but most everyone else loves it. The 1980 film stars Jack Nicholson as a writer who takes a job to watch over a snow-bound hotel while it’s closed for the winter. However, this hotel has lots of ghosts, and not the nice kind, that cause Jack to go slowly crazy, and also cause his son Danny, who has psychic powers, to see terrors of his own. Kubrick’s visual style is perfect for this kind of haunted house film, with lots of tension and terror building to a climactic end in the final minutes.
Is this movie the greatest action film of all time? This 1988 movie certainly has some great action sequences, but it is elevated beyond the average action film thanks to Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and many other actors who give Die Hard its human quality. Willis, of course, plays NYPD detective John McCane, who’s come to Los Angeles in the hopes of reconciling with his estranged wife.
All of that is put on hold when she and the other employees of the rich Japanese company she works for are taken hostage on Christmas Eve by Rickman’s Hans Gruber and his team of thieves. Now McCane has to rescue his wife and the other people in the company’s massive skyscraper while also dealing with all the law enforcement agencies, and an arrogant TV reporter, on the outside. And yes, this is a Christmas movie, along with one of the best 80s movies.
Field of Dreams
This 1989 movie is usually seen as a sports film. However, the real theme of this movie is about second chances in life. Kevin Costner plays a man who owns an Iowa farm that’s in financial trouble, When he hears a mysterious voice asking him to build a baseball field in his backyard, he does so. Soon, the once-deceased members of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox baseball team appear on his baseball field. These ghosts just want to play the game one more time, and that leads this movie into themes of redemption for not only the ghosts but also the living human characters as well.
This concept for a movie should not have worked. A Detroit police officer who gets murdered horribly by a gang of thugs is brought back as a cyborg cop. It’s got a silly premise, but director Paul Verhoeven uses this story as a way to bring in tons of themes, including the rise of the corporate world, the ideas of death and resurrection, and what it really means to be human. Peter Weller does a fantastic job playing Robocop, who slowly begins to regain his humanity inside his metal shell. Oh, and this movie’s humor and satirical tones are unmatched.
Beverly Hills Cop
There’s no one more perfect for playing the main role in this 1984 movie than Eddie Murphy. Ironically, he doesn’t actually play a Beverly Hills cop. Murphy’s Axel Foley plays a Detroit cop who goes to Beverly Hills, California, to find out why his long-time friend was murdered. This movie works both as a hilarious comedy and a solid police action film, with Foley acting as a fish out of water who always seems to be a step ahead of the residents of this rich and uptight city. We just hope that the upcoming 2023 revival of this franchise on Netflix is half as good as the original.
No one thought anyone could make a worthy sequel to the 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien. Also, some people might have assumed James Cameron was a one-trick director after his success with The Terminator. Thankfully, both of these assumptions were wrong. The 1986 movie is still scary, but Cameron decided to make Aliens into a war movie.
The influence of the real Vietnam War is evident in this movie, as the Colonial Marines may be packing some heavy weapons, but the soldiers are completely unprepared for the xenomorphs they encounter. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley, becoming one of the first true female action heroes as she tries to rescue the young girl that’s the sole surVivor of this alien-infested planet. The final battle between Ripley and the alien queen is one of the best movie end sequences ever.
Al Pacino goes full bore into his role as Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who comes to the US to make his fortune. Unfortunately, he makes his dreams come true by becoming a major cocaine dealer, and while he gets richer and more powerful, he slowly becomes more of a target for many rivals and for law enforcement as well. Pacino’s performance may be broad, but it’s needed in this 1983 movie, which shows the rise and fall of a drug overlord spectacularly. Indeed, you will be saying hello to his little friend and love it.
After the commercial and box office failure of the big budget sci-fi film Dune, director David Lynch just wanted to go back to making smaller films. He got his wish with this 1986 movie, which reestablished him as a dark but quirky filmmaker. Lynchy brought back the star of Dune, Kyle MacLachlan, for this movie as well, as his character gets involved with some dark criminal conspiracies in his small town after discovering a severed ear. In a way, this movie is a little bit of a trial run for what may be Lynch’s greatest effort, the TV show Twin Peaks, which also had similar themes of darkness running underneath a small town.
The idea of mashing up comedy with high-end special effects was put to the ultimate test in this 1984 classic. A team of paranormal investigators decides to make a business taking out ghosts and become rather successful in New York City. However, they soon learn that the growing amount of ghosts to bust is tied to the planned resurrection of an ancient god. Bill Murray is perfect as Peter Venkman, a man who believes in ghosts but doesn’t take them too seriously. Dan Aykroyd is also great as the ghostbuster with the most background knowledge of spirits, and the late Harold Ramis is excellent as the most stoic and scientifically minded member of the group.
The Breakfast Club
Writer-director John Hughes made a ton of movies in the 1980s, and many of them could be on this list, like Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Weird Science. However, this 1985 teen dramedy may be his best. Five teens are sent to detention at their local school on a Saturday, and during that time they learn more about themselves and each other than they ever would during a normal school day. This movie is funny, sad, and finally a bit uplifting as well.
Is there any movie on this list that has as many laughs as this 1980 classic? We think not. This spoof of disaster films is largely based, sometimes word for word, on the 1957 movie Zero Hour. The basic plot, about an ex-pilot who has to go into the cockpit of an airliner after the flight crew becomes incapacitated, is just an excuse to throw out one joke and one sketch after another. Unlike most of the spoof movies that have come after this film, the jokes are mostly funny and remain so decades later. Surely you’ll be quoting lines from Airplane constantly after you finish this film (and don’t call me Shirley).
This is Spinal Tap
This 1984 movie is another kind of spoof, but one more grounded in reality. This “mockumentary” follows the lives of Spinal Tap, a group of hard rock musicians that were once hugely popular, but have now fallen on hard times. Rob Reiner, in his feature film directorial debut, also plays the fictional director of the fictional documentary of Spinal Tap, as the band members slowly start to realize that perhaps they are not the great musicians that they previously thought. While the movie is scripted, there’s a lot of improvisation, which gives it its dose of reality, and oddly makes it funnier to watch.
After making Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, director Tim Burton showed Hollywood what he could really do with an original idea in this 1988 horror comedy. The owners of a house in a small town are killed but return to their house as ghosts. When the house’s new owners start redecorating in their own style, the couple try to scare them out of the place, to no effect. That’s when the title character, played perfectly by Michael Keaton, is summoned by saying his name three times. As it turns out, that was a bad mistake on their part.
Burton’s signature art and visual style are evident here, with a dark and cartoony look that is unmistakable. It also helps that the story is funny, and the actors, especially Keaton, are in top form.
The Princess Bride
Director Rob Reiner returns for this 1987 fantasy film, with a framing sequence of a grandfather reading his grandson the story of the same name. The tale of a princess and a commoner falling in love has been told many times, but it’s never been told like this, with humor and heart. The movie manages to both make fun of and use fantasy and fairy tale tropes to great effect, and the performances are also terrific, led by Robin Wright as Princess Buttercup, Cary Elwes as the hero Westley, and especially Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, the master swordsman that’s looking for the man that kills his father. Needless to say, the scene when that actually happens is everything you hoped it would be.
It’s hard to believe this 1982 sci-fi film that has become so loved and so influential was a box office bomb and critical disappointment when it was first released in theaters. Now, it’s considered one of the best 80s movies and one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Harrison Ford plays a former “blade runner” in this future version of Los Angeles, where human-looking androids called replicants inhabit a world in space but cannot legally come to Earth. Ford has to hunt and kill a group of replicants who have escaped. He soon learns there’s more to these androids than meets the eye.
Director Ridley Scott makes the future LA of 2019 (yep, that’s not a typo) look dark with lots of neon, perfect for this dark story about what it means to be a human. The version of the movie we are linking to is The Final Cut, which ditches the horrible narration from Ford’s character that’s in the original movie.
E.T. The Extraterrestrial
The biggest box office hit of the 1980s, and the biggest of all time for a few years, is this 1982 sci-fi fantasy movie from Steven Spielberg. A cute alien is left on Earth when his spaceship departs without him, and he’s found by a trio of siblings who live in a typical suburb. E.T. forms a deep relationship, in more ways than one, with the middle child, Elliot, and that’s the catalyst for this story, as they try to “phone home” and get E.T. back to his planet while government agents search for the creature. The movie is written and filmed like a modern fairy tale, complete with flying bicycles, and you will likely be reaching for the tissues more than once.
This 1989 movie is more of a guilty pleasure than a truly great 80s movie, but it’s on this list because it is just so entertaining to watch. Patrick Swayze plays Dalton, a nightclub bouncer with no equal, who is hired to take over those duties at a small town bar. Soon, Dalton realizes that this new gig comes with some complications, like a ruthless local businessman who lords over the town and the bar. The premise is definitely a bit hokey, but the movie is saved thanks to Swayze’s performance, as well as Sam Elliott playing a mentor to Dalton. Just sit back, watch, and have fun.