140 Essential ’80s Movies

Welcome to our big list of the most Essential 1980s movies, showcasing 140 of the decade’s best and most iconic Fresh (and not-so-Fresh) movies. That’s right, we recommend some Rotten additions for your ’80s movie playlists, because this is one decade only fully experienced with the good, the bad, and the feathered neon.

Any ’80s movie with a Tomatometer was considered for our Essentials guide, and after including the truly timeless material (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Raging Bull), we focused on works that represented the cinematic trends and social themes of the era. Some of those include the fantasy epic (NeverEnding Story, Princess Bride), teen movies (Breakfast Club, Weird Science), the new corporate overlord (Wall Street, Trading Places), women making strides in the workplace (Baby Boom, Working Girl), and rising hip-hop culture (Krush Groove, Do the Right Thing).

Fire up the flux capicator and cue the workout montage because it’s time for Rotten Tomatoes’ 140 Essential ’80s Movies! And if you’re hankering for more nostalgia, check out our list of 140 Essential ’90s Movies too!


More Essential Movies By Decade
1970s | 1990s | 2000s
#140

St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
43%

#140
Adjusted Score: 46850%
Critics Consensus: St. Elmo's Fire is almost peak Brat Pack: it's got the cast, the fashion, and the music, but the characters are too frequently unlikable.
Synopsis: A sax player (Rob Lowe), a party girl (Demi Moore), a writer (Andrew McCarthy) and other aimless friends drift after... [More]
Directed By: Joel Schumacher

#139

Flashdance (1983)
36%

#139
Adjusted Score: 40698%
Critics Consensus: All style and very little substance, Flashdance boasts eye-catching dance sequences -- and benefits from an appealing performance from Jennifer Beals -- but its narrative is flat-footed.
Synopsis: A Pittsburgh welder (Jennifer Beals) dances nights in a bar, dates her boss (Michael Nouri) and dreams of going to... [More]
Directed By: Adrian Lyne

#138

Krush Groove (1985)
43%

#138
Adjusted Score: 32602%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Desperate to start his own company, a record producer (Blair Underwood) unwisely borrows from a loan shark (Lisa Gay Hamilton).... [More]
Directed By: Michael Schultz

#137

Footloose (1984)
51%

#137
Adjusted Score: 54784%
Critics Consensus: There's not much dancing, but what's there is great. The rest of the time, Footloose is a nice hunk of trashy teenage cheese.
Synopsis: A hip Chicago teen (Kevin Bacon) moves to a Midwestern town where, thanks to a pastor (John Lithgow), dancing is... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#136

Weird Science (1985)
58%

#136
Adjusted Score: 60968%
Critics Consensus: Hardly in the same league as John Hughes' other teen movies, the resolutely goofy Weird Science nonetheless gets some laughs via its ridiculous premise and enjoyable performances.
Synopsis: Two high-school nerds (Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith) computer-generate a magic beauty (Kelly LeBrock) who shows them how to meet... [More]
Directed By: John Hughes

#135

Return to Oz (1985)
54%

#135
Adjusted Score: 56858%
Critics Consensus: Return to Oz taps into the darker side of L. Frank Baum's book series with an intermittently dazzling adventure that never quite recaptures the magic of its classic predecessor.
Synopsis: Insomniac Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) escapes from a clinic to Oz, now a disaster area with a bad king (Nicol Williamson)... [More]
Directed By: Walter Murch

#134

Short Circuit (1986)
59%

#134
Adjusted Score: 62712%
Critics Consensus: Amiable and good-natured but also shallow and predictable, Short Circuit is hardly as deep or emotionally resonant as E.T. -- though Johnny Five makes for a charming robot protagonist.
Synopsis: After a lightning bolt gives it human emotions and intelligence, a military robot escapes and finds refuge at the home... [More]
Directed By: John Badham

#133

Ladyhawke (1985)
68%

#133
Adjusted Score: 69756%
Critics Consensus: There's pacing problems, but Ladyhawke has an undeniable romantic sweep that's stronger than most fantasy epics of its ilk.
Synopsis: A medieval pickpocket (Matthew Broderick) learns the secret of a brooding knight (Rutger Hauer) with a hawk, and a beauty... [More]
Directed By: Richard Donner

#132

Friday the 13th (1980)
63%

#132
Adjusted Score: 68236%
Critics Consensus: Rather quaint by today's standards, Friday the 13th still has its share of bloody surprises and a '70s-holdover aesthetic to slightly compel.
Synopsis: The reopening of Camp Crystal Lake spells murder and mayhem for a group of sexually promiscuous counselors.... [More]
Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham

#131

Steel Magnolias (1989)
68%

#131
Adjusted Score: 69378%
Critics Consensus: Steel Magnolias has jokes and characters to spare, which makes it more dangerous (and effective) when it goes for the full melodrama by the end.
Synopsis: Based on the play about six Southern women who become close friends despite their eccentricities and complicated lives.... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#130
#130
Adjusted Score: 76669%
Critics Consensus: Eddie Murphy was in full control at this point, starkly evident in Coming to America's John Landis' coasting direction.
Synopsis: Pampered Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of Zamunda comes to New York with his royal sidekick (Arsenio Hall) to find a... [More]
Directed By: John Landis

#129

Highlander (1986)
70%

#129
Adjusted Score: 73586%
Critics Consensus: People hate Highlander because it's cheesy, bombastic, and absurd. And people love it for the same reasons.
Synopsis: A New Yorker (Christopher Lambert) beheads a swordsman in a parking lot, continuing a battle of immortals.... [More]
Directed By: Russell Mulcahy

#128
#128
Adjusted Score: 71225%
Critics Consensus: A silly and ribald superhero spoof, Toxic Avenger uninhibited humor hits more than it misses.
Synopsis: A 98-pound nerd (Mark Torgl) from New Jersey lands in a vat of toxic waste and becomes a benevolent monster... [More]
Directed By: Michael Herz, Samuel Weil

#127

Purple Rain (1984)
70%

#127
Adjusted Score: 74230%
Critics Consensus: Purple Rain makes for undeniably uneven cinema, but it's held together by its star's singular charisma -- not to mention a slew of classic songs.
Synopsis: The Kid (Prince) fights his rival (Morris Day) for a singer (Apollonia Kotero) and Minneapolis rock-club success.... [More]
Directed By: Albert Magnoli

#126
#126
Adjusted Score: 71468%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated and genuinely endearing, The Land Before Time is sure to please dino-obsessed tykes, even if it's a little too cutesy for older viewers.
Synopsis: An orphaned dinosaur and his new friends face a danger-laden journey to a beautiful, food-rich valley.... [More]
Directed By: Don Bluth

#125

Spaceballs (1987)
56%

#125
Adjusted Score: 58828%
Critics Consensus: There's fine spoofery and amusing characters in Spaceballs, though it's a far cry from Mel Brooks' peak era.
Synopsis: President Skroob (Mel Brooks) pits evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) against Lone Starr and the half-man, half-dog Barf (John Candy).... [More]
Directed By: Mel Brooks

#124
#124
Adjusted Score: 72672%
Critics Consensus: Undeniably lowbrow but surprisingly sly, Revenge of the Nerds has enough big laughs to qualify as a minor classic in the slobs-vs.-snobs subgenre.
Synopsis: College freshmen Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) form their own fraternity for computer-whiz misfits.... [More]
Directed By: Jeff Kanew

#123

Willow (1988)
51%

#123
Adjusted Score: 54774%
Critics Consensus: State-of-the-art special effects and an appealing performance from Warwick Davis can't quite save Willow from its slow pace and generic story.
Synopsis: A warrior (Val Kilmer) and a wizard-in-training (Warwick Davis) save a baby princess from a queen's sorcery in a mythic... [More]
Directed By: Ron Howard

#122
#122
Adjusted Score: 63249%
Critics Consensus: A surprisingly dark, emotional, and almost excessively cynical experience for Transformers fans.
Synopsis: Ultra Magnus and the Transformers fight planet Unicron and the Decepticons in 2005.... [More]
Directed By: Nelson Shin

#121
Adjusted Score: 71560%
Critics Consensus: Sci-fi parodies like these usually struggle to work, but Buckaroo Banzai succeeds through total devotion to its own lunacy.
Synopsis: A space hero (Peter Weller) and his team of do-gooders battle Dr. Lizardo (John Lithgow) and his army of Red... [More]
Directed By: W.D. Richter

#120

Top Gun (1986)
58%

#120
Adjusted Score: 63387%
Critics Consensus: Though it features some of the most memorable and electrifying aereial footage shot with an expert eye for action, Top Gun offers too little for non-adolescent viewers to chew on when its characters aren't in the air.
Synopsis: A hot-shot Navy jet pilot (Tom Cruise) tangles with MiGs and flirts with a civilian astrophysicist (Kelly McGillis).... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#119

Real Genius (1985)
74%

#119
Adjusted Score: 76417%
Critics Consensus: It follows college tropes, but Real Genius has an optimistic streak that puts you on Val Kilmer's side all the way.
Synopsis: Tech-school prodigies (Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret) learn their laser project is actually a death beam funded by the military.... [More]
Directed By: Martha Coolidge

#118

Dirty Dancing (1987)
69%

#118
Adjusted Score: 75844%
Critics Consensus: Like its winsome characters, Dirty Dancing uses impressive choreography and the power of song to surmount a series of formidable obstacles.
Synopsis: A doctor's (Jerry Orbach) teenage daughter (Jennifer Grey) gets slinky with the dance teacher (Patrick Swayze) at a Catskills resort... [More]
Directed By: Emile Ardolino

#117
#117
Adjusted Score: 77671%
Critics Consensus: The plot is as barebones a space movie will allow, but The Last Starfighter captures an era and eager style of filmmaking well.
Synopsis: The alien inventor (Robert Preston) of a video war-game whisks a teen (Lance Guest) into outer space to play it... [More]
Directed By: Nick Castle

#116

Mystic Pizza (1988)
75%

#116
Adjusted Score: 76522%
Critics Consensus: Mystic Pizza is like its namesake food: it's cheesy, topped with romance, and rises to the occasion.
Synopsis: Three teenage girls (Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish, Lili Taylor) come of age one summer working in a pizza parlor in... [More]
Directed By: Donald Petrie

#115

UHF (1989)
61%

#115
Adjusted Score: 61465%
Critics Consensus: UHF is bizarre, freewheeling, and spotty, though its anarchic spirit cannot be denied.
Synopsis: The new manager (Weird Al Yankovic) of a lowly TV station beats a big-budget rival (Kevin McCarthy) with off-the-wall shows.... [More]
Directed By: Jay Levey

#114

Better Off Dead (1985)
76%

#114
Adjusted Score: 77756%
Critics Consensus: Better Off Dead is an anarchic mix of black humor and surreal comedy, anchored by John Cusack's winsome, charming performance.
Synopsis: After his girlfriend dumps him for a skier, a teen (John Cusack) meets an exchange student (Diane Franklin) from France.... [More]
Directed By: Savage Steve Holland

#113
#113
Adjusted Score: 72646%
Critics Consensus: Sweet and spry, Adventures in Babysitting gets by on its amiable tone.
Synopsis: To help a friend, a suburban baby sitter (Elisabeth Shue) drives into downtown Chicago with her two charges (Maia Brewton,... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#112

Caddyshack (1980)
73%

#112
Adjusted Score: 78701%
Critics Consensus: Though unabashedly crude and juvenile, Caddyshack nevertheless scores with its classic slapstick, unforgettable characters, and endlessly quotable dialogue.
Synopsis: Oddballs (Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray) and gophers undermine a country-club caddy out to win a college scholarship.... [More]
Directed By: Harold Ramis

#111

Baby Boom (1987)
68%

#111
Adjusted Score: 71861%
Critics Consensus: Baby Boom struggles to impart its feminist ideals, but Diane Keaton's winsome leading work helps keep things breezily entertaining.
Synopsis: A Manhattan career woman (Diane Keaton) with a live-in boyfriend (Harold Ramis) suddenly inherits a baby girl and moves to... [More]
Directed By: Charles Shyer

#110
Adjusted Score: 85681%
Critics Consensus: Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are just charming, goofy, and silly enough to make this fluffy time-travel Adventure work.
Synopsis: Two dopey dudes (Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter) go back in time to fetch Beethoven, Napoleon and other biggies for a... [More]
Directed By: Stephen Herek

#109

Sleepaway Camp (1983)
78%

#109
Adjusted Score: 79911%
Critics Consensus: Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending.
Synopsis: Bunks and the showers are a mad stabber's beat at a summer camp strictly for teens.... [More]
Directed By: Robert Hiltzik

#108

Scanners (1981)
70%

#108
Adjusted Score: 73273%
Critics Consensus: Scanners is a dark sci-fi story with special effects that'll make your head explode.
Synopsis: A scientist (Patrick McGoohan) sends a "scanner" (Stephen Lack) to hunt others like him with explosive psychic powers.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#107

Valley Girl (1983)
83%

#107
Adjusted Score: 85869%
Critics Consensus: With engaging performances from its two leads, Valley Girl is a goofy yet amiable film that both subverts and celebrates the cheerful superficiality of teen comedies.
Synopsis: A California girl (Deborah Foreman) with a regional dialect falls totally for a punk rocker (Nicolas Cage).... [More]
Directed By: Martha Coolidge

#106

The Untouchables (1987)
83%

#106
Adjusted Score: 88074%
Critics Consensus: Slick on the surface but loaded with artful touches, Brian DePalma's classical gangster thriller is a sharp look at period Chicago crime, featuring excellent performances from a top-notch cast.
Synopsis: Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his men fight Al Capone (Robert De Niro) in Chicago during Prohibition.... [More]
Directed By: Brian De Palma

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