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)
44%

#140
Adjusted Score: 46.542%
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: Featuring an ensemble full of beautiful and talented young actors, this comedy drama centers an a septet of Georgetown graduates... [More]
Directed By: Joel Schumacher

#139

Flashdance (1983)
34%

#139
Adjusted Score: 37.38%
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: Jennifer Beals stars as Alex Owens, a Pittsburgh steel-mill welder by day, and bar dancer by night. Harboring dreams of... [More]
Directed By: Adrian Lyne

#138

Krush Groove (1985)
43%

#138
Adjusted Score: 27.335%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The rap music craze provides the subject and the soundtrack for this musical about a young record producer (Blair Underwood)... [More]
Directed By: Michael Schultz

#137

Footloose (1984)
50%

#137
Adjusted Score: 52.794%
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: In this lively adolescent-oriented musical, a city kid attempts to adapt to life in an ultra-conservative backwater Midwestern town. Once... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#136

Weird Science (1985)
56%

#136
Adjusted Score: 57.906%
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: John Hughes's third directorial effort, Weird Science, follows in the tradition of his previous teen-centered films, Sixteen Candles and The... [More]
Directed By: John Hughes

#135

Return to Oz (1985)
52%

#135
Adjusted Score: 53.997%
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: This '80s follow-up to The Wizard of Oz is based upon two of L. Frank Baum's later Oz books. In... [More]
Directed By: Walter Murch

#134

Short Circuit (1986)
58%

#134
Adjusted Score: 60.916%
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: An intelligent, lovable robot known as "Number 5" escapes from a secret research facility and learns to interact with the... [More]
Directed By: John Badham

#133

Ladyhawke (1985)
64%

#133
Adjusted Score: 64.998%
Critics Consensus: There's pacing problems, but Ladyhawke has an undeniable romantic sweep that's stronger than most fantasy epics of its ilk.
Synopsis: In medieval France, a young, nebbishy pickpocket befriends a knight who has fallen under a strange curse. It is soon... [More]
Directed By: Richard Donner

#132

Friday the 13th (1980)
62%

#132
Adjusted Score: 66.575%
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: One of the longest-running horror film series began with this gory shocker from director Sean S. Cunningham, who had previously... [More]
Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham

#131

Steel Magnolias (1989)
70%

#131
Adjusted Score: 71.721%
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: Six women come together in this hilarious and heartwarming story of life, love and loss in a small Louisiana parish.... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#130
#130
Adjusted Score: 69.779%
Critics Consensus: Eddie Murphy was in full control at this point, starkly evident in Coming to America's John Landis' coasting direction.
Synopsis: Coming to America casts comedian Eddie Murphy as pampered African prince Akeem, who rebels against an arranged marriage and heads... [More]
Directed By: John Landis

#129

Highlander (1986)
69%

#129
Adjusted Score: 71.807%
Critics Consensus: People hate Highlander because it's cheesy, bombastic, and absurd. And people love it for the same reasons.
Synopsis: Among humans for centuries, an immortal specie existed. Connor MacLeod is a member of this specie. Unaware of his powers,... [More]
Directed By: Russell Mulcahy

#128
#128
Adjusted Score: 70.897%
Critics Consensus: A silly and ribald superhero spoof, Toxic Avenger uninhibited humor hits more than it misses.
Synopsis: In a crazy spoof of heroic monster movies that spawned two sequels, The Toxic Avenger is about the transformation of... [More]

#127

Purple Rain (1984)
69%

#127
Adjusted Score: 73.122%
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 is a Minneapolis musician on the rise with his band, the Revolution, escaping a tumultuous home life through... [More]
Directed By: Albert Magnoli

#126
#126
Adjusted Score: 73.879%
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: From Steven Spielberg and George Lucas comes the animated classic that started a global phenomenon. Go back in time with... [More]
Directed By: Don Bluth

#125

Spaceballs (1987)
59%

#125
Adjusted Score: 61.785%
Critics Consensus: There's fine spoofery and amusing characters in Spaceballs, though it's a far cry from Mel Brooks' peak era.
Synopsis: The evil leaders of Planet Spaceball, having foolishly squandered their precious atmosphere, devise a secret plan to take every breath... [More]
Directed By: Mel Brooks

#124
#124
Adjusted Score: 73.079%
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: A college fraternity that houses the school's socially awkward, thick-glasses-sporting set decides to exact their revenge on the football players... [More]
Directed By: Jeff Kanew

#123

Willow (1988)
50%

#123
Adjusted Score: 53.678%
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: Though Willow was one of director Ron Howard's few box-office disappointments, it definitely deserves a second look. At once an... [More]
Directed By: Ron Howard

#122
Adjusted Score: 59.611%
Critics Consensus: A surprisingly dark, emotional, and almost excessively cynical experience for Transformers fans.
Synopsis: 90 minute animated toy commercial in which the Autobots battle the evil Decepticons. Notable only for great cast of voices!... [More]
Directed By: Nelson Shin

#121
Adjusted Score: 71.699%
Critics Consensus: Sci-fi parodies like these usually struggle to work, but Buckaroo Banzai succeeds through total devotion to its own lunacy.
Synopsis: Neurosurgeon, nuclear scientist, and rock 'n' roller, the multi-talented Buckaroo Banzai is called upon save the world from a hostile... [More]
Directed By: W.D. Richter

#120

Top Gun (1986)
54%

#120
Adjusted Score: 59.091%
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: Devil-may-care navy pilot Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is sent to Miramar Naval Air Station for advanced training. Here he vies... [More]
Directed By: Tony Scott

#119

Real Genius (1985)
75%

#119
Adjusted Score: 76.543%
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: This teen comedy from director Martha Coolidge stars Gabe Jarret as Mitch, a 15-year-old science whiz who is recruited to... [More]
Directed By: Martha Coolidge

#118

Dirty Dancing (1987)
69%

#118
Adjusted Score: 74.308%
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 teenage girl learns about love, adult responsibility, and how to do The Dirty Boogie in this romantic drama. In... [More]
Directed By: Emile Ardolino

#117
#117
Adjusted Score: 78.846%
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: Trailer-park teenager Lance Guest regularly escapes from his humdrum existence by playing the video game Starfighter. His expertise at this... [More]
Directed By: Nick Castle Jr.

#116

Mystic Pizza (1988)
78%

#116
Adjusted Score: 79.069%
Critics Consensus: Mystic Pizza is like its namesake food: it's cheesy, topped with romance, and rises to the occasion.
Synopsis: Three teenagers learn a lot about life and love one summer in this romantic comedy-drama. Kat (Annabeth Gish), Daisy (Julia... [More]
Directed By: Donald Petrie

#115

UHF (1989)
64%

#115
Adjusted Score: 65.267%
Critics Consensus: UHF is bizarre, freewheeling, and spotty, though its anarchic spirit cannot be denied.
Synopsis: When a desperate UHF station gives the seriously odd George the job of manager, he proves to be a programming... [More]
Directed By: Jay Levey

#114

Better Off Dead (1985)
77%

#114
Adjusted Score: 78.361%
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 being rejected by the object of his affection and suffering a series of other humiliations, a depressed teenager decides... [More]
Directed By: Savage Steve Holland

#113
#113
Adjusted Score: 76.717%
Critics Consensus: Sweet and spry, Adventures in Babysitting gets by on its amiable tone.
Synopsis: After reluctantly accepting a baby-sitting job, a teenager gets a call from her best friend who is stranded in downtown... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#112

Caddyshack (1980)
74%

#112
Adjusted Score: 78.789%
Critics Consensus: Though unabashedly crude and juvenile, Caddyshack nevertheless scores with its classic slapstick, unforgettable characters, and endlessly quotable dialogue.
Synopsis: An elite country club has to deal with a brash new member and a gopher intent on destroying their beloved... [More]
Directed By: Harold Ramis

#111

Baby Boom (1987)
74%

#111
Adjusted Score: 76.009%
Critics Consensus: Baby Boom struggles to impart its feminist ideals, but Diane Keaton's winsome leading work helps keep things breezily entertaining.
Synopsis: When a professional woman with a high-profile job "inherits" a 14-month-old baby girl from recently deceased relatives, she intends to... [More]
Directed By: Charles Shyer

#110
Adjusted Score: 82.262%
Critics Consensus: Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are just charming, goofy, and silly enough to make this fluffy time-travel Adventure work.
Synopsis: When a couple air-headed rock-star wannabes are faced with the break-up of their band as a result of poor grades,... [More]
Directed By: Stephen Herek

#109

Sleepaway Camp (1983)
82%

#109
Adjusted Score: 83.35%
Critics Consensus: Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending.
Synopsis: When Angela (Felissa Rose) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierston) go off to the dilapidated Camp Arawak for a summer... [More]
Directed By: Robert Hiltzik

#108

Scanners (1981)
76%

#108
Adjusted Score: 78.106%
Critics Consensus: Scanners is a dark sci-fi story with special effects that'll make your head explode.
Synopsis: The title of this David Cronenberg sci-fi horror film refers to a group of people who have telekinetic powers that... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#107

Valley Girl (1983)
82%

#107
Adjusted Score: 83.992%
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: An amusing elaboration upon the popular record by Moon Unit Zappa, Valley Girl stars Deborah Foreman in the title role.... [More]
Directed By: Martha Coolidge

#106

The Untouchables (1987)
82%

#106
Adjusted Score: 86.92%
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: Like the TV series that shared the same title, The Untouchables (1987) was an account of the battle between gangster... [More]
Directed By: Brian DePalma

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