Quintessential Eighties Movies

This is a page devoted to what I feel were the quintessential movies of the eighties. These aren't necessarily my favorite movies, or even in some cases movies that I've seen. These are the movies which I feel translate well, not just in the eighties. The categories are fairly broad, with the emphasis on the comedy and teen angst. Personally, I don't think there are really any teen angst films in the nineties like there were in the eighties. I've tried to trim movies which weren't as well known, as I want this list to be somewhat compact, and because I consider these to be the best films to recommend to people who haven't seen them. These aren't ranked in order of importance either.

Teen Angst

Better Off Dead
John Cusak is trying to cope with the loss of his girlfriend and trying to sky the most difficult slope on the mountain. Chock full of different characters, and very much an eighties film.
The Breakfast Club
Five teenagers serving detention together, learn a lot about how they've very similar despite belonging to different cliques. Has more of a message than Fast Times at Ridgemont High which is why I picked it for this category.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Matthew Broderick skips school and all kinds of hijinks occur. This is one of those rides which is really fun, a small lesson is learned for one of the minor characters. Basically though, the situations that Ferris gets in and out of are for the most part believable, and are certainly enjoyable.
The Goonies
Really a pre-teen movie, but lots of fun none-the-less. A group of misfits fight to save their home by going after an elusive treasure. Lots of tense situations for the characters to solve, good for children. It's as fresh today as it was then.
Surviving popularity, and killing your friends go hand to hand in this one featuring Wyonina Ryder and Christian Slater. Definitely displays the clique-ness of the eighties in high school (which has always existed though) and is a total flip in atmosphere from something like Ferris Bueller's Day Off which is upbeat, this one is very dark.
The Karate Kid
A great film about the values of patience and learning. A great story about a teenage trying to overcome the seemingly impossible to beat karate experts which run rampant over him. A sense of optimism seems to prevail throughout this movie and it's very uplifting to watch.
The Lost Boys
Teenage vampires, this one always gets bad reviews, but it still has a lot of character growth in regards to peer pressure. This is a very dark comedy, but it still works well, especially if you're not expecting a typical horror flick or a typical teenager flick.
Pretty In Pink
Poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with a rich boy from the right side of the tracks and vice-versa.
Say Anything
John Cusak tries to woe the love of his life.
Sixteen Candles
A John Hughes movie without parallel. Molly Ringwald is just trying to get people to remember it's her birthday, while at the same time trying to get the boy she idolizes to ask her out.
Stand By Me
A flashback movie to the fifties (which were in vogue during the eighties) about 5 boys on the verge of manhood. A great movie from Stephen King which is probably the rarest thing you'll ever hear.
Cold war paranoia compared with the whiz-bang appeal of personal computers. A computer geek's must-see.


Leslie Nealson's big-screen breakthrough in this off the wall comedy. This movie helped to bring the zany comedies that were popular in the fifties into the eighties.
Hard to believe this is Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, but it is. This movie makes the world of death seem like a larger than life playground. Michael Keaton's performance as the over the top Beetlejuice is what really sells this one.
The Blues Brothers
One of the best movie adaptations of a Saturday Night Live sketch, and definitely a cult classic. Some of the music sequences are a little too over the top, but that's more the appeal of this movie than anything. The car chase involving hundreds of police cars piling up, the car chase in a mall, etc.
A movie about golf and growing up for a caddy. The most memorably roles of actors are those of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield. The best for a non-actor goes to the golpher that Bill Murray chases throughout the movie. The plot is fairly predictable, but if you ignore that and watch for the big name actors, then it's worth watching.
A Christmas Story
The "It's a Wonderful Life" for the eighties generation. Another 50's flashback film, this one dealing with Christmas and the Red Ryder bee-bee gun. It's getting a little overplayed around Christmas now, but the trials of the main character (little Ralphy) are very easy to identify with in any generation.
"Crocodile" Dundee
A huge box-office success with a great fish out of water story line. First you have the big city reporter going to the outback of Australia and trying to cope with the wilderness. Then you have Paul Hogan's character following the reporter back to New York and trying to cope with many of the modern conveniences he never experienced. Sometimes a little unbelievable, but a fun ride anyways.
Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd take on ghosts with science. The characters are great fun, especially Bill Murray as the smooth fast talking charlatan.
Good Morning, Vietnam
Robin Williams at his zaniest as a radio announcer. There is great character growth for his character in this one as he copes with being stationed in Vietnam and dealing with some of the horrors of war.
9 to 5
Dolly Parton and Lilly Tomlin get mid-evil on their employer's buttocks and learn how to take control of their own lives.
The Princess Bride
A great cult classic involving the mid-evil times with a lot of interesting characters and memorable lines.
Revenge of the Nerds
The geeks get revenge on the jocks which control their lives.
Short Circuit
A robot comes to life and experiences the wonder of learning while helping a scientist learn more about love and life outside of the lab.
An excellent sci-fi spoof from Mel Brooks, anyone who has seen Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, etc. will find themselves laughing at the take on these classics.
Uncle Buck
One of John Candy's best roles as the guy who tries to cope with babysitting and having to take on responsibility for the first time in his life.


Back to the Future
Michael J. Fox's best movie role ever, and definitely the best in the series of movies. This exemplifies the action movie for the family position.
Beverly Hills Cop
Eddie Murphy is absolutely stunning in this movie, as he takes on the bad guys and the Beverly Hills police force at the same time.
The Fly
The remake of the classic horror film adapted to the eighties.
Helped to spawn several sequels of lesser quality, but this one had a great feel to it. Sean Connery is lots of fun in this as well, has a somewhat dark edge to it, and great atmosphere.
Lethal Weapon
Mel Gibson is a wild out of control cop, Danny Glover is just trying to stay alive long enough to retire. Together they kill and blow up tons of stuff. Helped to spawn lots of lesser imitators, including it's own sequal (the third one wasn't too bad, we'll see how bad the 4th one turns out next summer).
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The first of three, definitely a break through work when it came out, and helped to establish Harrison Ford as something other than Han Solo. The opening sequence is probably one of the most memorable in a movie. I also recommend the third movie in the series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with Sean Connery as his father, almost better than the first.
The Road Warrior
Mad Max, this is the one that started it all. Mel Gibson in the gritty futuristic post-apocalyptic world coping with the death of his wife and child. Doesn't feature Mel's voice, as the producers thought it wasn't strong enough.
Running Scared
I picked this one because it exemplifies the buddy cop movie almost as much as Lethal Weapon does. I almost said 48 Hours instead, but I think Billy Crystal is much more believable in his role, and it's a little bit grittier. The clincher is definitely the car chase on the subway line with the cab from hell.
The Terminator
Arnold in this sci-fi action adventure is unforgettable. Is there any question as to why "I'll be back" is a catch phrase that can't be forgotten?
Top Gun
"I feel the need, the need for speed." One of the best films the year it came out, it features Tom Cruise in his best role of the eighties.

Misc. Category

Dirty Dancing
Another retro film about the fifties, and a film where the main character grows up a lot during the course of the movie.
E.T. - The Extraterrestrial
A children's classic, timeless. See Drew Barrymore when she's still innocent.
A downtrodden dancer tries to make it to the big time.
A great horror story about what happens when people rush into things they don't understand.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
One of the best horror series of the eighties, this one was highly original for it's time, and even now doesn't look dated.
An Officer and a Gentleman
A great movie about the military.
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Tommy for the eighties.
A classic ghost story without a lot of unnecessary gore.
Purple Rain
Prince's masterpiece, an excellent showcase for his music.
Rain Man
Dustin Hoffman's best movie role of the eighties, a great character learning film for Tom Cruise's character as he learns to cope with an autistic brother he never knew he had.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The first eighties nostalgia film, ten years before the Wedding Singer. The crew of the Enterprise come back in time to the eighties in order to save a pair of whales to enable the future to survive.
A View To Kill
The James Bond film of the eighties with the highest charting theme song. A perfect example of James Bond films of the eighties.