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The best ’80s movies to stream right now

Everyone knows one or two movies from the 1980s that take them back, even if you are too young to remember it well. Some of the greatest films, from Return of the Jedi to Risky Business, come from this decade, each steeped with its own nostalgia and sense of place. There’s just something about the films of the ’80s that makes them memorable, even without the elaborate special effects, big production budgets, and high-def resolution of today.

Thankfully, many of the most iconic films of the ’80s are currently available for streaming on platforms such as Netflix and Disney+, whether you’re looking to watch them for the first time or the 100th. Here’s where to get started.

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Back to the Future
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Back to the Future (1985)

This is where the journey started with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), a teenager who finds himself traveling backward in time (and forward to the future which, back then, was 2015!) with “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd). In the past, he meets his future parents and must try to fix history to ensure his own existence. Two sequels followed in 1989 and 1990, along with related merchandise, games, books, and more. The film has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry and is widely considered one of the best sci-fi films of all time.

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

Image via Lucasfilm

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Kicking off the decade, this film, the second in the franchise following the original 1977 Star Wars, fast forwards three years to a time when the Galactic Empire is following Darth Vader’s orders to find and eliminate Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance. Largely considered one of the first film sequels to be better than the original, this is the film where Luke discovers his true parentage in a moment that’s often called one of the greatest plot twists ever in a film. Don’t stop with this film, of course. If you’re going to watch, you might as well binge them all.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz
Director: Irvin Kershner
Rating: G
Runtime: 124 minutes

Raiders of the Lost Ark
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Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

This film is the first in the Indiana Jones franchise, which went on to include two sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, plus a prequel TV series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and various video games. It tells the story of an archaeologist on a quest for the Ark of the Covenant, but he must fight off Nazis to get there first. As the highest-grossing film that year, the movie earned nine Academy Award nominations and has been included in the National Film Registry. Some call it one of the greatest movies ever made.

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Genre: Action, Adventure
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: 13+
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Die Hard (1988)

Often considered by diehard fans (pun intended) to be mandatory annual viewing during the Christmas season, the setting is Christmas Eve, and a heist is about to take place, led by a criminal mastermind (Alan Rickman). But officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) isn’t going to let that happen, unleashing his fury while caught in a Los Angeles skyscraper as things are going down. It has all of the elements that make a great action flick, from edge-of-your-seat suspense to menacing one-liners and fantastic fight scenes. It’s Willis at his best.

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Genre: Action, Thriller
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia
Director: John McTiernan
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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Aliens (1986)

One of the first major film franchises to put a strong woman at the center of the story to kick butt and take names, this is the second film to look at Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) journey. After returning to the moon, now with a unit of space marines in tow, she is ready to seek out the aliens she claims to have found before. Considered among the best movie sequels ever made, it’s worth watching even if you haven’t seen the original.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Stars: Sigourney Weaver
Director: James Cameron
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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The Terminator (1984)

“I’ll be back.” It’s one of the most recognizable lines in film history, as is the character who uttered it: A cyborg assassin called the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The Terminator travels back in time to hunt down and kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) to prevent her son from saving the world from the post-apocalyptic future where machines have taken over. It’s one of the early films that secured both Schwarzenegger and James Cameron as major forces in Hollywood.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield
Director: James Cameron
Rating: 14A
Runtime: 107 minutes

Warner Bros., 1989

Batman (1989)

Whether you’re a believer that Michael Keaton was the best Batman or not, or that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker was the most intriguing, this film is a must-watch. It’s the first Warner Bros. film to kick off the series of movies centered around and/or featuring this comic book character. The star-studded cast that represented the who’s who of A-listers at the time helped turn the film into a massive box office success, leading to three sequels. Keaton only played the title character for the first two, but now, decades later, he is in talks to reprise the role for the upcoming film centered around The Flash.

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Genre: Action, Adventure
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Director: Tim Burton
Rating: PG
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

After the tremendous success of the second film, the story was quickly continued a few years later with this, the third film in the franchise. As the first to use THX technology for enhanced audio, it skips ahead one year and follows the typical good versus evil story as the Rebel Alliance must fight the Emperor and his plot to build another Death Star and destroy them. The story is both emotional and action-packed, with something for everyone.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz
Director: Richard Marquand
Rating: G
Runtime: 132 minutes

Image via 20th Century Studios

The Princess Bride (1987)

It isn’t dubbed a rom-com, but this film totally fits that genre, with elements of fantasy, adventure, and comedy as well. It’s a tale as old as time, adapted from the 1973 novel of the same name and told in the film as a book a grandfather is reading to his grandson. At the heart of the story is Wesley (Cary Elwes), a farmhand who sets out on a mission to rescue his love, Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright). Along the way, however, he meets and travels with some very interesting and eccentric characters. While it didn’t break box office records when it appeared in theaters, the film has since become a cult classic.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Stars: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal
Director: Rob Reiner
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey) is an abusive U.S. Marines drill sergeant, but the real story is about Joker (Matthew Modine) and Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio), two privates who struggle to make it through boot camp under such hostile conditions. Based on the Gustav Hasford 1979 novel The Short-Timers, the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. While the film received its share of criticism, it remains one to watch if you’re into war films.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Genre: Drama, War
Stars: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Blade Runner (1982)

While the sequel Blade Runner 2049 that was released 35 years later was a box office success, the original film didn’t enjoy the same widespread praise. However, it has since become a cult film and is often considered one of the best sci-fi films ever to have been made. The dystopian future that serves as the setting is supposed to be 2019 (eek!) when synthetic humans work at space colonies. But a group of fugitives manages to escape and head back to Earth. Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, it’s the movie that kicked off Dick’s Hollywood career. Since then, several more Dick books were adapted into films, including Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau, as well as The Man in the High Castle, which is now an Amazon series.

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Huaer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos
Director: Ridley Scott
Rating: PA
Runtime: 117 minutes

Paramount Pictures

Airplane! (1980)

When you’re in the mood for a good laugh, this parody of disaster genre films, namely 1957’s Zero Hour!, is a masterclass in silly humor. The late Leslie Nielsen wasn’t supposed to be the lead, but he quickly became the breakout star thanks to his subtle, deadpan humor. How can you forget lines like his response to the question, “Surely you can’t be serious?” with a stone-faced, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” Nielsen went on to star in many other hilarious comedy films, including The Naked Gun film series. This one that started it all will have you chuckling the entire time.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Genre: Comedy
Stars: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lorna Patterson
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Rating: AA
Runtime: 87 minutes

Image used with permission by copyright holder

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time — in any genre — this movie takes viewers on an emotional journey as a young boy befriends an alien who is lost on Earth and trying to get back home to his own family. As Elliott protects E.T. from being discovered, he builds a deep connection with the extraterrestrial and a bond that makes them lifelong friends, despite their differences. It’s a sweet story about love and acceptance that’s great to watch with the kids.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Genre: Family, Sci-Fi
Stars: Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Henry Thomas
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: G
Runtime: 114 minutes

Paramount Pictures

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris (Matthew Broderick) is the most popular and beloved kid in school who can seemingly do no wrong, much to his cranky older sister’s chagrin. When he strikes up an elaborate plan to play hooky one day, convincing his girlfriend and reluctant (and sick) best friend to come along, their day becomes one to remember. They do whatever they want while others, namely the determined school principal, try desperately to prove that Ferris isn’t really at home sick in bed as he claims. It’s one of those must-watch films that transcends generations and is relatable regardless of the dated references.

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Genre: Comedy
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck
Director: John Hughes
Rating: PG
Runtime: 103 minutes

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The Goonies (1985)

Sloth loves Chunk! This film, featuring an ensemble cast of kids who recently reunited for a Zoom video chat, is mandatory viewing for anyone who grew up in that era. A group of friends heads out to search for the long-lost fortune of the legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy in hopes that it can help save their homes from foreclosure. They quickly discover they aren’t the only ones on the hunt for the treasure. While there are some scary elements, it’s an adventure comedy at heart that is great for watching with the entire family.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family
Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Choen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan
Director: Richard Donner
Rating: PG
Runtime: 109 minutes

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Risky Business (1983)

Joel (Tom Cruise), a high schooler living with his wealthy parents, must try and live up to their high expectations, which involve getting accepted into Princeton. When they leave on a trip, he and his friend decide to let loose. A night of debauchery involving prostitutes quickly turns sour. While the coming-of-age film is known most for that iconic Old Time Rock and Roll scene with Cruise sliding across the floor in his button-down shirt and briefs, it’s a great movie that looks at themes of ambition, innocence, materialism, and wealth.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Romance
Stars: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay
Director: Paul Brickman
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Christine Persaud
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