The decade of the 1980s will be remembered most for creating a phenomenon called “franchise”. From ‘Indiana Jones’ to ‘Star Wars‘ to ‘Star Trek‘ … all flourished in the 80s and established their position in the industry as money-making machines. The 80s also saw a jump in the television viewership with many cult shows making their debut during that time.
Although Netflix’s catalog focuses mostly on new films and tv shows, you can still find a lot of quality movies of the 80s on it. Many argue that the 80s movies have lost their appeal with the current generation, but if you’re a film buff and if you are a fan of horror or teen flicks, classic adventures or documentaries then you’ve come to the right place. Even though Netflix doesn’t have a comprehensive collection of films from the 80s, still, it has some of the greats we were looking for. However, I have to warn you: the probability of feeling nostalgic after reading this list is high. Here is the list of some really good 80s movies on Netflix. You can also find many of these best 1980s movies on Amazon Prime or Hulu.
16. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Written and directed by Spike Lee, “She’s Gotta Have It” follows Nola Darling, who is in a relationship with three different men. But things start to get complicated when they want her to commit solely to them. This fine cinematic debut of Lee completely fits in the category of a sexy, unique film. It is fascinating and entertaining due to its original perspective. It is about artistic, well-educated, middle-class African-Americans and very feminist while being funny. Overall, its authenticity and charm are its best qualities.
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15. Stripes (1981)
Perhaps ‘Stripes’ is Bill Murray’s best film to date if I am not wrong. The movie’s narrative tells the tale of John Winger, a cab driver who has lost everything and decides to enlist in the army. John slacks in the basic training and so is his friend Russell who too has joined the army on John’s persuasion. They fall for their crushes at the training Bootcamp, Stella, and Louise. When General Barnicke sees them perform a drill without a sergeant, they are assigned to the EM-50 project in Italy. Out of a fiasco, one of their trucks is captured by the Soviets and upon hearing the news, John, along with Russell, Stella, and Louise, infiltrate the Soviet base on the EM-50 and save their platoon. ‘Stripes’ is a fun flair and one would love to celebrate all the foolishness that is being thrown at the audiences at a very minimal cost.
14. Popeye (1980)
Robin Williams brings to life the iconic character Popeye in this 1980 film directed by Robert Altman. The story starts with Popeye, a sailor, coming to a town called Sweethaven to look for his father. However, he ends up getting involved in the affairs of the town and also meets a woman called Olive Oyl whom he falls in love with. The only bane in his life is a pirate called Bluto who has some rather evil intentions in mind. Now it is upon Popeye to make sure that the people of Sweeethaven do not fall prey to the evil plan that Bluto is concocting. The film is not all that great, but Williams’ brilliant comic timing and magnetic screen presence help us get through the story with ease.
13. Return To The 36th Chamber (1980)
‘Return To The 36th Chamber’ is a loose sequel to the classic martial arts film ‘The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin’. The story of this film begins with the owner of a factory cutting the wages of his workers to pay the new employees he has hired. His pay-cut proves to be unbearable for the workers and they decide to hire a small-time con man called Chu Jen-chieh to play the role of a Shaolin monk to dissuade the owner of the factory. However, the act is soon exposed and the people behind this plan are severely punished. Jen-chieh decides that he himself has to do something about it, and ends up going to a Shaolin temple where he trains to become the fighter he once pretended to be. Laced with great humor and brilliantly choreographed action sequences, ‘The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin’ is a brilliant film you should not miss out on.
12. Rocky III (1982)
The ‘Rocky’ film series is one of the most popular sports film franchises of all time, and the brilliantly made first two movies of the series readily paved for the success of the upcoming four. Written and directed by Stallone himself, the third edition of the franchise sees Rocky facing off against one of his fiercest opponents, James “Clubber” Lang, played by professional wrestler Mr. T. While Rocky is now living the high-class lifestyle and is not as devoted to his training as he used to be, Lang is rising up the charts pretty fast. While the film is not as great as the first two editions of the franchise, it is highly entertaining and emotional at the same time.
11. Dad (1989)
Gary David Goldberg’s 1989 film ‘Dad’ is a sweet comedy centering on the relationship between fathers and their sons across two generations. When middle-aged businessman John Tremont’s (Ted Danson) mother passes away, he brings his dad Jake (Jack Lemmon) over to live with him. Although John was somewhat reluctant about this at first, he eventually starts reassessing his life through his interactions with his aged father and even begins trying to better the relationship that he shares with his own son Billy (Ethan Hawke). The way this film converges the relationships shared between the three generations is really commendable, but it does run on a number of cliches and becomes somewhat melodramatic by the end.
10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
The Oscar-winning venture of Steven Spielberg and the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie begins with Indiana Jones and Willie Scott, a nightclub singer, along with a 12-year-old Chinese boy landing up in India in a small village where a sacred stone has been stolen, thus leading the villagers to believe that their children are disappearing as a result of the stone’s disappearance. The Temple of Doom is a mystic temple with a lot of booby traps and the Mola Ram, a Thugee Priest of the temple believes that using the five Sankara stones, one can rule the entire world. It is now up to Jones to rescue the children and put an end to Thugee’s evil intentions. Amrish Puri as Thugee had made news all over the world and Spielberg himself described Puri as the best villain of all time. Thoughts?
9. Playing for Time (1980)
An intense drama set during the Holocaust, ‘Playing for Time’ narrates the story of Fania, a French Jew who is being shipped to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the second world war, along with many other Jews. Turns out, Fania is a talented pianist and those having a flair for music weren’t persecuted as badly as others. She applies to be a part of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz and gets selected, while many others perish under Nazi atrocities. She also befriends another lady Marianne and though she isn’t a singer, the Nazis agree to take her into the fold. For Fania, the predicament of staying in the orchestra and suffering abuses by Nazi soldiers or to be a part of the other prisoners of the camp is heartbreaking. ‘Playing for Time’ received critical acclaim after its release, primarily for authenticity.
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8. Rain Man (1988)
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise joined forces for this Barry Levinson film which centers on the relationship between two brothers who meet each other after a long time. Cruise plays the role of the younger brother Charlie who is shocked to know that his father has left all of his property to his older autistic brother Raymond. This prompts Charlie to go to the institution where Raymond is admitted, to talk him into handing over his money to Charlie. In order to do so, Charlie sneaks Raymond out of the institution and takes him on a cross-country road trip. While on the trip, Charlie discovers that Raymond is an autistic savant, and is brilliant with numbers. He plans to use Raymond’s skills to earn some money in Las Vegas. The entire trip that the two brothers take becomes an emotional journey of love, acceptance, and understanding more than anything else.
7. The Dark Crystal (1988)
The story of this dark fantasy film is set on a fictitious planet called Thra. When the story begins, we get to know about a magical object known as the Dark Crystal which once upon a time maintained stability in the land, but after it was damaged, chaos fell upon Thra. The story centers around two characters called Jen and Kira who belong to the Gelfings, one of the many native clans of Thra. However, most of the Gelfings are now dead because of the violence that spread after the Dark Crystal got damaged. It is now upon Jen and Kira to find the missing piece of the Dark Crystal in order to bring back peace once again. The set designs and the entire world of Thra, its people and culture have been done in great detail. The writing of the film does resort to cliches, but overall, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is a highly entertaining watch.
6. Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story (1988)
A defining biopic, ‘Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story’ is a real-life story of Charlie Wedemeyer, who was born in Hawaii and was a quarterback in his high school team. While he was heading a football team as a coach in 1978, he was diagnosed with ALS that took a toll on his body, rendering him immobile with only his lips and eyes moving until his death. Be that as it may, Charlie decided never to quit and fought the disease till the very end. The 80s weren’t known for biopics and precisely because of that reason, ‘Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story’ gained quite a lot of traction. Have you watched it yet?
5. Hamburger Hill (1987)
It is widely believed that all great war films are actually anti-war films, and this statement could not have been truer when it comes to this 1987 film. ‘Hamburger Hill’ is directed by John Irvin, and deals with the 1969 Battle of Hamburger Hill that took place during the Vietnam War. The main focus of the film is on fourteen soldiers who try rather hard to capture the eponymous hill in one of the bloodiest battles that ever took place during the war. Besides the battle against the enemies, the internal strifes between the soldiers, mainly due to racial tensions, is another main concern of the film. ‘Hamburger Hill’ is a visceral look at a war that gripped an entire generation of American youth and had a huge impact on the cultural and political landscape of the country.
4. Heathers (1988)
A classic from the 80s, “Heathers” is “Mean Girls” with a very dark twist. Winona Ryder is Veronica, a girl trying to survive the social jungle that is high school, by hanging out with the three most popular girls in school (all named “Heather”). When she meets JD (Christian Slater), she enters into a spiral of hate, murder, and revenge. The film became a cult classic due to the charisma of the couple of misfits that Rider and Slate interpret but also because of its dark atmosphere. “Heathers” is not for everyone, its dark comedy and obscure approach on the high school drama may be seen as overdramatic. However, the controversy is one of the factors that turn this one into a film you should watch.
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3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
The brainchild of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ follows the story of the titular Indiana Jones who is on the search for the Holy Grail. Soon, he comes to know that another archaeologist, which turns out to be his father, had gone in the missing while looking for the Holy Grail. Turns out, the Nazis have captured Professor Henry Jones in a desperate attempt to extract its powers to fuel their own evil designs. ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ won many accolades and covered up the shortcomings of its predecessor, along with achieving universal critical acclaim. Sean Connery as Henry Jones was praised for his character-oriented performance.
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2. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Arguably the best film of the Indiana Jones franchise, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ to this day remains the inflation-adjusted top-grossing movies of all time. Often considered as one of the best films ever made, this Steven Spielberg’s directorial venture is the narrative of Indiana Jones who is meandering the Peruvian jungles in search of a golden idol. After miraculous escapes and a series of braving booby traps, he learns from one of the museum creators about the Ark of the Covenant, which is crucial for humanity’s existence. Jones ends up traveling places while looking for the Ark while encountering vicious insurgents, the Nazis and his arch-nemesis – a French archaeologist named Rene Balloq. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ was nominated for the Academy Awards in nine categories, winning five of them.
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1. Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film ‘Raging Bull‘ is without a doubt one of his best films. Based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, the film mainly concentrates on the personality of its leading character both inside and outside the boxing ring, and never makes a huge brouhaha about the achievements of his career. This is probably Scorsese’s way of telling us that while making a film on the life of a person, it is the core of his heart that he wishes to capture, not the superficial layers of civility, career achievements, and so on. Robert De Niro is visceral in his role as LaMotta, and manages to bring out the temperamental side of the boxer so beautifully that the lines between reality and fiction tend to get blurred. ‘Raging Bull’ is one of the best movies of the 1980s. From the direction to the performances by the actors, to the cinematography and the editing- everything about this film is almost perfect.
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