Last Updated: September 20th
Films from the 1980s often get a bad reputation, culturally dominated as they were by family-friendly films (E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Short Circuit), the rise of blockbuster franchises (Back to the Future, Star Wars, Indiana Jones) and lots of Reagan-era excess: Big hair, terrible fashion, and synthesizer music that’s done more to date good ’80s movies than telephone technology. There was always a summer camp, a body-switch, or a human with an alien friend, or so it seems. In spite of the complexities of the Cold War, the themes of Hollywood movies during the decade were often ridiculously simple: Get laid, ski to the bottom of the hill first, or outrun the slasher. It obviously wasn’t all bad, of course, otherwise the 1980s wouldn’t be such a rich resource for remakes and reboots.
Below are 15 of the best ’80s movies on Netflix streaming to watch tonight. Some highlight the excesses of the decade. Others flaunt formula and subvert topes made famous by other 1980s films. Still others are singular achievements that would stand out in any decade. (And, perhaps notably, none have yet to inspire a big-screen remake, while only one — Batman — has received the reboot treatment.)
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Re-watching Steven Spielberg’s warm alien tale in 2016, it’s surprising how well it holds up. It is not plagued by an ’80s sheen, cheesy effects, dated fashion trends, or synth-heavy music. In fact, all the CGI animation in the world could not improve upon the animatronic alien that Carl Rimbaldi created for E.T.. It was remarkably ugly, and all the more endearing for being as such (in fact, the reason Reese’s Pieces are used in the film is because Mars wouldn’t give Spielberg the rights to M&Ms, under the belief that E.T. would scare little children). Every facial expression, eye movement, neck-raise, and gesture is perfect, and somehow that hideous-looking troll can still manage to warm any black heart. It’s the perfect kids movie, and the perfect movie for an adult to watch with kids (or on a date, with family, or completely alone).