The ’80s were a pioneering time in the world of film. The action got bigger, the sci-fi epics pushed boundaries, action heroes were established, and movie icons introduced. When it comes to the history of cinema, no decade had as great of an impact which is why this list of essential ’80s flicks on Amazon Prime Video feels larger-than-life. From terminators to puppets, space parodies, and military romance dramas, these films have stuck with us over the years and influenced modern movie-making in vital ways.
Here are the best ’80s movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
The Terminator (1984)
Run Time: 107 min | IMDb: 8.0/10
There are so many worthy entries in The Terminator franchise, but it’s hard not to love the original more than the rest. Arnold Schwarzenegger used the film to cement his action-hero legacy, playing a cyborg assassin simply known as the Terminator, who travels from the future to ’80s Los Angeles to kill a waitress named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). From there, we learn about Skynet, an artificial intelligence defense network that will soon become self-aware and destroy humanity if Sarah’s unborn son doesn’t stop it. There’s a lot of time-travel jargon to keep up with, but the real thrill of this movie is seeing Hamilton more than hold her own against an eerily-robotic Schwarzenegger.
Run Time: 120 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
Forest Whitaker, William Defoe, and Charlie Sheen are just a few of the actors who give memorable performances in Oliver Stone’s drama that centers on the Vietnam War. The film is decidedly anti-war and is based on Stone’s own experience as an infantryman for the U.S. during that time. Charlie Sheen is his stand-in here, playing a U.S. Army volunteer named Chris Taylor, who arrives to feuding superior officers and a seemingly hopeless situation with the locals. Through drawn-out firefights and brutal killings, Chris is forced to question his desire to serve and the value of human life.
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Run Time: 108 min | IMDb: 7.5/10
This British heist comedy written by John Cleese is a hidden ’80s gem on Amazon Prime Video that deserves to be unearthed. Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin star in it as a trio of jewel thieves happy to double-cross each other to find stolen diamonds hidden by their gang leader. For Curtis’ character, that means seducing a clueless barrister (Cleese) who can help her locate the loot. It’s sharp-witted, fast-paced, and full of sarcastic humor.
Rocky IV (1985)
Run Time: 91 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
Honestly, any of the Rocky movies are a good time and Rocky III also came out in the ’80s, so it could also be on this list, but Rocky IV felt like a return to form for the undisputed boxing champ, and it sets the stage for following franchises. Sylvester Stallone plays Rocky who’s at the top of his game when a Soviet fighter named Drago (Dolph Lundgren) challenges him for the World Champion title. When Rocky’s best friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers in his final film of the series), fights him instead, he’s fatally beaten, sparking an intense rivalry between the two foes and setting Rocky on a dangerous path for revenge.
Run Time: 112 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Most of Harrison Ford’s ’80s resume consists of high profile blockbusters like the Indiana Jones series and Star Wars. Sure, those were some of his best, but he puts in a different kind of heroic performance in this crime drama about a detective who hides out in a small Amish community when he discovers corruption on the force. Ford plays John Book, a respectable police detective in charge of a small Amish boy who might be the only witness to a gruesome murder of a police officer. When the boy names another detective as the perp, Book realizes the widespread corruption in his unit and flees with the boy (and his mother) to their Amish community, where he tries to assimilate and keep them safe.
Run Time: 103 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
One for the outsiders, Heathers is the darkest of the ’80s teen comedies. While your “teen-angst bulls*t” may not have had a body count, everyone can relate to the constant pressure to be popular that plagues high school hallways. Winona Ryder proves herself to be the ultimate cool-girl as Veronica, who takes matters into her own hands in order to destroy a toxic clique. Cynical and more than a little cruel, Heathers changed the game for teen films forever. While Mean Girls may be its spiritual successor, Heathers remains the one Queen Bee to rule them all.
Run Time: 96 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Mel Brooks’ hilarious space odyssey has become something of a cult classic over the decades. It’s a parody of George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy, so it follows the same plot: a rogue pilot and his sidekick must rescue a princess and save the galaxy, but instead of Startroopers, the bad guys are known as Space Balls, and everyone is hopelessly out of their depth playing hero (and villain).
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Run Time: 93 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Jim Henson’s imaginative fantasy adventure was eons ahead of its time when it premiered in the early ’80s. The story was set in a magical world called Thra and followed a Gelfling named Jen who set out on an epic quest to restore order to his world by finding the missing shard of a powerful crystal. The world-building of this movie is what gained it a cult following, but it’s the puppetry, and how Henson pushes the boundaries of filmmaking, that make it truly special to watch all these years later.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Run Time: 124 min | IMDb: 7/10
Richard Gere stars in this romantic drama about an aspiring Naval Pilot who must endure the torture of training under the watchful eye of a tough drill instructor. Gere plays Zack Mayo, a young kid with no real plans for his future whose only goal is to complete Aviation Officer Candidate School and fly fighter jets. His dream is threatened by a brutal instructor, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, who pushes his mind and body to its limits during training. Mayo also strikes up a romantic relationship with a local townie named Paula, which adds to the stress of boot camp in unexpected ways. Gere is an icon and a swoon-worthy leading man, but it’s Louis Gossett Jr., who became the first African American man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor with his role as Foley, that really makes this worth a watch.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Run Time: 96 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
George Miller’s follow-up reunites fans with Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who’s still roaming the desert with his dog, looking for fuel. He finds it in a small village that’s been plagued by raiders, led by an unhinged biker and a goliath named Lord Humungus. Max ends up helping the village, rediscovering a bit of his humanity in the process. It’s a worthy installment in the franchise, and the action is top-notch.
Bull Durham (1988)
Run Time: 108 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
This sports-themed rom-com starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon follows the journey of Crash (Costner) a veteran catcher called in to help shape the career of a rookie pitcher with a ton of potential. Sarandon plays a “baseball groupie,” who latches onto the hotshot before forming an attraction to Crash, and it’s their unconventional romance, paired with Crash’s tough-love coaching style, that serves up most of the funny moments in this one.
Run Time: 116 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
This cult classic received mixed reviews when it first landed in theaters, which makes sense. It’s equal parts absurd, bombastic machismo and gloriously-shot action epic. The dialogue is cheesy, the performances — save Season Connery’s as the Egyptian immortal who’s having a hell of a good time — aren’t great, but the fantasy world-building and dramatic swordplay more than make up for it. The film follows the story of Connor MacLeod, a 15th century Scottish Highlander and immortal warrior who finds himself hunted by another gifted fighter in New York City, 1985. As MacLeod fights for his survival, he fields questions about his past from a forensic scientist, trying to keep his identity and his powers secret from the modern world.
Pretty In Pink (1987)
Run Time: 97 min | IMDb: 6.8/10
John Hughes pretty much defined what we now think of as a rom-com, and he did it with this flick starring Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer. Ringwald plays Andie, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s ashamed of her family’s status. Cryer plays her best friend Duckie, who’s hopelessly in love with her thought Andie only has eyes for Blane (Andrew McCarthy) a rich kid at school who doesn’t seem to be as terrible as the rest. Andie and Blane begin dating but are pressured by their friends to end their relationship, culminating in a school dance that sees Andie take back control of her life and reconcile with the guy she’s fallen for. It’s a classic formula, held up by standout performances from Ringwald and Cryer.
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension (1984)
Run Time: 103 min | IMDb: 6.3/10
Another cult classic, this sci-fi saga about titular polymath doctor who’s a whiz in everything from physics to neurosurgery and music, is bonkers ride through time and space, filled with action and plenty of humor. The basic premise centers on Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), who must save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids. To explain much more than that would take longer than we have room for, but Air Force bombers, reptilian humanoids, Orson Welles, and New Jersey all play significant roles.
Child’s Play (1988)
Run Time: 87 min | IMDb: 6.6/10
Tom Holland’s ’80s horror flick managed to take a benign children’s toy and transform it into a waking nightmare. The film stars Catherine Hicks as Karen Barclay, a single mother who gifts her son Andy a doll he’s been wanting. Unfortunately for Andy, that doll is possessed by the soul of a serial killer and very quickly, Chucky then begins to wreak havoc on the family.