Last Updated: September 1st
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. It obviously wasn’t all bad, of course, or the 1980s wouldn’t be such a rich resource for remakes and reboots.
Below are 10 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.
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Run Time: 115 min | IMDb: 8.5/10
The Indiana Jones franchise has been housed on Amazon Prime for a while now but it’s finally making its way to Netflix with the streaming platform hosting all four feature films. Of course, nothing beats the original, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as far as travel and adventure go, this movie has everything you could possibly want. A hero with a love for archeology and whips? Check. An adventure to recover a stolen artifact with destructive powers? Check check. Harrison Ford beating up Nazis while uttering sarcastic one-liners and with a twinkle in his eye? Did movies even exist before this?
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 Karate Kid (1984)
Run Time: 126 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
This beloved childhood flick taught us two things: the importance of having a Japanese landlord who can teach you karate and how to effectively wax a car. Ralph Macchio plays Daniel, a kid who moves to California with his mom and has trouble fitting in at school. When a group of karate students start bullying him, he goes to his mentor, Mr. Miyagi for help.
Back To The Future (1985)
Run Time: 116 min | IMDb: 8.5/10
This iconic ’80s comedy franchise might have wrongly-assumed we’d have flying cars, hoverboards, and self-tying shoes by now, but it got a lot of other tech predictions right. Still, that’s not what makes this film a classic. Christopher Lloyd playing a brilliant-but-eccentric scientist, Michael J. Fox playing a smart-mouthed teenager who can time-travel, and a brilliantly-funny script from director Robert Zemeckis. That’s what makes this comedy a classic.
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.
Eddie Murphy: Delirious (1983)
Run Time: 69 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Eddie Murphy pivoted from his more sanitized skits on Saturday Night Live with this televised comedy special, his first, that touched on everything from ice cream trucks to Reaganomics, racism, and AIDS. Murphy got a lot of flak for his use of profanity during the set — he would later apologize for using homophobic slurs — but despite his filthier tirades, the comedian produced some of his best work here, giving us a stripped down version of his unique brand.
Run Time: 88 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
This disaster parody starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty has become a sort of cult classic over the years, mainly thanks to its slapstick comedy and verbal puns and gags, of which there are plenty. Hays plays an ex fighter pilot with a serious fear of flying who must take over when the pilot of a commercial flight he’s on becomes ill.
The Money Pit (1986)
Run Time: 91 min | IMDb: 6.3/10
A timeless Tom Hanks comedy classic, The Money Pit is a cautionary tale for every couple who is considering buying a fixer-upper and turning it into the home of their dreams. It’s more likely to become a nightmare, but Hanks and Shelly Long at least make a seriously funny and occasionally sweet nightmare. It also contains the best laugh scene in the history of comedy. Ahh, home crap home!
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Run Time: 84 min | IMDb: 6.6/10
Before you tune into the Netflix revival, check out the original Spike Lee-directed drama about a young black woman exploring her sexuality and finding herself in the big city. Nola Darling is a carefree Brooklynite enjoying affairs with three different men before her suitors find out about each other and force her to choose between them. Nola confronts her own complicated feelings about monogamy and love but the film is less about relationship drama and more about female empowerment.
Run Time: 132 min | IMDb: 6.8/10
John Travolta stars in this Western romance, playing a country transplant named Bud. Bud comes from a small town, and he’s used to working on a farm, but when he gets a job in Houston, he’s introduced to a world that’s totally unfamiliar in a good way. Most of the draw here is in Bud’s relationship with a spirited young woman named Sissy, with whom he has an on-off-again relationship that forces him to live outside his traditionalist comfort zone.
Recent Changes Through September 2020:
Removed: Tootsie, E.T., Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Added: The Karate Kid, Airplane, Spaceballs