Last Updated: November 10th
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?
The Evil Dead (1981)
Run Time: 85 min | IMDb: 7.5/10
This Sam Raimi creation launched the director’s career and has since become a cult classic. The story follows a group of college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in a remote wooded area when they find an audiotape that somehow releases a legion of demons and spirits. Most of the group suffer varying degrees of possession which leads to gory mayhem (hence the film’s NC-17 rating).
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.
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.
Run Time: 122 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick star in this Civil War drama based on a true story about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments, the first African American regiment for the Union Army. Broderick plays Col. Robert Shaw, who takes command of the 54th and befriends his men during boot camp. Washington plays Thomas Searles, a volunteer, who rises through the ranks. The film follows the regiment as they face racism from their fellow troops and from Confederate soldiers, eventually ending with a battle that turned the tide for the Union’s cause.
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.
Run Time: 114 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Matthew Broderick comes dangerously close to kicking off World War III in this ’80s action film. Broderick plays a hacker named David, who stumbles upon a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing. When David accidentally runs a nuclear war simulation that the computer believes is real, it’s his job to destroy the program before it ushers in an apocalypse.
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: 114 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper collaborate on this nightmare-inducing horror flick about a suburban family whose young daughter is kidnapped by malevolent spirits. Steven and Diane Freeling live a relatively normal life, taking care of their three children, the youngest of which begins conversing with a static television and issuing ominous warnings about ghosts. Steven and Diane hire a medium to figure out why their house is haunted and discover spirits are using the children’s bedroom closet to kidnap them and bring them to another dimension, forcing both parents to confront their own fears to save their family. It’s the ghost story that all other ghost stories are modeled after, and there’s nothing more terrifying than little blonde-headed girls that are possessed.
Recent Changes Through November 2020:
Removed: The Karate Kid, Spaceballs, Child’s Play, Urban Cowboy, Money Pit
Added: The Evil Dead, The Dark Crystal, WarGames, Poltergeist, Glory