Last Updated: November 30th
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?
Rain Man (1988)
Run Time: 173 min | IMDb: 8/10
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise star in this drama about a playboy conman and his autistic savant brother. Cruise plays Charlie, the rich kid who discovers his dad left him nothing following his death. When he meets Ray, the brother he never knew he had (Hoffman), the two embark on a cross-country road trip to save Charlie’s car import business and rediscover their connection. Cruise is his usual charming self, but Hoffman gives a brilliant turn as a misunderstood genius with quirks that make him endearing, even if they contribute to his otherness and isolation from his family.
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.
Run Time: 106 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
Bill Murray and John Candy star in this war comedy about a couple of bros unhappy with their regular work lives who decide to enlist in the army for fun. Murray plays John, a cab driver who doesn’t assimilate to bootcamp easily and Candy plays his best friend Russell, who goes along with his increasingly crazy schemes which end with their platoon being captured in Czechoslovakia and them launching a rescue mission.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Run Time: 127 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Set five years after Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade marks Indiana Jones’ journey to rescue and reunite with his estranged father, a historian who goes missing after searching for the Holy Grail. Harrison Ford returns to play the swashbuckling archeologist while Sean Connery — most famous for his role as James Bond at the time — plays Indy’s absentee father. Most of the fun in this film can be chalked up to the pair’s chemistry. Indy and his dad don’t get along and their bickering, even as they’re avoiding assassins and tracking down ancient relics, is played up for laughs, rightly so.
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.
Rocky IV (1985)
Run Time: 91 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
Harold Ramis’ outrageous ’80s classic is a whos-who of comedy legends. Rodney Dangerfield Honestly, any of the Rocky movies are a good time 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.
Raging Bull (1980)
Run Time: 129 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Robert De Niro stars in this boxing drama from Martin Scorsese playing famed fighter Jake LaMotta. LaMotta succeeded in the ring because of his infamous temper and violence but those same traits are what led him to ruin away from the mat. De Niro plays LaMotta with a kind of swagger and ruthlessness that’s magnetic on screen, even though the character see-saws between hero and villain in his own story.
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.
An American Tail (1986)
Run Time: 80 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
This 1986 animated musical adventure is about a tiny mouse named Fievel Mousekewitz who emigrates from the Imperial Russian territory of Ukraine to New York City. His family is seeking freedom, and Fievel just wants to explore the world but tragedy strikes when he’s separated from his family and forced to fend for himself on the mean streets of the city. The music is stellar in this, so much so that a duet between Fievel and his older sister, Tanya, has been known to cause grown men to burst into tears. You’ve been warned.
Recent Changes Through December 2019:
Added: Eddie Murphy: Delirious