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The 25 Best '80s Movies on Netflix

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The list of movies on Netflix is skewed heavily towards the new. There are more films from 2016 than they’re are from the entire decade of the 1980s. But what the streaming service lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality with six films from our 80 Best Movies of the 1980s, including that list’s #2 entry, E.T.. If you’re a fan of ‘80s horror or want to see a few hugely influential documentaries, you’re in luck. If you’re looking for classic ‘80s action and sci-fi, the pickings are a little slimmer.

The selection gets more when you notice all the iconic directors on this list: Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, Errol Morris, Akira Kurosawa, John Carpenter, John Woo, Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis and, of course, Rob Reiner.

Here are the 25 Best ‘80s Movies on Netflix:

25. Children of the Corn
Year: 1984
Director: Fritz Kiersch
It’s not often that the adults should be the ones afraid to watch a horror movie with kids, but it would be hard not to look at kids differently after 1984’s Children of the Corn, one of the higher-profile entries in horror’s “kids kill all the adults” subgenre. The film focuses on a cult in a fictional Gatlin, Neb., lead by child preacher Isaac, who is convinced by an entity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows that all adults over 18 should get the ax. We see Burt and Vicky (played by Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) struggle to escape the small town after driving through and hitting a young, dying boy with their car. There’s plenty of slasher scares and creepy visuals, but like any good horror movie, it’s a commentary on us as a society. And like Lord of the Flies before it, this Stephen King-based story looks toward our kids to point out the oddities of our culture, including an obsession with religion. With that said, the performances are cheesy as hell—from both the adults and children. —Tyler Kane


24. Escape From New York
In the far future of 1997, when the president’s Air Force One flight is hijacked and crash-lands in the now-maximum security prison of Manhattan, there’s only one man who can save him, a one-eyed Kurt Russell who goes by the name of Snake. He struggles to thwart The Duke’s plans to use the President as a human shield in his march to freedom, all while maintaining his badass disdain for the US government. —Sean Doyle


23. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Year: 1989
Director: Joe Johnston
Entry A into the “We really miss Rick Moranis” file, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is one of the primary reasons that pretty much any child of the ’90s would have a soft spot for the guy. He’s the perfect cinematic dweeb, a scatterbrained, down-on-his-luck inventor who finally succeeds in building a machine that accidentally shrinks his children and the neighbor kids to the size of specks of dust. When they get taken out with the trash, the kids must traverse the backyard like jungle explorers, navigating horrors that range from the blades of the automatic lawnmower to an honestly terrifying stop-motion scorpion attack that would have made Ray Harryhausen proud. It’s a perfect coming-of-age adventure movie in the same spirit as The Goonies. —Jim Vorel


22. Cujo
Year: 1983
Director: Lewis Teague
Cujo is a very modest, intimate horror film, as sad as it is potentially frightening. There’s something really tragic in the degradation of Cujo the St. Bernard after he contracts rabies, the way his eyes and mental state begin to crumble in the face of the disease. He’s made into a monster, but it’s an unwilling transformation from his normally friendly state, a stripping away of non-sentient good-naturedness—one might call it a metaphor for the corrupting power of evil in society. It’s well-structured to lead itself to a long, tense stand-off between a mother, her young son and the dog, as they sit trapped in their car in the broiling heat, trying to make a decision between heatstroke or the vicious dog waiting for them outside. As if it needs to be said, you shouldn’t watch this if you’ve ever had any doubts about the loyalties of the family pooch, as it will only exacerbate them. —Jim Vorel


21. Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Year: 1988
Director: Tony Randel
Hellbound is a somewhat divisive sequel among horror fans, but we can all at least agree on one thing: It’s much, much better than any of the approximately 57 additional Hellraiser sequels that followed, most of which will make you wish the Cenobites were gouging your eyes out with their rusty hooks. It’s actually a more ambitious, somewhat less intimate film than the first Hellraiser, greatly expanding upon the mythos of the series as Kirsty must journey to the hellish dimension of the demonic Cenobites to oppose an evil doctor whose dreams of power transform him into a Cenobite himself. The lovely Ashley Laurence returns as the protagonist, along with a young, emotionally disturbed girl who is adept at solving puzzles, which almost gives it the feel of a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel such as Dream Warriors. The Cenobites themselves get a little bit watered down from their nigh omnipotence in the original film, but the settings and effects are great for the meager budget and do as good a job as anyone could reasonably do of translating the twisted vision of Clive Barker to the screen. —Jim Vorel


20. Black Widow
Director: Bob Rafelson
Year: 1987
Taking the femme fatale conceit to literal extremes, director Bob Rafelson, whose credits include Five Easy Pieces and the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, delivers a modern noir elevated by two ace lead performances. Debra Winger does Debra Winger as an FBI agent, Alex, who grows obsessed with the perpetrator of a series of unsolved marriages-then-murders. Theresa Russell matches her note for note as gold-digging vixen Catharine, who’s as good at the long con as she is a cat-and-mouse game with Winger’s humdrum suit. Then there’s the staggering amount of research involved—Catharine on the passions of her soon-to-be victims, Alex on her suspect. It’s smart, with pointed gender commentary to boot. The plain-Jane Fed plays frenemies with the glamorous chameleon while cinematography great Conrad L. Hall (Cool Hand Luke, American Beauty) mines suspense in the shadows, all the better to spotlight Russell’s steely eyes and porcelain veneer—she’s bone-chilling. Bonus points for a droll cameo from Dennis Hopper as one of Catharine’s marks, and a lecherously long-nailed Diane Ladd as one of his relatives. —Amanda Schurr


19. Working Girl
Year: 1988
Director: Mike Nichols
One of a spate of movies about Wall Street to hit theaters near the end of the Reagan era, Mike Nichols’s romantic comedy was focused more on personal relationships than business. Much of the movie’s success can be boiled down to the chemistry of its leads—Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford are more than convincing as late ‘80s business leaders / lovers, and Melanie Griffith was so good as the underestimated blue collar secretary with a business degree that she became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars for a few years. You probably won’t laugh out loud, but it’s a great example of what slick, middlebrow, professional Hollywood comedies in the late ‘80s looked like. It’s also in the relatively small class of comedies to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. —Garrett Martin


18. *batteries not included
Year: 1987
Director: Matthew Robbins
Old people and aliens partner to fight gentrification for the crowd-pleasing win! Spouses both on and off the screen, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn play a couple who are among the low-income residents of an apartment building at odds with The Man, who goes so far as to hire a local gang to vandalize the couple’s downstairs diner and further drive out the tenants. As luck would have it, a pair of friendly flying saucers dubbed “the Fix-Its” are in town, and squat on the top of the building while repairing anything and everything there in miraculous time. Oh, and the UFOs aren’t just do-gooding Fix-Its, they’re fertile, family-minded Fix-Its at that. Exec produced by Steven Spielberg and co. and with a script co-penned by Brad Bird (his first feature screenplay), *batteries not included is smart and cute, in the best sense of that term—the Fix-Its are positively adorbs. The cast (which also includes Elizabeth Peña) is pitch-perfect, especially the sprightly Cronyn. There’s a childlike innocence to the whole thing, and darned if it doesn’t charm you. —Amanda Schurr


17. Vernon, Florida
Year: 1981
Director: Errol Morris 
Errol Morris’s purpose in Vernon, Florida is to let his subjects speak for themselves. The residents of the titular town have a variety of obsessions—turkey hunting, policing, sand growing, philosophizing—and part of the appeal of the film is the way these snapshots of American life feed into one another. But the greater part, I think, is how these specific, precise stories suggest that everyone of us, American or not, construct narratives to explain our interests and identities, and how our enthusiasms for specific things can end up sounding exotic and strange when explained in any detail. In other words, the point of the documentary isn’t that these specific people are strange; the point is to explore, depending on one’s perspective, how all human beings are strange. Mark Abraham


16. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Year: 1988
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rating: PG
Bob Hoskyns is a P.I. charged with exonerating the titular Mr. Rabbit in a noir send-up to old-school animation. The 1940s world of Toontown is a place where toons and people intermingle, and Kathleen Turner voices Roger’s bombshell girlfriend Jessica Rabbit. This imaginative mix of live action and animation remains an original a quarter-century later. —Josh Jackson


15. Hellraiser
Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and they’re indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in the film version of Hellraiser, an icky story of sick love and obsession. —Rachel Haas


14. On Golden Pond
Year: 1981
Director: Mark Rydell
Adapted from Ernest Thompson’s 1979 play, On Golden Pond received 10 Oscar nominations, winning three categories including Best Actor and Best Actress for its leads Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. This summer classic has enough brilliance and warmth competes with the mid-July sun. —Caitlin Peterkin


13. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Year: 1985
Director: Tim Burton 
Tim Burton’s full-length directorial debut is also one of his best. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure brings us into the bizarre-o world of Pee-wee Herman, the excitable, ageless protagonist that’s hopelessly attached to his bike. After it’s stolen in broad daylight, we see Herman travel across the U.S. to reclaim his baby. And through the adventure and its ongoing discoveries (who knew The Alamo didn’t have a basement?) we’re introduced to unforgettable characters like Herman; his (sort-of) love interest, Dottie; the horrifying trucker ghost Large Marge; the snotty, rich Francis and Herman’s dog, Speck. Herman’s wacky world is fully realized through the eye of Burton, and this one stands alone as a film that kids and adults can both get a kick out of. Netflix’s new film Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is definitely worth watching, but Big Adventure is the place to start. —Tyler Kane


12. The Verdict
Year: 1982
Director: Sidney Lumet
It’s worth noting upfront that Sidney Lumet shot most of The Verdict in New York City. But the real connective tissue that links The Verdict to Boston is its narrative, in which a hard luck, hard drinking lawyer (the great Paul Newman) butts heads with the city’s archdiocese over a “right to die” case. Boston has a large Catholic community that wields an impressive amount of social influence—Lumet might have shot his picture in the Big Apple, but he nonetheless encapsulates that religious influence perfectly in his courtroom drama. Plus he has his cast tiptoe around the matter of accents quite deftly, too, which is a nice if nonessential touch. —Andy Crump


11. Gremlins
Year: 1984
Director: Joe Dante
Joe Dante’s Gremlins is an yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen, in the same vein as Die Hard, given that both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ‘80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ‘70s Roger Corman protege, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that led directly to the creation of the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy for the next three decades. —Jim Vorel


10. The Killer
Year: 1989
Director: John Woo
The Killer is one of a few reasons that Chow Yun-fat will maintain unquestionable badass status until the day he dies. A perfect fusion of magnetic star and hyperkinetic director, it may be the most essential film in John Woo’s impressive, sprawling filmography. Chow plays a hitman who, in the way of these films, is trying to leave the business. Of course he gets roped back in for the old “one last job” spiel, in this case to help a young, blinded woman from his past. The plot is simply a web of cliches; the film is a classic for the glorious, crazy, over-the-top gun battles and fight scenes. With akimbo pistols never seemingly needing reloading, Woo’s style of “gun fu” was extremely influential on directors such as Quentin Tarantino. John Wick is basically, in its aesthetics, a love letter to The Killer. —Jim Vorel


9. Big Trouble In Little China
Year: 1986
Director: John Carpenter 
Next to The Thing or Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China feels like little more than a lark, one more toss-off showcase for John Carpenter’s genre-bending curatorial spirit. Part goopy menagerie of grotesque special effects, part super-cool fantasy adventure, Big Trouble follows an all-American truck driver as he falls ass-backwards into a plot involving an ancient Chinese sorcerer seeking to fulfill a prophecy that will restore him to human form. The flick eschews all senses of horror or tension to focus on carefree action bro Jack Burton, the aforementioned trucker played to the hilt by Kurt Russell, who was pretty much at the height of his laid-back dude-ical powers back in the ‘80s. In fact, Carpenter may be that decade’s best unheralded action director, and Russell his charming muse, way more fun to watch than a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone or a VanDamme—Adonises barely able to grimace out full sentences, let alone crack a smile—because there wasn’t much more to what he was doing, or what Carpenter was filming, than going mullet-first into whatever madcap caper struck his fancy. All one-liners, shameless machismo, shiny biceps, and a gnarly pair of mom jeans, Jack Burton is comparable perhaps only to John McClane in his unflagging ability to take absolutely nothing seriously about the serious situation around him. —Dom Sinacola


8. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Year: 1984
Director: Wes Craven
Taking a big hint from The Cabinet of Caligari, Wes Craven warps reality and tackles one of humanity’s primal fears: the dark. Freddy Kruger stomps through intangible dreamscapes, tormenting a group of teenagers by denying them sleep lest he kill them in a series of extremely creative disembowelments. Technology and creativity merged in this feature to create a searing illustration of fatigue and color that has yet to be effectively replicated. —Sean Edgar


7. Heathers
Year: 1988
Director: Michael Lehmann
Heathers might look like another teen comedy, but it’s probably the darkest and most brutal movie on this list. It’s a cynical deconstruction of the typical high school comedy, turning peer pressure fatal and elevating the stakes from social lives to actual lives. It smartly subverts one of the stalest genres of comedy, and still remains edgy almost 30 years later. —Garrett Martin


6. An American Werewolf in London
Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
Few directors have ever displayed such an innate tact for combining dark humor and horror the way John Landis does. At the height of his powers in the early ’80s, one year removed from The Blues Brothers, Landis opted for a much dirtier, grittier, scarier story that stands as what is still the best werewolf movie of all time. When two travelers backpacking across the English moors are attacked by a werewolf, one is killed and the other infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, he must decide how to come to terms with the monster he has become, even as he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful nurse played by Jenny Agutter. The film lulls you into comfort with its witticism before springing shocking, gory dream sequences on the viewer, which repeatedly arrive unannounced. The key moment is the protagonist’s incredibly painful, traumatic full transformation, set to the crooning of Sam Cooke doing “Blue Moon,” which is still unsurpassed in the history of the genre. Legendary FX and monster makeup artist Rick Baker took home the first-ever Academy Award for For Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. —Jim Vorel


5. This Is Spinal Tap
Director: Rob Reiner
Year: 1984
The only rock documentary worth watching, according to Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl—next to Pennebaker’s Dont Look BackThis Is Spinal Tap isn’t really a documentary at all, though it aspires to so much more truth than any countless, beatific biopic that’s come out in the past couple decades or so. The story of a fictional metal/cock rock band told through talking head interviews that chronicle their iconic ups and downs, Spinal Tap is our best, early glimpse at the team who’d go on to make Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. While it isn’t the first of its kind, it feels like it could be: So deeply does it understand the world it parodies, Spinal Tap knows that a mockumentary is best a biopic of people who never existed, taking the personalities that define this starfucking realm and then, ever so slightly, ever so lovingly, cranking them to 11. —Dom Sinacola


4. Kagemusha
Year: 1980
Director: Akira Kurosawa 
Like Rashomon before it, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha proves the director is as much a master of story plotting as he is perfectionist over the smallest technical nuances in his films—though here, he’s painting on a far grander canvas. Not long after the peak of their relevance, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola helped secure financing for Kurosawa to finally film this extraordinary, sweeping epic, with both admitting to owing the filmmaker a huge debt as an influence. That alone is excuses an Ewok (and Jack) or two. —Scott Wold


3. The Shining
Year: 1980
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
Stephen King famously hates Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of his novel The Shining, which is difficult to understand until you actually read King’s original book, whereupon things become much more clear. Kubrick, ever the mad genius, largely rejected the emotional core of King’s story because he saw within the bones of The Shining an opportunity for a journey into the heart of visually and sonically inspired terror that few films have ever come close to replicating. Unlike in King’s novel, Jack is never treated with any kind of sympathy or pathos in the eyes of the audience—he’s a creep from the very first moment we meet him during his job interview, and he only gets worse from there, with the implied threat of his physical violence toward Danny and Wendy hanging over every scene like the sword of Damocles. His madness is alluded to masterfully through some of the most iconic visual and especially sound editing in cinema history—few horror films, or any film in general, has ever used sound as unnervingly as The Shining. Go watch The Witch from last year, and the aural comparisons are obvious. This movie, like The Exorcist, seeps into your bones. It becomes part of your DNA and stays there, infecting every perspective you have on the horror genre for the rest of a lifetime. It’s a monumental film. —J.V.


2. The Thin Blue Line
Year: 1988
Director: Errol Morris 
A little after midnight on Nov. 28, 1976, Dallas police officers Robert Wood and Teresa Turko made a routine traffic stop for a car driving without headlights. When Wood approached the vehicle, the driver pulled a handgun and shot him five times. The car sped off into the night while Turko fired hopelessly in its wake and Wood died at her feet. A cop killer was on the loose in Dallas. Turko’s recollections of the driver were meager, and 50 investigators worked through the sparse clues without a single witness. But less than a month later, on Dec. 21, Dallas police arrested Randall Dale Adams, a 28-year-old itinerant laborer from Ohio. Though Adams claimed his innocence, a jury found him guilty and the judge handed him the death sentence. The man once branded in court as “Charles Manson” was safely locked away. Dallas breathed again. Nine years later, in 1985, a documentarian named Errol Morris drifted into town from New York. Morris had never heard of Randall Dale Adams; he was in Dallas to speak to a doctor. By the time Morris left three years later, he had freed an innocent man, identified a murderer, uncovered widespread corruption and earned death threats, law suits and debt. He had also made one of the finest documentary films of all time—a nimbly stylized and obsessive pursuit of truth; a study in and a shrug to the pitfalls of myopia; the Serial podcast before podcasts ever existed; an epic story of life, death and the misuse of power that has repercussions to this day. He called it The Thin Blue Line. —Neil Forsyth


1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship that resonates with child and adult alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time, and the moment his career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —Michael Burgin

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