The Best (and Worst) Movies Made in the 1980s

The 1980s were a special time for moviegoers. The decade brought many of the most iconic films of all time to theaters, from sci-fi epics to buddy cop adventures. However, those same years are also responsible for some embarrassingly terrible films as well, the kind that years later the industry is still ashamed to admit happened. We look back on some of the best and worst films to come out of the 1980s. For the record, we’re focusing on films that are universally beloved (or, conversely, loathed) by audiences of all ages and that have their respective legacies firmly cemented. We’re not including films that were eclipsed in either regard by other entries in the same franchise. So don’t expect to see The Empire Strikes Back or The Terminator on here.


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark | Source: Paramount

George Lucas took audiences to a “galaxy far, far away” with the Star Wars trilogy, but his work here with director Steven Spielberg has also had a massive impact on the industry. Designed as a throwback to the serials that Lucas grew up with, the rollicking adventure and playful tone of this film are still imitated to this day, and Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones remains one of the most iconic heroes to ever grace the silver screen.

Back to the Future (1985)

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future | Source: Universal

If last year’s “Back to the Future Day” wasn’t enough evidence as to the enduring factor of this series, we don’t know what is. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) are touchstones of comedy and sci-fi alike, and Robert Zemeckis’s film is still considered among the best time-travel films ever made. With a smart premise, indelible performances, and a flawless script by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, there truly is no other film like Back to the Future.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, and Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, and Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off | Source: Paramount Pictures

In the history of cinema, few characters are as unabashedly cool as Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), and few directors have as untarnished a legacy as John Hughes. Although The Breakfast Club easily could have taken this spot, we’re opting for this charming story of a trio of high-schoolers running amok in Chicago. The film may represent a dream-come-true scenario for kids everywhere, but its coming-of-age story still has enough heart to resonate with older viewers just as easily.


Howard the Duck (1986)

Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck | Source: Universal

Duck boobs, everyone. Duck boobs. That one ludicrous moment in this equally ludicrous film encapsulates why this creepy, uncomfortable, and frankly bizarre adaptation of the Marvel Comics character has gone down in history as such an epic fail. Produced by George Lucas and starring Back to the Future‘s Lea Thompson, the cast and crew of this mess should have known better. If you’ve seen it, you know what we mean. If not, save yourself the 110 minutes. Did we mention that future Oscar winner Tim Robbins is in this?

Leonard Part 6 (1987)

Bill Cosby in Leonard Part 6
Bill Cosby in Leonard Part 6 | Source: Columbia Pictures

Decades before his legacy would be forever embroiled in scandal, Bill Cosby was at the height of his popularity in the mid-1980s, thanks to The Cosby Show. This film — produced and written by Cosby — aimed to parody spy films but ended up just making itself look sad and desperate. Even Cosby denouced the film just before its release, likely as a form of pre-emptive damage control. It rightfully received universal pans from critics and is now a notorious flop.

Mac and Me (1988)

Mac and Me
Mac and Me | Source: MGM

A thinly veiled excuse for McDonald’s product placement, this film tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a runaway alien and a good-hearted young boy (Jade Calegory). If that sounds familiar, it’s because the film is one of many pale imitations of Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Mac and Me has none of that film’s heart, however, and is content to instead wedge in a hackneyed plot amid one commercial after another. Skip this unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

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