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Great '80s Movies That Still Hold Up Today

As time marches on, it's tough to reckon with nostalgia for days gone by. On the one hand, you're bound to have some fondness for the movies of your youth ... but you're also likely to revisit them, and discover that they just don't hold up. Sometimes, however, you dig up an old favorite from decades ago that remains every bit as great as you remember it being. Those movies, as rare as they are wonderful, exist simultaneously as time capsules of their era and as timeless reflections of the world at large.

We're here to honor those films that stand the test of time by examining standouts from the 1980s. These movies might be decades old, but they remain visually compelling, brilliantly crafted, and — for better or worse — relevant in our world today. From Oscar-winning classics to sci-fi spectaculars, let's take a look back at the movies of the '80s that shine as brightly today as they did upon the date of their release.

Aliens

After the success of Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien, James Cameron stepped up to the plate to helm 1986's larger-than-life sequel, Aliens. Taking the core elements of Scott's original film and cranking things up a few hundred degrees, Cameron crafted what is still considered to be one of the best sci-fi films of the 20th century.

The film picks up after the events of the previous installment, with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in an Oscar-nominated performance) waking up from her hyper-sleep 57 years later, in a world grown even more fast-paced and money-grubbing. She joins a hodgepodge action squad in investigating the planet from which the Xenomorph eggs emerged ... with disastrous results. Scott used the "humans must deal with an alien" premise as a jumping-off point for intimate horror, but Cameron goes full-on action movie. Aliens ratchets up the action and suspense, leading to an explosive and unforgettable finale that cemented the Alien franchise and Cameron himself as success stories.

Broadcast News

While today's television news landscape might seem to have little in common with that of 1987, James L. Brooks' critically-acclaimed Broadcast News makes it clear that little has fundamentally changed. In fact, it might have only grown more relevant in the intervening years. After all, aren't we debating questions of truthfulness, sensationalism, and accuracy even today? Has the problem of news portrayed as entertainment grown any smaller? If anything, the social media age has made Broadcast News more important than ever.

And boy, is it entertaining. This movie boasts Oscar-nominated turns from Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks, all of whom seamlessly navigate rip-roaring comedy and tear-jerking drama. Decades later, Broadcast News remains an illuminating look at what happens when the smartest people in the room realize that happiness isn't guaranteed. Seriously — this is a movie that shines a light on the factory that is news media and manages to make an unwieldy love triangle work. That's not just notable — it's practically miraculous.

Do The Right Thing

The power and tragedy of Spike Lee's films lie in their simultaneous timelessness and specificity. Each one is situated within a very particular time and place ... yet they always end up reverberating years after their debuts. So it is with what is widely considered Lee's masterpiece, 1989's Do the Right Thing.

This day-in-the-life Brooklyn story examines racial tensions simmering on a hot summer's day. Do The Right Thing took Lee's bold storytelling to new heights of comic tragedy: It chronicles a community that is torn inside-out by people refusing to care for each other with joy, sadness, and irony. Through the lives of the Black, Italian-American, and Korean-American residents of the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, Lee's film weaves a tapestry of story unlike any other. Decades later, Americans are still facing the repercussions of not being able to choose what is right over what is comfortable. Until then, Do the Right Thing will remain relevant.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

You can't talk about cinema of the 1980s without talking about Steven Spielberg. And you can't talk about Spielberg without talking about his child-meets-alien blockbuster smash, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. No other movie has quite been able to capture the strange brand of whimsy E.T. exudes — it's creepy, it's cute, it's altogether weird, but in a way that works. Given the fact that the movie also features an all-star John Williams score and some seriously cool puppetry, it's no surprise it was such a massive success ... and that other films haven't been able to replicate its unique sense of wonder.

It's that sense of wonder that gives E.T. its serious staying power. You might think you're completely beyond sympathizing with Elliot now that you're an adult, but within minutes, E.T. proves you wrong. You remember that the child you once were lives within you still, waiting to be woken up by the right work of art — especially one you likely first enjoyed as a child. E.T. is a kids' movie through a kid's eyes, and as such, its sense of magic is undimmed. Even adults are affected by such open commitment to love, empathy, and altruism.

Moonstruck

Finding an '80s comedy that holds up can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack — an awkward, homophobic, frequently racist, and downright groan-worthy haystack. But 1987's Moonstruck, the romantic comedy that earned Oscar gold for Cher, Olympia Dukakis, and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, has withstood the test of time. It presents a gloriously demented look at two Italian-American families, the love that exists within them, and the lives they've carved out in Brooklyn Heights. It's loud, heartfelt, and every bit as hilarious today as it was in 1987.

Moreover, Director Norman Jewison and screenwriter Shanley's delightful comedy doesn't just charm viewers with a sprawling story of inter-generational drama — it manages to wrap that drama up in a bow by the film's end. Moonstruck is a master class in screenwriting and story structure many filmmakers could learn from. A truly great movie can deposit you in a world that feels rich and wild beyond the brief glimpse you get of it: Relationships have weight and characters have history, even if you never know exactly how or why. Moonstruck doesn't just accomplish this — it makes it look easy. You meet the characters, you watch them clash, love, and change, and then you see them taken to a satisfying and well-constructed end. It sounds simple, but when it's done well, it is transcendent, and it's why Moonstruck stuns to this day.

My Neighbor Totoro

Hayao Miyazaki, master of animated whimsy, has won the hearts and minds of fans worldwide with classics like Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, and the masterpiece that is Spirited Away. But early on in his career, Miyazaki created a film that's not only as charming as the rest of his oeuvre, but whose title character has become the symbol of Studio Ghibli as a whole and one of the most recognizable animated characters worldwide to boot.

1988's My Neighbor Totoro isn't a plot-driven movie. It mainly focuses on the day-to-day lives of two young sisters who have moved to the countryside to be closer to their hospitalized mother. Miyazaki's all-ages feature stands out today against a sea of loud, attention-seeking animated films — it's uniquely simple, and profoundly patient. Totoro takes the time to linger on a garden, sleeping animals of the forest, and the soaring branches of an old and mighty tree. And yet somehow, Totoro is also absolutely enrapturing for every moment of its just-under 90-minute runtime. Totoro was an early example of Miyazaki's genius, and still stands out as one of Studio Ghibli's most impressive creations.

Raging Bull

With the release of 2019's The Irishman, Martin Scorsese further solidified his reputation as a master filmmaker. And it's not like he wasn't already well-regarded: This is, after all, the man who made Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Taxi Driver. Scorsese has also been an instrumental force in supporting up-and-coming filmmakers in the field, and his World Cinema Project has preserved and restored films from all over the world. The man's a legend by absolutely any metric.

Whether you're a newcomer to his work or just want a reminder of how good Scorsese has been for decades, check out 1980's Raging Bull. A boxing drama that hits as hard as it did on its day of release, it's likely one of Scorsese's best movies. It's a stark, intimate look at the chaotic life of Jake LaMotta, a boxer whose personal tragedies had a way of entering the ring with him. Anchored by a titanic leading performance from Robert De Niro and featuring some of the most iconic imagery of Scorsese's career, Raging Bull is a cinematic epic that will last more than a few rounds in the ring.

The Empire Strikes Back

1977's Star Wars kicked off a cinematic revolution that 1980's The Empire Strikes Back securely cemented. Decades later, time has only further highlighted the importance and artistry of this darker and more ambitious entry in the Star Wars saga. With series creator George Lucas passing the directing reins over to Irvin Kershner, Star Wars was able to grow into an epic tale of good and evil, bursting with complex relationships, dark themes, and truly oddball creatures from across the galaxy. It's vast, innovative, and anchored in true pathos. And it's just as good today as it was in 1980.

From the introduction of historic characters like Yoda and Lando Calrissian, to that final jaw-dropping reveal of Darth Vader's relationship to Luke, The Empire Strikes Back fires on all cylinders. It bumps up the visuals, deepens the world's lore, and takes a few risks that pay off massively. Empire proved that George Lucas' vision of a galaxy far, far away had staying power. And boy oh boy, has it stayed with us.

The Princess Bride

If you were to look up "cult classic" in the dictionary, you'd surely find a number of cinematic entries, but The Princess Bride would undoubtedly be near the top of the list. Adapted from William Goldman's book of the same name, this subversive fairy tale, directed by Rob Reiner, tells the story of the abiding love between Westley and Buttercup. Though he's a farm boy and she's a princess, their love cannot be smothered by any stricture or obstacle — and boy, do they encounter a few of each. The Princess Bride sees them, alongside a cast of unforgettable characters, traverse a fantasy landscape brimming with action and comedy that thrills to this day. Moreover, there's still something especially heartwarming about seeing the young boy in the framing device of the film slowly warm up to the story, which is being told to him by his grandfather. 

With a screenplay full of some of the most quotable lines in film history, plus scene-stealing turns from Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Carol Kane, and Billy Crystal, The Princess Bride lives on as a hilarious ode to the power of romance and storytelling from generation to generation.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

In a world where live-action actors are thrown into computer-generated landscapes in almost every blockbuster, it might be hard to remember exactly how groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit was upon its initial release. Going back and watching the film, it's still mesmerizing to see Bob Hoskins' drunkard detective Eddie Valiant seamlessly walking the same street as hand-drawn Yosemite Sam and Dumbo. It's a true technical marvel that time has only improved — it still looks incredible, in today's age of Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy's Groot.

But beyond its visual achievements, Who Framed Roger Rabbit functions just as brilliantly as a classic detective story. This movie spins a grade-A mystery out of the conflict between the real world and Toontown, perfectly balancing the zany animated antics of Roger Rabbit with the hard-edged emotional turmoil of Detective Valiant. In so many ways, the movie shouldn't work: It's an odd blend of grown-up and kid-friendly themes and mediums, it's a smoky noir in which characters like Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse appear, and it's meta-textual in pretty much every direction. And yet, it all comes together to create something unlike any other movie. If you're looking for a satisfying mystery that's got more than a few tricks up its sleeve, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the ideal choice.