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15 Best '80s Movies On HBO Max [October 2021]

It's amusing and an example of things coming full circle that HBO-branded-and-affiliated streaming service HBO Max is the home to numerous classic movies from the 1980s. After all, this is the decade in which "Home Box Office," birthed in the 1970s during the initial and wild development of cable television, came into its own, offering around-the-clock airings of Hollywood hits... and then over and over for months on end. Certain films became classics and beloved cultural treasures in the 1980s because of their exposure and constant replay on HBO.

But then, in their own right, the movies of the 1980s are by and large a wonderful, memorable, quotable and well-made mix of crowd-pleasing comedies, dramas, thrillers, and family films. Here are the best films from the era of Reagan and aerobics currently available to stream on HBO Max.

Updated on October 14, 2021: HBO Max changes its selection regularly, so we'll keep this list updated to reflect the comings and goings in its streaming catalog. Be sure to check back each month for the '80s films that are, like, totally tubular.

Batman

The era of comic book superheroes taken seriously and presented as the dark, gritty, conflicted characters they are began in 1989 with "Batman." Conceived and thoroughly realized by quirky director Tim Burton, this "Batman" is far from the silly '60s TV Batman, with Gotham City a literally dark, crime-infested wasteland, lorded over by unhinged villains like the Joker and the heroic titular character, meting out vigilante-style justice to the bad guy and his loyal foot soldiers. But Batman is really wealthy industrialist Bruce Wayne in disguise, who's trying to date reporter Vicki Vale when he's not stopping the Joker's complicated and unabashed attempts to wreak havoc on Gotham. Of course, it's not like Burton's "Batman" is all darkness. While considered dark for its time, it also features plenty of zany moments, like an incredible scene of vandalism set to Prince music and a massive parade led by the Joker himself.

  • Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Year: 1989
  • Runtime: 126 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%

Blade Runner

So many sci-fi movies set in a dystopian future look exactly like the world of "Blade Runner" — darkly lit, always raining, with technology run amok. Such is the influence of Ridley Scott's film, one of the best (and most thought-provoking) science fiction movies ever made. Harrison Ford, already Indiana Jones and Han Solo, adds a third classic character to his repertoire as Deckard, a future cop tasked with hunting down four rogue Replicants — humanoid androids virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. However, his investigation gets complicated as he falls hard for a beautiful Replicant and realizes that maybe these machines aren't all that different from man.

The Color Purple

Director Steven Spielberg proved he could do more than sci-fi and blockbusters, and Whoopi Goldberg showed she was a remarkable, generational talent with "The Color Purple," the film adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Taking place over 40 years in the early 20th century, Goldberg portrays Celie, a woman born into a life of tremendous poverty and unspeakable abuse in rural Georgia. She endures traumas into adulthood, leaving her terrible childhood home for an even worse existence with a cruel husband, but Celie persists, forging some powerful bonds with other women and discovering her dignity along the way. "The Color Purple" is a deeply moving film full of remarkable performances that will leave the audience in tears several times over.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is just an elegant film — a classification that includes its beautiful settings in and around the French Riviera, its performances by master actors Michael Caine and Steve Martin, and the carefully crafted, complicated, and urbane plot line. 

Caine plays erudite Englishman Lawrence Jamieson, who keeps himself afloat by posing as a deposed prince, conning smitten female vacationers out of their savings. His entire operation is threatened when he butts heads with Martin's Freddy Benson, a small-time crook from America who Lawrence thinks is actually a notorious and mysterious con artist known only as "The Jackal." Along with teaming up for some scams and combining their individual talents for greater gain, Jamieson and Benson wager that whoever can bilk American soap heir Janet Colgate out of $50,000 gets the French Riviera as scam territory all to themselves.

  • Starring: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly
  • Director: Frank Oz
  • Year: 1988
  • Runtime: 110 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Good Morning, Vietnam

In the mid-1980s, Hollywood was only just beginning to seriously reckon with the Vietnam War, which loomed over the 1960s and 1970s. "Good Morning, Vietnam" explored the American military's long presence in Southeast Asia but did so in a primarily comic way, with Robin Williams portraying real-life Armed Forces Radio Service disc jockey Adrian Cronauer. The role proved that Williams, known as a frenetic comedian and star of goofy sitcom "Mork and Mindy," could handle layered, deeper roles, although portraying a motormouthed, crowd-pleasing, constantly improvising performer was certainly in the star's wheelhouse. Cronauer's broadcasts lighten the spirits of thousands of men stuck behind enemy lines, fighting a controversial war, while his irreverent segments also earn the ire and disapproval of military brass.

  • Starring: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Tung Thanh Tran
  • Director: Barry Levinson
  • Year: 1987
  • Runtime: 121 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

The Goonies

Viewers of a certain age may look back on the 1980s and think of it as a time of riding around on bikes with their friends, seeking out grand adventures. Or maybe they just think that's what the '80s were like because that's the set-up of so many classic kid-friendly films of the era, such as "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and "The Goonies." In the latter film, the group of colorful, tough, and witty kids who call themselves Goonies (who famously "never say die") live in the Goon Docks, a working-class neighborhood in the beach town of Astoria, Oregon. Faced with foreclosure on their homes, they come across an old pirate treasure map and head out in search of that problem-solving gold. They wind up in all sorts of perilous, wildly entertaining, and strangely enviable situations, including getting lost underground and upsetting the treasure-seeking Fratelli crime family.

  • Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Year: 1985
  • Runtime: 113 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%

Gremlins

It's not easy to mix the usually dissonant tones of fantasy, horror, and comedy, but the filmmakers behind "Gremlins" managed that tricky balancing act, presenting a fun and mischievous film that's also a Christmas movie. Affable teenager Billy gets a very special present from his father, procured at an oddities shop from a reluctant seller: Gizmo, an adorable, furry dog-cat-creature thing with the high-pitched voice of '80s super comic Howie Mandel. However, this enigmatic mogwai comes with some steadfast rules — don't get it wet, don't let it in the sun, and don't feed it after midnight. Naturally, Billy lets all of those things occur, and before he knows it, he and his would-be love interest Kate are trying to save the town from a gaggle of evil, reptilian gremlins from laying waste, on Christmas Eve no less.

  • Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton
  • Director: Joe Dante
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 106 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Lethal Weapon

"Lethal Weapon" laid out multiple elements of both the action comedy and "buddy cop" genres, but in spite of giving filmmakers a barrage of rapidly fired cliches, the original cannot be outdone. Detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are partners in the Los Angeles Police Department but, amazingly, have entirely different personalities and demeanors. Riggs is a wild card who plays by his own rules, while Murtaugh is a methodical, world-weary crank who often lets others know he's "getting too old for this s***," meaning dangerous police work. Despite their differences and clashing egos, they work great together in trying to take down a huge drug-smuggling operation, although Riggs' grief-triggered reckless abandon might get them both killed.

Little Shop of Horrors

There's never been — and probably never will be — a movie quite like the 1986 remake of "Little Shop of Horrors." It's based on a tongue-in-cheek Broadway musical, which itself was based on a forgettable 1960s schlocky horror movie about a man-eating plant. In the latter, cinematic, but still highly theatrical take, nerdy Seymour Krelborn is hopelessly in love with his Skid Row flower shop coworker Audrey, who's dating a sadistic, motorcycle-riding dentist. So, he turns his attentions to nursing a mysteriously appeared Venus flytrap-like plant, which quickly grows into a talking, singing, hulking monster with an insatiable desire for blood and flesh.

  • Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin
  • Director: Frank Oz
  • Year: 1986
  • Runtime: 93 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Horror king Wes Craven crafted a terrifying tale for the ages, one so frightening because it aims for one of our most primal fears — what if something bad happens to us when we're asleep?

After serial killer Freddy Krueger is burned to death by vengeful parents, he comes back from the dead to get revenge. His plan? Haunting kids and killing them in their dreams. In bringing the first of many "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies to fruition, Craven also set loose an iconic, all-timer of a character in Freddy, a child murderer who sports a stylish striped sweater and hat combo, as well as glove where all the fingers are deadly knives. Of course, this is before Freddy started getting quippy. Instead, he's just straight-up scary. As a result, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is both spooky and gory, the quintessential horror film of the 1980s.

Poltergeist

"Poltergeist" provided 1980s filmgoers some of the most disturbing and unsettling images of the era, ones that would haunt them (and influence horror filmmakers) for years to come. Not about gore or guts — although it definitely has one scene not meant for the squeamish — "Poltergeist" delivers deep, psychological dread over fears of unknown, violently aggressive forces invading one's personal, safe spaces. When little Carol Anne Freeling creepily intones, "They're here," she's referring to the ghosts communicating through the static of a TV set ... and they eventually drag her into their world. Unsure what to do, her family calls in a group of paranormal researchers and even an exorcist, and soon enough, they realize they're dealing with something very angry and very demonic. 

  • Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight
  • Director: Tobe Hooper
  • Year: 1982
  • Runtime: 114 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Risky Business

Most everyone is familiar with the most famous scene in "Risky Business," that iconic piece of footage of young Tom Cruise dancing around a well-appointed suburban home in his underwear and a dress shirt, all while lip-syncing to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll." That kind of youthful, do-anything energy permeates the film, even during its many dark and risqué turns. Cruise plays a high schooler named Joel who parties hard after his parents go away on a brief vacation. He winds up employing the services of a sex worker, and surprised at how much she charges — combined with a bill for his father's sports car that he crashed — Joel decides to turn his humdrum home into a den of ill repute.

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano
  • Director: Paul Brickman
  • Year: 1983
  • Runtime: 99 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Superman II

With superhero movie franchises, it's highly likely that the second film is going to be better than the first, which is usually overfilled with exposition and where the filmmakers find their voice and tone for the series. That's certainly the case with "Superman II," a sprawling, fun, funny, and daring movie that feels like a living comic book, leaving the first "Superman" far behind. "Superman II" begins with the Man of Steel throwing terrorists' nuclear weapons into space, and it escalates from there. The bombs explode and release three nefarious (but extremely campy) prisoners from Superman's home planet of Krypton. They come to Earth, seeking to destroy it, and Superman could save everything if only he'd suit up again. Instead, he just wants to live a quiet, regular life as Clark Kent, be a reporter, and hang out with Lois Lane.

When Harry Met Sally

"When Harry Met Sally" takes place over the course of nearly 20 years, tracking the glacially slow but warm, sweet, and hilarious coupling of two New Yorkers — arrogant Harry and weirdo Sally. At first, they can't stand each other. Then, they become friendly, and soon enough, they're best friends who support each other through numerous relationships that fail because neither Harry and Sally can see what everybody else does: They're perfect for each other. Written by rom-com expert Nora Ephron and directed by the masterful Rob Reiner, "When Harry Met Sally" is a gorgeously shot and friendly film, arguably the definitive movie about modern romance.

  • Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Year: 1989
  • Runtime: 95 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

The Witches of Eastwick

An event movie at the time, "The Witches of Eastwick" was an adaptation of a bestseller by John Updike that starred four of the most famous actors in the world: Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. One of the few dark-romantic-comedy-supernatural-revenge-dramas ever made, the film must have been vicariously therapeutic at the end of the '80s, when gender roles began to be reconsidered and the liberated "singles scene" proved unsatisfying for so many people. Against a backdrop of the gorgeous Rhode Island town of Eastwick, three lonely adult women become friends ... until Daryl Van Horne moves to town and attempts to seduce the ladies. Nearly ruining their lives with magical acts of evil (Daryl just might be the Prince of Darkness), the women form a coven and use elaborate acts of voodoo to exact their revenge.