Top Five Movies from the ’80s

Top Five is a show where the hosts categorize, rank, compare, and stratify everything… from cars to gadgets to people and movies. From stuff that is hot, and things that are not nearly as interesting – it’s Top Five.

We’ve done the ’70s, ’90s, and the 2000s, but for some reason it looks like we haven’t done an episode about our top five movies from the ’80s – the decade of the BEST movies.

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Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment. You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...


  1. Frederick aka Darth Macho on

    I haven’t even downloaded it yet, but I have my list. I can’t wait to listen to Top 5 in work tonight. It’s definitely one of my favorite podcasts!

    To put things in perspective, in 1980, I was 9yo, and in 1989, I was 18yo, which gives me a wide range of ways that I perceived the movies of this decade.

    My list:
    #5. The Little Mermaid (1989): I love redheads! This movie sparked my interest in Disney movies, when previously, I couldn’t have cared less. For whatever reason, the characters, the music, and the mermaid that grew sexy legs all resonated with me, and I still enjoy watching it.
    #4. E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982): I can’t tell you how many times I went to see this movie at the theaters, but it was over a dozen. While it doesn’t have the same effect on me today, I always got choked up when (spoiler alert) ET dies, even though after the first time, I knew that (spoiler alert) he wasn’t really dead.
    #3. Return of the Jedi (1983): Back then, I might have placed this at #1, but despite Darth Vader’s awesome redemption and the entirety of the Jabba’s Palace scenes, including, gasp, Princess Leia in a metal bikini, time has slightly tempered my love for this movie. Vader’s weak showing in the final duel and the Ewoks are the main reasons for my mild distaste.
    #2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): My second favorite movie character, Indiana Jones, in his most amazing adventure! I still look back on this movie as the archetype for the genre. The opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission.
    #1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980): The amazing sequel to what was my favorite movie, is STILL my favorite movie of all time. I think the main reason is that my favorite movie character of all time, Darth Vader, has all of his coolest moments in this movie. In it, he is a total badass, and his duel with Luke is such an iconic set of scenes mixed in with the dramatic story of Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite. Many people dislike the cliffhanger ending, but I loved it!

    Also-rans, in no particular order:
    Ghostbusters (1984): Good fun, the song defined my MTV video era.
    The Princess Bride (1987): Hilarious adventure, great story.
    Predator (1987): Awesome action movie with Jesse the Body stealing the show,
    Batman (1989): Jack Nicholson Joker was great, plot was stupid, in retrospect.
    Beetlejuice (1988): Fun character, but became less funny over time. Still like it.
    The Elephant Man (1980): Shocking to see at 9yo, still chokes me up.
    Gremlins (1984): Almost made my Top 5.
    Temple of Doom (1984): A let down, but still good.
    Last Crusade (1989): Better than Temple, great movie, still not Raiders.
    Willow (1988): D&D in movie form. I will stop and watch it every time.
    Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): Jessica Rabbit. (I even love cartoon redheads.)
    Conan the Destroyer (1984): Still stop and watch this every time. It was also D&D in movie form.
    Spaceballs (1987): Hilarious back then, still mostly funny now, but maybe a little less.
    The Road Warrior (1982): My first post-apocalyptic movie. Now I’m obsessed with them.
    Rocky III (1982): Back when Mr. T was weird in a cool way…
    Purple Rain (1984): Okay, not the movie, just the soundtrack, lol.
    Blue Lagoon (1980): One reason, Brooke Shields. Remember, when I first 14yo Brooke Shields nude in this movie I was 9yo, so she was an OLDER woman. Lol. Okay, it wasn’t really a favorite, but the controversy left an impression, and since my uncle had HBO, and wasn’t the best at supervising me, I was able to see this at a VERY young age.

    Sorry this is so long, clearly you touched on an impressionable subject from my childhood/teen years.

    Thanks for the podcast. I’m hoping to join the VIP ranks in the very near future!

  2. Great episode! Having grown up in the 80s, it was awesome to hear you all talk about some of my favourite films. But here’s my Top 5:

    5) Empire Strikes Back: This was the best of the original trilogy, and it kicked the decade off right. I was also 8 when it came out, and the Star Wars franchise pretty much defined my childhood geekery.
    4) Dirty Dancing: While I didn’t see it when it came out, I came to love it later. And now it’s a movie I’ll go back to and re-watch without much provocation. When I saw the musical adaptation on stage, it just made me want to go see the film again. Because nobody puts Baby in the corner!
    3) Akira: This movie just blew me away when I saw it in 1989. It was the first anime I’d seen on the big screen, and it finalized my learning that cartoons could be for adults. The plot is difficult to follow, but it still holds up visually- I saw a 25th anniversary re-release this year in theatres again, and it was just as spectacular as the first time I saw it.
    2) Raiders of the Lost Ark: Turned Harrison Ford into an actor for me rather than just being Han Solo. What a wonderful movie!
    1) Princess Bride: Probably my most quoted movie ever. Every time a friend posts something about the movie on Facebook a string of quotes starts and continues for hours if not days.

    Also rans:
    Karate Kid
    Macross: Do You Remember Love
    Ferris Bueller
    Back to the Future
    The Breakfast Club
    Star Trek IV
    Top Gun
    A Fish Called Wanda

  3. Man, that was a good decade for movies that I like! This is going to be hard.

    5) Airplane!: This seems dated now, especially since the Abrahams/Zucker team made several movies and that TV show. But their style of humor was new in the 80’s and this movie was a grand introduction to it. (Kentucky Fried Movie is like their humor in appetizer format.) It’s also seminal for the 80’s because it sends up the 70’s disaster movie. So, locked in time and an era it may be, but I still love it.

    4) Brazil: This is a polarizing movie. Some people love it; others hate it. I fall into the first camp. I love the way Terry Gilliam can bring to life this utterly strange world that is still closely enough related to our own that we recognize it and see how we aren’t that far off from it. I actually like this best with the dark ending. I don’t like all my movies to end up with the same happy ending. Life doesn’t always turn out that way. I like ambiguous endings, and sometimes serious or dark endings are more powerful – they make you think, or can give you a feeling of, “How do we NOT end up like that?” which I find envigorating.

    3) The Goonies: This movie always struck me as a sort of 80’s archetype – a group of plucky kids are at the center of an adventure, with cool scenery and effects, memorable (if slightly stupid) comedic villains, and a happy ending. It’s like an updated version of the classic Sunday night Disney story. It’s also kind of sweet because it’s like the “last hurrah” of childhood before the kids turn into adults.

    2) Labyrinth: Plucky (brunette) heroine; David Bowie; muppets; Bowie singing – what’s not to like about this one? This has long been a favorite movie of mine. It can be a little trite at times, but it has some very cool visuals, and I love the movies where, in lieu of special effects or people in funny costumes, they use muppets.

    1) The Princess Bride: A classic fairy tale, with some twists, especially in the presentation (the way we periodically jump back to the real world). It’s a sweet story, it has some genuinely funny moments in it, it has an incredible cast of actors, and it holds up so well through time. I just love this movie.

    Also rans:

    Raiders of the Lost Ark: This probably should have made my top 5, but what made my list are such personal favorites that I couldn’t bear to cut any of them. I always felt this takes the idea of Star Wars – the Saturday morning serial space adventure idea – and used the skeleton of a pulp adventure serial as a base instead to make a movie. I love a pulp adventure; I love adventuring archaeologists; I love a strong female lead. This was very clever and, again, relatively the first of its kind. Great scenery, pulp adventuring, Nazi villains, solving puzzles – so fun.

    Ghostbusters: Man, the SNL actors of the time made some great comedies in this era. There was some incredible talent there. This movie may be a little dated – this was an era when supposed psychic phenomena were all the rage. But the take on ghosts vs. technology was really fun. The characters were all just a little goofy and played well off each other. If there’s anything I don’t like, it’s the “government guy represented as a complete idiot” stereotype, which, I think, dates from this era and got really tiresome really fast. But that’s a small bit and it was there mostly to advance the plot.

    The Lost Boys: For me, this was a cool twist on the classic vampire story. Vampires and been done, and redone, and redone and redone so many times, but I really liked this take on the high school age (if I recall correctly) heros, and vampires done in the present day. I don’t think there was another so fresh a take on them until Buffy.

    Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: I love the way this movie crosses the 1930’s -40’s detective drama (almost film noir) with animation goofiness, and actually has a cohesive plot to tie the worlds together. Kudos to the actors for pulling off their interactions with the animated characters, especially Bob Hoskins. I have to have this in my also-rans.

    Do the Right Thing: I hadn’t had a chance to see this movie until recently. This has to be mentioned. It’s an amazing movie at telling the story it does, stunning visually and with sound. And dealing with the racial and cultural conflicts the way it does is so powerful.

    And there are many more also rans. This was just a decade full of movies that appealed to me

  4. This is a super hard list to make. I agree with everyone that there were too many good movies on the list.

    My list is centred around movies I remember watching as a kid but fell in love with as I grew older.

    5. Stand by Me: This is a movie that made me laugh when I was a kid, but makes me tear up today. A glowing story of the height of youth that leads into a crushing reality at the end. The plot holds up very well. Also, I had an opportunity to meet Wil Wheaton and his wife at a convention and Ms. Wheaton and I shared a moment about our mutual admiration for this film’s storytelling.

    4. Die Hard: I was very afraid of this movie when it came out. Now it’s my favourite palate-cleanse movie to watch during the holiday season. Such a great quotable quote movie.

    3. Blade Runner: It took me forever to “get” this movie and why it’s so awesome. In my teenage years, I was a sucker for a good soundtrack. This movie had some of the best sound and I listened to it on my discman for years.

    2. Aliens: The sheer amount of quotes generated by this movie is immense. This movie is a cultural touchstone for my peer group when we were in high school. I remember getting the trilogy for Christmas and watching this at least once per week. It used to scare the pants off of me, but now feels warm and comfy like an old sweater.

    1. The Princess Bride: What a great movie. I still laugh at the funny bits even after watching it 20+ times. I still quote lines from this movie with my coworkers while playing cards at lunch.

    Also-rans include:
    The Terminator
    Red Heat
    Rocky IV
    Karate Kid
    Who Framed Roger Rabbit
    The Breakfast Club
    Do the Right Thing
    Trading Places
    Three Amigos
    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
    (and the list goes on!)

  5. This is a tough tough list… so many to chose from… but here’s what are probably my top five 80’s movies:

    5: Die Hard – it was the first really good action movie I ever saw, and every action movie I watch is compared to it.
    4: Princess Bride – I was in Grade 8, and my sister came home for Christmas from University, and told me I had to see it… I figured it was a chick flick, but I went, and am I so ever glad I did.
    3: Raiders of the Lost Ark – Enough has been said about this… it is one of the reasons I am cautiously optimistic about Ep 7 and 8… Lawrence Kasden
    2: Back to the Future – I wore this tape out, I watched it so much.
    1: Empire Strikes Back – I was 6 years old when it came out, and the reveal blew me out of my seat. I can honestly remember thinking that Vader was lying, and did not believe it until Yoda confirmed it in Jedi. Again… Lawrence Kasden.

    Other honorable mentions:
    Bill and Ted
    Better Off Dead
    Ferris Bueller
    Cloak and Dagger
    Three Amigos
    Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
    Return of the Jedi
    The Last Crusade
    The Living Daylights (I liked Timothy Dalton as Bond)
    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
    The Wrath of Khan (though I never really appreciated it until in my 20s)

    there are more… but that’s what I can recall.

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