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The 100 Best Movies of the 1980s (part 2)

In order to have the page load faster, we are breaking this list into 5 sections.

Some of you may want to skip the fluff of the extra information about the films like the image, director, actors, etc and just see the list all in one page in text. If this is you – you can visit the NO FLUFF LIST. Now, without further ado, enjoy the fruits of our labors.

#100 – Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann

Actors: Christian Slater, Winona Ryder

Plot Summary: A dark comedy about a high school outcast who teams up with a new student to take down the popular clique of girls all named Heather.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie is all 80s, but it foreshadows some great movies of the 90s like Mean Girls and Clueless. Christian Slater and Winona Ryder are both memorable characters and there are lots of great one-liners from Heathers.

#99 – Ran (1985)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao

Plot Summary: An epic historical drama retells the tale of King Lear, set in medieval Japan, as an aging warlord divides his kingdom among his three sons, leading to battles, betrayal, and tragedy.

Why This Movie Made The List

The first non-English speaking movie on our list and it’s fitting that it be a Japanese movie. Japanese culture was on the rise in the 1980s (and would peak in the 1990s/2000s). This may have been the first Japanese movie that a lot of Americans saw but it wouldn’t be the last.

#98 – Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Director: Randal Kleiser

Actors: Joey Cramer, Veronica Cartwright, Cliff De Young, Sarah Jessica Parker

Plot Summary: A science fiction film about a 12-year-old boy who is abducted by an alien spaceship and travels through time and space, returning 8 years later and teaming up with a scientist to uncover the truth about his mysterious journey.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie is a little bit of a sleeper, but anyone who was a pre-teen in the 80s has probably seen it. None of the actors went on to have huge careers except Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City fame.

#97 – The Killing Fields (1984)

Director: Roland Joffe

Actors: Sam Waterston, Dr. Haing S. Ngor

Plot Summary: A movie about a journalist and his Cambodian translator who witness the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the late 1970s.

Why This Movie Made The List

The Vietnam War was still fresh in a lot of people’s minds, but it didn’t keep the team behind The Killing Fields from making an amazing movie. It’s also notable that Haing Ngor is a real Cambodian refugee and also one only two non-professionals to win an acting Oscar.

#96 – Jean de Florette (1986)

Director: Claude Berri

Actors: Gérard Depardieu, Yves Montand

Plot Summary: A French drama about a man who inherits a farm in rural Provence, and his efforts to start a new life are thwarted by the machinations of his greedy neighbors.

Why This Movie Made The List

This was the movie that introduced American film goers to Gerard Depardieu and the equally talented but less well known Daniel Auteuil. They are the French equivalents of De Niro and Pacino.

#95 – Gallipoli (1981)

Director: Peter Weir

Actors: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee

Plot Summary: An Australian war film about a group of young soldiers from rural Australia who are sent to fight in the disastrous 1915 Gallipoli campaign during World War I

Why This Movie Made The List

A great historical movie about the Australian soldiers that fought in Turkey during WWI. Of the nearly 60,000 troops more than 50% were killed or injured in this one battle. And it features a young Mel Gibson – which is never a bad thing.

#94 – Glory (1989)

Director: Edward Zwick

Actors: Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington

Plot Summary: A historical war drama about the first all-black volunteer company in the Union army during the American Civil War, and their efforts to fight for freedom and recognition, led by the idealistic Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

Why This Movie Made The List

The only movie in our list about the American Civil War. It’s hard to believe that Matthew Broderick went from playing Ferris Bueller to Colonel Shaw in 3 short years. It’s also worth noting that Denzel Washington won his first (Supporting Oscar) for playing Private Trip in this film.

#93 – Endless Love (1981)

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Actors: Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt

Plot Summary: A romance about a high school student who falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy family, leading to a passionate and dangerous affair that threatens to tear their families apart.

Why This Movie Made The List

Endless Love was not only a huge deal in film circles but also made a splash in the music world with this movie’s title song by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. While this movie didn’t win any Oscars, Brooke Shields did win the heart of every teenage boy in America.

#92 – Annie (1982)

Director: John Huston

Actors: Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney

Plot Summary: A musical comedy film about a young orphan girl who is taken in by a wealthy man during the Great Depression and learns to love him despite their differences.

Why This Movie Made The List

Annie seems a little out of place in this list. There weren’t a lot of 1950’s style musicals in the 1980s, but this was a great one. The most amazing thing is that they held open auditions for the role of Annie and more than 7,000 redheads tried out over the course of 2 years.

#91 – Sudden Impact (1983)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Actors: Clint Eastwood

Plot Summary: A crime film and fourth installment in the “Dirty Harry” series about Detective Harry Callahan who tracks down a vigilante who is seeking revenge for the rape of her sister.

Why This Movie Made The List

Any list of 80s films wouldn’t be complete without a Clint Eastwood movie. Clint was still in the “cop phase” of his career and Dirty Harry (whom he played in 5 movies from 1971 to 1988) is the most iconic of them all.

#90 – A Room with a View (1986)

Director: James Ivory

Actors: Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands

Plot Summary: A period drama about a young English woman who travels to Florence, Italy, and falls in love with a free-spirited man, causing her to question the societal norms and conventions of her upbringing.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie made the list because Helena Bonham Carter is a force of nature and apparently doesn’t age. This was her big screen debut. It’s hard to believe that she played Draco Malfoy’s hot (but creepy) aunt Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter franchise a full 22 years later.

#89 – sex, lies and videotape (1989)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Actors: James Spader, Annie MacDowell

Plot Summary: A quirky drama about the intersecting lives of four people, as secrets and sexual desires are revealed, leading to emotional and psychological confrontations.

Why This Movie Made The List

This film stands out form the rest because there is almost no action in it (except for a few sex scenes). Most of the movie just involves the main characters talking. James Spader was amazing (albeit a little creepy) as the lead character.

#88 – Out of Africa (1985)

Director: Sydney Pollack

Actors: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford

Plot Summary: A drama based on the memoirs of Danish author Karen Blixen, chronicling her life as a coffee plantation owner in colonial Kenya and her love affair with a big-game hunter, set against the backdrop of World War I.

Why This Movie Made The List

Out of Africa follows in the footsteps of sweeping historical epics from the 60s and 70s like Lawrence of Arabia. The movie can take advantage of both the acting talent of the greatest actors of their generation – Robert Redford and Meryl Streep – as well as the African scenery.

#87 – Bull Durham (1988)

Director: Ron Shelton

Actors: Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon

Plot Summary: A sports comedy about a veteran catcher brought to a minor league baseball team to mentor the new pitching phenom and his relationship with the team’s ambitious, baseball-loving groupie.

Why This Movie Made The List

Kevin Costner was already a major Hollywood star when he made this movie, but Bull Durham turned him into a heartthrob as well. And then there’s Susan Sarandon, who’s great in everything she acts in.

#86 – Rocky IV (1985)

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Dolph Lundgren

Plot Summary: A sports drama about Rocky Balboa, who trains to fight Soviet boxer, Ivan Drago, in a legendary match, which becomes a symbol of Cold War tensions.

Why This Movie Made The List

Both Rocky III and Rocky IV were made in the 1980s. We chose #4 for our list because Rocky battles Ivan Drago a superhuman boxer from the Soviet Union. This was the Cold War at its best.

#85 – The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Director: Martin Scorcese

Actors: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey

Plot Summary: A film depicting Jesus Christ’s internal struggle with his divine destiny as he faces temptation and torment during his final days leading up to his crucifixion.

Why This Movie Made The List

Believe it or not, The Last Temptation of Christ was a truly controversial movie for its time. Movie theaters banned it. Blockbuster refused to stock it. The religious right was up in arms. Why? Because Jesus was represented as mortal and not divine.

#84 – Blue Lagoon (1980)

Director: Randall Klesier

Actors: Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkinds

Plot Summary: A romantic adventure about two young cousins who are shipwrecked on a tropical island and must learn to survive and find love while growing up together.

Why This Movie Made The List

Brooke Shields was only 14 when The Blue Lagoon was filmed and there were several scenes where she was mostly naked. A stunt double was used, but this didn’t stop the uproar. I’m sure her Calvin Klein underwear ads didn’t help matters.

#83 – The Cannonball Run (1981)

Director: Hal Needham

Actors: Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farah Fawcett

Plot Summary: A comedy with an ensemble cast of characters that participate in a secret, cross-country car race from Connecticut to California.

Why This Movie Made The List

The Cannonball Run is the grand-daddy of all road trip movies. And who better to be the protagonist, but Burt Reynolds. Riding on his fame from Smokey and the Bandit, he was the perfect choice.

#82 – Escape from New York (1981)

Director: John Carpenter

Actors: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine

Plot Summary: A sci-fi action film about a former special forces soldier who is sent to rescue the President of the United States from a maximum-security prison located in a war-torn Manhattan island in the near future.

Why This Movie Made The List

Escape from New York was a gritty dystopian movie made in 1981 and set in 1997. Isn’t that crazy? 1997 was so far in the future that they thought the world would completely fall apart by then. I’m glad to say that it hasn’t.

#81 – First Blood (1982)

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy

Plot Summary: An action movie about a veteran Green Beret who becomes a homeless drifter and is pursued by a ruthless small-town sheriff, leading to a violent showdown that tests his survival skills and his humanity.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie has had such a cultural impact that vernacular from it has transcended the silver screen and made it into everyday speech. For example, have you ever said “I’m gonna go all Rambo on him”? That’s how you know that a movie has really made an impact.

#80 – White Nights (1985)

Director: Taylor Hackford

Actors: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines

Plot Summary: A drama about a Russian ballet dancer who defects and is forced to perform in Leningrad who must team up with an American tap dancer.

Why This Movie Made The List

White Nights is another great film where the Cold War and Hollywood meet. It’s lead actor Mikhail Baryshnikov actually defected Moscow-on-the-Hudson style in 1974 … albeit in Canada.

#79 – Red Dawn (1984)

Director: John Milius

Actors: Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen

Plot Summary: A movie about a fictional alternate reality where the United States is invaded by a coalition of Communist forces and a group of high school students form a guerrilla group to fight back.

Why This Movie Made The List

This part of the list is chock full of Cold War movies. Red Dawn is yet another great example of this sub-genre. To be fair, if you grew up in the 80s, most kids had a legitimate fear of being invade or perhaps nuked by the Soviet Union.

#78 – Romancing the Stone (1984)

Director: Robert Zemekis

Actors: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner

Plot Summary: An adventure movie about a romance novelist who embarks on a journey to find her kidnapped sister in the Colombian jungle and discovers a treasure map, teaming up with a mercenary to retrieve the treasure.

Why This Movie Made The List

A lot of people think of Romancing the Stone as a poor man’s version of Indiana Jones, but I think it was much more than that. Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are both great actors and bring their considerable talents to this film. Zemekis may not be Spielberg, but he’s no slouch either.

#77 – The Big Chill (1983)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Actors: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Meg Tilly

Plot Summary: A drama about a group of seven college friends who reunite after the funeral of one of their own, and over the course of a weekend, they reminisce, confront their pasts, and reevaluate their lives and relationships.

Why This Movie Made The List

The cast of this movie is kind of like the Brat Pack – except they are thirty-somethings instead of twenty-somethings. The Big Chill was deliberately designed to pull on your heart strings. A close friend dying before his time and all of his coming returning to mourn him — I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

#76 – Blue Velvet (1986)

Director: David Lynch

Actors: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rosselini, Dennis Hopper

Plot Summary: A mystery thriller that delves into the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic small town, as a college student uncovers a criminal underworld filled with sadomasochism, murder, and insanity.

Why This Movie Made The List

This movie grabs you in the first minute when the lead character finds a severed ear and it doesn’t let go of you until the credits roll. It also star one of the sexiest women of the 80s — Isabella Rosselini (who’s every bit as beautiful as her mom Ingrid Bergman).

Continue on to part 3 – #75 to #51

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