1. The Breakfast Club (1985)Dear Top Ten Readers: You won’t have to sacrifice a whole Saturday to read this list, but you’re crazy if you don’t count John Hughes’ enduring ode to letting your freak flag fly as one of the best movies of the 80s. In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, this movie speaks to everyone who watches it; it promises that for whatever may tear us apart, there’s always so much more that can bring us together; it launched the careers of a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal; it’s been paid homage by countless other films and television shows. It is the definition of an enduring classic. Does that answer your question?
2. E.T. (1982)Few movies are as capable of teaching us about the enduring power of friendship as E.T. It is also worth noting that even fewer movies are imbued with the same live, beating heart as this film about a strange visitor from another world who is so beloved by one little boy. Sure, there’s Drew Barrymore in her first screen role as Elliot’s precocious little sister, and a government plot to cut E.T. open and see what makes him tick. There’s also a pretty nifty early product placement deal with Reese’s Pieces. But at the end of the day, it’s the friendship between a boy and his alien that makes us all want to phone home to E.T. as often as possible.
3. Back to the Future (1985)Hello, McFly. How could this not make the list? Boasting an impressive cast (Michael J. Fox when he was still a kid! Christopher Lloyd when all that white hair was fake! Crispin Glover trying his hand at NOT being creepy!) and a genuinely original premise, there wasn’t a teenager alive in the late 80s who didn’t dream of climbing into Doc Brown’s Delorean and taking a look at their future. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for my Hoverboard.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)Indiana Jones is one of the most iconic movie characters of all time. To date, Raiders remains the only of his adventures to have been nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. While there’s some really cool face melting and a romance between Harrison Ford and Karen Allen that harkens back to the good old days of Bogie and Bacall, ultimately, Raiders retains an enduring place in film because it so successfully calls to the adventurer we all have somewhere inside us. After all, geeks the world around are inspired by a fellow geek – an archeologist who spends most of his time in universities – morphing into the greatest action hero in the world.
5. The Terminator (1984)A struggling independent filmmaker by the name of James Cameron decided to make this low budget sci-fi thriller about a killer cyborg who would terrorize Linda Hamilton until the very last frame of this film. A post-Conan Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke barley five lines, nearly all of them quotable. None, however, were as prophetic as “I’ll be back.” And he would. At least twice more. It would also spawn a fourth, Arnold-less movie (and give us the most awesome curse-filled-rant ever, courtesy of star Christian Bale), and an underrated television series for Fox. Watch this movie if you want to live.
6. When Harry Met Sally (1989)The term “romantic comedy” has something of a negative connotation to it now. It immediately conjures to mind bad “meet cutes,” contrived situations, and completely unearned happily ever afters between two characters no one really cares about. Well, When Harry met Sally, there was nothing cute about it. It is romantic in the best way, and genuinely funny. It is, without exception, the best example of the genre, and more people should recognize that and demand to see its equal again and again and again. Perhaps this will stop quite so many Matthew McConaghey RomComs from going forward.
7. Big (1988)You may not realize it, but once upon a time, Tom Hanks was still just “the other guy from “Bosom Buddies.”" He had modest film success – there was “Splash” and “The Money Pit” – but nothing made him a true household name until “Big.” Penny Marshall’s ode to the beauty of childhood remains one of the best comedies of all time. Whether you think Elizabeth Perkins high powered advertising exec deserves to be up on charges of child molestation or not, “Big” is like a how-to template for movies about strange and unexplainable things that happen to their protagonists. It’s also the first big rung on Tom Hanks’ ladder to stardom. Peter Scolari remains available for speaking engagements at conventions.
8. Field of Dreams (1989)If you write it, they will read. Kevin Costner has made a lot of movies about baseball – two of them in the 80s – but only this one manages to capture the magical affection the American nation feel for baseball. The history of the sport transcends almost anything else. The mysticism of the movie equates the love of the game with the love between a father and a son. It is the movie most likely to make grown men cry. It’s about belief and bonding and baseball and how all those things so often go hand in hand.
9. The Princess Bride (1987)Is this a kissing book? It kind of is, but as Peter Falk proves to his grandson, a young Fred Savage, it’s also a great deal more. It’s a swashbuckling tale of high adventure; it’s a sobering story of revenge and the lengths one will go to for it; it’s about redemption and friendship, loyalty and miracles, and the power that true love has to conquer all. And, of course, my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father. Prepare to die. You’d better prepare to give Rob Reiner’s classic fairy tale the place of 80s honor it deserves; you must be brain dead if your response is anything but, “As you wish.”
10. Moonstruck (1987)If you’ve put off seeing Moonstruck, snap out of it! This offbeat fairy tale centers on a small Italian family living in contemporary New York. Nicolas Cage gives a career defining performance long before he started making any movie he was offered that came with a big paycheck attached. Cher wins a well deserved Oscar by playing completely against type. And anyone who comes from a big, noisy family will relate to every frame. A timeless story of enduring beauty, Moonstruck is one of the best simple films to come out of any decade.