Top 10 decade-defining movies of the ‘80s


Columbia Pictures

Photo still from the movie “Stand by Me.” “Stand by Me” was one of the biggest pivotal movies of the ‘80s, along with “The Breakfast Club,” “Beetlejuice,” “The Terminator,” and more.

The ‘80s were a defining decade for many things as they contributed to pop culture and even leading pop culture nowadays. ‘80s movies especially have left their legacy, influencing society throughout the years. These are the top 10 decade-defining movies of the 80s.

The Breakfast Club

[I]t doesn’t always have to be cliques and groups against each other.”

— Staff Writer Joslyn Weber

First up is “The Breakfast Club,” released in 1985, and starring Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson as the two main love interests, Claire Standish and John Bender. 

“The Breakfast Club” features five kids who previously wouldn’t know each other on a Saturday morning in detention. Throughout the movie you watch their shenanigans, escaping the principal, learning more about each other, and eventually becoming semi-friends. 

Each character takes on a different high school stereotype. These stereotypes wouldn’t generally be found together, but when you put them in one room, who knows what could happen?

“The Breakfast Club” is all about stereotypes and expressing how sometimes, in odd circumstances, it doesn’t always have to be cliques and groups against each other. This movie was vital to the teen film industry because it showed that different people can work together and be friends.

After recently being able to watch this movie, I fell in love with it immediately. Watching each character interact with the others was entertaining and hilarious. “The Breakfast Club” is one of the biggest teen movies of the ‘80s

Gaining a big following that stretched well into the 2000s, “The Breakfast Club” is a cult classic because once it was released, much like many of John Hughes’ films, it took off and widely resonated within his audiences.

Universal Pictures

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future” is another iconic series from the ‘80s. Released in 1985, it stars Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown. “Back to the Future” is arguably one of the best time travel movies, containing an iconic duo, which had a lasting effect on pop culture.

“Back to the Future” takes place in the fictional town of Hill Valley, California. Dr. Emmett Brown, Doc Brown, is a scientist, investigating the wonders of time travel. 

Doc Brown takes his modified DeLorean and Marty McFly where they bounce back to the ‘50s and meet Marty’s younger parents. Marty has to make sure his parents fall in love or he ceases to exist.

This is one of my all-time favorite time travel movies. It’s comedic, full of romance and adventure, and is perfect to rewatch over and over. It was and still is one of the most essential movies of the ‘80s.

The Karate Kid

Released in 1984, “The Karate Kid” features Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. “The Karate Kid” was key to the ‘80s because of its incorporation of martial-arts to the family-fun genre.

When Daniel moves to Southern California with his mother, a group of bullies who study karate at the Cobra Kai dojo target him. Daniel ends up befriending martial arts master Mr Miyagi, who teaches him and prepares him to compete against Cobra Kai.

“The Karate Kid” will forever be noted for its contribution to ‘80s cinema. This movie helped stretch the martial arts fad that overtook the ‘60s and ‘70s. Filled with heartfelt yet comedic scenes, this movie was pivotal to the ‘80s and the martial arts genre.

The Goonies

Released in 1985, “The Goonies” stars Sean Astin as Mikey, Josh Brolin as Brand, and “Stand by Me” star Corey Feldman as Mouth.

When their friend group, called “The Goonies,” finds an old treasure map in their attic, they set off on an adventure to search for the lost treasure in order to save Mikey and Brand’s home from a property development company. 

This movie is such a chaotic yet hilarious movie. This is a major kid classic movie from the ‘80s. After watching “The Goonies” for the first time at 11, I’ve loved it. It’s amusing and entertaining characters make the movie shine on its own.

Warner Bros. Pictures


Starring Alec Baldwin, Michael Keeton, and Winona Ryder, “Beetlejuice” was released in 1988 and has shaped cinematography from then on.

As Barbra and Adam find themselves to be dead, they must navigate the afterlife and figure out how to get new people who want to move in, out of their house. They then realize they cannot escape their house and are forced to scare the new people away in order to keep their home.

They encounter Beetlejuice, a bio-exorcist who offers to get unwanted people out of previously owned houses. He is rude, mean-spirited, and grossly vulgar. Nobody likes Beetlejuice except for Beetlejuice himself.

This movie has wild cinematography for a movie from the ‘80s. From the weird desert that they find themselves in, to the crazy sandworm that Barbara encounters, this movie completely turned around ‘80s film.

I thought “Beetlejuice” was funny and a great watch. Winona Ryder is an iconic actress who played in many films, and as one of the central characters, she played a great part for just being 15. 

“Beetlejuice” is a classic ‘80s Halloween movie and is great to watch for people who want to get into the Halloween spirit.


The Shining

Released in 1980, “The Shining” was and still is one of the most renowned and memorable psychological thrillers since “Psycho.” As a book-to-movie adaptation based on Stephen King’s own personal experiences, it stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as Jack and Wendy Torrence.

Warner Bros. Pictures

“The Shining” is about a man, Jack Torrence, who becomes the caretaker at an isolated hotel in Colorado in the dead of winter, hoping to cure writer’s block. As his wife and son, Wendy and Danny, are tormented with psychic premonitions and the presence of ghosts, Jack discovers the mysterious secrets of the hotel and becomes a homicidal maniac, lashing out at his family.

King famously has a deep hatred for Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” The main reason why is most regularly found among book enthusiasts. King believes Kubrick didn’t tell the story correctly which is common in book to movie adaptations.

King also greatly disliked the casting choices made for “The Shining.” He hated how Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall painted the characters on screen. For instance, Jack Torrence was supposed to be a loving dad who slowly went crazy but instead, Torrence was portrayed as insane and emotionally lifeless right from the start.

“The Shining” is one of the greatest and most well-known horror films of the ‘80s, stretching all the way to continuing to impact pop culture today.

Stand By Me

Released in the summer of ‘86, “Stand By Me” is a must-watch of the ‘80s. Starring River Phoenix as Chris Chambers and Wil Wheaton as Gordie Lachance, “Stand By Me” follows four young boys as they trek 20 miles of train tracks to find the body of Ray Brower.

[Y]ou start to wonder about your own childhood, the adventures you had, and how they impacted your life.”

— Staff Writer Joslyn Weber

While they travel across the train tracks, they encounter obstacles such as leeches and a mean junkyard man. They also end up learning about each other and their home lives. As they travel and meet their destination, the adventure evolves into a defining event in their lives.

Personally, I love this movie. It’s so heartfelt and dramatic and has a bigger meaning. As you watch them walk across train tracks and as you watch Chris and Gordie learn about each other’s lives and stick together, you start to wonder about your own childhood, the adventures you had, and how they impacted your life.

“Stand by Me” explores the meaning of friendship and how they stuck together no matter what. As a coming of age story, it had a unique plot line and also managed to subtly highlight the effect of trauma on young kids and what it was like for them to live ignored by their parents. “Stand by Me” had a big impact on the ‘80s from the storyline to the plot and even the actors themselves. 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Released in ‘82, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” stars Henry Thomas as Elliot and Drew Barrymore as Gertie. With its main character dubbed as a gentle alien, “E.T.” is one of the greatest comfort movies of the ‘80s.

“E.T.” shows that although others may look different, we can still accept them for who they are.”

— Staff Writer Joslyn Weber

When a mysterious alien becomes stranded on Earth, a young boy named Elliot finds and befriends the alien. While Elliot introduces “E.T.” to his siblings, they decide to keep him secret. Once “E.T.” becomes sick, the government gets involved and Elliot must keep the alien safe and alive.

“E.T.” shows that although others may look different, we can still accept them for who they are. Elliot and E.T. get along extremely well which also shows the meaning of friendship.

This movie contains one of the most well-known alien characters of the ‘80s. It’s also one of Steven Spielberg’s most magical movies. Focusing on a boy and his alien friend, “E.T.” takes on a more childish yet adventurous tone, appealing to both children and adults.


Released in 1984, “Ghostbusters” contains a star-studded cast featuring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver, and more. 

Columbia Pictures

When a team of scientists loses their job at the local university, they turn to ghost hunting and call themselves the “Ghostbusters.” As they come across a doorway to another dimension that, if opened, will release evil across the city, the “Ghostbusters” must find a way to save New York.

“Ghostbusters” is one of my most favorite ghost movies and deserves a spot on this list. Much like “Beetlejuice,” the cinematography is exceptional and was an immense undertaking for the ‘80s film industry. 

Living in the time of CGI, special effects like this wouldn’t be as impressive but the reason “Ghostbusters” was so revolutionary is because everything was done live and without CGI. In the classic scene where Sigourney Weaver floats above her bed possessed by the demon Zuul, Weaver was required to wear a full body cast while a steel arm hidden in the drapery turned her.

This movie is a classic 80s Halloween-type movie. From an amazing comedic cast to even funnier ghosts, “Ghostbusters’ is perfect for Halloween lovers.

The Terminator

Orion Pictures

Released in 1984, “The Terminator” is a riveting masterpiece of the ‘80s. Significant to the action-packed genre, this movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg assassin called “The Terminator.”

“The Terminator” features a cyborg assassin from the future with a mission to go back in time and kill Sarah Connor. She is the one woman who gives birth to the man that will lead the fight against the humans and create a world of robots through “Skynet.”

Personally, I loved this movie and definitely agree with the fact that it was so crucial to the ‘80s action-packed genre and set the tone for action movies going forward. “The Terminator” was full of action and plot twists, keeping the audience interested throughout its many sequels.


Although ‘80s movies had a big impact when they first came out, it’s all coming back. ‘80s and ‘90s culture have made a comeback in the form of fashion, and even in shows and movies. “Stranger Things,” for instance, was set in the ‘80s and further pushed the rise of ‘80s fashion. High waisted jeans, mom jeans, leather jackets, and even mullets have made a resurgence.

The ‘80s was an incredible and iconic decade for film. With so many actors gaining fame through small roles and directors introducing new ways to create, the ‘80s revolutionized film and pop culture from then on.