15 Films Fan Votes Are the Quintessential 80s Movie

The 1980s were a wild time, especially in the world of cinema. While I think it's possible to distinguish what decade a film was made in most cases, the 1980s have many distinguishing qualities in our favorite movies.

On a popular forum, movie fans ask what the most quintessential 80s films are. There are so many fantastic or rad choices if we want to speak in 80s lingo. The best are the ones that encapsulate what this decade was all about.

1. Back to the Future (1985)

Back To The Future Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Back to the Future is as close to a perfect movie as possible. The script is even taught in universities, an example of a spectacular one. And indeed, the film is the hilarious and poignant story of Marty McFly, who travels back in time to 1955 and accidentally interrupts his parent's meeting. And he must find his friend Doc Brown to him get back to 1985.

But the film is also quintessentially 80s in style, tone, and theme. In the present, there are the acid wash jeans, the big hair, and the Huey Lewis theme song “The Power of Love,” all of which provide a funny contrast when Marty travels to 1955.

One person also brings up an important point: “Nostalgia for the '50s was a cornerstone of the '80s, so it worked perfectly.”

2. The Goonies (1985)

Sean Astin in The Goonies 1985
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Along with Back to the Future, The Goonies is my favorite 1980s film. And it's also such an incredible 1980s time capsule. The story follows a group of teenagers who embark on an epic adventure to find the infamous One-Eyed Willie's pirate treasure.

What makes The Goonies so quintessentially 80s is seen in both the style and plot. The most notable being the freedom and bravery the groups of kids exhibit. The 1980s was a time when kids would hop on their bikes, ready for anything, regardless of potential danger. And that is, without a doubt, The Goonies.

With the endlessly quotable and hilarious script, this movie is the funniest of the decade.

3. The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club Movie AM Films
Image Credit: A&M Films

One of the most common denominators on this list is writer/director John Hughes. When I think of 80s movies, I think of Hughes and his “Brat Pack” of actors, which includes this film's cast of Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and Emilio Estevez.

The plot and characters feel so much of the era with their archetypes of the princess, the nerd, the loner, the bad boy, and the jock. They acknowledge each while also finding common ground with each other.

The energy, mix of humor and drama, and epic theme song “Don't You Forget About Me” make this one of the most iconic films for John Hughes and the 80s as a whole.

4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is another Hughes film, easily distinguishable by the characters and ways he blends comedic moments with ones much more serious. Matthew Broderick's iconic role made him a star, and it feels impossible to reflect on the 80s and not think of his taking over a parade and lip-syncing to the Beatles' “Twist and Shout.”

5. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Pretty in Pink
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The unique fashion and style of the 1980s was something else, all of which is ever present in Pretty in Pink. From Andi's hats and lace to Duckie's hairstyle and Blane and Steff's gray and white suits, Pretty in Pink is one of the best movies to showcase how people dressed during this decade.

Pretty in Pink also features the 1980s/John Hughes stamp with its themes of adolescent pangs and desire for individuality.

6. E.T.- the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Henry Thomas
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Several people note E.T. as a film that perfectly encapsulates the 1980s. One fan says it's “One of the best examples of the decade.” Another adds, “E.T.- The Extra-terrestrial, to me, is the quintessential early 80s movie.” And it's true that it has such a poignant film with an unmistakable 80s feel.

Once again, we see kids on their bikes, bravely taking on the world- in this case, it's Elliot helping the alien E.T. escape capture so he can return home. Overall, the poignancy and tone that feels so definitive Spielberg has a quality that I think exists solely in the 80s.

7. The Princess Bride (1987)

the princess bride
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The Princess Bride has many worthwhile qualities, from its brilliantly funny and heartwarming script to its exceptional cast and incredibly colorful characters. While only a few touches clearly show this is an 80s movie (namely, the Nintendo video game that the boy is playing at the beginning of the movie), it still feels like such a seminal film of the era. It also holds the distinction of becoming a favorite 80s film for many, but after the decade was over, and became very successful on VHS.

The Princess Bride may not have been appreciated in its own time, but its status as an 80s classic is indelible today.

8. The Karate Kid (1984)

the karate kid
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

It's incredible how The Karate Kid is such a profound part of 80s film culture. As one individual asserts, “the “Cruel Summer” scene in Karate Kid is peak 1980s.”

Today, nostalgia is at an all-time high which explains the popularity of The Karate Kid spin-off series Cobra Kai. But as far as the film, the story of a kid overcoming adversity with the help of a wise, old mentor screams the 80s. Add the iconic music, and it's easy to see why it's a popular choice for one of the most seminal of the decade.

9. Ghostbusters (1984)

Image from the movie Ghostbusters
Image Credit: Sony Pictures.

If you are discussing 1980s movies, you must include a film with one of the most popular actors of the decade- Bill Murray. Though one could mention Caddyshack, Ghostbusters is much more influential and era-defining. The theme song alone has such an 80s tonality in its sound. But the comedic style and cast, including Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Rick Moranis, has such an unmistakable 80s feel.

10. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Beverly Hills cop 1984
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

If we are talking about actors who were at their zenith in the 1980s, Eddie Murphy is another you must mention. And Beverly Hills Cop is one of his best movies and features classic 80s tropes and style. One film fan points out, “Action movies ruled the 80s, and so many things scream 80s in that film. The music, the clothes, the buddy cop tropes, the L.A. in the 80s/Detroit clash, Eddie Murphy, etc.”

The music especially has such a quintessential 80s sound, mainly with its theme song and “The Heat is On.” Side note: why don't we incorporate saxophones and synthesizers in music as much anymore?

11. Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun Tom Cruise Kelly McGillis
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The 1980s was a time for bombastic, high-energy action films, and Top Gun more than fits the bill. From the opening sequence, where you hear the Kenny Loggins banger “Danger Zone,” you are in for a ride.

One viewer notes how “Loggins' work defines the era” and that it's so 80s with “Bomber jackets, Ray Bans galore, and the iconic volleyball scene.” If someone wants to get on that “highway to the danger zone,” the surefire way is to put on Top Gun.

12. Weird Science (1985)

weird science
Image Credit: Universal Pictures

As one movie fan acknowledges, Weird Science is something you can put on to inject the 1980s straight into someone's veins. The plot of two nerds creating a woman to help them with their social skills is absurd and the kind of movie that could've only been made in the 80s.

Another person shares how it features almost all the 80s movie mainstays:” High school, nerds vs. jocks, an 80s bombshell, a giant house party, and banging soundtrack with absurd comedy.”

13. War Games (1983)

Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

War Games is a film that so brilliantly encapsulates the rise of technology at the time and the fear of nuclear war from the Soviet Union. Moreover, the concept of the dangers of artificial intelligence is so well done. Complete with 80s standouts Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, War Games is an 80s classic.

14. The Neverending Story (1984)

Image Credit: 1984 Warner Bros. Ent.

What's a quintessential 80s movie list without a bit of childhood trauma, am I right? The Neverending Story is the most popular choice for that category. The 80s was a fascinating decade for family and children's films. Fantasy films were the vibe, and there was extensive use of puppetry and very dark themes.

Between “The Nothing” and the death of Atreyu's horse, The Neverending Story gives us a healthy dose of nightmare fuel.

15. The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger
Image Credit: Orion Pictures.

How many of us have done an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression saying, “I'll be back?” Chances are that number is high. The Terminator is a movie that checks off so many boxes as far as what most movies of the era featured.

A film lover notes, “It's classic, over-the-top action, but also sci-fi with The Arnold at the helm. What could be more 80s?” Indeed, The Terminator is quintessentially 1980s.

This thread inspired this post.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video