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I spent my formative years in the 80s watching movies on clunky VHS tapes that my parents rented from the local video store and waiting by my boombox covered in Lisa Frank stickers to record the new NKOTB song from the radio while rocking my bonnie bell lip gloss. What a great time to be kids, eh?
Although a lot of the music and fashion didn’t really translate across the years, it seems that some of those 80s movies still hold their own today. I don’t know about you, but I have been proudly showing them to my kids since they became age-appropriate.
I love to see the way they react with excitement, wonder, and laughter just like I did all those many years ago. Look, I am not saying all the films hold up (Ahem, Clash of the Titans, although I love you with all my soul, you are just a bit of nostalgia and no kid of today will sit through your terrible special effects), but everyone still remembers Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller!
Trust me, this list of 80s movies will entertain you and your kids like it’s 1989.
Ready? Here we go, in order of year of release because how could you possibly rate them by quality..they can’t all be number one…
80s movies to watch with your kids
Watcher in the Woods (1980): A Walt Disney film starring Bette Davis.
Synopsis: When the Curtis family moves into their rural English home, their daughters, Jan and Ellie, begin to notice unusual things around the property. They later learn about the disappearance of their neighbor’s daughter during a seance many years before, and Jan discovers that she may be linked to the incident and the missing girl.
Why it’s cool? The original intended ending of this movie was considered too dark for Disney, and the screenwriters were forced to change it which led to over 100 possible endings being written. Also, the film ended up with two theatrical releases because the initial run went so poorly that an alternate ending was chosen and the movie re-released.
Why your kids will love it? This is a scary movie for kids. It is super spooky and will have them on the edge of their seats. However, it ends okay and isn’t likely to leave lingering nightmares. Also, they should totally see the original before the remake is released!
Dark Crystal (1982): A Jim Henson and Frank Oz film.
Synopsis: A thousand years ago the mysterious Dark Crystal was damaged and split the UrSeks into two races, the gentle Mystics and the evil Skeksis. The Skeksis, grotesque birdlike lizards, rule their planet with an iron claw. The orphan Jen, raised by the Mystics, a race of peace-loving wizards, embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal and restore the balance of the universe.
Why it’s cool? The Dark Crystal is a little creepy, as Jim Henson planned because he wanted to do something more like the old Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Also, Mr. Henson thought it was unhealthy for kids to never be afraid.
Why your kids will love it? Puppets. Amazing Jim Henson puppets. Your kids will be properly terrified of the Skeksis and be rooting for Jen to save the world. Plus, the entire movie will inspire endless hours of imaginary play as the world of the Dark Crystal is so full of amazing creatures and scenery. I am pretty sure there is a remake of this in the works AND a Netflix series floating around.
The Secret of NIMH (1982) A Don Bluth animated film with voice acting by Dom DeLuise.
Synopsis: A field mouse must seek the aid of the unnaturally intelligent rats to save her sick child, but ends up in the middle of a conflict that may put her whole family in danger. The widow must rely on her friends and her courage to save her family and avoid the NIMH.
Why it’s cool? The rights for the story were initially offered to Disney who turned them down. However, the movie was made to widespread acclaim and is even hailed as one of the greatest animated films of all time.
Why your kids will love it? It’s classic animation and excellent storytelling will keep them entertained throughout. It is a little creepy and a little sad, but it is a genuinely good story that doesn’t rely on gimmicks to sell it.
The Neverending Story (1984) A Wolfgang Peterson film starring Noah Hathaway.
Synopsis: Running to escape from bullies, Bastian hides in a mysterious shop where he steals a book titled The Neverending Story. He decides to hide out in his school’s attic to read the book about the mythical world of Fantasia, but as the story progresses, Bastian starts to think the book may be more than meets the eye.
Why it’s cool? The movie was loosely adapted from a novel by author, Michael Ende, who actually demanded his name be removed from the film calling it a “gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic.” Despite the author’s dictate, the movie was a box office success and winner of several awards.
Why your kids will love it? Every kid wants to find out that they are secretly a super special hero that needs to save a world, right? Plus, the story is full of interesting characters and amazing visuals, but…maybe warn them not to get too attached to Atreyu’s horse, that bit can be traumatizing.
Legend (1985): A Ridley Scott Film starring Tom Cruise, Tim Curry, and Mia Sara.
Synopsis: Lord Darkness is hell-bent on destroying the world of daylight and ensnaring the beautiful Lilli. Young Jack and his vagabond crew set out to stop Lord Darkness and save Lili before all is lost and the world is mired in darkness forever.
Why it’s cool? Legend was not a commercial success but gained a cult following, likely due to the magnificence that is Tim Curry. As he does in every role, he embodies the character in such a way that is so entirely believable and just a little bit sexy. There are several versions of this film available, but in my opinion, the best one is the Director’s cut released in 2002.
Why your kids will love it? Unicorns, magic, sparkly sets, and lovely costumes are just a few of the reasons. Also, a young and handsome Tom Cruise inspires the hero in everyone. Warning: The Meg Mucklebones character can be a touch frightening for wee ones.
Return to Oz (1985): Released by Walt Disney Pictures starring Fairuza Balk.
Synopsis: After being saved from a psychiatric treatment, Dorothy is mysteriously called back to Oz only to discover that a vain witch and the Nome King have destroyed everything that made that magical land beautiful. Dorothy must once again travel to the Emerald City with her new companions but this time, she must save Oz and her friends before making her way back to Kansas.
Why it’s cool? This movie is another poor box office performer that later became a cult classic…noticing a trend?
Why your kids will love it? Although this movie is a little darker than the Judy Garland film, it resonates with kids because Balk’s Dorothy actually looks like a child. Granted the special effects in this one are a little cheesy by today’s standard, but I think the story is good enough to get past it. Also, Return to Oz more closely resembles the book series if your child happens to be a fan.
Labrynth (1986): A Jim Henson and George Lucas film, starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly.
Synopsis: Sarah is left by her father and stepmother with the task of babysitting her little brother, but when he won’t stop crying, Sarah wishes for Toby to be taken by the Goblin King. The King, Jareth, is happy to oblige and takes the baby to his castle in the Goblin City which is located in the middle of a labyrinth. Sarah regretting her decision sets out to rescue Toby but learns she must succeed by midnight or the baby becomes a goblin forever. Teaming up with a few brave creatures, Sarah sets out to rescue her brother and defeat the Goblin King.
Why it’s cool? Michael Jackson and Prince were both considered for the role of Jareth as Jim Henson really wanted a singer to play the Goblin King, and the auditionees for Sarah basically included the who’s who of 80’s actresses. Despite the initial buzz and interest in the film, it was not very successful at the box office, but it garnered a cult following (yep!) and is still a popular choice for cosplayers.
Why your kids will love it? Puppets. Amazing Jim Henson puppets, including an adorable tea drinking worm, fairies that bite, Sir Rattigan the valiant knight on his hairy dog steed. Plus, David Bowie is mesmerizing as Jareth (sorry, Michael Jackson and Prince, but David Bowie IS the Goblin King). The soundtrack is also a big draw, your kids will be running around singing “slap that baby and make him pee” (not the actual lyrics, but admit it, that is definitely the way you sang it!) Word on the street is that it is getting a sequel, but alas there won’t be any Bowie, unless they do some crazy CGI a la Rogue One.
Princess Bride (1987): A Rob Reiner film starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Andre the Giant, and Fred Savage.
Synopsis: Based on the William Goldman novel, The Princess Bride is a fairy tale about true love. The beautiful farm girl Buttercup is chosen by Prince Humperdink to be his princess bride. Buttercup agrees to be wed because she is still in mourning for her lost love Westley. However, Humperdink’s motives are not as pure as they seem, and Buttercup finds herself in the middle of a nefarious plot and at the mercy of the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Why it’s cool? Princess Bride was a modest box office success, but again, like the previous films, grew a cult following. It also happens to contain one of the most quoted movie lines: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Why your kids will love it? It has everything a fairy tale needs: true love, princesses, pirates, and a giant. The fight scenes are as amazing as they are ridiculous, and the dialogue is so clever and quick, your kids will be quoting it nonstop for days.
Adventures in Babysitting (1987) Chris Columbus’ directorial debut starring Elisabeth Shue.
Synopsis: Chris, the babysitter, is stranded in the city with her three charges where they have a night full of adventure. Through crazy encounters with car thieves, gang members, and jazz musicians, Chris struggles to keep the kids safe and find her friend Brenda without the kids’ parents realizing anything is amiss.
Why it’s cool? This movie was originally rated PG, but the rating system must have been a little looser back then. The F-bomb is dropped…twice.
Why your kids will love it? This is a classic adventure movie that appeals to both boys and girls. It is funny and smart enough for parents to enjoy, but has enough silliness to keep younger audiences entertained. Plus, the blues club scene is the absolute best.
Willow (1988): A Ron Howard and George Lucas film starring Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis.
Synopsis: Willow finds himself responsible for the protection of a very special baby, Elora Danan who is being hunted by an evil sorceress. Partnering with a swordsman of dubious loyalties, Willow embarks on the dangerous journey that pushes him to places he never dreamed existed.
Why it’s cool? This film was a bit more commercially successful than some of the other fantasy films from the 80’s, but it did not earn as much as E.T. which was the goal. Fun Fact: Mr. Lucas named the villainous General Kael, after the film critic Pauline Kael.
Why your kids will love it? Warwick Davis is awesome as Willow! Also, the film is full of adventure, laughs and plenty of action. They are sure to love the sledding scene, and no kid can forget the line “I stole the baby!”
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) A Stephen Herek film starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin.
Synopsis: Underachievers, Bill and Ted, are set to have their budding rock band split up due to Ted being sent to military school. The only way to save Ted and the band is to ace the history final which both boys are woefully unprepared to do. They are sure that the band is doomed until a mysterious stranger named Rufus shows up in a flying telephone booth with the news that their band is necessary to save the future! Borrowing the phone booth, Bill and Ted set of on an excellent adventure through time to save Ted, the band, the future, and the history final.
Why it’s cool? Urban legend has it that Keanu auditioned for the role of Bill and was sad to be cast as Ted. Keanu’s sadness aside, I personally consider it to be his finest film to date, followed closely by Point Break which is not a kid’s movie and therefore NOT on this list. Fun Fact: Alex Winter randomly chatted about the movie with people on Reddit a few years ago.
Why your kids will love it? It is a silly and hilarious romp that surprisingly holds up even with all the 80’s fashion and cheesy special effects. Bill and Ted are a likable duo, and your kids may just inadvertently learn a little history along the way. Hopefully, after watching they will decide to be excellent to one another.
So what do you think? Is this the perfect list of 80’s movies or what!?! I think I feel a weekend binge coming on…I wonder how many I can find on Netflix…
What is your favorite childhood movie that you couldn’t wait to share with your kids?