The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980's: A Trip Down Memory Lane

CEO Tam DT
The 1980's were a magical era for cinema, where the grittier aspirations of the 1970's New Hollywood movement blended into a more commercial and entertaining approach. This decade saw the emergence of important filmmakers hitting...

The 1980's were a magical era for cinema, where the grittier aspirations of the 1970's New Hollywood movement blended into a more commercial and entertaining approach. This decade saw the emergence of important filmmakers hitting their stride, whose work would define the next two decades of cinema and beyond. It was a time when film became more popular than ever, catering to diverse audiences and capturing the hearts of moviegoers worldwide.

Looking back at the 1980's, certain films stand out as iconic, ones that have come to define the decade in film. These films may not have always been the most popular at the time of their release, but they have aged well and continue to be enjoyed to this day. They have become cult classics, Hollywood blockbusters, and everything in between, remaining pop-culture staples almost 40 years later.

But if we had to pick the ten films that best defined the 1980's, one from each year, which ones would they be? I posed this question to our team, and here are their choices along with their comments on why they made those decisions.

1980: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back "I mean, it’s the best Star Wars film. One of the greatest sequels ever made. The highlight of one of the most important movie franchises on the planet, and really set the tone for how awesome 80’s movies could be."

Jordan’s Choice: Superman II "In the interest of changing things up a bit (and because Garrett took mine), I’m going with Superman II. While the first Christopher Reeves film is often held up as the standard for what Superman stories should be, I always enjoyed the sequel more. Getting to see him put his skills to the test against other super-powered foes was a treat, and the villainous Zod remains an icon all these decades later."

Sean’s Choice: The Empire Strikes Back "A really different kind of Star Wars film even now, heroes on the run and no ending victory was a bold choice that pumps the breaks on the galaxy ending threat for some great character development. It endears you all the more to every character and has some of the most compelling storytelling, imagery, and character introductions in the franchise to date."

Becky’s Choice: The Empire Strikes Back "You really can’t deny that the 1980s got off to a roaring start with the release of The Empire Strikes Back. This remains one of my favorite Star Wars films, as it has one of the best duels in the entire saga as well as one of the biggest cinematic twists of all time. When I saw this idea of picking the best films from the 80s, I just knew this movie had to be one of my picks."

1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark "The idea of Spielberg and Lucas teaming up must have blown people’s minds back in the day. This film certainly lived up to those expectations and gave us the first new mega-franchise of the 1980’s. Adventure films have been trying to catch up ever since."

Jordan’s Choice: The Road Warrior "As much as Indiana Jones has had an impact on culture and adventure films, one could make the same argument for the bombastic action in the Mad Max sequel, Road Warrior. The film not only improved upon the original but crafted a whole new mythos around the character, setting the stage for dynamic action pieces that continue to hold up today."

Sean’s Choice: The Evil Dead "I don’t think this is the best of the franchise, nor is it a fantastic film. It has one of the weirdest scenes in a film I’ve ever seen that even its director has come to regret. But the level of production value this film appears to have when made by a load of teenagers with zero mainstream filmmaking experience on a budget of under $400,000 is staggering, and I can’t help but admire it for that."

Becky’s Choice: Clash of the Titans "While I am a huge fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark, my pick for the most iconic film of 1981 is Clash of the Titans, the last film to feature stop motion work from Ray Harryhausen. The film recounts the myth of Perseus, and while the stop motion effects feel like they belong to a different era entirely, they were done with such care that the film has been a favorite of mine for years."

1982: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial "‘82 was an incredible year for classic films. I went with E.T. because it signified the type of lo-fi blockbuster event film that would only have been possible in the 80’s. It also signified the staying power of science fiction in those types of mass-market films. Spielberg was also at the top of his game."

Jordan’s Choice: The Dark Crystal "1982 turned out to be a banner year for sword and sorcery films. With Beastmaster and Conan The Barbarian, not to mention some solid animation offerings. For me, however, The Dark Crystal stands out. Jim Hensen’s idea of making a gripping, fantasy tale using only puppets worked better than it had any right to and remains a world we keep wanting to return to."

Sean’s Choice: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan "It still holds up to be one of the best Trek films yet, easily Shatner's best performance in the franchise with some absolutely heartwrenching deliveries. It solidifies Kirk and Spock as one of my favorite movie duos and has me emotional on every watch in those final scenes. 'Of my friend, I can only say this. Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human.' Is and will always be one of the most heartbreaking and beautiful lines in film to me."

Becky’s Choice: The Secret of NIMH "I was highly tempted to choose Blade Runner for this year, but I ultimately decided to go with one of my childhood favorites: The Secret of NIMH. I grew up watching this movie (despite the nightmares it gave me) and it remains a favorite of mine. Even after all these years, the movie has some of the most beautifully rendered animation I’ve ever seen, with a gorgeous score from Jerry Goldsmith. And of course, the climax of the movie remains one of the greatest animated scenes ever created from this era."

1983: Return of the Jedi

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: National Lampoon’s Vacation "Okay, maybe not the best or most impactful film of 1983, but it’s a classic comedy that has stood the test of time and founded a franchise that continues to this day. Vacation has become a pop-culture staple, helped define Chevy Chase’s stardom in the 80’s, and opened the door for less-family-friendly comedies in the mainstream."

Jordan’s Choice: Return of the Jedi "Not everyone was over the moon with Return of the Jedi upon its release (marking the first, of many times fans proclaimed the franchise dead), and I can’t even say it’s high on my regular watch rotation. Even so, it tells a powerful story of redemption and the power of finding your family/place in the world. In some ways, it feels like it gets better with age, and those moments where Vader finally casts down the Emperor manage to retain its emotional impact. Though it didn’t mark 'the end,' it still serves as an excellent example of how to wrap up a trilogy."

Sean’s Choice: Return of the Jedi "Perhaps not the most consistently entertaining in the Original trilogy, while a fun sequence, the opening with Jabba has always felt oddly disjointed to me. But Ian McDiarmid is absolutely killer as Palpatine and a joy to watch in every scene. Luke’s whole story in this film is brilliant, and it was the first film where I particularly liked him, seeing his wrestle with the Dark Side and conflict in wanting to rescue his father. It’s also such an immediate shift in Vader that I honestly find more compelling than the reveal in Empire. 'It’s too late for me, son' is a chilling line that gives massive insight into Vader’s head that we had no gauge on before."

Becky’s Choice: Krull "Just hear me out on this one. While I know Return of the Jedi is the natural pick for 1983, and I do love that film immensely, there’s one film I can’t help but highlight from this year, and that’s Krull. While extremely derivative of Star Wars, with a mesh of sci-fi and fantasy that you will either love or hate, the film does feature one of James Horner’s best early scores that isn’t Star Trek II or III, and that’s why I will highlight this film whenever I get the chance."

1984: Ghostbusters

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: Ghostbusters "One of the defining films of the 1980’s. Combines the blockbuster appeal with more family-friendly sci-fi (this time blending with horror), and boasts an iconic cast of 80’s superstars at the height of their careers. A favorite film to millions of kids and adults today."

Jordan’s Choice: The Neverending Story "Not going to lie, this was a tough year for me to choose. On one hand, you have David Lynch’s Dune movie, a fascinating attempt that’s memorable regardless of whether you liked it or not. Even so, I have to give this one to The Neverending Story. It’s hard to find any person of a certain age who wasn’t emotionally scarred by Atreyu’s horse Artax dying in the Swamp of Sadness. Even if little details are forgotten, the scale of the fantasy flick is undeniable."

Sean’s Choice: Beverly Hills Cop "1984 was a tricky year for me, not spoilt for choice as much as there were lots of films that I think are pretty good but not favorites of mine. But Beverly Hills Cop is just a really funny movie. It’s not exactly controversial to say how funny Eddie Murphy is, but he really just sells the entire film. I wasn’t even that invested in the plot, but watching Murphy just own every scene is brilliant."

Becky’s Choice: Dune "I will likely go to my grave defending David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune as it was my first real exposure to the story of Paul Atreides. While it’s nothing compared to last year’s Dune, it’s still a wonderful attempt to bring the story of Dune to life, and there are scenes from that film that have stuck with me to this day (and the music is lovely also)."

1985: Back to the Future

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: Back to the Future "Picking up on a familiar theme? Another adventurous family-friendly sci-fi film. Back to the Future is perhaps the most iconic 80’s film because of its connection to the 80’s. The cast, the DeLorean, the music, the pacing, and the plot all ooze with that unavoidable 80’s charm."

Jordan’s Choice: The Goonies "The everlasting legacy of The Goonies is undeniable. Pretty much every other year, there are major articles prompting online discourse about whether or not the film is a genuine classic or outright terrible. No matter where you fall on the line, the fact that the conversation regularly happens decades later means it’s firmly embedded in our pop culture consciousness."

Sean’s Choice: Back to the Future "Just a charming film, not sure how else to describe it, but it has a very unique atmosphere that is undeniably Back to the Future. Everything it does is iconic, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s such a weird and goofy idea that is absolutely nailed in its camp design and hilarious performances."

Becky’s Choice: The Black Cauldron "I know Disney likes to pretend this movie doesn’t exist, but it really is one of my favorite movies made in this year. While the adaptation leaves out a lot of detail, its take on the Horned King remains one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen."

1986: Labyrinth

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off "John Hughes was a force to be reckoned with in the 1980’s, so I had to include one of his films as a representation of 80’s cinema. The 80’s saw an explosion of growth in the suburbs, and a new generation came of age in an entirely different environment, which bred all sorts of new challenges. Hughes’ films connected with those people and inspired countless other filmmakers to follow."

Jordan’s Choice: Aliens "My love for creature features really began here, with Aliens. While the movie is, for all intents and purposes, a horror flick, it still manages to capture the right amount of 80s action machismo. It’s a delicate balance the franchise has struggled to recapture ever since, but the combination of Science Fiction, horror, action, and creature feature never gets old."

Sean’s Choice: Star Trek: The Voyage Home "A trope that Trek has done countless times by now, a story that takes us hundreds of years in the past to the modern day. This film takes one of the dumbest sci-fi premises I’ve ever heard and makes it possibly the best Trek film to me. An endearing, charming, and wonderful comedy that gives every actor fantastic new material to work with. It’s a shock to me that Trek didn’t pursue the comedy genre further after this because it was amazing."

Becky’s Choice: Labyrinth "While I don’t deny the impact of Aliens, one of the most iconic movies for me from this time is Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Having grown up watching the Muppet movies, I thought I knew what Jim Henson’s work was all about. And then I saw Labyrinth for the first time, and my mind was permanently blown. This film remains an amazing achievement in puppetry that has aged unbelievably well."

1987: RoboCop

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: RoboCop "Sci-Fi again, but darker, more violent, and serious. Maybe it seems campy today, but the message holds true. Plus, the clunky approach is part of the magic of 80’s films - it makes it more fun than it has the right to be. Proof: the super-serious (read: grim) remake."

Jordan’s Choice: Predator "My love of creature features really began here, with Predator. While the movie is, for all intents and purposes, a horror flick, it still manages to capture the right amount of 80s action machismo. It’s a delicate balance the franchise has struggled to recapture ever since, but the combination of Science Fiction, horror, action, and creature feature never gets old."

Sean’s Choice: Evil Dead 2 "Honestly didn’t think I’d be mentioning this franchise twice in this list, but I’m trying to keep my choice different from others. I like this one, where the first one falls, this one course corrects into a dumbass horror comedy that shows Raimi’s style really define itself and flourish. It’s campy, gory, and ridiculous, and I have a lot of fun with it."

Becky’s Choice: The Secret of My Success "To me, The Secret of My Success is the quintessential 80s movie: a country kid moves to the big city, becomes a corporate bigwig as only he can, and gets the girl in the end. All of this takes place to the sound of a synth-heavy soundtrack. It doesn’t get much better than that."

1988: Big

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: Big "What the best 80’s films do well is keep you captivated because they are easy to relate to. Before Hollywood made stories about superheroes, they tackled issues that everyman faces. Big is one movie that fits the bill. It catapulted Tom Hanks to stardom, and the premise is unforgettable. Who can forget that dancing scene in the toy store?"

Jordan’s Choice: Bloodsport "Look, I’ll fully admit Bloodsport hasn’t exactly aged the best. Even so, it’s still a blast to watch. More importantly, it set the stage for a boom in Martial Arts films here in the West in the late 80s/early 90s that eventually gave rise to Asian action stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li finding an audience beyond their home countries."

Sean’s Choice: The Land Before Time "I haven’t actually seen this film in years, but it is seared into my brain as a deeply traumatic but wonderful watch. It’s probably one of my earliest memories of an animated film. I was a big dinosaur nerd as a kid and loved the idea of a silly adventure with a group of little dinosaurs. Little did I know I’d be in for a wonderful but emotional rollercoaster of a film."

Becky’s Choice: My Neighbor Totoro "While I also have fond (and deeply traumatizing) memories of The Land Before Time, to avoid too much repetition for my pick for this year, I’ll go with My Neighbor Totoro. Of all of Miyazaki’s films, this one I love the most. Watching the two young sisters build a life in the country and interact with Totoro remains one of the most heartwarming things I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. It’s a timeless story that everyone should see."

1989: When Harry Met Sally

The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s Picture: The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s

Garrett’s Choice: When Harry Met Sally "1989 was an incredible year for films, and this was probably the toughest year for me to decide on. Batman was my number two, but I feel like it was ahead of its time, demonstrating the type of filmmaking that would be popular in the 90’s and beyond, and is not really remembered best for being an 80’s movie. When Harry Met Sally is a film that shows us a slice of life from the 1980s, and it still holds up today."

Jordan’s Choice: Batman "Hard for me not to pick Batman here. As iconic as the Christopher Reeves Superman films are, Tim Burton’s Batman is the starting point for the modern era of superhero films. It showed how comics could retain certain aspects while still appealing to a broader audience. While there have been many actors to don the cape and cowl since, there’s no denying they’re always in the shadow of this portrayal."

Sean’s Choice: Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade "My feelings on Sean Connery are less than positive, to say the least, but I’ve always loved the dynamic between Indy and his dad in this film. It holds the whole film together, seeing Harrison Ford return to the confident scrappy lead who’s usually in his element hunting down artifacts, then be put in his place by his father is gold and makes this easily my favorite of the franchise."

Becky’s Choice: Major League "While Batman and Indiana Jones are really good picks for this year, I also feel like Major League is a good choice for an iconic movie. This screwball movie has me in stitches every time I watch it, and it’s so fun watching the team get the better of their stuck-up owner."


It's fascinating to look back at these films that shaped the 1980's and continue to hold a special place in our hearts. Each year brought with it a unique cinematic experience, showcasing the creativity, storytelling prowess, and cultural impact of that era. While we may have different opinions on which movies defined each year, one thing is certain - the 1980's gave us a treasure trove of unforgettable films that continue to captivate audiences to this day.

1