The Best '80s Movies on Netflix

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The Best '80s Movies on Netflix

For all the harm that was done in the 1980s from deregulation to the drug wars, the decade did deliver the age of the blockbuster, and several of its best examples are streaming on Netflix right now. Directors like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee and the trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker delivered grand adventures and silly comedy that still hold up nearly four decades later.

Several of these films are leaving Netflix soon, so enjoy your summer blockbusters while you can—or go find them on the big screen at your local drive-in—1984’s Ghostbusters topped the box office this past weekend! Here are the 10 best movies from the 1980s you can stream on Netflix right now.

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

e-t-poster.jpg
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship which resonates with children and adults alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time and the moment Spielberg’s career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains today perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —Michael Burgin


2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders-of-the-lost-ark.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Wolf Kahler, Ronald Lacey
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg & Lucas did from 1977-1982? —Michael Burgin


3. Back to the Future

back-to-the-future.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells
Genre: Comedy, Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Not until Matt Groening/David X. Cohen’s animated TV series Futurama would we again see the lighter side of the grave consequences inherent in time-travel paradoxes. Robert Zemeckis and Michael J. Fox each securely attached their names on the A-list with this sci-fi comedy that ensured Christopher Lloyd would be forever associated with the Crackpot Inventor archetype, and that any DeLorean on the road would eventually be ticketed for speeds in excess of 88 mph. —Scott Wold


4. Airplane!

airplane_netflix_poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams
Stars: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 88 minutes

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The writing trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (ZAZ) defined a genre with their disaster-movie spoof in 1980. The jokes fly fast and furious, from the “Who’s on First” confusion of a crew that includes Roger and Captain Oveur (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”) to Oveur (Peter Graves) asking a kid in the cockpit, “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” to an old lady translating jive (“Jive-ass dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Shiiiiit!”) to “stop calling me Shirley!” Ridiculous and ridiculously quotable, it’s the funniest spoof film of all time. —Josh Jackson


5. The Naked Gun

movie poster naked gun.jpg Year: 1988
Director: David Zucker
Stars: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 85 minutes

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The final hoorah from the comedy trio David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker—ZAZ for short—The Naked Gun is so stupid it’s hilarious. This, of course, was ZAZ’s secret weapon in films like Airplane!, and in Leslie Nielsen’s stone-faced imbecility they found their muse. A former dramatic actor, Nielsen rejuvenated his career by playing Frank Drebin, a hapless L.A. police detective trying to prevent the assassination of Queen Elizabeth. (And in his courting of possible femme fatale Priscilla Presley, he taught us the importance of wearing full-body condoms.) A wonder of slapstick and deadpan silliness, The Naked Gun makes jokes about terrorists, gay panic, boobs, even “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There’s a character named Pahpshmir. Good lord, it’s all so gloriously idiotic. —Tim Grierson


6. She’s Gotta Have It

shes-gotta-have-it-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Tracy Camila Johns, Spike Lee, John Canada Terrell, Tommy Redmond Hicks
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 85 minutes

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An explosively frank feature debut that immediately announced Lee’s brave, fresh new voice in American cinema, She’s Gotta Have It, shot like a documentary, is a levelheaded exploration of a young black woman named Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) trying to decide between her three male lovers, while also flirting with her apparent bisexuality, in order to, first and foremost, figure out what makes her happy. What’s refreshing about the film is that Lee always brings up the possibility that “none of the above” is a perfectly viable answer for both Nola and for single women—a game changer in 1986. The DIY indie grainy black-and-white cinematography boosts the film’s in-your-face realism. —Oktay Ege Kozak


7. The Evil Dead

evil-dead.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola


8. Tootsie

tootsie.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Sydney Pollack
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Terri Garr, Bill Murray
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Can you imagine how audiences and critics might react to Tootsie if it came out in theaters today? Sydney Pollack’s film plays with gender roles and layers its portrait of an actor going full-drag with gay panic for giggles. You can just picture this film getting lambasted in 2015 for making a joke out of homophobia and for having the gall to ask viewers to sympathize with the plight of an actor who has to dress as a woman to find work. But the reason Pollack’s 1982 classic endures is because of its compassionate heart. This is a kind, empathetic movie that puts its hero, Dustin Hoffman’s cranky perfectionist thesp Michael Dorsey, in the shoes of his female peers to teach him (and us) a lesson, not to make snide jokes at the expense of the opposite sex. The humor is never mean-spirited; the message is rarely pompous, though when it is, that’s meant to be part of the point. Tootsie’s sharp comedy makes it a great piece of entertainment, but it’s the film’s sincere sensitivity that makes it timeless. —Andy Crump


9. Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell

mad rons poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1987
Director: Jim Monaco
Stars: Ron Roccia
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 83 minutes

Watch on Netflix

This film represents everything missing from the horror selection on Netflix streaming. I seriously have no idea how it made its way into the collection, but Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell is essentially a feature-length collection of vintage, ’70s-era grindhouse horror trailers. They’re presented in a crumbling theater by Nick, a nebbish-looking ventriloquist accompanied by an annoying puppet named Happy. “Mad Ron” is the projectionist, if you were wondering. What follows is the weirdest jumble of silly puppet shtick and super violent, gory trailers you’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s trailers for the likes of I Drink your Blood and Blood Splattered Bride and I Dismember Mama, followed immediately by bad ventriloquist hijinks and zombie audience members pouring blood on their popcorn. The whole thing feels like something Netflix added completely by accident, and I sit here desperately hoping they don’t realize their mistake. The actual meat of the content is the trailers, and there’s some wonderfully, horribly icky stuff, all reminders of the kinds of films you’ll never see on this streaming service. It would be a great movie to put on during a Halloween party, provided your guests have very strong constitutions. —Jim Vorel


10. Bloodsport

bloodsport-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Newt Arnold
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Leah Ayres, Donald Gibb
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watch on Netflix

There are tomes to be written and classes to be taught on the perplexing existence of Bloodsport—purportedly our current President’s favorite movie, if one were to fast-forward through the talking parts, directed by an adult man named Newt—but perhaps the film is best summarized in one moment: the infamous Scream. Because in these 40 seconds or so, the heart and soul of Bloodsport is bared, with little concern for taste, or purpose, or respect for the physically binding laws of reality—in this moment is a burgeoning movie star channeling his best attributes (astounding muscles; years of suppressed rage; the juxtaposition of grace and violence that is his well-oiled and cleanly shaven corporeal form) to make a go at real-live Hollywood acting. Although Bloodsport is the movie that announced Jean-Claude Van Damme and his impenetrable accent to the world—as well as serving as the crucible for (seriously) every single plot of every Van Damme movie to come—it’s also a defining film of the decade, positioning martial arts as certifiable blockbuster action cinema. Schwarzenegger and Stallone? These were beefy mooks that could believably be action stars. Van Damme set the bar higher: His body became a better and bloodier weapon than any hand-cannon that previous mumbling, ’80s box-office draws could ever wield. —Dom Sinacola

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