80s Movies That Still Hold Up Today

Kim Taylor-Foster

We love movies from the 1980s often for nostalgic reasons. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains a favourite because it is so evocative of the era in which it was made. But if the same film was made and released today, would it still be met with such enthusiasm, and held in such high regard? Perhaps not. Not without a huge overhaul anyway. So which films from the 80s still hold up today? Here are  our picks.

1. The Terminator (1984)

A cyborg assassin comes back from the year 2029 to wipe out a threat that will one day affect the future. It’s the basic premise of James Cameron’s The Terminator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is on a mission to kill Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, mother of Resistance leader John Connor, who would one day lead an uprising against the sentient machines.

But it’s also a premise with echoes of the plot of the recent Deadpool 2. Undoing events via time travel is also crucial to the plot of Avengers: Infinity War. It’s a device that’s as significant and popular today as it was back in 1984 when The Terminator was first thrilling audiences. It’s, in part, because of this that The Terminator still holds up today.

2. RoboCop (1987)

In 2014, a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original starring Joel Kinnaman was unleashed on the world. But Verhoeven’s tale of a superhuman cybernetically enhanced police officer keeping order in a crime-ridden near-future didn’t need the remodeling treatment.

A science-fiction classic, RoboCop is smart, shockingly violent, satirical, and – crucially — still pertinent, exploring as it does the effect of the media on society, and putting capitalism and authoritarianism in the spotlight. And since we’re talking Deadpool 2, and cybernetic characters, Josh Brolin’s similarly enhanced futuristic supersoldier Cable has parallels with Murphy’s armoured cop. Like The Terminator, the themes explored in RoboCop are topics we’re still obsessed with today.

Plus, Murphy has a female partner who’s pretty awesome — Nancy Allen’s Anne Lewis. So it gets extra recognition for its ahead-of-its-time progressiveness. If you haven’t watched RoboCop in a while, it’s time to revisit it.

3. The Color Purple (1985)

In 1985, Steven Spielberg was best known for his blockbuster fare. There were the Indiana Jones films, as well as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET. So when he adapted Alice Walker’s historical novel about African-American women in the Deep South in the early 1900s, audiences and critics were surprised.

Spielberg’s film focuses on a young black girl named Celie – played by Whoopi Goldberg in her film debut – who we see through the passing years endure abuse at the hands first of her father and then of the other men in her life. The story ends on a positive note, with Celie and her female friends transcending the racism and misogyny they’ve suffered.

The messages of the film are as relevant today as they were both when the film was released and the 1982 novel written, not to mention the time in which the story is set. Standout performances from a cast that includes Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover help make The Color Purple as hard-hitting in 2018 as at any other point in the intervening years.

 4. Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s iconic neo-noir sci-fi is still influencing pop culture today. The recent Netflix series Altered Carbon is just one example that owes a debt to the mesmerising imagery of Scott’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 

Set in a dystopian Los Angeles, the story revolves around Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, the downbeat cop tasked with hunting down a fugitive group of synthetic humans known as replicants. It’s so highly regarded that it took more than 30 years to generate a sequel. Arrival director Denis Villeneuve took the helm of that film, Blade Runner 2049, and managed the near-impossible, pulling off a follow-up that was well received by critics.

Themes, cast and performances, and the ageless aesthetics of the original all contribute to its standing today as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.

5. Stand By Me (1986)

Based on a short story by Stephen King, Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me is a period piece, made in 1986 and set in 1959. The means that a dated ’80s aesthetic typical of a bunch of comparable titles from the decade is absent, making the movie feel timeless. This sense of timelessness is bolstered by the device of narration – the story is told in flashback through the eyes of a grown-up Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) recounting a tale from his youth, on the discovery that his childhood friend Chris Chambers has been stabbed to death.

The story he tells is of the misadventures, trials and tribulations of his group of friends, a foursome consisting of River Phoenix’s Chambers, Corey Feldman’s Teddy Duchamp and Jerry O’Connell’s Vern Tessio, in addition to his younger self, played by Wil Wheaton. They head off in search of the body of missing local boy Ray Brower in the hope of becoming local heroes.

While it replicated the dynamic of the group of youngsters in 1985’s The Goonies, unlike that film it stands up to the scrutiny of today’s sophisticated audiences. While The Goonies has bags of retro appeal, Stand By Me is a film with arguably more substance. And also delivers a spirit that titles like Stranger Things and Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It strive to capture today.

6. Blue Velvet (1986)

Watch David Lynch’s nightmarish crime-thriller today and it’s no less disturbing. The much-discussed scene in which Dennis Hopper’s Frank terrorises Isabella Rosselini’s Dorothy Vallens while inhaling a mystery substance hasn’t lost any of its impact.

If anything, the film is all the more surreal and disturbing with the passage of time. Its abstract nature, the idyllic surface of its small-town setting punctured by a very Lynchian dark underbelly, and an indefinite time period make it a film that defies categorisation and will forever remain in our minds. Blue Velvet has influenced a bunch of directors, from the Coen brothers to Tarantino – and will no doubt continue to inspire a new generation of filmmakers.

7. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Director Joe Johnston went on to helm Jumanji, Jurassic Park III and Captain America: The First Avenger, but it was Honey, I Shrunk the Kids that marked his directorial debut.

The film starred Ghostbusters star Rick Moranis as the inventor who accidentally shrinks his children along with the kids next door, then throws them out with the trash. It represented a breakthrough in special effects, showing as it did the quarter-inch tall kids battling insects and otherwise innocuous now-giant garden hazards to get back indoors and back to normal size.

While the effects might be nothing to write home about today, the story is charming and one that is absolutely as entertaining, appealing and relevant today. With last year’s Downsizing borrowing extensively from Johnston’s 1989 hit and Ant-Man and the Wasp gearing up to hit screens later this year, it’s clear that shrinking down to teeny-tiny size is still very much a theme that Hollywood, and audiences, care about.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.