Big hair, synthesizer-heavy music, pastel clothes, Reaganomics and the fall of the Iron Curtain. What a mashup the 1980s were. For a peek at how popular culture reflected the styles and events of the era, consider the biggest box office hits of that decade.
After the rise of independent filmmaking and the so-called New Hollywood in the 1960s and ‘70s, blockbusters were the big story of the ‘80s. Action flicks pulled in big bucks as major franchises grabbed hold of audiences and began to forge strong, emotional connections with the public. Science fiction proved to be lucrative for movie producers, as moviegoers were drawn to the escapism of the Star Wars films and other fantasies.
To identify the biggest box office hit of the 1980s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed box office data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services, as updated in April 2021. Rankings for box office success were out of 4,230 movies for which data was available. The actors and directors for each movie come from Internet Movie Database, an online movie database owned by Amazon.
Some comedies did well in the era (“Coming to America,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”), as did some distinctly different views of the Vietnam War (“Platoon,” “Good Morning, Vietnam”). As a harbinger of things to come, a couple of comic book characters began to make successful crossovers to the movies.
Interestingly, from an economic perspective, only the top three movies on this list earned receipts (not adjusted for inflation) that would have put them on a par with the biggest box office hits since 2000.
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” released in 1982, was the biggest box office hit of the 1980s. Here are details:
- Domestic box office was $435.1 million.
- Out of all movies in database, its box office rank was number 28.
- It starred Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote and Dee Wallace.
- Steven Spielberg directed the film.