American filmmaking in the 1980s was defined by the transition from the gritty experimentation of the 1960s and the beginnings of the blockbuster era in the 1970s to a more formulaic, readily accessible style of movie. Film franchises came to dominate the box office, low-brow entertainment found its footing with the proliferation of raunchy teen comedies, and a mysterious technology known as “CGI” was on the horizon.
Producers committed themselves to (and found funding for) films considered “high concept,” which meant easy-to-describe, event-driven projects that relied on non-stop action and star power to engage their audience. Whatever their artistic merit may have been, they were meant to be fun. (Only six end up on our list of the 100 best movies of the last 100 years according to critics.)
To identify the best movies you’ll remember from the 1980’s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 271 movies that had at least 50,000 reviews on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, or Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. We calculated an index of each movie’s IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score. All ratings were weighted equally. Data on domestic box office came from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services, last updated in April 2021. Box office figures are not inflation adjusted. Casting and other supplemental data comes from IMDb.
American filmmakers in the ‘80s weren’t interested in examining the skeletons in the national closet — not while there were still ghosts to be busted. As a result, some consider the decade to represent a low point in American movies, while others embrace the films of the era as “so bad they’re good”.
Nevertheless, a number of movies of the 1980s were truly memorable, for one reason or another, and 24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of them here. (Speaking of which, these are the bad movies you’ll remember if you grew up in the 80s.)