Indiana Jones movies and a bowl of popcorn

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Hold onto your leg warmers and crank up the synth, because we’re taking a radical trip back to the 1980s! This was the decade of big hair, bigger shoulder pads, and the biggest blockbusters that forever changed Hollywood. The ’80s delivered cinematic gold. That being said, we at StudyFinds have covered a lot of the best of the best when it comes to this thrilling era. From songs to bands to supermodels, but the one thing we haven’t touched yet is movies. As always, we have researched across 10 expert sources to bring you today’s list of the top seven best ’80s movies that were recommended most. Don’t agree with our list or feel we missed out on your favorite? We would love to hear your recommendations down in the comments below. Now, onto the list! 

The List

1. “Raging Bull” (1980)

The first film up is Scorsese’s classic, “Raging Bull.” Starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty, all of whom were nominated for Oscars for their respective roles. “The best film of the 1980s contains one of the all-time-great feats of directing and one of the all-time-great feats of screen acting. The status that Martin Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull’ has achieved in the years since its release is completely earned. Watching it is a fully felt experience. The film looks unforgivingly at a fragile, insecure man who communicates his need for love with jealousy, anger, and violence. Scorsese’s shots convey the overly suspicious workings of LaMotta’s head, then back out to coldly observe the horrific violence that ensues,” says Paste Magazine.

It may be hard to pinpoint Martin Scorsese’s best work, but “his brilliant, bruising Jake LaMotta portrait may be the most immaculate and all-encompassing of his major works — an American tragedy and an American Dream story in one, marked by some of the director’s roughest, most lacerating storytelling and his most poetic craft. Whatever its place on the Scorsesemeter, however, ‘Raging Bull’ inarguably stands as one of the great biopics that most frequently mistreated and over-rewarded of genres, often marked by all the dull respectability and formal safety. You will find none of that here, a take-no-prisoners sentiment that extends to Robert De Niro’s astonishing performance as the Italian-American boxer who went from world middleweight champ to failed sleazebag comic,” notes Rolling Stone.

Why is this a must-watch? “Out of the many great Martin Scorsese movies, it might be reasonable to call ‘Raging Bull’ his best movie that doesn’t belong to the crime genre. Instead, it’s a sports movie – albeit a very dark one – centering on the real-life Jake LaMotta and the way his bursts of anger ended up being his undoing outside the ring, all the while being instrumental to his success inside it. Robert De Niro won his second Oscar for his role as LaMotta, and deservedly so, given he gives one of the greatest lead performances of all time in this film. It’s Scorsese’s greatest work of the 1980s and is right up there as one of the very best sports movies of all time,” adds Collider.

2. “Blade Runner” (1982)

The Harrison Ford sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” comes in at number two. “Deckard (Harrison Ford) has one job: to kill four escaped androids known as Replicants. But when he falls in love with a Replicant, he begins to question everything,” describes The Pioneer Woman.

Though not initially a success, the years following the film have proven to be instrumental in the success of this futuristic epic. “In a doomy 2019 L.A., Harrison Ford is the chilly dispatcher of android’ replicants,’ many of whom have more soul than he does. The forefather of this authenticity paranoia is source author Philip K. Dick, who saw Ridley Scott’s film shortly before his death and approved it. But credit the director (and key collaborator Vangelis, who stirred the synths) for envisioning it all in a glinting, glitzy valley of self-regard, where women in nightclubs wear veils, and humanity mourns itself,” adds Time Out.

Like fine wine, this movie got better with age. “‘Blade Runner’ certainly wasn’t considered any kind of instant classic upon release, being well-known now as one sci-fi film that only became properly appreciated in time. It might’ve been too forward-thinking or ambitious for viewers at the time, or it might be that the infamous theatrical cut (complete with a flat-sounding voiceover from Harrison Ford) made the film seem significantly worse. Thankfully, time’s been kind to ‘Blade Runner,’ and it’s now among the most highly revered sci-fi movies of all time. Its look at the future is haunting, its visuals and music combine to striking effect, and it explores what it means to be human in a thought-provoking and visceral manner. It does just about everything right and somehow seems to get a little better with every passing year,” raves Collider.

3. “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

Of course, we couldn’t mention the ’80s without mentioning the second installment in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. “‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ rewrote the rules of Hollywood blockbusters, and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ did the same for movie sequels. Rather than trying to recreate what worked in the first film, George Lucas and his collaborators pushed forward with their epic story, presenting huge character twists and a plot that arced toward an enormous cliffhanger. Despite hovering in the middle of a trilogy, no ‘Star Wars’ film has ever been tauter or taken audiences on a more fulfilling emotional journey,” states Parade.

Jeez, the ’80s were good years for Harrison Ford, wouldn’t you say? “Three years after ‘Episode IV’ turned Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher into household names, director Irvin Kershner somehow delivered an even better sequel. ‘Empire’ spent time in both the skies and the swamp as Luke (Hamill) began to truly understand the ways of the Force – but forget all that. ‘Empire’ was really about discovering Vader was Luke’s father, spawning a million parodies in its wake. Has there ever been a better third-act revelation? We’re saying ‘no,'” raves Empire Online.

“For as brilliant as 1977’s ‘Star Wars’ was, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) is the film in the series which established ‘Star Wars’ as a truly great series, instantly dismissing fears that the first movie could’ve been a fluke. The second part of the iconic original trilogy goes to darker, more interesting places than the first, effectively makes its heroes and villains more complex, and is overall a flawlessly paced space opera. Blockbusters just don’t really get better than this, and it’s hard to imagine any mass-appeal sci-fi/action movie ever surpassing it,” adds Collider.

4. “The Shining” (1980)

Jack Nicholson’s stint as Jack Torrance earned “The Shining” the fourth spot on today’s ranking. I mean, “Has there ever been a scarier movie than Stanley Kubrick’s (loose) adaptation of Steven King’s haunted-hotel novel? The famous climax—involving crazy-eyed Jack Nicholson and an axe, is actually less terrifying than the slow build that leads up to it, as we watch a seemingly normal family lose their minds to cabin fever and horrific visions,” writes Parade.

Stephen King was famously not a fan of the movie remake, “but the rest of the world knows better. If it’s not Kubrick’s best movie – and it damn well might be – it’s almost certainly his most iconic, owing mostly to Jack Nicholson’s bravura performance as a novelist gradually driven insane during a snowed-in winter by a combination of writer’s block and the racist ghosts whispering in his ear,” notes Time Out.

“Stanley Kubrick’s movies were frequently unsettling and disturbing, but he wasn’t a director who explored the horror genre specifically very often. That makes ‘The Shining’ all the more significant, being Kubrick’s only true horror movie, one of his best overall, and also one of the very best horror films of all time. It’s great for working as both a psychological and supernatural horror film, with a slow descent into madness experienced by its main character throughout, and then followed by a high-intensity final act where the ghostly stuff becomes more pronounced. It maintains an incredible sense of dread throughout, and 40+ years on from release, it still has the capacity to scare viewers who aren’t aware of what they’re in for,” explains Collider.

5. “Do the Right Thing” (1989)

The triumph “Do the Right Thing” is next up on our best of the 1980s list. “Set over the course of one day on a single block, Spike Lee’s masterpiece about racial tensions in Brooklyn during a heatwave is at first hilarious, then devastating—and tragically, its themes of police brutality and rampant discrimination resonate even more today,” explains Parade.

This is a powerful movie. “Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ radiates with tremendous power, in part because it grounds a searing perspective on Black life and racist persecution within an immersive world. No matter the infuriating tragedy at its core, Lee turns his milieu into a lively, inviting place, centering its underlying ideas around an empathetic core — and damn good filmmaking to boot,” adds Indie Wire.

This is a film that still resonates in today’s political climate. “You can feel writer-director Spike Lee channeling a decade’s worth of real-life racial strife, urban anxiety, American culture clashes, and class struggles into this powder keg of a movie, dropping audiences into the hottest day of the summer in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He lays out a conflict between yesterday’s social outsiders, i.e., Italian-Americans, Korean immigrants, and the African-American residents in an outer-borough section of NYC struck between gentrification and a hard place. Old-world prejudices bump up against modern demands for representation and a blatantly racist police force. Tensions start to rise quicker than the thermometers on the wall of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. And then Lee turns up the heat a little more, in the form of a match lighting the end of a very short fuse,” notes Rolling Stone.

6. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

We couldn’t escape the ’80s without mentioning everyone’s favorite gun-slinging archeologist, “Indiana Jones.” “Harrison Ford emerged as a leading man for the ages when he became Indiana Jones, the dry-witted archaeologist-adventurer at the center of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s globe-hopping saga. From its booby-trapped opening sequence to the Nazi-melting climax, every action-packed moment of ‘Raiders’ is pure Hollywood perfection—and Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood is the spunkiest female love interest of the era,” raves Parade.

Yet another Harrison Ford movie to make our list, this one is legendary. “When Harrison Ford first emerges from the shadows in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ we know everything about him, even though we don’t know a damn thing. Such is the myth-making power of Steven Spielberg. We immediately buy that this tenured academic is also a skilled warrior with the grace of Buster Keaton, stumbling and flailing through gunfire, explosions, vehicular mayhem, squirming snakes, and the wrath of God himself. Ask anyone their favorite part of ‘Raiders,’ and you’ll get a different answer. And none of them are wrong because the movie is perfect,” states Time Out.

“After George Lucas introduced the world of ‘Star Wars’ to audiences, he decided to give his good friend Steven Spielberg a small gift. The character of Indiana Jones (originally Smith) came to life as an attempt to resurrect the adventure serials of the ’30s. In his first outing, he did this and more, turning an $18 million budget risk into a huge, franchise-starting, Oscar-winning blockbuster. Re-watching it now, it’s still hair-raisingly perfect stuff,” adds Shortlist.

7. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989)

The last film on our list is the ultimate rom-com of all rom-coms. “The question ‘can men and women ever really be friends?’ seems a little ridiculous in the 2020s, but the story of Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) ‘s relationship, which wavers for years on the line between love and friendship, is a tender, timeless and uproariously funny romance,” writes Parade.

It’s basically quintessential viewing and makes everyone want to “have what she’s having.” “Romantic comedy is a criminally underrated genre, which is really confusing when a movie like ‘When Harry Met Sally’… exists. It is quite possibly the best rom-com ever made, and it proves how clever, funny, and even philosophical they can be. Nora Ephron’s genius screenplay shines even brighter as delivered by Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, whose chemistry is just *chef’s kiss*. They play two imperfect but charming friends who fight their attraction for years because of how much they mean to each other. It is the original friends-to-lovers story and has the power to convince even the staunchest rom-com haters,” points out Buzzfeed.

“‘When Harry Met Sally’ is arguably the quintessential romantic comedy. Like many rom-coms, the lead characters here don’t initially like each other at all, though slowly, a romance between them develops, with it feeling surprisingly organic and not at all cheesy or derivative. It’s expertly written, excellently cast/acted, and will appeal to all viewers, regardless of how much they usually enjoy romance movies. The quality of many romantic comedies demonstrates that quite a few of them – old and recent – could stand to learn a good deal from ‘When Harry Met Sally;’ it serves as an example of how to do rom-com tropes correctly,” says Collider.

Sources used to create this consensus list

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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