One of the best things about growing up in the 80s was the sheer number of amazing family-friendly movies being made at the time. Sure, kids today have plenty of flashy blockbusters to choose from, but most of these are either sequels or reboots of properties from the 80s, or directly inspired by the timeless smash hits that era produced. We might be biased, but we’d say that the great movies of the 80s – while widely imitated over the years – have never been bettered.
Here are the ten movies of the 80s which every child today should see. Sit them down, take their devices away and show them the way Hollywood used to do it!
10. Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
The tragic ant death it contains may have once caused us to cry our eyes out, but 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is still one of the most fantastic family films that we’ve ever seen. The two children of Rick Moranis’ eccentric inventor, along with the kids from next door, are accidentally reduced to amoeba-size by his new shrink ray.
The film made over $200 million at the global box office, which at the time made it the highest-grossing live-action Disney film of all time. Two sequels and a TV spin-off followed, and re-quel Shrunk is in the works.
9. Back to the Future
If we were forced to choose one film to define the whole of the 1980s then it would simply have to be Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 masterpiece Back to the Future, which sees Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travel to 1955 in the time-travelling DeLorean built by Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd).
Parts 2 and 3 of Marty and Doc’s trilogy continued to provide us with an impressive number of thrills and spills, but in our view the original 1985 film is the one that holds up the best.
8. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg either produced or directed many of the best-loved films of the 80s, but the most heartfelt and personal of all those is his 1982 classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The often overwhelmingly emotional tale centres on the relationship between lonely boy Elliot (Henry Thomas) and a kindly member of an alien expedition accidentally left behind on Earth.
For a time, E.T. was the biggest box office hit ever, yet unlike most other blockbusters of its era there have been no sequels, spin-offs or reboots (a few TV commercials notwithstanding). This would seem to prove that Hollywood does still hold some things as sacred, thankfully.
You might not have thought that a quartet of somewhat goofy-looking men in their thirties would become heroes to an entire generation of youngsters, but the Ghostbusters achieved just that in the 80s. Deftly blending comedy, horror, sci-fi and action-adventure elements, director Ivan Reitman’s 1984 film became one of the best-loved movies of the era with young and old alike.
It was followed by animated series The Real Ghostbusters, 1989 sequel Ghostbusters II, and years later the 2016 reboot and 2021 legacy sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife – but, as is so often the case, there’s no beating the original.
6. The Goonies
The blockbusters of the 80s may have been perfect viewing for kids, but there weren’t too many which made kids the heroes. 1985’s The Goonies remedied this. Directed by Richard Donner and produced by Spielberg (who also dreamed up the story), this beloved comedy adventure sees Sean Astin’s Mikey lead his friends on a hunt for pirate treasure, sending them into an underground cave system riddled with booby traps.
The Goonies is very much a product of its time, not least because it shows children swearing like sailors and facing mortal danger. But hey, if we could handle it back then, so can kids today!
5. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
Yes, it’s that pesky Steven Spielberg again, delivering one of the most iconic adventure films ever made. Set in the years before the Second World War, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark introduces Harrison Ford as the daring archaeologist Indiana Jones, who is sent by the US Army Intelligence to recover legendary Biblical artefact the Ark of Covenant before the Nazis find it.
1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were also cinematic cornerstones of our childhood, but if we’d have to select just one film in the series for today’s kids to see, it would have to be the first one.
4. The Karate Kid
The demand for kid-friendly karate classes in the 8os had a whole lot to do with the popularity of The Karate Kid. Directed by Rocky’s John G. Avildsen, this 1984 classic casts Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, the hot-headed new kid in town who finds himself at loggerheads with William Zabka’s brash bully Johnny Lawrence. To defend himself, Daniel sets about learning karate from the kindly Okinawan handyman Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita).
Hopefully it shouldn’t be too hard to get today’s kids interested in this particular 80s hit (not to mention its sequels), as The Karate Kid is the starting point of hit Netflix series Cobra Kai, which is as popular with younger viewers as it is with old fans of the original movies.
80s movies tended to push the boat out pretty far in terms of what could be considered family-friendly, and not many of them went further than Gremlins. Joe Dante’s 1984 classic blends dark comedy and horror, as a small middle-American town finds itself under attack by an army of little green monsters with an appetite for destruction.
Gremlins is certainly too scary for younger children, but its anarchic sense of humour should resonate with slightly older kids. The Christmas setting also makes it ideal festive viewing – just make sure the kids have already had that talk about Santa…!
It’s strange to think that, on release in 1986, Jim Henson’s reality-bending fairy tale adventure Labyrinth was a box office flop. Thanks to VHS and TV, it didn’t take long for Labyrinth to be re-assessed as a classic, as generations of family audiences have thrilled at the adventures of Jennifer Connolly’s impetuous young teen Sarah as she heads into a mysterious magical netherworld to rescue her kidnapped baby brother from David Bowie’s enigmatic Goblin King.
With its blend of fantasy, comedy and music and a cast predominantly made up of puppets, Labyrinth is truly unique movie with a timeless appeal. Just be ready for some slightly awkward conversations when the young ‘uns notice how tight Bowie’s costume is.
1. The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi
Yes, we know, we’re cheating a bit by listing two movies as one, but how could we talk about the great kid-friendly movies of the 80s without talking about the final two chapters in the original (and by far best) Star Wars trilogy? Fans have endlessly debated which is better, Empire or Jedi, but it’s like peanut butter and jam: you can’t have one without the other.
Because Star Wars is such a massive industry now, with all the TV shows, games and masses of merch, we can sometimes forget the impact that George Lucas’ original three films had on the imagination of every child of that era, and many more since.