80s cinema may have produced some genuine classics, but they also gave us a whole lot of guilty pleasures: movies that you know are terrible, yet you can’t help enjoying.
In a weird way, these films often prove even more enjoyable than the true greats. Here’s our pick of the absolute best-of-the-worst movies the 80s had to offer.
30. Over the Top
Sports movies as we know them today probably wouldn’t exist were it not for writer and actor Sylvester Stallone‘s 1976 classic Rocky, so it may be fair to assume that Stallone + any kind of macho sport = guaranteed cinematic gold. This was proven wrong by 1987 arm wrestling movie Over the Top.
Staggeringly sentimental and cornier than a ton of Corn Flakes, Over the Top sees Stallone’s divorced trucker trying to regain his son’s love whilst competing in an arm wrestling tournament. It was a critically reviled flop, but who among us can honestly say they’ve never turned their cap backwards before arm wrestling the way Stallone does?
Few movies sum up the bizarre brilliance of Jean-Claude Van Damme better than the one which gave him his first leading role: Bloodsport. The 1988 martial arts drama casts the Belgian karate champion as a solider who goes AWOL to compete in a top-secret, no-holds-barred fight tournament called the Kumite.
The Muscles from Brussels gives a very memorable performance, loaded with eye-popping poses and facial expressions. Bloodsport is made all the more fascinating in that Van Damme’s character is modelled on real-life martial artist Frank Dux, who claimed the story was true – although it’s since been established this was a whopping great lie.
28. BMX Bandits
Directed by ‘Ozploitation’ master Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1983’s BMX Bandits is a kid-friendly adventure which follows a trio of teenage BMX bike fanatics who inadvertently get mixed up in the nefarious plans of some local criminals. Goofy action aplenty ensues.
BMX Bandits is best remembered for starring a 16-year-old Nicole Kidman in what was only her second film. The teenage Kidman sprained her ankle during filming, and if you look very carefully you’ll notice that her BMX stunt double is actually a grown man in a curly red wig.
27. Howard the Duck
Marvel may now be the most popular cinematic brand in the world, but things weren’t quite so rosy when the comics company first moved into film. Even with legendary producer George Lucas overseeing things, nothing could stop Marvel adaptation Howard the Duck from becoming one of the most notorious Hollywood misfires of all time.
The 1986 sci-fi comedy-adventure sees the anthropomorphic duck mysteriously teleported from a distant planet to the streets of Cleveland. Here, Howard befriends rock singer Beverly (Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson), with whom he develops – how do we put this – a somewhat questionable relationship for a PG-rated movie.
This outlandish 1987 rom-com casts Kim Catrall as an Ancient Egyptian reincarnated in the body of a department store dummy, built by young artist Andrew McCarthy. The next thing we know, the mannequin is spontaneously coming to life – but only when she’s alone with her lovestruck maker.
Mannequin was a box office success despite its naysayers, even spawning a 1991 sequel called Mannequin Two: On the Move. Believe it or not, the film was even Oscar-nominated, as Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now was shortlisted for Best Original Song.
25. Teen Wolf
Released in the wake of Back to the Future (although it was actually shot earlier), many hoped this Michael J. Fox movie would be every bit as good. Alas, Teen Wolf isn’t remotely in the same league as the time-travelling classic; indeed, aside from the monstrous twist, it’s an extremely bog-standard 80s teen comedy.
Fox plays a high school loser who’s shocked to discover he’s a werewolf, and even more shocked to find this improves his social standing. Silly and cheap it may be, but Teen Wolf still proved popular enough to spawn a sequel starring Jason Bateman, plus a short-lived cartoon and a later a very different live-action TV series.
ELO’s Xanadu soundtrack and Olivia Newton-John’s title song are far more celebrated than the movie itself, and not without reason. This 1980 musical fantasy is singularly bizarre, casting Newton-John as an ancient Greek muse who for some reason uses her mystic influence to encourage artist Sonny (Michael Beck) to build a roller disco.
The premise alone is incredibly strange, but it truly boggles the mind that legendary song-and-dance man Gene Kelly agreed to co-star in this ill-conceived mess made by a bunch of youngsters who really didn’t know what they were doing. Small wonder Xanadu flopped hard.
23. Death Wish 3
Eleven years after the controversial but acclaimed crime drama Death Wish, the series took a turn for the ridiculous with 1985’s third instalment. Having pushed the boundaries before, director Michael Winner and star Charles Bronson decided to throw any remnants of taste, decency or plausibility out of the window altogether on Death Wish 3.
The film sees vigilante Paul Kersey (Bronson, aged 63 at the time) visit an old army buddy, only to find him murdered by a gang of two-dimensional street punk stereotypes. So begins the old geezer’s battle against those nasty young hoodlums, which soon escalates into outright warfare on the scale of a Rambo movie.
You want to talk guilty pleasure? How about a naked vampire woman from outer space sucking the life out of everyone that crosses her path? Tobe Hooper’s 1985 sci-fi horror Lifeforce casts Mathilda May as the beautiful but deadly alien antagonist who’s notable for not having a stitch of clothing on in the bulk of her scenes.
Brought back to Earth from a space mission, the alien vampire woman sets about unleashing hell on the streets of London, and the only person with a chance of stopping her is a traumatised astronaut (the incredibly over-the-top Steve Railsback) who has developed a psychic link with her. Lifeforce is one of those movies that starts out mad, and somehow only gets madder with each passing minute.
21. Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
Released only six months after 1984’s original dance musical Breakin’ (AKA Breakdance: the Movie), sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo has one of the most memorably silly titles of all time. That’s entirely appropriate, though, given how utterly absurd things get in the movie itself.
While the original was a comparatively grounded rags-to-riches dance drama, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo is a day-glo fever dream. The wafer-thin plot sees our street dancing heroes band together to save a local community centre, but that’s just the glue that barely holds together the endless onslaught of increasingly insane dance sequences.
20. Private School
Produced at the height of the post-Animal House teen comedy boom, 1983’s Private School stars Phoebe Cates and Matthew Modine as a young couple from neighbouring boarding schools who plan to lose their virginity together. However, this story thread routinely takes a back seat to an overabundance of raunchy comedy set-pieces.
An early prototype for American Pie, Private School is overflowing with dim-witted hormonal boys falling over themselves to get a glimpse of naked girls. The results are thoroughly distasteful and sexist, but there’s no denying the comedy has ‘guilty pleasure’ written all over it.
19. Road House
When Patrick Swayze took the lead role in this hard-hitting 1989 romp, the result was one of most unforgettably macho movies of the 80s. Still, there’s no denying that however entertaining Road House may be, good grief is it silly.
Swayze plays Dalton, a uniquely philosophical doorman hired to clean up a seedy Missouri night club, only to find himself at loggerheads with Ben Gazzara’s corrupt businessman. Loaded with corny dialogue, gratuitous nudity and action that just keeps getting crazier, Road House is a paragon of so-bad-it’s-good cinema.
18. Masters of the Universe
Kids everywhere got very excited when beloved toy line and cartoon series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe became a live-action movie, but the results weren’t quite what anyone was expecting. Dolph Lundgren (fresh from Rocky IV) stars as He-Man, despite the Swedish muscleman’s obvious difficulty with the English language at the time.
The film’s low budget means that most of the action takes place not on He-Man’s world Eternia, but boring old Earth. Fans were annoyed by the deviations from the source material, whilst everyone else was just dumbfounded by its silliness. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy about 1987 film, not least Frank Langella’s melodramatic turn as the evil Skeletor.
17. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
Few movies push that good-bad angle to quite such an extreme as the first sequel to Silent Night, Deadly Night. The original 1984 movie about a serial killer in a Santa suit was hugely controversial, but the 1987 follow-up proved even more of a shocker for altogether different reasons.
First, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 has the audacity to devote a staggering 40 minutes of its 88 minute running time to scenes recycled from the first film. Then there’s Eric Freeman as new protagonist Ricky, whose performance is so over-the-top it beggars belief – most memorably when he shoots a man taking out his trash with the unforgettable cry, “Garbage day!”
1986 Cobra was based on the ideas actor and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone came up with when he was attached to star in Beverly Hills Cop. It’s not hard to see why Beverly Hills Cop’s producers balked at Stallone’s suggestions, as Cobra is one of the most barking mad action movies of the 80s – making it a firm contender for the most barking mad action movie ever.
Stallone plays Lt. Cobretti, an ultra-macho, mirror-shade clad match-chewing cop who shoots first and asks questions never, who goes up against a sinister cult on a killing spree. It may not have launched a franchise like Rocky and Rambo, but Cobra became a cult phenomenon – and it has left generations of viewers pondering why Cobretti eats pizza whilst wearing gloves, and cuts it with scissors?
15. Maximum Overdrive
Stephen King presented one of the most legendary examples of why authors shouldn’t make movies based on their own books with this 1986 disasterpiece. The best-selling horror writer stepped behind the camera for the first (and, to date, last) time to call the shots on Maximum Overdrive, an adaptation of his 1973 story Trucks.
Emilio Estevez stars as the gruff cook of a remote truck stop that finds itself besieged by phantom vehicles when all the machines in the world suddenly gain sentience and turn on humanity. It’s an outlandish premise which even a seasoned filmmaker might have struggled to handle, but first-time director King clearly didn’t know where to begin.
Critters is a fun, but undeniably bonkers sci-fi horror set in a sleepy middle American town which gets a rude awakening when the Krites – diminutive monsters that look like carnivorous hedgehogs – touch down at a local farm, with a pair of shape-shifting humanoid bounty hunters in hot pursuit.
It’s easy to note similarities with Gremlins, which was released two years earlier, but director Stephen Herek insists the script for Critters was actually written long before that. For all its absurdity, Critters proved popular enough to spawn three sequels, plus a 2019 webseries and TV movie.
13. Hell Comes to Frogtown
The late wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper made his best-loved film in John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live. Not quite so widely celebrated is the other movie Piper made in 1988: Hell Comes to Frogtown, a tongue-in-cheek post-apocalyptic adventure which casts Piper as Sam Hell, the last fertile man left in a nuclear wasteland where most men have been rendered sterile.
Captured by a band of militant nurses including Conan the Barbarian‘s Sandahl Bergman, Hell is tasked with replenishing the human race (yes, really!) – but first, he must rescue some women who have been abducted by amphibian mutant criminals. As daft as it is, Hell Comes to Frogtown actually went down pretty well with critics, who recognised the filmmakers weren’t trying to make a masterpiece.
12. Never Too Young to Die
Before he was cast in beloved sitcom Full House, John Stamos tried his hand at being an action hero with Never Too Young to Die. This 1986 high camp adventure casts Stamos as Lance Stargrove, a high school gymnast who discovers his late father (one-time 007 George Lazenby) was really a secret agent.
Picking up where his father left off, young Stargrove battles the evil Velvet Von Ragnar, who – brace yourself for this – is a villainous hermaphrodite played by Gene Simmons of rock band Kiss. Never Too Young to Die flopped on release and left its cast embarrassed, but Stamos has come to embrace the film, declaring it “the best worst thing you will ever see.”
11. The Wizard
In the wake of Stand by Me, coming-of-age road movies centred on youngsters were all the rage. This may explains how The Wizard got made – but it doesn’t account for how utterly weird it is. On the one hand, The Wizard is a sensitive family drama, starring Fred Savage as a headstrong youth who runs away from home with his PTSD-stricken little brother (Luke Edwards).
However, whilst on the run they discover the troubled pre-teen has an uncanny knack for video games, and decide to enter a championship tournament – at which point the film becomes a blatant, feature-length Nintendo commercial. Once the childhood trauma takes a back seat to video game wizardry, the tone of the movie is thrown wildly off, ranging between touching drama, broad comedy and wish fulfilment fantasy.
10. The Toxic Avenger
No discussion of guilty pleasure movies of the 80s could be complete without a nod to Troma, the notorious independent film company whose most iconic film is 1984’s The Toxic Avenger. This deranged, ultra-violent take on the superhero genre centres on Melvin, a put-upon weakling who accidentally falls into a vat of toxic waste and is reborn as a hulking, super-powered mutant.
Melvin (AKA ‘Toxie’) pledges to use his newfound powers to protect the innocent and punish the guilty – resulting in levels of gore that will test the stomachs of most viewers. It’s pretty much the definition of an acquired taste, so it’s bizarre to think the movie spawned a long-running franchise including 90s kids cartoon Toxic Crusaders.
9. Red Sonja
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that if he ever had to punish his children, he would force them to watch Red Sonja. Perhaps the Austrian Oak being a little hard on this 1985 sword-and-sorcery adventure – but then, perhaps not. Brigitte Nielsen takes the role of the title heroine, a warrior on a quest to save the world.
The character of Red Sonja may be an offshoot of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, but the filmmaking and storytelling isn’t close to the level of Schwarzenegger’s earlier movie. Instead, Red Sonja is an exercise in arch camp, with Schwarzenegger and Nielsen seemingly competing to see who can give the more stilted, unconvincing performance.
Directed by Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run), 1982’s Megaforce centres on a top-secret military unit battling to avert war in the Middle East, and promised viewers ‘the ultimate spectacle.’ Alas, the film’s crazy space-age vehicles and weapons might have appeared high-tech at the time, but they all look pretty laughable now.
If Megaforce seems suspiciously like a toy advert, that’s no accident: toymakers Mattel were deeply involved in the production, and provided most of the designs. It’s hilariously dumb, but Barry Bostwick’s knowing performance as spandex-clad hero Ace Hunter suggests the cast were in on the joke.
7. Ninja III: The Domination
A name-only sequel to low-budget action movies Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, this movie is a whole new kind of crazy. Lucinda Dickey of the Breakin’ movies stars as an aerobics instructor and part-time telephone pole engineer (a curious sideline!) who is unwittingly possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja.
The ensuing movie was memorably described in the documentary Electric Boogaloo as a combination of a ninja movie, The Exorcist and Flashdance. If possible, Ninja III: The Domination is even more ludicrous than it sounds, and it’s all the more entertaining for it.
6. Hard Ticket to Hawaii
Another name that cannot go unmentioned when discussing ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ cinema is Andy Sidaris, the writer, director and producer of a string of cheap and cheerful 80s/90s action movies. 1987’s Hard Ticket to Hawaii really established the Sidaris formula: beaches, babes and Bond-style action (but on a tiny fraction of the budget).
Hard Ticket to Hawaii casts several former Playboy centrefold models as an elite team of spies on the sunny shores of Hawaii. The plot is a little hard to explain, suffice to say it involves diamond smuggling, international espionage and a giant snake driven insane from eating radioactive rats. Hey, stranger things have happened.
5. Teen Witch
After Teen Wolf proved profitable, the concept got a feminine twist with 1989’s Teen Witch – and if you can make it through all 94 minutes without cringing, you’re made of stronger stuff than us. Robin Lively stars as Louise, your classically awkward high schooler who suddenly finds herself in command of supernatural powers.
A resounding flop on release, Teen Witch has since developed an enthusiastic cult following thanks to its more outrageous elements. This includes occasional sidesteps into musical territory, most memorably an impromptu rap sequence which must be seen to be believed.
4. Invasion U.S.A.
Back in the 80s when the Cold War was still pretty hot, a number of films tackled the nightmare scenario of evil Commies invading America, most famously Red Dawn. It’s really saying something that 1985’s Invasion U.S.A. is so paranoid and over the top, it makes Red Dawn look positively plausible.
Legendary tough guy Chuck Norris (also the co-writer) is an ex-CIA agent turned Florida alligator wrangler(!) who sets about saving the day. His weapons: double Uzis, double denim, and deadly roundhouse-kicking legs – not to mention such one-liners as “I’ll hit you with so many rights, you’ll beg for a left.”
3. Jaws: The Revenge
While 1975 masterpiece Jaws remains a landmark blockbuster, the same can’t be said of its sequels. The franchise reached its nadir with 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, one of the most startlingly deranged movies ever backed by a major studio, which sees the Brody family somehow followed to the Bahamas by a vengeful great white shark.
Original star Roy Schieder refused to return as Martin Brody, so Lorraine Gary takes the lead as his widow Ellen. She’s joined by Michael Caine, who famously remarked of the film, “I have never seen it but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built and it is terrific.”
2. Savage Streets
Viewers of The Exorcist will doubtless have wondered, whatever happened to Oscar-nominated child actress Linda Blair? The answer is, she wound up headlining movies like Savage Streets. This 1984 bad girl thriller is one of the most superlatively trashy movies you could ever hope to see (or not see, depending on your preferences).
Blair stars as Brenda, a tough high school gang leader. When her deaf-mute sister Heather (B-movie icon Linnea Quigley) is brutally attacked by male members of a rival gang, Brenda sets out for revenge, the weapons in her arsenal including a black spandex bodysuit and gallons of hairspray.
1. Mac and Me
So-bad-they’re-good movies don’t come much more memorable than Mac and Me. This legendarily terrible family sci-fi adventure (a bald-faced rip-off of E.T.) sees a cute little creature from another world get lost in middle America, only to befriends a lonely young disabled boy.
However, if Mac and Me seems shameless in its plagiarism, that’s nothing compared to how shameless it is with its product placement. It was partially financed by McDonald’s, and the film is packed with references to the fast food chain, including an infamously gratuitous Ronald McDonald cameo.