For many readers of this site, reminiscing about the 80s means reflecting on our childhood: hazy recollections of a long-past, treasured time of innocence and imagination. Sure, we may tend to look back on our younger days through rose-tinted glasses, and none of us were without our share of troubles in those early years, but even so, that formative time stays with us and retains a sense of real magic and wonder.

It’s a good thing, then, that the 80s was such a great time for family movies. Rose-tinted glasses be damned, the decade produced a number of indisputable masterpieces that have truly stood the test of time, which similar family-oriented movies still aspire to all these years later. That’s not to say the 80s didn’t also see plenty of subpar pretenders imitating the success of others, but even those pale facsimiles tended to have a certain charm.

As for just who such pretenders set out to imitate: that would of course be Hollywood’s two golden boys of the era, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The 70s saw those filmmakers seize the limelight with their groundbreaking blockbusters Jaws and Star Wars, and the 80s saw them at the height of their powers. Spielberg arguably wielded the greater power given that Lucas opted to step back from directing, but between the two of them they produced many of the most notable family-friendly hits of the decade – and even those that they weren’t involved in tended to follow their example.

Which of the 80s classics below brings back the fondest memories of your own childhood days? Let us know by voting up your favourites, and if you think of any we’ve missed feel free to add them at the bottom of the screen.

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Back To The Future

This 1985 science fiction comedy adventure is widely hailed for having one of the most perfectly crafted screenplays ever. Back to the Future provides every bit as much rollercoaster ride entertainment as any great 80s blockbuster, yet at heart it's actually a pretty small-scale, character-based story about home and family. Skateboarding wannabe guitar hero Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is your average 80s teen, but has an unusual best friend in the aged, eccentric inventor Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Marty is stunned to find out that the Doc has built a fully functional time machine out of a Delorean automobile, but when the machine's first test goes awry Marty finds himself trapped in 1955. Crossing paths with his future parents Lorraine (Lea Thompson) and George (Crispin Glover), Marty inadvertently alters the past, threatening his very existence. Whilst the 1955 Doc Brown works to get him home, Marty must also play matchmaker to ensure his parents still get together. Director Robert Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale (both of whom also wrote the script) had been trying to get Back to the Future made for some time, but it wasn’t until Zemeckis had a hit with 1984’s Romancing the Stone that they finally got the green light. Michael J. Fox was initially unavailable to play Marty due to his commitment to TV sitcom Family Ties, so the film started production with Eric Stoltz playing Marty. However, after two weeks of shooting the filmmakers realised Stoltz didn’t suit the role, and fired him. A special deal was then worked out for Fox to shoot the film around his Family Ties commitments. Back to the Future became the biggest hit of 1985, with over $381 million in box office receipts and glowing reviews. Four years later, the team re-united to shoot 1989’s Back to the Future Part II and 1990’s Back to the Future Part III back-to-back. Rumours of a reboot come up occasionally, but Gale and Zemeckis have taken steps to ensure this can’t happen in their lifetimes.

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E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

For eleven years the highest-grossing film of all time, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a family science-fiction film that has become one of the most enduring pop-culture touchstones of the 80s. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film depicts the unlikely friendship between a young boy, Elliott, and an alien stranded on Earth, who learns to speak English by watching Sesame Street and is able to heal wounds by touch alone. However, government agents soon take an interest in the strange, new lifeform. Produced on a budget of $10.5 million, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial returned a record-breaking $792.9 million at the box office; it would only be knocked off the global top spot by 1993's Jurassic Park, also directed by Spielberg. The film is notorious for its heavy product placement, making it something of an 80s time capsule. Not only does E.T. develop a fondness for Reese's Pieces, but the ad hoc communication device he uses to phone home includes a Speak & Spell, an educational 80s toy. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial launched the career of Drew Barrymore, who stars as Gertie at the age of just seven. Having initially auditioned for Poltergeist, on which Spielberg served as executive producer, Barrymore's lie that she was in a punk rock band convinced the director that she had the imagination required for a role in E.T. The scene in which Elliott and E.T. fly through the sky on bicycles has become a cornerstone image of pop culture, to the extent that it was repurposed for the logo of Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The set-piece of plucky children interacting with the supernatural while riding bicycles has been heavily referenced in Stranger Things, It: Chapter One and further media that seek to capitalise on 80s nostalgia.

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Flash Gordon

Based on a comic strip, 1980's Flash Gordon is an English-Dutch-American space opera film about a football star drawn into an interplanetary conflict. Starring Sam J Jones as the titular New York Jets quarterback, the film has become a cult classic in the decades since its release. When Flash Gordon's plane is downed by a meteorite, a series of chance encounters brings him to Mongo, a planet ruled by Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). Ming has grown bored and decides to toy with Earth, creating natural disasters and ultimately planning to destroy the planet entirely. It falls to the space-traveling sportsman to carefully negotiate the political rivalries of Mongo and its adjacent planets - often atop a 'rocket cycle' - as he attempts to thwart Ming's evil scheme. Described by Roger Ebert as another space opera in which "[filmmakers] of unlimited imagination [are] harnessed to definitely limited skills," the film nonetheless displays "energy and love and without the pseudo-meaningful apparatus of the Force and Trekkie Power..." Replete with bright colours and a soundtrack by flamboyant rock band Queen, the film has garnered a cult following for its wacky plot and larger-than-life performances. In particular, Brian Blessed's role as Prince Vultan, the ruler of winged aliens who reside in Sky City, has become one of his best-known and most-quoted. When Flash Gordon unexpectedly survives Ming's latest onslaught, he utters the immortal line: "Gordon's alive?!" "If I’m halfway up Kilimanjaro and meet a Maasai tribesman," Blessed noted in a 2015 interview with The Telegraph, "he’ll say, 'It’s you! Please shout, 'Gordon’s alive!’ "It’s a cry for freedom," the actor added.

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Flight Of The Navigator

After Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial broke box office records, long-time family film champions Disney were keen to make a similar sci-fi smash of their own. The result was 1986's Flight of the Navigator, and while it didn't make nearly as much money as E.T., it still had a significant impact on audiences. 12-year old David (Joey Cramer) mysteriously disappears for eight years, only to re-emerge without having aged at all, and with no memory of where he's been. After testing, scientists realise that David's disappearance is connected to the alien spacecraft which has been captured by NASA. Soon, a psychic signal draws David to the craft, which it turns out he has been aboard before, having been enlisted to a benevolent alien mission of which he has lost all memory. Flight of the Navigator was directed by Randall Kleiser (Grease) and was a Norwegian co-production. Critics weren’t necessarily blown away, but younger viewers were enthralled by the idea of a young kid taking the helm of an alien spaceship alongside various cute and funny aliens, plus the robotic Max (voiced by an uncredited Paul Reubens). It may have borrowed heavily from the Spielberg handbook, but Flight of the Navigator did make its own minor innovation with its early use of CGI for the spacecraft. It’s also notable for giving an early role to future star Sarah Jessica Parker. A Flight of the Navigator remake has been in development since 2009; Neill Blomkamp (District 9) is currently attached.

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Labyrinth

While Jim Henson's name will always be synonymous with The Muppets, the late puppeteering legend is equally beloved by many for this 1986 musical comedy adventure, which pits David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly into a fantastical world of wonder. Connelly (aged just 14 when cast in the role) is Sarah, an imaginative but emotional teenager left babysitting her infant brother Toby. Frustrated, she flippantly wishes for her brother to be taken away by goblins - only to see her wish unexpectedly granted by the sinister but seductive Goblin King (Bowie). To save Toby before he becomes a goblin himself, Sarah must solve the mysterious labyrinth within 13 hours. A spiritual sequel of sorts to Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s 1982 film The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth was conceived to be a more light-hearted and family-friendly venture into a mystical world. To this end, Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones was hired to pen a screenplay that packs in plenty of humour amongst the often bizarre, reality-bending events that occur. Star Wars creator George Lucas was also on board as the film's executive producer. Once they hit on the idea of making the Goblin King a singer, David Bowie was at the top of their wish list immediately, although Michael Jackson and Sting were also considered. Bowie threw himself into the project (and some eye-poppingly tight trousers), composing and recording five original songs for the film, the most famous being Magic Dance. For the role of Sarah, a number of soon-to-be big name actresses were considered before Jennifer Connelly was cast, including Helena Bonham-Carter, Marisa Tomei and Laura Dern. Though met with low box office returns and middling reviews on release, Labyrinth soon found its audience on VHS and television, and has long since been elevated to the status of cult classic. A new Labyrinth movie is in the pipeline, said to be more spin-off than remake. In May 2020, Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) signed on to direct the film.

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Raiders Of The Lost Ark

As if playing Han Solo in Star Wars wasn't enough, Harrison Ford landed the part of another iconic hero in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark. From the dream team of director Steven Spielberg and executive producer/story writer George Lucas, this old-fashioned adventure introduced us to the hat-wearing, whip-cracking archaeologist Indiana Jones. Set in 1936, Raiders of the Lost Ark sees Indy (Ford) enlisted by the US military to locate long-lost Biblical relic the Ark of Covenant, which the Nazis are trying to locate. Indy's quest reunites him with his old flame Marion (Karen Allen), with whom he journeys to Egypt to find the Ark before the nefarious Belloq (Paul Freeman), a rival of Indy in the employ of the Nazis. Steven Spielberg had long dreamed of directing a James Bond movie, but when the 007 producers turned him down his friend George Lucas pitched him Indy, a two-fisted hero in the vein of the swashbuckling serials both men loved growing up. When it came to casting their leading man, Spielberg and Lucas first wanted Tom Selleck. However, Selleck had already signed on to star in TV series Magnum, PI and had to turn it down, clearing the way for Harrison Ford. Making $384 million worldwide, Raiders of the Lost Ark was the biggest box office hit of 1981. The decade ahead saw two sequels in 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A TV spin-off, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, followed in the 90s. Then in 2008, the movie series was revived with the divisive Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. A fifth Indiana Jones movie is scheduled for July 2022, although only Harrison Ford will be returning. James Mangold is expected to take over from Spielberg in the director's chair.

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Short Circuit

What if a robot suddenly came to life and developed a mind of its own? This was the question asked by 1986 sci-fi comedy Short Circuit, which provided us with one of 80s cinema's cutest robots outside of the Star Wars saga: Number 5, aka Johnny 5. As his name suggests, Number 5 is on of a quintet of military robots built by weapons manufacturer NOVA, which malfunctions and disappears after being struck by lightning. Robot designer Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) and his assistant Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens) head out in pursuit of Number 5, but not before the lost robot meets animal-loving Stephanie (Ally Sheedy), who teaches the robot about the beauty of the world, and comes to the astonishing realisation that Number 5 is alive. Sheedy and Guttenberg bring human star power to the movie, but the show is stolen by Number 5, a state of the art animatronic creation for the time, voiced by actor Tim Blaney. Though popularly remembered as Johnny 5, the robot only renames himself in the film's final moments; the character’s association with that name comes from the sequel, plus the fact that the Short Circuit theme song by El Debarge is entitled Who’s Johnny. Though Short Circuit was only a modest box office hit (takings of $40 million), Tim Blaney and Fisher Stevens would return for 1988 follow-up Short Circuit 2. Both films are controversial today due to Stevens’ performance, as the white actor portrayed an Indian character under heavy make-up.

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The Empire Strikes Back

This was the first true blockbuster of the 80s. The second instalment in the Star Wars saga first hit the big screen in May 1980, and ever since The Empire Strikes Back has been held up by many as the best film in the long-running series, and one of the few sequels to really improve on its predecessor in every respect. Picking up some time after the events of 1977's original Star Wars: A New Hope, we find our heroes in the Rebel Alliance struggling in their war with the Galactic Empire. Following some daring escapades on the ice planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) flies off alone to seek training from the Jedi master Yoda, whilst Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are forced to flee, eventually finding sanctuary in the Cloud City controlled by Han's old frenemy Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). However, our heroes find that things aren't quite what they seem this time around - and events take a considerably darker turn than before, culminating in one of the most famous climactic revelations in film history regarding the villainous Darth Vader (once again played by David Prowese and voiced by James Earl Jones). While original Star Wars writer-director George Lucas is still executive producer and provided the story, this time the directing reins were handed to Irvin Kershner. Perhaps as a result of Kershner's more human touch, the performances feel more nuanced and three-dimensional than in the previous film, and there's a greater sense of emotional investment all around. The action is still every bit as awe-inspiring as in the original, highlights including the early Hoth battle, the Millennium Falcon's daring asteroid field escape, and the first lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. Though its $33 million budget was one of the biggest in film history at the time, The Empire Strikes Back ultimately made almost $548 million in cinemas; adjusted for inflation, it's still the third highest earning Star Wars movie of them all (with the original in first, and 2015's The Force Awakens second).

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The Goonies

Released in 1985, The Goonies is an adventure comedy film co-produced and directed by Richard Donner. The story concerns a group of friends, the titular Goonies, whose neighbourhood is about to be demolished to make way for a country club. When the children discover an old pirate map in the attic, they follow it into an underground cavern in search of lost treasure, valuable enough to save their neighbourhood and more besides. The children are in competition with a criminal family led by Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) who seek the treasure for their own ends. Starring Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, and many other child actors of the day, The Goonies is considered to be a quintessential adventure film and has developed a cult following. Among the film's many pop culture moments are the 'truffle shuffle', a fat-jiggling dance performed by Chunks (Jeff Cohen), and the line "Hey, you guys!" delivered by the youngest, deformed Fratelli brother, Sloth. While The Goonies never topped the box office - coming in second behind Rambo: First Blood Part II - it nonetheless made a healthy $126 million from a budget of $19 million. Much of the budget was spent on production design, including One-Eyed Willie's ship, which really was a full-sized replica of a pirate ship. Adding to the quirkiness of the film, the soundtrack was written and performed by Cyndi Lauper. The song, The Goonies 'R' Good Enough, was a top ten hit and appears briefly in the film, though the song wasn't completed until principal photography concluded. The music video stars much of the cast of the film, with the notable exceptions of Kerri Green and Anne Ramsey, alongside professional wrestlers Rowdy Roddy Piper and Captain Lou Albano.

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The Karate Kid

From the late 60s onwards, karate had gone from a mysterious Far Eastern art to something taught at sports centres and strip malls across the west. In the 70s, every kid enrolled in such classes hoping to become Bruce Lee; but in the 80s, we sought to follow in the footsteps of Daniel LaRusso, aka Daniel-san, of 1984's The Karate Kid. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is a New Jersey teen recently moved to LA. Here he befriends cheerleader Ali (Elisabeth Shue), but becomes the target of her bullying ex-boyfriend Johnny (William Zabka), a Karate black belt. Humiliated, Daniel endeavours to learn karate himself – and finds an unlikely teacher in enigmatic handyman Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita). Oscar-winning Rocky director John G. Avildsen calls the shots on this similar underdog story, which screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen based in part on his own adolescent experiences. Thanks to his vulnerability, Macchio won the lead role over such stars as Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr. and Nicolas Cage. Daniel-san's headband became iconic, as did his signature crane kick – although in truth, this isn’t a karate move. A $91 million hit, The Karate Kid earned Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Pat Morita, spawned three sequels including 1994 spin-off The Next Karate Kid, and was remade in 2010 with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. More recently, Ralph Macchio and William Zabka returned to the franchise with webseries Cobra Kai, and plans have also been announced for a Karate Kid stage musical.

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The NeverEnding Story

"Turn around, look at what you see..." It may be remembered primarily for the unforgettably cheesy theme song sung by Limahl (and more recently immortalised in season three of Stranger Things), but 1984's The NeverEnding Story is among the most striking, mind-bending family adventure movies ever made. Bastian (Barret Oliver, later seen in D.A.R.Y.L. and Cocoon) is a lonely social outcast, mourning the loss of his mother and targeted by school bullies. Fleeing from his bullies one morning, he takes refuge in an old bookstore, where the old bookseller tells him of a book entitled The NeverEnding Story. Fascinated, Bastian 'borrows' the book and sneaks off to read it, and is immediately swept away into the tale of magical world Fantasia. The story tells him of a brave young hero named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) who is charged with finding a cure to a sickness which has befallen the Empress, whilst the world around them is slowly being consumed by a dark force known as The Nothing. However, the more Bastian reads, the more drawn into the story he becomes, until he realises it may not just be a story at all. Although it's in English with a largely American cast, viewers may not have realised that The NeverEnding Story is actually a German production; the most expensive ever made in the country up to that point ($27 million). Adapted from Michael Ende's novel (of which it uses only the first half of the story), it was the first English language film from director Wolfgang Petersen, who would go on to make such Hollywood hits as Outbreak, Air Force One and The Perfect Storm. While the film proved largely popular with audiences and critics, one person it didn't win over was author Michael Ende. Feeling the film did not adhere closely enough to his novel in tone or content, Ende sued the filmmakers, blasting their work as "gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic." However, Ende lost his lawsuit, and was unable to prevent The NeverEnding Story from becoming a franchise: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter (based on the second half of the novel) was released in 1990; followed by The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia (an original story not based on Ende’s work) in 1993.

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Not on the list? add item #21

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