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The best '80s movies you can watch on Netflix right now

The 1980s were a fascinating decade for film. The New Hollywood movement of the 1970s had produced a number of daring, innovative, and successful new artists, and many of them were out there trying new things and creating fascinating new masterpieces. But the 1970s had also given birth, through films like Star Wars, to the idea of the modern blockbuster, which meant studios were constantly chasing money through various genres and subgenres. This, plus the continued rise of independent cinema throughout the decade, creates a fascinating collage of contrasts in the cinematic landscape. You get everything from small-scale critical darlings to big budget screwball comedies and everything in between, sometimes from the same filmmaker, and it all combines to give us one of the all-time most exciting decades for film.

Thankfully, a great many of the classic films produced in the 1980s are now available to stream anytime you want on Netflix, whether you're in the mood for a science fiction classic or a joke-a-second raunchy comedy vehicle. From an iconic John Hughes joint to the debut of Spike Lee and everything in between, these are the best '80s movies to watch on Netflix.

She's Gotta Have It

If you love a filmmaker, there's a natural inclination to want to go back and explore their entire filmography, including the early films that might not be as flashy as their recent work but still made a massive impact. If you're a Spike Lee fan, that means She's Gotta Have It is essential, but the film's impact goes far beyond Lee's own career.

Yes, She's Gotta Have It is Lee's debut feature, and the film that helped him go on to make things like Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever in the years that followed, but it's also a milestone for other reasons. Lee was working with a low budget, shooting in black and white, and remaining as creative as possible with few resources at a time when independent film was not yet the booming subculture it would be a few years later as the 1990s gave rise to more DIY filmmakers. Plus, Lee's film arrived at a time when many audiences weren't used to seeing black characters presented this way, and the film helped blaze a trail both for his own filmography and for other black filmmakers to come. Watch it, then watch Lee's Netflix series based on it.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Perhaps no other filmmaker is more associated with the overall aesthetic of "'80s Movies" than John Hughes, the writer/director who rose to prominence over the course of the decade, created a host of new stars, and redefined the teen comedy forever. Though Hughes' filmography is actually rather diverse when taken as a whole, the mid-to-late-1980s were the time in which he very successfully honed in on a single target — the disaffected American teenager — to spin comedic gold.

Sadly, most of Hughes' teen comedy classics are not available on Netflix at the moment, but Ferris Bueller's Day Off is there for you to rewatch to your heart's content. The film follows the title character — played with undeniable charisma by Matthew Broderick — as he decides to take a sick day from school and turn it into the best vacation possible, all while his suspicious principal is hot on his trail. It's not the most realistic of Hughes' films, but it is one of the most consistently delightful.

The Indiana Jones trilogy

In the 1970s, both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had breakout hits that essentially invented the modern-day blockbuster: Spielberg with his stylish shark scare-fest Jaws and Lucas with his mythic space opera Star Wars. In the 1980s, the two friends joined forces to further reinvent mainstream commercial cinema as we know it with a series of films inspired by matinee adventure serials starring a dashing hero with a bullwhip and a fedora.

The original Indiana Jones trilogy that spans the 1980s still holds up as one of the best action franchises in film history, and a pure distillation of the star power of Harrison Ford in the title role. The first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is basically a perfect adventure movie. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom can't quite live up to its predecessor but still has its defenders, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade brings us the can't-miss superteam of Ford and Sean Connery as Indy's father. Even if you've seen them dozens of times, the Indiana Jones films are the kind of experiences that don't get dull with time.

The Evil Dead

The early 1980s was a very fruitful time for horror cinema and produced several highly influential films that launched careers and paved the way for the genre's prevalence throughout the decade. One of these, of course, is Friday the 13th, which debuted in 1980 and led to a new slasher movie boom. A year later, an unknown filmmaker named Sam Raimi released a movie he made out in the woods with his friends, and launched a new wave of splattering supernatural horror.

The Evil Dead is not just a film that launched a franchise that, much like its titular monsters, just refuses to die. It's also not just the film that launched the careers of Raimi and star Bruce Campbell. It's a film that courted both controversy and rabid fan following thanks to its extreme content and wicked sense of humor, and launched a wave of low-budget, gory, often darkly comic films in its wake. Raimi's fingerprints are still all over the horror landscape today, and this is the film that launched it all.

Tootsie

People who have never seen Tootsie and only know it from clips and posters and the like might simply dismiss it as "that comedy where Dustin Hoffman crossdresses." While that is indeed the catalyst for and linchpin of the whole film's plot, Sydney Pollack's film about a desperate actor who decides to be a woman to land a job is much more than a one-note joke. The film has gone down in history as not just one of the best films of 1982 or even one of the best films of the 1980s, but as one of the best American films made in any decade.

Dustin Hoffman is, of course, relentlessly entertaining as he dons drag and uses a deep voice to shout for taxis, but the film also has something more to say about the sexist commercialistic drive of the 1980s which still holds true today. It's a film about changing attitudes, changing times, and changing people all wrapped up in a delightful comedic shell, and that means it's as rewarding on first watch as it is every time you return.

Red Dawn

The paranoia of the Cold War was nothing new by the time the 1980s dawned, but the rise of the American blockbuster film and the excesses of the time led to a subgenre of films that transformed that paranoia into something new and often relentlessly entertaining. Cold War films became big, bold metaphors that were often just an excuse to cheer for the American way of life, and Red Dawn is a great example of that.

The film tells the story of a group of teenagers trying to not just survive, but triumph in the midst of World War III and the Communist invasion of America. The actual war is happening largely in the background, which means the audience mostly just gets to savor the exploits of the "Wolverines," led by stars like Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, and Lea Thompson. If you're looking for a film that stands as a very clear testament to the American movie landscape at the time, Red Dawn is a good place to start.

The Naked Gun

The 1980s were a particularly robust period when it came to various forms of raunchy comedy, from R-rated teen sex romps to a new wave of romcoms and everything in between. If the '80s were about excess, then a few filmmakers were going to live up to that standard with rapid-fire jokes, countless sight gags, and actors who were willing to go the extra mile for comedy gold.

One of the best examples of this comes in the form of The Naked Gun, the first film in a trilogy created by Jim Abrahams, Pat Proft, and the Zucker Brothers based on their short-lived TV series Police Squad!

The film is a delightful sendup of serious cop dramas, and follows detective Frank Drebin (played by the incomparable Leslie Nielsen) as he tries to protect the Queen of England during her visit to the United States. The film is just wall-to-wall gags delivered by the entire cast, and it's a reminder to us all that there was no other comedy star quite like Leslie Nielsen.

Police Academy

The 1980s still feel like a particularly productive time for comedy filmmakers, because even the subgenres have their own subgenres. Raunchy comedies were all the rage at the time, but there was a particular focus on films about a ragtag band of misfits who get the better of their authority figures through open defiance and behind-the-back silliness. It's how we got films like Stripes and Revenge of the Nerds, and it's also how we got the Police Academy series.

The first film in the long-running franchise follows a group of wannabe cops as they head into the academy and face off against stern, often cruel supervisors. As the film goes on, they'll not only prove themselves, but prove that they can be great cops while also often being complete idiots. The film is packed with memorable performances, from Steve Guttenberg to Kim Cattrall to G.W. Bailey, but if you're watching it now the best part might turn out to be Michael Winslow's uncanny sound effects.

Purple Rain

Purple Rain still stands as one of the ultimate "pop star gets a movie deal" films, in part because it really does feel in places like nothing more than an excuse to tout the sexy, stylish appeal that Prince had in the mid-1980s. The Purple One's fame was peaking, so why not cash in on his notoriety while it was still possible? As that kind of vehicle, the film works, but then it goes deeper.

When you really sit down and watch Purple Rain outside of its many catchy tunes, what you find is a surprisingly grounded, emotionally satisfying story about trauma, recovery, and breaking cycles of abuse through creativity. Prince is both vulnerable and commanding in the lead role, Morris Day is an absolute scene-stealer, and by the time of that final number you'll be standing and cheering along with the in-movie audience. And oh yes, the soundtrack is as good as you remember.

Child's Play

When Friday the 13th debuted at the dawn of the 1980s, it set off a slasher movie wave that resulted in countless knockoffs, many of them largely forgettable. What made the slasher boom great, for those who were fans of the subgenre, was the moments when filmmakers decided to go beyond the "crazy person with a knife" roots of the boom and instead just get really weird with it. You can see the fruits of that labor in films like A Nightmare on Elm Street (perhaps most memorably), Chopping Mall (less remembered, but still amazing in its weirdness), and of course, Child's Play.

In some ways, Child's Play is the ultimate 1980s slasher movie story, in that (like Chopping Mall) it's basically a metaphor for consumerism coming to kill us in the form of an evil product. That wicked little metaphor is hanging over everything, but it's also just a full-tilt dark comedy horror show full of creative kills, all dominated by Brad Dourif's unforgettable voice performance as Chucky. Though he's since been refined and altered in any number of ways, Chucky remains the ultimate terrifying doll because of this film, and no matter how used to seeing him you might be, he still has the power to scare you over the course of Child's Play's 90 minutes.

Blade Runner

A lot of the films on this list are films that were immediate hits, embraced by audiences and critics pretty much the moment they arrived in theaters, and which endure in their classic status even today. When we look back on a pop culture decade as wild as the 1980s, though, it's often just as intriguing to look at the films that audiences and critics didn't immediately latch onto, the ones that came dangerously close to falling through the cracks.

Today, Blade Runner ranks as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, lauded as a groundbreaking piece of dark futuristic storytelling and one of the finest works in director Ridley Scott's career. When it first debuted, though, Scott's film was hamstrung by studio tampering and earned a lackluster reception despite its dazzling visuals, amazing cast, and unforgettable soundtrack. Now, we can look back at Blade Runner with the benefit of hindsight in the form of Scott's "Final Cut" of the film, which removes things like the dull voiceover from the original release and adds back in key scenes that layer deeper meaning into the film.

Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese is arguably the greatest living American filmmaker, and he's been one of the masters for quite some time now. Scorsese has produced at least one masterpiece every decade since the 1970s, delivering a diverse and exciting filmography that's so much more than the gangster films for which he is most famous. Though later classics of the decade would follow, Scorsese started the 1980s with one of his most dynamic masterpieces: Raging Bull.

The film — shot in glorious black and white and full of beautifully paced fight scenes — is the story of Jake "The Bronx Bull" LaMotta, a legendary boxer determined to be the best and toughest fighter of his generation. Led by a blistering performance from Robert De Niro — who earned his second Oscar for the role — the film follows LaMotta through personal and professional triumph and torment as he tries to balance his violent career with his often tumultuous family life. Brilliant supporting performance from Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty complete the picture, and Raging Bull remains an essential part of the Scorsese canon.