Many of today’s most valuable franchises, reboots, and sequels began with the science fiction movies of the 1980s.
They came in every form, from cheery big-budget blockbusters to strange low-budget cosmic horrors. That prolific decade has had more of an impact on the current state of the genre than any other.
But don’t waste your time sifting through the trash bin of sci-fi movie history. With so many titles to choose from, it can be hard to know which 80s sci-fi movies are worth checking out.
Here are some of the best 80s sci-fi movies that still hold up pretty well today. If you’re a fan of the sci-fi movie genre and haven’t seen much of what the 80s gave us, start with these.
Videodrome is disturbing and weird to the point where you almost don’t want to admit how good it is. I’m not much of a body-horror fan, but when something is good, you have to give it due credit.
This movie is incredibly unique and inventive, even by today’s standards. Yeah, it has a lot of uncomfortable moment, but it earns the distasteful ground that it treads.
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While the original Alien was a sci-fi/horror movie, the sequel Aliens made an interesting turn in becoming a sci-fi/action movie.
Aliens took the idea of the first movie and added way more monsters and way more bullets—and it worked. To this day, Aliens is one of the best movie sequels ever made.
The franchise has had a few decent moments since, but it never came close to being as good as its first two movies. The winning Alien premise is one that just seems to fall apart when complicated by too many ingredients.
Robocop was satirical that poked fun with its futuristic-corporatized police-state that was enforced with AI weaponry. It still resonates today as a valid critique of the dangers of misplaced profit incentives and over-reliance on technology.
But don’t let that make you think it’s a joyless snooze-fest! On top of being a grim foreboding of things to come, this movie manages to be really fun. Robocop is funny and full of over-the-top, comically-gruesome action.
And the main character is a robotic cop with an awesome gun who, at one point, fights another robot made of guns. That alone should give you enough reason to check it out.
A lot of people have a problem with Return of the Jedi due to the Ewoks. While I admit that the little teddy-bear creatures were a regrettable decision, they don’t overshadow the good things this movie has going for it.
The simultaneous battles at the end are some of the best scenes of the entire Star Wars franchise. Even the battle on Endor—with those annoying little fabric-softener mascots—has some great action scenes and moments with real weight to them.
The Terminator was the movie that put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map as an actor. He had successful roles before—like in the Conan series—but this was the character he was born to play.
Fun fact: Several other actors were considered for The Terminator, including O.J. Simpson (who James Cameron turned down because he thought Simpson was too likable and people would not buy him as a killing machine).
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The Road Warrior is an Australian post-apocalyptic western movie with cars (instead of horses) and leather-clad crust punks on motorcycles (instead of Apache warriors).
It propelled Mel Gibson’s budding career as an actor—for better or worse—and remains one of the most iconic post-apocalyptic action movies ever made.
The Empire Strikes Back had the budget to do what A New Hope couldn’t, as well as the creative restraint that Return of the Jedi lacked. This is truly the sweet spot of the original trilogy.
The tone is a perfect mash of swashbuckling, high-spirited adventure that has actual character consequences, convincing audiences that something real was at stake for the main characters in this story.
This movie established the fact that the main heroes of Star Wars weren’t invincible, and even suggested the possibility that the trilogy may not have a happy ending after all.
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The script for Back to the Future is studied by many aspiring screenwriters to this day.
Not only is it considered to be a near-perfect example, but it juggles three separate timelines that each involve iterations of the same characters while incorporating elements from several different genres.
It’s clear to see why people study it. Not only do they want to figure out how it was done, but how it was done so exceedingly well. Oh yeah, and it’s kid-friendly!
2. The Thing
John Carpenter’s The Thing was a critical and commercial failure when it released in 1982. It has since earned a reputation as one of the greatest sci-fi/horror movies ever made. This movie is a masterpiece whose qualities only seems to fortify with age.
I don’t know what was so different about audiences and critics back then that made them dislike it so much. Many of the complaints seem to center around the grossness of the monster, plus claims that the movie didn’t offer much else.
Maybe their early-80s sensibilities were so assaulted by the excellent practical monster effects that they missed all of the deftly-paced moments that brought them to that crescendo of terror. Or maybe it took them a while to get on board with Kurt Russell’s awesome giant hat.
1. Blade Runner
1982’s Blade Runner is not only the best sci-fi movie of the 1980s—it’s one of the most influential movies of all time.
There are seven different cuts of the film, five of which have been widely viewed. Ridley Scott’s most-realized version is The Final Cut, which is near-unanimously considered to be the best.
But do yourself a favor and watch the US Theatrical Release version to see what a big difference a few changes can make. Harrison Ford’s voiceover narration alone makes it a completely different movie.