The 50 Best '80s Movies

From the “Thriller” style special effects of “An American Werewolf in London” to “Ferris Bueller's Day Off”, here is our list of the best 80's movies.

50 best 80s movies platoon

Image via Getty/Roland Neveu

50 best 80s movies platoon

When you think of the '80s, a few images come to mind: shoulder pads, big hair, and all-cheesy-everything—essentially summed up in the Teen Witch "Top That!" dance-off. However, the decade had more to contribute to pop culture than being known as the New Jersey of the 20th century. It was also an era for incredible classic movies, ones that shifted the film industry as we know it.

From John HughesThe Breakfast Club to Steven Spielberg's E.T., the movies of the 1980s not only shaped its generation but inspired subsequent generations in every way imaginable. At least a few of these films are guaranteed to be close to your heart: the 50 best movies of the '80s. 

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50. Top Gun (1986)

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Director: Tony Scott

Stars: Tom Cruise, Terry McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards

The aviator glasses, the bigger-the-hair-the-closer-to-God blondes, the bad-ass devil-may-care Tom Cruise, the homoerotic volleyball—very few films sum up the '80s better than Top Gun. The action-drama about Navy fighter pilots became the highest grossing movie in '86, and its aerial scenes are still thrilling to watch.

The film is still on everyone's favorite lists, and we're not sure if that's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or sincere. Like Roger Ebert said, "The good parts of this movie are so good, but the bad parts are relentless." We cringe at the bar sing-along to seduce women, but it's difficult not to be so amused by everything else that we stop channel surfing every time we catch it on TNT. It has the power. —TA

49. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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Director: John Landis

Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye, Frank Oz

An American Werewolf in London, directed by comedy legend John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House, Coming to America), does a pitch-perfect job of melding the two most important elements of any successful horror-comedy: legitimate scares and genuine laughs. In the scare department, Landis benefited immensely from Rick Baker's Oscar-winning makeup effects, which morphed tourist turned lycanthrope David Kessler (David Naughton) into one of the most horrifying werewolves ever caught on film. And that first transformation sequence, shot with a steady camera and convincingly looking as if David's bones really are stretching, hasn't lost any of its impact.

Being that Landis is such a comedic master, An American Werewolf in London is also funny as hell, particularly whenever David's undead best friend, the wisecracking Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), appears on screen to drop a one-liner and show his worsening bodily decay. The fact that Landis was able to so effectively combine his standard funny business with serious, tongue-out-of-cheek horror makes An American Werewolf in London a brilliant case study in a difficult subgenre. MB

48. The Untouchables (1987)

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Director: Brian De Palma

Stars: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith

Sometimes all you need a lean, mean gangster flick to satisfy those entertainment urges. Brian De Palma's taut, thrilling The Untouchables fits that bill nicely.

For one, there's Robert De Niro at his slimiest as Chicago crime kingpin Al Capone, snarling at his underlings and bashing dudes' heads in with a wooden baseball bat. There's also real-life badass Frank Nitti (Billy Drago), another of the Windy City's most ruthless lawbreakers and the film's creepiest harbinger of doom. And on the right side of law, there's Eliot Ness (a mighty strong Kevin Costner), the cop determined to bring down Capone's empire by any means necessary (read: tons of heavy ammunition).

In addition to being an elegant piece of cops-and-baddies genre fare, The Untouchables is also a first-rate period drama, depicting Prohibition Era Chicago in all of its historical splendor. Thanks to screenwriter David Mamet, too, the film hosts a pair of the most dazzling on-screen assassination sequences of all time, namely one that turns an elevator into a one-way ticket towards the pearly gates. —MB

47. First Blood (1982)

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Director: Ted Kotcheff

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna

Thanks to First Blood’s two ‘80s sequels, many people think of Rambo as an oily, muscle-bound icon of American might who kills (and often overkills) thin Cold War caricatures. However, in Canadian director Ted Kotcheff’s franchise-starting adaptation of David Morell’s 1972 novel, the highly trained former special forces soldier and prisoner of war is not an action hero but a sympathetic and scarred Vietnam vet searching for inner peace.

Instead of tranquility, he finds hostility when he drifts into the small town of Hope, Washington, where local authorities harass, jail, and abuse him. Flashing back to torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, Rambo makes a violent escape from police custody and flees to the woods, setting up a bloody manhunt where the hunters, possessing far less experience in guerilla warfare than the reluctant ass-kicker, become the hunted.

On a purely visceral level, First Blood is entertaining for the battle Rambo brings to police and eventually the National Guard using clever woodland booby traps and survival skills, but what makes it a transcendent action film is its depth and intelligence. The violence, while titillating, is also sad, clearly a replacement for what war and the particular betrayals of Vietnam have stolen from him: innocence and the ability to identify with and exist within society. In one of the finest, most nuanced performances of his career, Sylvester Stallone registers the emotional turmoil that countless veterans were experiencing and leaves the viewer with more on their mind than the enormity of explosions and how Rambo achieves that perfect oily sheen. JM

46. Near Dark (1987)

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Director: Kathyrn Bigelow

Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen

Long before she won the Academy Award for directing The Hurt Locker and fictionalized the takedown of Osama Bin Laden in last year's Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow was an upstart feature filmmaker invested in a rogue gang of vampires. Not just your run-of-the-mill bloodsuckers, however—the undead antiheroes in Bigelow's slept-on Near Dark are charismatic, funny, outright evil, and explosively violent. They're a biker gang with sharp fangs—a singular approach to age-old horror material that Bigelow works wonders with in this sharply observed and often visceral western by way of Bram Stoker.

Near Dark is also home to one of the best sequences of the '80s, in any film genre. It's set in a bar, with the vamp crew's rowdiest member, Severen (Bill Paxton), at his craziest. Sure, at the film's core lies a well-developed romance between a vampire (Jenny Wright) and a human (Adrian Pasdar), but anyone who's seen Near Dark will tell you—Bill Paxton's a force of nature. —MB

45. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

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Director: Amy Heckerling

Stars: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Becker, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston

Fast Times At Ridgemont High is worthy of many thanks. For one, we're grateful that director Amy Heckerling's equally humorous and intimate film is able to show that kids back in the crazy '80s weren't much different than today's youth; they chased skirts, got stoned, worked long hours for minimal wage, and jerked off in their parents' bathroom. And secondly, Fast Times will forever earn its praise for Sean Penn's performance as burnt-out surfer dude Jeff Spicoli-—t's a tour de force of braindead aloofness.

Those aspects of Fast Times are great and all, but let's keep it funky: The movie is a national treasure simply because of Phoebe Cates. Her iconic, slow-motion emergence from that pool, in that red two-piece bikini is timeless.  MB

44. Gremlins (1984)

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Director: Joe Dante

Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman, Frances Lee McCain, Kete Luke, John Louie, Jackie Joseph, Judge Reinhold, Glynn Turman, Jonathan Banks

Enough with Ralphie, that Red Ryder BB gun, and the joyful yet overplayed A Christmas Story already. From here on out, we're starting a new holiday tradition: a 24-hour marathon of Joe Dante's Yuletide horror classic, Gremlins. It's fun for the whole family, especially if your parents and siblings are the types who find hideous little creatures joyriding in snowmobiles and terrorizing sporting goods stores to be hilarious, like we do.

So, what if Gremlins is never actually all that scary for anyone older than the age of 9? At its core, Dante's energetic romp is a monster picture, one in which the villains, in the tradition of Freddy Krueger, are the coolest motherfuckers in the room. They don't make movies this weird (or darkly comic) these days. MB

43. Broadcast News (1987)

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Director: James L. Brooks

Stars: William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, Jack Nicholson

James L. Brooks, creator of the groundbreaking Mary Tyler Moore Show, delivered his best movie with Broadcast News, the classic look at the intersection of love, ethics, and the news. This is what The Newsroom wishes it could be.

The premise is simple. Holly Hunter plays Jane Craig, a writer/producer for a big Washington news show, and she's torn between two men: Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and Tom Grunick (William Hurt). Altman is a great journalist, but not great on camera. Grunick is kind of a dope, but with more charisma than Altman has in the whole of his body. He's the perfect vessel to deliver the news, and Craig wants to jump his bones.

This love triangle is the entry point into a funny and smart look at what it means to love work more than life itself, and what it means to report the news. —RS

42. After Hours (1985)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Stars: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom

Martin Scorsese's known for his classic gangster films, like Goodfellas and Casino. He's also widely recognized for the dark, unforgettable character studies Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. But Martin Scorsese the comedy filmmaker? Yes, he does exist, and his brilliant and demented 1985 film After Hours is where he resides.

Using New York City as his unpredictable, folly-laden landscape, Scorsese sends down-for-whatever actor Griffin Dunne out as Paul Hackett, a well-off Manhattanite who's just trying to spend time with his newfound crush, the spacey Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Instead of a night filled with romance and sexual escapades, though, Paul encounters robbers, missing sculptures, angry mobs, a menacing Mister Softee truck, and punk-rock haircuts, amongst other unfortunate goings-on. It's the night from hell, but one that's lively, hilarious, and booming with anything-goes mischief. —MB

41. The Verdict (1982)

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Director: Sidney Lumet

Stars: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden

Filmmakers don't come much more accomplished and respected than Sidney Lumet. If the name doesn't ring any bells, first, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Do I really love movies?" Secondly, just peep his most widely beloved films: Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976). Familiar now?

A Lumet movie marathon is a must, and the director's most underrated film, The Verdict, best be included. Written by the great playwright/screenwriter David Mamet, Lumet's legal drama stars the almighty Paul Newman as a boozing Boston lawyer who dedicates all of his energy to a medical malpractice case in order to, he hopes, earn back the respect of his peers.

As highly directed as The Verdict is, Newman is the film's true M.V.P. His character starts off the drunken bum, emerges as a sure-minded hero, and is always compelling to watch. —MB

40. Creepshow (1982)

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Director: George A. Romero

Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Stephen King, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Viveca Lindfors, E.G. Marshall, Fritz Weaver, Joe King, Tom Atkins, Jon Lormer, Carrie Nye, Don Keefer, David Early, Gaylen Ross

To passionate fans of the quintessential, and hopefully resurging, "horror anthology" format, 1982's Creepshow—the brainchild of Stephen King (who wrote the screenplay) and George A. Romero (director of zombie movie classics like Night of the Living Dead and the original Dawn of the Dead)—is the genuine article. Because, unlike most genre omnibus features, those jam-packed efforts that feature anywhere from three to five individual segments, Creepshow doesn't have a rotten apple in its bunch. Not all of the five stories are golden, of course, but even the film's weakest link—the Leslie Nielsen-led, zombie-inspired revenge tale "Something to Tide You Over"—is still a hell of a lot of fun.

Inspired by the old E.C. horror comics of the 1950s and '60s, King and Romero joined forces to recapture the old E.C. tradition of watching awful people get their gruesome and ironically humorous comeuppances. Even when Creepshow is, pun intended, really creepy (see: the two best segments, "The Crate" and "They're Creeping Up on You!"), though, its scares are always punctuated by riotous sight gags and a sharp playfulness that invites applause rather than gasps. MB

39. Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Stars: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Beatrice Straight

Poltergeist is to the haunted house subgenre as Halloween is to the slasher movie: It wasn't the first of its kind, but it elevated things to a whole new level of style, excess, and intelligence.

Coming largely from the mind of co-writer/co-producer Steven Spielberg, but directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Poltergeist established several tropes the have since been copied to death: the little kid who becomes the evil spirits' conduit; the freaky apparitions that haunt a youngster in his bedroom, at night, while mommy and daddy are snoozing; the medium and her sidekicks who move into the house to exorcise the demons.

The difference being, of course, that, in Poltergeist, all of those story components work, resulting in a creepshow that blasts viewers with one ghoulish set-piece after another (try to sleep in a room with a clown doll ever again) before a showstopping and crowd-pleasing bit involving a terrified mother, an in-ground pool, and tons of wet, rotting cadavers. MB

38. The Goonies (1985)

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Director: Richard Donner

Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Quan, Anne Ramsay, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Davi, John Matuszak

The Goonies tells the tale of a group of kids who try to save their houses from being demolished, find an old Spanish treasure map from a pirate named One-Eyed Willie (really), deal with fugitives trying to steal said treasure, and befriend a monster that looks like he could've starred in The Hills Have Eyes. Ah yes, it's a classic coming-of-age tale that all children can relate to. Really, who hasn't been through this? Finding Spanish pirate treasure is, like, the first stage of puberty!

The film leaves audiences with a feeling of real nostalgia, despite the outlandish plot, of their own childhood: friends, adventures, the fat friend who everyone always made dance before letting him in the house. It inspires the adventurer in everyone. TA

37. They Live! (1988)

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Director: John Carpenter

Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George "Buck" Flower

After watching John Carpenter's criminally underrated They Live!, one question should come to mind: Why in the hell didn't Rowdy Roddy Piper become a huge movie star? And, yes, we're talking about the professional wrestler known for rocking kilts. Carpenter, at the top of his game, took a risk in casting the WWF superstar, and the gamble paid off tenfold. As an average Joe/construction worker who realizes that aliens have invaded Earth and wear human WASP costumes, Piper nails every one of the character's snarky, if not enjoyably cheesy, one-liners, and carries the entire film on his broad, believable action hero shoulders.

As an otherworldly exploration of upper-class snobbery and materialism, They Live! hits enough intelligent notes to transcend mere camp appeal; as a goofy showcase for Piper's unexpectedly awesome leading man charisma, it's the proverbial shit. How can you not love a sci-fi movie that shamelessly includes a random eight-minute fight scene involving zero aliens? Or a flick that offers such amazing quotables as, "I came to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum." Or, even better, one that allows a WWF heavyweight to diss an old lady with the line, "You look like your head fell in cheese dip back in 1957." Simply brilliant. MB

36. The Evil Dead (1981)

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Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

Then-21-year-old filmmaker Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead isn't simply a rollercoaster ride of a movie—it's that flying-off-the-rails coaster from the beginning of Final Destination 3. Out of control from beginning to end, the future Spider-Man franchise director's (who's back in blockbuster form this month with Oz, the Great and Powerful) low-budget first effort is the purveyor of horror's "cabin in the woods" template.

A group of young, likable innocents head to a secluded, wooded crib, find an ancient evil text, and unleash plenty gory slapstick comedy. All, mind you, produced with barely $400,000. The Evil Dead is a glowing testament to the power of imagination over money. MB

35. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

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Director: Gus Van Sant

Stars: Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, Heather Graham, Max Perlich, James Remar, William. S. Burroughs

High school and middle school teachers would be wise to show Drugstore Cowboy to their young, impressionable students on a yearly basis—so what if its adult themes and rough imagery aren't exactly what parents would call "classroom suitable"? It's no worse than that documentary video about aborted fetuses that regularly attacks the brains of teens in Catholic schools across the nation.

Among other advantages, Drugstore Cowboy is far more stylish, compelling, and populated by talented actors giving superb performances (namely Matt Dillon). The film that launched director Gus Van Sant to the industry's filmmaking A-list, Drugstore Cowboy frankly shows what it's like to be a law-breaking, helpless junkie who's only goal in life is to score his or her next bit of smack. Consider it the art-house scene's answer to D.A.R.E. MB

34. Day of the Dead (1985)

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Director: George A. Romero

Stars: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato

Fact: Anyone who makes a zombie movie, or even a TV show like The Walking Dead, nowadays owes a massive debt to Mr. George A. Romero, and most, if not all, of the filmmakers will gladly admit to that. The granddaddy of the undead motion picture, the now-73-year-old genre icon first achieved immortality in 1968, when his no-budget (i.e., a reported $114,000) feature film debut Night of the Living Dead first premiered and quickly changed the game. Then, in 1978, Romero somehow bested Night with the epic Dawn of the Dead, which includes makeup effects by Tom Savini that have yet to be outdone.

Due to all of the rightful love sent toward Night and Dawn, though, the third installment in Romero's original Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead (1985), is quite often overlooked, or, even worse, frowned upon by critics. One frequent complaint is that the script, about nihilistic Army men and idealistic scientists living in an underground bunker to avoid becoming zombie food, is too preachy, spending too much time on back-and-forth monologues. Others attack the actors' unevenness in performance quality.

But here's the thing: The people who voice those qualms are wrong. Or, more delicately put, they need to revisit Day of the Dead and see for themselves why, in some respects, it's Romero's greatest zombie movie. Granted, Night and Dawn have better scripts, and even better acting, but Day by far has the best makeup work of them all. As seen in the image above, Savini, Greg Nicotero (who now produces The Walking Dead, as well as handle the AMC hit's makeup effects), and their team went all out when it came to Day's gore; the film's climax, in which the zombies gain access into the bunker and get to finger-ripping, eye-gouging work, is a thing of visceral, and viscera-packed, beauty. MB

33. Manhunter (1986)

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Director: Michael Mann

Stars: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan, Kim Griest, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang

The great American director of crime movies, Michael Mann is at the top of his game with Manhunter, his adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, the novel that gave the world Hannibal Lecter. The cannibal (played by Brian Cox with less regal flourishes than Hopkins would bring to the role in The Silence of the Lambs) is called on by investigator Will Graham (William Petersen) to track down a brutal serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan).

Mann's direction reflects the '80s beautifully. The clothing and art direction shine just as bright as the synths that score the action. You won't forget the moonscape wallpaper lining the Tooth Fairy's kill room, and CSI will never feel the same again, word to Gil Grissom. —RS

32. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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Director: Wes Craven

Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Joe Unger, Charles Fleischer

Because Freddy Krueger's become as cartoonish a figure as Child's Play's Chucky or the Leprechaun from that abysmal series, A Nightmare on Elm Street has lost some of its luster. But try to remember the film outside the light of pop culture references and bad sketch comedy. Remember it in the dark.

Wes Craven's eighth feature as a director pits a group of teenagers against Krueger, a child molester who was killed by the parents of the teens. Krueger has returned from the dead, now able to kill you in your dreams, while you sleep. The premise allows Craven to blur the lines-no Robin Thicke-between waking life and what lies beyond. It allows for memorable and inventive scares like the one depicted above, and creates instant suspense because, after all, you have to go to sleep at some point. And when you do... RS

31. Sixteen Candles (1984)

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Director: John Hughes

Stars: Molly Ringwald, Justin Henry, Michael Schoeffling, Anthony Michael Hall

Truthfully, we should most identify with Anthony Michael Hall's accurately nicknamed "The Geek" in Sixteen Candles, one of writer-director John Hughes' best movies. Throughout the film, Hall's character habitually tries to score with his crush, Samantha (Molly Ringwald, solidifying her '80s dream girl status here), until, in an awesome moment of nerdy triumph, Samantha lends The Geek a pair of her panties for him to show off to his friends. It's a delightful payoff for a dude who's not unlike most of us back in grades nine through twelve.

Whenever we reflect on Sixteen Candles, though, all sentiments and fondness point right towards Samantha, due to Ringwald's tender performance, a showcase of adorable sweetness and sympathetic vulnerability. Rightfully so, Ringwald's Sixteen Candles' role has become the poster-girl for the prolific '80s teen comedy genre. Like the movie's top geek would be, we're not mad at that. —MB

30. Down By Law (1986)

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Director: Jim Jarmusch

Stars: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson, Cecilia Stark

Indie godfather Jim Jarmusch, old deadpan himself, followed up his breakout feature Stranger Than Paradise with another comedy of vagabonds, this time pitting grizzly musicians (Tom Waits, John Lurie) opposite the lovably weird Roberto Benigni in a jailbreak movie that forgoes The Great Escape model for scaled-down drama about quiet moments and occasional bursts of lunacy.

The three acts of this well-tailored comedy break most of the stereotypes for prison films (despite being set on the Bayou), and even a lot of comedy standards (Benigni delivers both the comic relief and the hope for the somewhat soulless Americans). Jarmusch, works in small scale, bringing a slow and patient camera to his subjects. Few in American film have this sort of patience or think so highly of their viewers. GT

29. Blow Out (1981)

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Director: Brian De Palma

Stars: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow

Living as we are, in the days of Edward Snowden, paranoia becomes more and more typical as a permanent state of being. The '70s and early '80s were a great time for movies to question your privacy to; and none is more underrated than Brian De Palma's clever Blow Out. Giving a performance that's low-key memorable, and so sits in the shadow of Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction, John Travolta plays a movie sound-effects man who becomes convinced he witnessed an assassination. Er, recorded one.

De Palma busts out all his Hitchcock and Antonioni references for this loopy look at the slippery nature of the truth. —RS

28. Platoon (1986)

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Director: Oliver Stone

Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker

War is a “you had to be there” experience. No matter how believable actor boot camp makes performances, or how shaky the camera work is, there’s a certain level of bullshit attached to any film production that attempts to recreate the insanity and terror of war. That said, Platoon gets viewers as close to a pair of moldy combat boots as cinematically possible.

Writer/director Oliver Stone drew heavily from his own tour in Vietnam, where he served as a foot soldier, killed, and was twice wounded, for his Academy Award-winning story of a U.S. Army unit in Vietnam that goes mad from the senseless horror and confusion of the conflict and commits war crimes that cause soldiers to turn on each other. Carefully orchestrated to get details right and boasting arresting images and performances (Tom Berenger is absolutely terrifying as physically and psychologically scarred Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes, who spearheads the boys-gone-wild atrocities), Platoon is one of the most important and haunting artistic statements about the quagmire that was the Vietnam War, and simply one of the finest war films ever made. —JM

27. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

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Director: John McNaughton

Stars: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, David Katz

Spend 90 minutes with Henry Lee Lucas (an exceptional Michael Rooker) and you'll want to program an all-day Disney movie marathon shortly after, simply to remind yourself that it's not all bad.

One of the creepiest and most probing examinations of a (fictional) homicidal maniac ever put to film, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is virtually plot-less, centering on the titular Henry and his matter-of-fact approach to gruesome slaughter and sexual depravation, all of which he captures on a rinky-dink video camera.

The film's director, John McNaughton (who'd go on to direct 1998's Wild Things), cleverly lets his camera just observe the madness, never cutting away whenever Henry gets to his death-for-the-sport-of-it work. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer rubs the viewers' faces in its sadism, as if Henry himself is saying, "You wanted to watch this? Here you go." Watch at your own risk. MB

26. Blood Simple (1984)

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Director: Joel Coen

Stars: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya

Films like Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998) reminded critics that esteemed filmmaking siblings Joel and Ethan Coen are unparalleled when it comes to directing dark, absurd comedies. But the generous humor they developed over the years is significantly less pronounced in their first flick.

Co-written by both brothers and directed by Joel, Blood Simple is a startling exercise in crime noir that, at times, passes as full-blown psychological horror.

The set-up is classic material: A rightfully disgruntled husband (Dan Hedaya) hires a sociopathic detective (M. Emmett Walsh) to kill his cheating wife (Frances McDormand) and her side piece (John Getz). Nothing goes as planned. And it wraps a noose-like grip around your nerves every step of the way. MB

25. RoboCop (1987)

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Director: Paul Verhoeven

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Dan O'Herlihy, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise

Robocop is perhaps the closest any pure sci-fi film could ever come to also being a traditional superhero tale, albeit one that's darkly humorous and unflinchingly violent.

Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven's futuristic revenge saga could also be considered the strangest Charles Bronson movie never made. Peter Weller stars as murdered Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, who's brought back to life in the form of "six million dollar" half man/half robot hybrid of law enforcement mastery. Robo's sole mission is to locate those who killed him in his previous human life, thugs he recalls through fragmented memories.

A large part of Robocop's success is owed to Verhoeven's willingness to treat a gun-busting robot as a character with real soul; as Robo pumps lead into every bad guy within eyesight, we're rooting for him, not simply applauding the movie's over-the-top violence. Which, admittedly, is quite kick-ass. MB

24. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

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Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy

Give a round of applause to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The film introduced us to some heavy shit—like being so sexually attracted to a cartoon character, Jessica Rabbit, while simultaneously adoring her as a feminist icon. Hear us out. She's not bad, she's just drawn that way. She's eye candy for her male artist and audience, through no wish of her own, and she's fully aware of her role as a sex symbol, but she also knows she's worth more than that. Seriously, check out this movie and reevaluate her character. The whole film is about a cartoon rabbit thinking Jessica is cheating on him. But legit, she's a heroine who loves her comedic honey bunny.

Roger Rabbit also introduced us to our worst fear, Judge Doom and dramatic melting cartoons. Honestly, is this a kids movie? Not to mention, it's amusing blend of animation and live action paved the way for other beloved flicks, namely, Space JamTA

23. The Terminator (1984)

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Director: James Cameron

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Paul Winfield

One viewing of Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent "comeback" action pic The Last Stand is all you need to revisit The Terminator (or seek it out for the first time). Because at one point, the recent Governator was just a former Mr. Olympia with minimal acting chops, but then writer-director James Cameron changed all of that.

Casting Schwarzenegger as this film's titular villain (a time-traveling cyborg focused on killing), Cameron accentuated the Austrian muscleman's strengths: a hulking presence, brute physicality, and the ability to nail simple, blunt one-liners like "I'll be back." Schwarzenegger is legitimately frightening in The Terminator, upgrading an already superb and hardcore sci-fi thriller into certified genre classic. MB

22. Raising Arizona (1987)

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Director: Joel Coen

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson

In Raising Arizona, Nicolas Cage plays a criminal who falls in love with a policewoman, played by Holly Hunter, while having his mugshot taken. Love at first sight, you know? Unable to conceive a child together, and unable to adopt because of his criminal history, the couple decides to steal a baby from a fresh batch of quintuplets born to a wealthy furniture salesman. Family planning, right?

This is as over-the-top as anything the Coens have ever made, full of bizarre characters and even stranger situations. A screwball comedy with so much zany energy, it feels like a cartoon—they just don't make 'em like this anymore. Jason Serafino

21. The King of Comedy (1983)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Stars: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott

Back in the '70s and '80s, whenever Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaborated, the results were psychologically complex, dark, and brilliant. In Taxi Driver, things were humorless and nightmarish; in Raging Bull, the mood was unapologetic, brutal, and sad. The King of Comedy, however, was something else altogether: simultaneously funny and creepy.

De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe comedian and all-around weirdo whose chance encounter with A-list stand-up funnyman Jerry Langford (the legendary Jerry Lewis) makes him think that his pipe dreams of becoming famous will turn into a reality. Because he's a nut-job, of course, one who then spends the rest of The King of Comedy obsessing over Langford and unknowingly being the celebrity's biggest stalker.

Toss some kidnapping and a wonderfully twisted performance from co-star Sandra Bernhard and you've got the best dark comedy of the 1980s. —MB

20. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Stars: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket—an adaptation of Gustav Hasford's war-centric novel The Short Timers—paints a chilling, psychologically penetrating picture of combat before any characters even step onto a battlefield.

A film of two distinctly different halves, Kubrick's follow-up to 1980's The Shining opens with its stronger half, a blunt, searing look inside a hellish boot camp for aspiring soldiers. Though there are several people in the mix, it's really the R. Lee Ermey (as the tyrannical and sadistic drill sergeant) and Vincent D'Onofrio (as an emotionally abused and mentally fractured cadet) show, a haunting depiction of how the soldier's life isn't meant for everyone, and how war can be hell before any shots are ever fired.

It's worth noting that Full Metal Jacket's second half, during which the graduated cadets finally see combat, isn't nearly as superb as the boot camp section. But, still, Kubrick never loosens the film's tension and visceral hold on the viewer, even when he and his top-notch cast toss in some very dark comedy for the sake of balance. —MB

19. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

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Director: Woody Allen

Stars: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Mia FarrowAnjelica HustonJerry OrbachAlan Alda

Before Match Point, there was Crimes and Misdemeanors. Like a mousy cousin with more humor and less sex, Crimes and Misdemeanors is the stranger but better picture. To those of you familiar with the Scarlett Johansson/Jonathan Rhys-Meyer morality play, the plot will sound familiar: A man embroiled in an affair (Judah Rosenthal, played by Martin Landau) has his mistress killed after she threatens to tell his wife.

Like a novelist, Woody Allen uses effective symbolism (Rosenthal is an opthalmologist; his rabbi is going blind) to explore questions of guilt and faith. None of the characters are beautiful as they are in Match Point, and it makes for a more cerebral film, one of Allen's best.  —RS

18. Aliens (1986)

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Director: James Cameron

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Jenette Goldstein

Apparently, James Cameron had never seen any science fiction sequels prior to making the stellar Aliens, the kinetic follow-up to Ridley Scott's slow-burning Alien. If he had, the future Titanic and Avatar guru would've known that most of the genre's second movies usually dumb matters down and take the cheap ways out; they most certainly don't improve upon many of the predecessor's best aspects and go on to earn seven Academy Award nominations. What was Cameron thinking? He was pondering a whole lot, it seems.

More of action adventure and less of an atmospheric haunted house tale, Aliens is basically Ridley Scott's movie on a year's supply of steroids. Sigourney Weaver once again plays Ellen Ripley, and further cements the character's iconic status; Cameron executes several jaw-dropping sequences replete with creature attacks, helmet-cam POV shots, and technically sound violence; and the token comic relief, courtesy of a hammy Bill Paxton, never annoys.

Cameron might have shattered box office records and achieved infamy through his recent blockbusters, but, until he steps away from Pandora, Aliens shall remain his best movie to date. —MB

17. The Breakfast Club (1985)

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Director: John Hughes

Stars: Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Gleason

Like Martin Scorsese to Catholic guilt, or Stanley Kubrick to chilly sociology, John Hughes is the king of the teens, and The Breakfast Club is his best work. Written and directed by the late Hollywood maverick, The Breakfast Club takes an everyday high school set-up-kids locked up in detention-and uses the situation to explore the psychology of teenagers both popular and socially ostracized. It might be set in 1985, but Hughes' funny and revelatory flick speaks volumes about modern-day young adults, just like it did 26 years ago.

Cleverly, Hughes carefully chose the most stereotypical caricatures and systematically tears through the preconceptions. The abrasive hoodlum (Judd Nelson) is really a lonely basket-case with serious daddy issues; the star athlete (Emilio Estevez) makes his classmates envious yet can't seem to make his father happy; and the popular girl (Molly Ringwald) that all the guys want to sleep with is actually a mega-prude. The Breakfast Club is like a group therapy session, just much more fun to watch. —MB

16. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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Director: Woody Allen

Stars: Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Micheal Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Max von Sydow

New Yorkers pride themselves on being the best at their game, whatever that may be, and this classic proves that New Yorkers even do dysfunctional holiday gatherings better than their suburban counterparts. Three sisters, over the course of three Thanksgiving dinners, contend with adultery, drug addiction, alcoholism, and emotional abuse, just to name a few.

While the film name checks Ibsen, one can't help but see shades of Chekhov in this thoughtful gem that asks us at every turn, "Why do we put up with all the shit life throws at us?" Of course, the ones facing the crucible live in cozy apartments with maids. That this doesn't become glaring is proof of Allen's artistic potency. —Brenden Gallagher

15. Ghostbusters (1984)

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Director: Ivan Reitman

Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson

Back in 1984, Ghostbusters was the best thing to happen to underage horror fans since Scooby Doo. That '80s babies break into cold sweats any time news breaks about the long-gestating and still indefinite Ghostbusters 3 is a testament to this all-star classic's greatness.

Never skimping on the supernatural, Ghostbusters dispenses big-budget special effects (that admittedly look hella cheesy today), well-timed and harmless scares (the Slimer scene), and lively banter among the three main 'Busters (Murray, Ramis, and Aykroyd). Like The Goonies, Ghostbusters is one of those formative 1980s treasures for anyone who came of age during the Reagan era. —MB

14. Coming to America (1988)

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Director: John Landis

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, John Amos, Shari Headley, Eriq La Salle, Louie Anderson

Younger heads might not realize it due to his recent output of shit, but Eddie Murphy was once the funniest man in Hollywood. Coming to America is hands down his best movie, an airtight riot that's as funny today as it must've been back when it came out (most of us were younger than Bebe's kids at that time).

As a sweet-hearted African prince living in Queens, Murphy never misses a beat, playing brilliantly off of Arsenio Hall (as his sidekick) and appearing in makeup as a handful of other characters (the Murphy-heavy barbershop scene is one of comedy's great sequences). If you claim to know comedies but haven't seen this classic, slap yourself silly—watching Coming to America is a rite of passage. —MB

13. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliot

You know a film has made it when it's deemed historically significant by the U.S. Library of Congress (if it was British, it would have been knighted). The epic fantasy pioneers (and sandcastle enthusiasts, apparently) George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teamed up for a movie that aimed dead at the heart of the American imagination.

Harrison Ford is the roguishly handsome professor by day and the roguishly handsome tomb raider by night. In uncovering the secret artifacts of civilizations ancient and powerful (and stealing them), he fulfills the American dream of owning everything.

In the first film of what would become a trilogy (yes, a trilogy-the fourth film never happened; we're closing our eyes and covering our ears, la la la) Indiana Jones stumbles upon a Nazi plot to use the supernatural Ark of the Covenant to form an immortal army and take over the world. It's all going great until Indy foils them in a swashbuckling fashion that would make Douglas Fairbanks proud.

There is no shortage of thrills in this opus of action from the father of the blockbuster. Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won across the board for its technical prowess, pushing Industrial Light and Magic to its Nazi-face-melting, boulder-chasing best. —GT

12. Blade Runner (1982)

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Director: Ridley Scott

Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, M. Emmett Walsh, James Earl Jones, Daryl Hannah

In many ways, Blade Runner is one of the most accessible sci-fi movies of all time. Liberally adapting Philip K. Dick's short novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, director Ridley Scott fashioned the futuristic thriller as the most technologically advanced film noir, complete with "dames." It's the kind of gumshoe story Humphrey Bogart used to make, with Harrison Ford playing a retired detective on a mission to apprehend a shitload of fugitives. And who doesn't love a good, old-school crime saga?

The magic of Blade Runner is that it's technically anything but old-school. It's noir meets Ziggy Stardust, with stunning set design shown in great detail through sprawling aerial shots. The world of Blade Runner is kaleidoscopic, full of neon lights and glowing vehicles that zoom through the sky. As Ford gets his Dick Tracy on, Scott goes to extensive lengths to one-up Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  —MB

11. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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Director: Irvin Kershner

Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels

The Empire Strikes Back is acknowledged as the best of all the Star Wars movies for good reason. To best understand why, though, one must watch it back-to-back with its 1977 predecessor. The two flicks are a study in both artistic growth and how filmmakers can push themselves while tackling the always risky "sequel." That's the long-winded explanation; simply put, The Empire Strikes Backmarks the moment when George Lucas grew up.

Much darker than '77's A New Hope, this superior follow-up largely abandons the prior flick's carnival ride spirit. The characters have more depth, the stakes are much higher (people, and non-humans, you'd expect to flaunt immunity die), and the overall conflict-that of Luke Skywalker's journey from being soft-batch to heroically battling his evil dad, Darth Vader-resonates stronger thanks to Empire's serious nature.

Considering how far off the rails the Stars Wars films drifted in its wake, Lucas' second time using the Force is a sci-fi sequel worth endless salute. Give it the old flattened-hand-to-the-forehead salutation while flipping those Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks the bird. —MB

10. Stand By Me (1986)

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Director: Rob Reiner

Stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?" An older man's observations on the virtues of young friendship set the tone for the timeless story (based on Stephen King's "The Body") that follows a ragtag crew of kids on a quest to become local heroes by finding the body of missing boy. 

Their coming-of-age story is the kind of adventure you can only have on a summer vacation, when long nights and possibility-filled days create crystallized memories you'll recall in detail for the rest of your life. Four kids who find themselves during the length of a break from school could read as too convenient, that is, if it weren't so remarkably relatable. SC

9. The Thing (1982)

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Director: John Carpenter

Stars: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Masur

It's no exaggeration to call John Carpenter's The Thing the greatest genre remake of all time. In fact, the unimaginative filmmakers cranking out soulless reboots today would be smart to study this gory, violent, and dark blueprint on how to update material with a nihilistic edge. Carpenter's wild pic remains faithful the premise of the 1951 original, The Thing From Another Planet, about a crew of researchers trapped inside a Norwegian camp as a shape-shifting creature picks them off one by one.

Wisely, though, the '51 movie's ante gets upped considerably with a series of gross-out set pieces, the best of which is a bit where the film's human characters are tied to chairs by Kurt Russell in hopes of discovering which of them is now an alien. Staged with heavy tension, the sequence starts off methodical in its build-up before erupting into a grandiose showcase of creepy-crawlies, chests that burst open, and faces that contort into tentacles with eyeballs.

A total hoot that's both cold-blooded and uniquely accessible, The Thing is one of the decade's best genre flicks. Rent this and stay home the next time a horror or sci-fi remake hits theaters. MB

8. Back to the Future (1985)

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Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson

The legacy of Back to the Future casts the film as great popcorn entertainment, which is definitely accurate. But Robert Zemeckis' breakout flick is also something more: It's arguably the best time travel movie ever made.

Look past Michael J. Fox's vibrant performance (which is great, mind you), Christopher Lloyd's loony presence, what stands out is the film's airtight script, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale. By nature, time travel movies can turn the mind into sludge, yet somehow Back To The Future is coherent and easily digestible from end to end.

Now that we've gotten the analytical jargon out of the way, it's time to acknowledge just how much fun Zemeckis' family flick is, from the snappy dialogue exchanges between Fox and Lloyd, to Crispin Glover's charmingly neurotic turn as the younger version of Fox's character's pops.

More studios need to take chances on original projects like this, rather than opt for the easy money of more sequels and YA adaptations. MB

7. Die Hard (1988)

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Director: John McTiernan

Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Die Hard should be blushing. Since John McTiernan’s movie introduced the world to John McClane (Bruce Willis), a cynical NYPD officer trying to save his estranged wife and her colleagues from the terrorists who drop in on their high-rise office Christmas party, countless action movies have aped it, simply changing the location where the trapped lone hero fights against overwhelming odds to a train, a plane, a school, or the White House. None of these movies (or the four sequels) compares favorably to Die Hard, arguably the greatest action movie and the greatest Christmas movie of all time.

A loose adaptation of Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Die Hard matches its grand Cowboys-and-Indians spectacle of glass-shattering shootouts and roof explosions with heart and humor in an uncommonly average and relatable hero. Unlike typical steroidal action stars of the ‘80s (see: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who turned down the film), Willis was a comedic actor who had a receding hairline and clearly wasn’t living in the gym. He, like wise-cracking and self-deprecating McClane, was the perfect flawed fit to accentuate the enormity of the task and get invested viewers on the edge of their seats sweating out the twists and turns of his crazy night. Or rather, on the edge of their saddles screaming out “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” —JM

6. Blue Velvet (1986)

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Director: David Lynch

Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell

The film industry is full of weird dudes. But none translate their eccentricities to their filmographies as successfully—or as often—as David Lynch.

Debuting the same quirky formula that would make Twin Peaks such a hit in the '90s, Lynch tells the story of a sexy chanteuse (Isabella Rossellini) pinned under the thumb of an amyl nitrate-huffing psychopath (Dennis Hopper) who's holding her family hostage. And then there are the two youngsters (Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern) playing teen detectives, tying to unravel the mystery.

Following the box office failure of Dune, Blue Velvet was Lynch's attempt to make something personal. In Lynch on Lynch, the director notes, "After Dune I was down so far that anything was up! So it was just a euphoria. And when you work with that kind of feeling, you can take chances. You can experiment."

And experiment he did. Using style to soften its brutal acts, the cult classic paints a surreal portrait of the juxtaposition between Anytown, USA and the perversity that lurks beneath its perfectly-manicured lawns. JW

5. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

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Director: John Hughes

Stars: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara

No '80s film could inspire you to live out your youth to its extreme more than Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's the perfect amalgam of everything you fantasized about while stuck in homeroom. If a joy ride in a Ferrari with your best friend and beautiful girlfriend wasn't already a mind-blowing idea to you, toss in a downtown parade where you perform "Twist and Shout," a free lunch at a fancy restaurant, and the image of your crusty, pornstached principal getting chewed out by your dog. Heaven was never represented so accurately in the movies. —TA

4. The Shining (1980)

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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel

The recent documentary Room 237 has reignited interest in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's haunted-house masterpiece The Shining. That doc spins increasingly wild theories about the complexity of Kubrick's film, turning the work into a maze for the viewer to get lost in, much like Jack Nicholson's character in the film itself. It's great that Room 237 exists, if only to bring more people to The Shining, but truly the film doesn't need it. After all, there's no better place to get lost than in the long corridors of Kubrick's only horror movie.

The premise remains just as creepy as it did in 1980: A man (Nicholson) accepts a job as the winter caretaker of a massive hotel in Colorado, and moves his family (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) there just as the cold sets in among the mountains. But the hotel is the source of great evil.

Whether you want to read the violence as symbolism for the Native American genocide, the Holocaust, or the irrational misogyny of the world, well, that's up to you. You won't have a choice but to be afraid. The music, culled mostly from dissonant 20th century classical, conspires so tightly with the smooth tracking shots and powerful images (the hemorrhaging elevator, the twins) that only one response is possible: you succumb. RS

3. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, C. Thomas Howell

We were all children once, heading into adulthood with wide eyes, innocence, and wonderment. No filmmaker in cinema's history has worked this angle better than Steven Spielberg, and few movies have bottled the feeling of pre-teen magic better than E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Spielberg hit a sentimental grand slam with the title character, a lovable space invader who befriends a young boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) and becomes the best friend a kid could ever ask for. The relationship between Elliot and E.T. is the glue that binds Spielberg's flick; it's impossible to watch E.T. and not wish that a cuddly little alien would land in your own backyard. MB

2. Raging Bull (1980)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Stars: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Frank Vincent

Go ahead and make a list of the Best Sports Movies and place Raging Bull at the top. It's the easy decision, because lots of sports movies are average, largely because they can't their heads out of the game.

Martin Scorsese's best film is about the headspace of the athlete, in this case boxer Jake LaMotta. For a sports movie, there's little time spent in the ring, and when the camera does move between the ropes, it's into a ring that's shaped formally by LaMotta's ferocious and roiling interiority. Go back and watch the fights again—you'll see that Scorsese distorts the canvas, shrinks it or makes it vast, depending on LaMotta's mood. During one bout, he photographs the fight with fire burning beneath the lens; waves of heat wrinkle the image.

Raging Bull is about the inherent ugliness of masculinity as its been conceived of for generations. Being a man in Raging Bull means being warped by jealousy, inferiority, self-loathing. It's maleness as monstrousness. No wonder the Academy gave the 1980 Best Picture award to Ordinary People, a living room drama. The truth wasn't pretty enough. RS

1. Do the Right Thing (1989)

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Director: Spike Lee

Stars: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro

1989 was a very good year for the American independent film movement. Channeling the political awareness of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970s, Spike Lee and his late '80s brethren (Steven Soderbergh, Michael Moore, and Jim Jarmusch among them) heralded the arrival of a new kind of filmmaking.

Like most of Lee's films, Do the Right Thing—the story of racial tensions erupting into violence on the hottest day of the summer—was mired in controversy upon its release. Close-minded cultural pundits suggested that the film was likely to spark a series of similar riotous acts.

In 2008, he told New York Magazine: "People like Joe Klein and David Denby felt that this film was going to cause riots. Young black males were going to emulate Mookie and throw garbage cans through windows. Like, 'How dare you release this film in summertime: You know how they get in the summertime, this is like playing with fire.'"

No violence came of the film, but it did ignite a dialogue—one which continues today—about the still-simmering tensions that exist in the world but are often denied or covered up. And the film has stood the test of time; it's just as prescient and relevant a film today as it was 24 years ago. Not bad for a script it took Spike two weeks to write. —JW

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