Must-see 1980s movies, from ‘Raging Bull’ to ‘Do the Right Thing’


Explore your favorite movies from each decade: Watch CNN’s “Movies” Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. For more on the classics below, catch up on the 1980s episode on CNNgo.


Turner Classic Movies has a regular franchise called “The Essentials,” which is as good an organizing principle as any when faced with the daunting and highly subjective task of contemplating key films from each of the past decades.

Using “essential” as a criterion helps shape what makes the rating, with various considerations that come into play: the best, yes, but also the most influential, with the longest queues. Films that stand up to repeated viewing, but also ones that define and capture the era in which they were made.

For those tempted to include multiple Alfred Hitchcock or Humphrey Bogart films from a decade, it’s worth looking to portray key stars and filmmakers. And finally, what you would take if you were stranded on an island and could only take a handful of movies with you.

All these factors have been taken into account in this exercise inspired by “The Movies”, the latest documentary series from CNN, which begins with a chapter devoted to the 1980s.

The ’70s, in particular, ushered in what is widely considered the modern era in major studios – for better and for worse – with first “Jaws” and then “Star Wars” rewriting expectations for blockbusters in the box office, especially during the summer.

The 1980s continued this trend, paving the way for the heavy reliance on “franchises” that is prevalent today.

Inevitably, such a list means leaving personal favorites on the cutting room floor, especially in terms of comedies. “This is Spinal Tap” and “The Princess Bride”, too bad we couldn’t crank things up to 11.

Yet when the pressure came, the question “What movies should everyone have seen since the 80s?” — especially if they want to understand not just those years, but where the entertainment industry stands today — has produced the following selections, presented in chronological order:

Boxing movies and biographies have come together in Martin Scorsese’s gloriously shot black-and-white ode to Jake LaMotta, simply one of the director’s memorable collaborations with Robert De Niro. There have been plenty of great movies in both genres, but few can put a glove on this one.

“Star Wars” is a landmark film, but it wouldn’t be the “Episode IX” franchise without a sensational sequel that remains the best film in the series and dramatically upped the ante in “I Am Your Father.” the history of the Skywalker family.

'The Raiders of the Lost Ark'

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ collaboration produced an iconic ode to soap operas of the past, one of Indiana Jones’ all-time great heroes, another signature role for Harrison Ford and not incidentally, perhaps the score the most moving of the composer John Williams.

Joanna Cassidy in

Director Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision of an acid rain-soaked Los Angeles essentially set the tone for nightmarish images of what could happen, as well as an early exploration of artificial intelligence in the context of what it means to be human.

Henry Thomas on the set of

Spielberg’s mix of childhood wonder, optimism and (bright, in this case) suburban heart reaches its peak – certainly commercially – in this tale on the moon about a young boy who bonds with friendship with an alien failed.

Tom Hulce in

The winner of eight Oscars, director Milos Forman’s look at Mozart (Tom Hulce) and the man who understood and envied his genius (F. Murray Abraham) was both a delightful period piece and a film that captured the creative process like few have before. or since.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in

James Cameron’s sci-fi concept saw the future in more ways than one, lifting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career as a killer cyborg and providing the template for a slew of films about raging technology and tinker with the timeline to save the world. Schwarzenegger’s killing machine promised “I’ll be back”, which he has been, in one form or another, over and over again.

Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rosselini in

David Lynch’s bizarre mix of soap opera and goosebumps may have found its heyday (or heydays) on TV, but the director brought all his eccentric gifts together in this dark and comically unsettling flick – where the plot is sparked by a severed ear – featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rosselini and an even crazier performance by his standards from Dennis Hopper.

Bonnie Bedelia and Bruce Willis in a scene from

The “Is this a Christmas movie?” The debate continues 30 years after director John McTiernan’s Bruce Willis action-thriller (who left another big ’80s footprint with ‘Predator’) paved the way for dozens of imitators, while flagging that Alan Rickman was one of the greatest villains of all time. Yippee ki-yay, indeed.

'Do the right thing'

Spike Lee’s third film remains his masterpiece, a sobering look at the racial tensions simmering beneath the surface, police abuse, and the empathy shown towards its characters that still feels… news 30 years later. Its significance also extends to the role the film played in paving the way for other African-American filmmakers, prompting the late critic Roger Ebert to call it, in a 1991 essay, “the American film most important in recent years.

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