The best '80s movies on Netflix

The best '80s movies on Netflix

Clockwise from top left: The Evil Dead (Screenshot); E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (Image: Amblin Entertainment); Killer Klowns From Outer Space (Photo: Trans World Entertainment); She’s Gotta Have It (Screenshot); The Witches (Screenshot)
Clockwise from top left: The Evil Dead (Screenshot); E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (Image: Amblin Entertainment); Killer Klowns From Outer Space (Photo: Trans World Entertainment); She’s Gotta Have It (Screenshot); The Witches (Screenshot)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Netflix list, but we decided films from the 1980s deserved their own spotlight. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film was released in the 1980s (duh); (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Titles will be added over time as Netflix announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Amazon Prime, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu. And if you’re looking to laugh, check out our list of the best comedy movies on Netflix.

This list was most recently updated on Jan. 2, 2021.

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2 / 10

The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal

The Skesis
The Skesis
Screenshot: The Dark Crystal

For co-directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982's The Dark Crystal was a large, risky step away from their stable of familiar characters from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and the theatrical Muppet movies. Oz’s first feature and Henson’s second (after The Great Muppet Caper) began with the puppet techniques Henson and his Creature Shop had already refined, but the five-year filmmaking process was a constant process of creating and testing new materials, devices, and performance techniques to fully realize Henson’s storyline. The story involves a world where an evil race of sybaritic bird-monsters called Skekis rule over a magical purple crystal in a decaying castle. When a little elfin creature named Jen learns that he’s meant to fulfill a prophecy and end Skeksis rule, he begins a long, incident-filled hero’s journey toward their castle. Much of that trip simply seems designed to let Henson and Oz play with creatures and environments; the pacing is sometimes lumpy and the tone is portentous as Jen travels through landscapes richly appointed with exotic life, thanks to Froud’s fantasy designs. The story is a standard fairy-tale concoction, but the New Agey philosophy about healing and heroism makes for a classic Henson story, all heart and rapturous wonder at the world’s incredible possibilities. [Tasha Robinson]

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3 / 10

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Image: Amblin Entertainment

Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, now following Jaws in a pristine (though less revelatory) deluxe Blu-ray edition, draws on the director’s memories as a child of divorce, when he created an imaginary friend to keep him company. Spielberg and his screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, have channeled those memories into a open-hearted piece of storybook science fiction, but the fundamentals of E.T.—the reason why everyone talks about it making them cry—have nothing to do with the marvels of outer space and interstellar connection, or even the touching vulnerability of the creature itself, as it struggles to survive on an uninhabitable planet. The core theme of E.T. is home, and the journey of the film, taken in literal synchronicity by the young hero and his alien friend, is about them helping each other find it. It’s a common story told on a celestial scale. [Scott Tobias]

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4 / 10

Eddie Murphy: Raw

Eddie Murphy: Raw

Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy
Screenshot: Eddie Murphy: Raw

Before Coming To America, before The Nutty Professor, and long before Norbit, Eddie Murphy proved he could occupy the skin of multiple characters without the aid of elaborate prosthetic work. Raw, his 1987 blockbuster stand-up movie, remains the fullest showcase of the comedian’s gift for impression. Over a long, consistently hilarious set at Felt Forum in New York, Murphy imitates Michael Jackson, Mr. T, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, an Italian hothead, a Jamaican lothario, an African trophy wife, philandering guys, gold-digging women, and—in the film’s showstopper of a final bit—his own inebriated, self-aggrandizing father. He’s a one-man Saturday Night Live, and there’s a control of inflection and facial expression on display that marks Murphy as one of the great comics of his generation. It’s no wonder the full show was never released in an audio-only format. Simply hearing Eddie perform would do no justice to his animated, physical approach to the craft. [A.A. Dowd]

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5 / 10

The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead

Bruce Campbell
Bruce Campbell
Screenshot: The Evil Dead

It’s an old story: A group of young people go out into the forest with the best intentions, and a few hours later, they’re covered in blood and gore, and going for each other’s eyes. By now, The Evil Dead has been so picked apart by fans that it’s sometimes hard to separate the backstory from what happened onscreen. Thirty years ago, writer-director Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and a host of others risked life and limb in the Tennessee woods to make a movie that would teach the world the dangers of reading aloud from anything with “of the Dead” in the title. In the decades since, Evil Dead has spawned two sequels, jumpstarted Raimi and Campbell’s careers, and become a cultural touchstone for horror fans in the video age. It’s been released on multiple formats, and been theatrically screened at midnight showings across the country. It’s practically an institution now. But how does it hold up as an actual movie? Not bad at all, really. [Zack Handlen]

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6 / 10

Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Illustration for article titled The best 80s movies on Netflix
Photo: Trans World Entertainment

Cinematic freak shows that actively attempt to court their own cult following have historically had a rough go; audiences tend to find charm in oddball projects blissfully unaware of their own camp appeal, rather than those that try to force it. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (note the second “K”) wants very badly to be liked. Director Charles Chiodo and his brothers—Edward and Stephen, with whom he cowrote the screenplay—make no effort to obscure just how hard they’re trying, and therein lies the enduring appeal of this bizarro horror-comedy. The Chiodos exhibit no self-awareness in pursuing the heights of weirdness—they’re not poseurs, they’re big, sloppy dogs happily chasing the cult-object ball. The film is patently absurd, but the filmmakers are fully committed to that absurdity. It’s hard not to respect. [Charles Bramseco]

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7 / 10

School Daze

School Daze

Illustration for article titled The best 80s movies on Netflix
Screenshot: School Daze

She’s Gotta Have It was such a unique, personal, and effusive film that some wondered whether Spike Lee had anything left to say. He answered those questions with 1988’s musical comedy School Daze, a more broadly appealing but no less idiosyncratic movie. Laurence Fishburne plays a student activist who clashes with materialistic fraternity leader Giancarlo Esposito at a historically black university. School Daze humorously—and tunefully—takes on the question of discrimination, though in this story it’s discrimination within the black community, where people are divided by skin tone, hairstyle, political commitment, and education. Though not as artful as She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze showed that there were plenty of “black movies” that had yet to be made, about subjects other than super-pimps or nobly suffering servants.

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8 / 10

She’s Gotta Have It

She’s Gotta Have It

Tracy Camilla  Johns
Tracy Camilla Johns
Screenshot: She’s Gotta Have It

In the first three minutes of She’s Gotta Have It, writer-director-star Spike Lee offers up a Zora Neale Hurston quote, a plaintive jazz score by his father Bill, artful photos of New York street life by his brother David, and sumptuous black-and-white footage of bridges and brownstones, shot by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson. In 1986, few American independent films looked and sounded as distinctive as She’s Gotta Have It, and Lee upped the ante further by seeming to promote a theretofore-unrecognized new Harlem Renaissance. From the jump, She’s Gotta Have It announced that it wasn’t going to define black life in terms of crime and poverty, just as it wasn’t going to bind independent filmmaking to moribund realism. Tracy Camilla Johns plays a young commercial artist juggling three boyfriends: genteel professional Tommy Redmond Hicks, preening model John Canada Terrell, and Lee, a livewire bike messenger. (Johns also has a predatory lesbian friend… best forgotten.) The movie tries to compensate for its lack of story by promising a frank look at female sexuality, but the title tells the tale: When it comes to its central idea, She’s Gotta Have It is more leering than revelatory. Luckily, Lee has more on his mind than just making some nebulous points about gender relations. She’s Gotta Have It is a calling-card film in the best sense of the term, in that it doesn’t just show what Lee can do, but what anyone can do. [Noel Murray]

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9 / 10

The Witches

The Witches

Anjelica Huston
Anjelica Huston
Screenshot: The Witches

The Witches beautifully captures the surreal grotesqueness of Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s book. The violence, menace, and food-related nastiness of Dahl’s tome are brought to the screen in all their horrific glory by director Nicholas Roeg, whose preponderance of cockeyed camera angles and extreme close-ups lend a fittingly bizarre quality to the fantastical tale. It concerns a young boy (Jasen Fisher) taught by his cigar-smoking grandmother (Mai Zetterling) how to identify witches: Look for their purple-tinted eyes, wigs covering itchy scalps, toeless feet, and attempts to lure children into their clutches with candy. After his parents’ death, he finds himself vacationing at a seaside hotel hosting a gathering of Great Britain’s witches. Operating under the guise of a royal organization for protecting kids, the villainous creatures are led by Anjelica Huston’s Grand High Witch, a strutting and sneering black-clad beauty who plans to turn the country’s children into mice via her magical “Formula 86.” [Nick Schager]

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10 / 10