While the 1970s was a truly unforgettable time, a golden era for fans of all things horror and sci-fi, the 80s is not to be overlooked by any means. Also considered a watershed era, movies like Blade Runner, The Terminator, The Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future and The Empire Strikes Back continue to garner praise and argument among fans and critics, making them some of the best mind-blowing sci-fi movies from the 80s.
There is a lot to be celebrated from this era and it will only take a little trip down the 80s sci-fi memory lane to realize that. Just in case you were considering binge-watching some sci-fi 80’s classics, we’ve made a list – in no particular order – of some of the best sci-fi projects from that era to help you get started on the right foot.
Top 10 Mind-Blowing Sci-fi Movies from the 80s
1. Aliens (1986)
This sci-fi action classic was by made by writer and director James Cameron. It also boasts of an elite cast that includes the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, and Bill Paxton. A definite mind-blowing sci-fi movie from the 80s, Aliens is the gold standard for perfect sequels. After the massive success of Alien released in 1979, Cameron proves that it is possible to make a follow-up that improves on the greatness of its predecessor.
In the movie, Weaver who plays the heroine, Ellen Ripley awakes from decades of cryogenic sleep and is foisted into commandeering the Colonial Marines in a last-gasp battle against the Alien Queen. A thoroughly satisfying movie, this action-packed sequel was nominated for seven Oscars, a testament to its inarguable brilliance.
2. The Terminator (1984)
Another masterpiece from the writing and directing stable of James Cameron. The Terminator is arguably Cameron’s best work. The success of this movie was what earned him a role as director and writer on Aliens. One of the best time travel sci-fi movies from the 80s, Cameron pens the story of a cyborg assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back in time from the future to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. This is to prevent her son from becoming the threat to all cyborg life that he is destined to become if he is allowed to exist.
The Terminator was so good that all the sequels of the franchise, except maybe Terminator 2, have found it difficult to cope with the massive success of the original. Thankfully, none was bad enough to do damage to the legacy of the original.
3. Blade Runner (1982)
This movie tells the story of a washed-up cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who reluctantly agrees to track down a rogue group of synthetic humans known as replicants who escaped their off-world designation and returned to earth.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is now a cult sci-fi movie from the 80s and has inspired an integral part of science fiction culture that has been aptly represented in a plethora of video games, books, and other movies since its release. However, it didn’t start that way. It was very well accepted in its early days and was criticized for its lack of pace and dearth of action. However, its thematic prowess and visuals eventually grew on critics and fans alike and boosted Blade Runner into cult-classic status.
4. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
When a movie records gross returns of about 30 times its entire production cost at the box office, no one in their right mind can argue it is an absolute fan favorite. The 1980s could not have started better for fans of science fiction everywhere. The Empire Strikes Back is the second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy and it does not disappoint in any way.
George Lucas’s second Star Wars attempt currently stands as the second highest-grossing sequel of all time. While The Empire Strikes Back is not as fun and whimsical as its predecessor, it does gain ground in another direction, opting instead for fleshed out elements of adulthood and spiritual philosophy. Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and other members of the ensemble cast are joined by some interesting and memorable new characters, ultimately making for a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience.
5. Return of the Jedi (1983)
The last movie in the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi picks off perfectly where The Empire Strikes Back leaves off. This movie did well to bring bag the fun and action of Star Wars while maintaining the more philosophical and adult themes of The Empire Strikes Back. The story follows the Rebel Alliance in their showdown battle to vanquish the ruthless Emperor and his Death Star once and for all.
Fans of the franchise and sci-fi, in general, have long debated which of the movies outperforms the others, but that argument has never brought a conclusive answer. The trilogy is better served in realizing that much like Hans Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, all three movies need each other, like the legs on a tripod stand.
6. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
With all the success of sci-fi big wig James Cameron, there is one name and one name alone that stands head and shoulders above him – Steven Spielberg. This unrelenting genius and Hollywood entrepreneur is the man behind some of the world’s greatest projects such as the Jurassic Park movies, Jaws, Close Encounters, The Indiana Jones movies, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan among others.
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial stands undoubtedly as one of Spielberg’s finest sci-fi movies from the 80s, perhaps even the very best. It tells the story of an extraterrestrial known as ET who is stranded on earth and is found by a group of kids (Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas) who do everything in their power to return him to his homeworld. ET redefined an era. The movie is still praised in the annals of sci-fi glory for its timelessness, sensitivity, and acute attention to little details that contribute greatly to the movie’s ultimate experience. Not to mention, it inspired the phrase “et phone home” a phrase that is still largely used today.
7. Back to the Future (1985)
This sci-fi comedy tells the story of a teenage boy Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) who accidentally goes back in time from 1985 to 1955. While in the past he goes through some life-altering circumstances that include him meeting the teenage version of his parents and becomes his mother’s love interest. Ultimately, he enlists the help of the eccentric Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) to help him get back to his own time while he uses his friendship with his parents to try to help them become better people. It all ends well and has a ripple effect in the future of giving Marty a much better life.
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd remain one of the most memorable duos in sci-fi movie history. Overall, the movie is replete with great action sequences and great premium-grade special effects, but its most endearing quality is its heart.
8. Robocop (1987)
If we were to rate cyborg movies, Robocop will stand as the forebearer to many of the hybrid human elements we have in contemporary sci-fi movies. Here Peter Weller accurately depicts the role of Alex Murphy, a Detroit officer who is killed in the line of duty. He is subsequently given a new lease on life in the form of a part-human, part-machine dealer of justice. Now known as Robocop, Murphy then sets about cleaning up the crime-infested streets of Detroit while also keeping an eye out for the bad guys who killed him.
This movie was difficult to pull off in terms of tone due to its multiple themes of love, identity, greed, gentrification, human nature, dystopia, and justice, all laced together in a fluid plot of ample satire and explosion packed action sequences. However, director Paul Verhoeven made it all look easy. Most people who are true fans of sci-fi would prefer this first attempt over its remakes on the count of its historical significance alone, making it one of the greatest 80s sci-fi movies.
9. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Younger sci-fi movie fans will readily credit Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and they could be forgiven for that mistake. The credit for the success of the franchise goes back to its original cast members which include the likes of Mel Gibson (as Mad Max).
George Miller’s genius shines right through in The Road Warrior. It tells the story of a community of settlers who are in dire need of saving after they are invaded by a band of nothing-to-lose marauders. Mel Gibson in character as Max Rockatansky is a hardened man who comes to the rescue of the community and rediscovers his humanity in the process.
The movie was released to an overwhelmingly positive reception as it was praised for everything from its spell-binding cinematography, riveting action scenes, costume design, and dialogue to Gibson’s performance and Miller’s vision. It is arguably the best movie of the franchise, even though that assertion is open to debate.
10. Starman (1984)
Starman (Jeff Bridges), an extraterrestrial intercepts a space vessel that includes a message of invitation from Earth. He decides to honor the invitation, but he is shot out of the sky by the US government. He subsequently meets Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a widow and takes the form of her late husband, Scott. The rest of the plot follows their adventure as they fall in love and evade the army, while as they help Starman find his way back home.
Right off the bat, Starman feels like a concept birthed out of a melding of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg’s brain, although the directing credit belongs to the former. A worthy.