Features | Written by STARBURST 01/04/2020

The 80 Best Genre Films of the ’80s

Taking a cue from the likes of recent hits such as IT and STRANGER THINGS, it’s high time that we too paid tribute to the 1980s, a decade in cinema so fertile for genre output, its impact on pop culture is still felt each and every day, thirty plus years later. But of the thousands of movies released during that time, which still stand up today? Which of them have rightly attained classic status? In an undertaking only the STARBURST team are foolhardy enough to attempt, we decided to definitively rank the finest genre films produced during those ten years. After many months, the votes are now in, the numbers have been crunched, and over two hundred shortlisted titles have been whittled down to just eighty. Brace yourself for a nostalgia blast, as we countdown THE BEST SCI-FI, HORROR, AND FANTASY MOVIES OF THE EIGHTIES!

 

80

New Zealand is not only the end of the world, it’s also responsible for one of the best films about the end of the world, 1983’s The Quiet Earth. Three survivors of a mysterious event try to piece together what has happened and wonder whether society can continue. Evocative and provocative. | AB

79

 

Ken Russell’s first Hollywood picture is a science fiction tour de force, a powerful, serious, and brilliant reflection on life, love, and the universe, all of which make an appearance. Stunning to look at but with real depth thanks to a great script and classy acting from William Hurt and Blair Brown, making the final scene intellectually and emotionally astonishing. | RM

78

A Sherlock Holmes-inspired story, Basil, The Great Mouse Detective (as it was originally known in the UK) is a true Disney classic in which a beloved toymaker has gone missing, and it’s up to Basil and Dr Dawson to foil the nefarious plot of his arch-rival Professor Ratigan. Featuring the voice talents of Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone. | SP

 

77

 

After the non-canon second instalment, the Elm Street films return to form with this visual slice of heavy metal (Dokken’s title song rocks hard) featuring everyone’s favourite child murderer. Set in a mental hospital, Freddy Krueger torments the children of those who killed him, in increasingly inventive ways. Tendon puppet! | AB

 

76

 

A video game is being used to recruit new fighters for an interplanetary war, and unwitting trailer park kid Alex Rogan becomes the chosen one when he is assumed to be an ace pilot in this underrated sci-fi action comedy that pioneered CGI effects in its space battle scenes. | RP

75

A hilarious straight to video comedy (in the UK at least) featuring cranial screw-top zip-lock brain surgery inventor Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin), a scheming femme fatale (Kathleen Turner), a serial killer, and true love in the form of a disembodied talking brain... oh, and David Warner as Dr Necessiter. | CJo

 

74

After a young boy is orphaned by the forces of a vicious sorcerer warlord, he grows up a slave knowing nothing but the desire for vengeance. Upon being freed, he follows a prophecy to destroy his enemy, his notoriety and legend beginning to grow in the process. | AM

73

Don Bluth’s adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien’s novel made for a splendid directorial debut. This dark fantasy adventure may not be known to all but is well worth (re)discovering. Classic animation, interesting storytelling, and an ensemble of characters sure to delight, The Secret of NIMH is indeed a secret gemstone of ‘80s animated cinema. | JB

72

Filmed on a shoestring budget of $500,000, this Roger Corman-produced sci-fi picture sees a group of astronauts land on the planet Morganthus, which psychologically preys on their emotions and fears. The film went through two title changes, being called Quest and Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror before settling on the current one. Look out for Robert Englund in an early role as Ranger, Corman favourite Sid Haig as Quuhod, and classic actor Ray Walston in a dual role. A bit of trivia: the patches on their uniforms have the insignia CSF, which was known as Corman Space Flight on the set! | WB

71

Making twenty times its $700,000 budget, Night of the Comet was a post-modern sci-fi zombie exploitation film that gained a cult audience – with fans including Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon – for its clever, witty dialogue and believable reactions to a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Auteur Thom Eberhardt would go on to write Honey, I Blew Up The Kid and not much else, sadly. | AB

70

This isn’t a film, it’s 90 minutes of richly detailed and lovingly realised world-building with an occasionally heart-stopping (them giant crabs! The way the Skeksis loom!) and often heartbreaking (the poor podlings…) plot thrown in for good measure. Arguably Jim Henson’s creative high point, many of us still intend to retire to the podling village one day. | SD

 

69

The landscape of ‘80s horror was certainly a mixed bag, but the (literal!) grin-inducing charm of Fright Night marks it out as a favourite of many a genre fan. William Ragsdale’s Charley Brewster has to do his best to get made-for-TV vampire hunter Peter Vincent to believe that Brewster’s new neighbour is actually a real-life bloodsucker! | AP

 

68

Skewing away from the blood-soaked rampage of Michael Myers, Tommy Lee Wallace’s Season of the Witch gave fans a non-Shape-centred offering that saw the sinister Silver Shamrock company take centre stage. Novelty masks that turn kids’ heads to slithering mush? Consider us sold! Dismissed as a dud at the time, Season of the Witch has gone on to become a true cult classic. | AP

67

In the shadow of E.T., John Badham’s sweet sci-fi about a military robot struck by lightning and thus attaining human intelligence (not sure if that’s any longer a positive considering humanity nowadays) is still a good-natured romp, and its mechanical star Number 5 is definitely one of cinema’s most memorable bots. | JB

66

Terry Gilliam’s finest. This is a ‘children’s’ movie where amoral small people steal from the actual God and kidnap a small child before taking him through history to nick stuff from Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and Agamemnon (Sean sodding Connery) before battling evil incarnate (David Warner, of course). Batshit mental, dark and wonderful. | SD

65

Recently revived to mixed success, Rod Serling’s iconic series received a star-studded anthology feature film back in 1983, which saw Joe Dante and George Miller arguably outdo Steven Spielberg and John Landis. Sadly the helicopter tragedy made Twilight Zone: The Movie memorable for the wrong reasons, but this is still an essential film. | JB

64

Thanks to the Chiodo Brothers’ masterfully creepy special effects and the calliope-gone-wrong score from John Masari, this sci-fi horror comedy manages to be disturbing as anything, while staying completely hilarious through some timeless gags. While Killer Klowns occasionally veers towards cheesy, it skilfully walks a tightrope between funny and scary. | NS

63

 

Set in a Blade Runner-style neon-lit dystopian future and featuring washed-up baseball players, zombie cop assassins, time travel paradoxes, and a jaded anti-hero named Jack Death, Charles Band’s 1984 masterpiece has it all. Did we mention that the filthy synth-core soundtrack is up there with the ‘80s greats? Kung Fury without a hint of irony! | PP

62

John Hughes is one of the go-to directors when it comes to ‘80s favourites, and Weird Science is up there as one of the helmer’s most beloved offerings. Taking a cue from Frankenstein, Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith star as two uber-nerds who create their own virtual dream girl in the form of Kelly LeBrock. | AP

 

61

Time travel with a difference by legendary writer Richard Matheson. After becoming smitten with her portrait, Christopher Reeve’s lovestruck playwright desperately hypnotises himself back in time to the early 1900s to woo a young actor (Jane Seymour). Complicating matters further is her manipulative manager, played by Christopher Plummer. | RP

 

60

Disney’s ‘wrong turn’, this is the darkly beautiful Celtic epic that The Sword in the Stone wishes it could be. It has a psychic pig called Hen Wen, the most winsomely underdoggish of heroes, the mindbogglingly terrifying Horned King and, above all, it has Gurgi. Oh poor, beautiful Gurgi… | SD

59

He’s back, the man behind the mask! Part VI sees Jason making his Frankenstein-like appearance, resurrected by accident by the tormented Tommy Jarvis and a healthy dose of electricity. A truly classic ‘80s horror comedy with a killer soundtrack by the legendary Alice Cooper. | SP

58

 

Star Trek has never been short of wit and charm, but The Voyage Home exuded a warmth that the franchise has never surpassed. The whales, the probe, double-dumbass, LDS, nuclear wessels, “Your name is Jim” – it’s a smorgasBorg of memorable moments that remain a Trek highpoint 33 years on. | MN

 

57

 

Val Kilmer as a Han Solo-style swordsman, Warwick Davis not in a mask, trolls, Brownie/cat love, an amazing lead villainess, a talking goat/possum/crow, and Joanne Whalley being black-clad and unbelievably badass while ginger - if this isn’t one of the greatest fantasy films ever, we don’t want to know what is. | SD

56

Upon discovering a map to the hidden treasure of a legendary pirate, a group of children set out to locate the “rich stuff” and save their families from eviction by greedy developers, all the while evading elaborate subterranean booby traps as well as a criminal family on their trail. | AM

55

In his first attempt at another writer’s work, David Cronenberg’s version of the Stephen King story remains one of the finest adaptations of the novelist’s output to date. When schoolteacher Johnny Smith awakens from a five-year coma, life and love have moved on. But he’s developed a psychic gift for prophecy - touching someone reveals their future to him. Cutting himself off from a past that is, for him, recent, his gift/curse becomes destiny when he shakes the hand of a corrupt politician. As you’d expect from Cronenberg, The Dead Zone’s strength is the time given for the characters to get under your skin. The sombre tone is relentless, the bleak landscapes and icy conditions reflecting Johnny’s inability to allow any warmth in until the emotionally devastating climax. The psychic episodes are both shocking and effective, but this is Cronenberg and King at their most compassionate. As the lovers separated by fate, Christopher Walken and the wonderful Brooke Adams have never been finer. It should have been a huge hit. And in the character of Martin Sheen’s megalomaniac politician who will say and do anything to become president, The Dead Zone is more relevant now than it ever was… | RM

54

Peter Jackson’s debut movie is about as far from Middle-earth as you can get. Made on a modest budget in his native New Zealand and starring Jackson himself in the leading role, Bad Taste is a rollercoaster of gory practical effects, almost stomach-churningly disgusting in its primitive explicitness  - vomit drinking, aliens being hacked apart by chainsaws, buckets of blood, and dismemberment from the inside out are just a few of the ‘highlights’. If you ever wondered where the guy who made The Lord of the Rings got his start, you’re in for a real eye-opener! | CJ

53

Earth, 1987. Is that a synthesiser or a portal-opening key? Spoiler, it’s the latter, and in struts Dolph Lundgren as He-Man with his barely functioning loincloth, Frank Langella as Skeletor thinking he’s Macbeth at the Globe Theatre, and Meg Foster as the vicious ice queen Evil-Lyn. Bags of fun and accidentally camp in all the right places. | PP

52

Based on his own short story, The Hellbound Heart, first-time director Clive Barker serves up a creepy gothic horror, chock full of BDSM themes and visceral gore. In Pinhead, the leader of the kinky Cenobites, Barker created one of modern horror’s most outstanding monsters, taking his place in a pantheon the equal of Universal’s 1930s line-up. | AB

51

David Lynch’s masterpiece is a stylish thriller that stirs elements of film noir and psychological horror into a very weird, almost surreal mix. Kyle MacLachlan, with only Dune under his belt before taking the role of Jeffrey, is a wonderful cipher, but the show is stolen by Dennis Hopper’s batshit crazy Frank. Now it’s dark… | AB

50

The third instalment in George A Romero’s zombie series and the last for twenty years, Day of the Dead is a character piece, focusing on the occupants of a military camp doing experiments on the undead, which is nonetheless full to the brim with gore. Remade twice, with diminishing returns. | AB

49

Upon its release, many critics asked: “Why do a sequel to such a seminal classic as The Wizard Of Oz?”. That story was the first in a series of fourteen Oz novels all written by L Frank Baum. Return To Oz takes the follow-up novels, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, and creates this wonderful, underrated gem, which sees Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) taken to an asylum for electrotherapy to control her fantasies about the land of Oz. However, a tumble into a river sees Dorothy return to the Emerald City, which has been left in tatters by the Nome King (Nicol Willamson) and Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh). Dorothy must set out once again, this time with the help of Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Gump, dodging the terrifying Wheelers and crossing the Deadly Desert to save the Scarecrow, Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the rest of Oz. Originally underperforming at the box office, Return to Oz has steadily become a cult classic, giving wider appreciation of L Frank Baum’s work and restoring the dark tone of the novels that was lost from the more sugary-sweet Judy Garland classic.  | NB

48

John Carpenter followed up Halloween by dropping several of its cast members, including Jamie Lee Curtis, in a small Californian town which is under a curse. Exactly a hundred years after luring a shipload of lepers to their doom, the spirits are after vengeance on the descendants of the wreckers! | RP

47

Forget the atrocious Michael Bay Transformers series, 1986’s Transformers: The Movie is the only Robots-in-Disguise film that matters to most of us (okay, Bumblebee notwithstanding). Full of surprising brutality, shocking deaths, an all-powerful villain, and a soundtrack for the hair metal ages, this animated delight encapsulates everything that is right about the Transformers property. | AP

46

 

Monty Python meets 1984, via a Kafkaesque spearing of bureaucracy, in Terry Gilliam’s gloriously ridiculous masterpiece. Set in a dystopian metropolis, Jonathan Pryce plays government pencil pusher Sam Lowry. After a printing error results in the incarceration and death of cobbler Archibald Buttle, rather than suspected terrorist Archibald Tuttle, Sam is tasked with rectifying the cock-up. He tracks down Tuttle (Robert De Niro, showing that he can play comedy, whatever Little Fockers may have made you think), but is distracted by dreams of being a winged warrior saving a mysterious damsel, and his search for this damsel leads him into dire straits. Gilliam and his team conjured up a dark world, in which terrorist bombings are so commonplace that passers-by carry on their conversations and the government have no qualms about torturing those who act against them, but what makes Brazil stand the test of time is that it’s constantly hilarious, the surreal comedy working to emphasise the nightmare. The amount of detail put into the off-kilter world is relentlessly imaginative; try to catch every sign the characters pass – “Don’t suspect a friend, report him!” is a highlight. | KM

45

Loosely based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator is a glorious, Technicolor explosion of gore and body horror, starring the inimitable Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, a medical student engaged in some very dangerous experiments to bring the dead back to life. From director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna, Re-Animator was one of a series of body horror classics that oozed out of the mid-1980s, standing atop a cadaverous pyramid that also contained From Beyond, Society, and Evil Dead II. In common with the latter of those three, Re-Animator was also very darkly funny, although it erred on the right side of a line that would later be obliterated by Frankenhooker. | AB

44

When video game maker Kevin Flynn hacks ENCOM, he’s transported into the digital realm of the mainframe computer, and a fight for survival ensues. Tron features some truly outstanding special effects thanks to Disney and the famous light cycles created by Syd Mead. Truly a movie ahead of its time. | SP

43

The ‘To Be Continued’ nature of the ending of the first film was originally intended as a throwaway gag, but Part II picked up the mantle and ran with it – and admirably so. Using the series’ time-travel mechanics to revisit the events of the first film from a new perspective was a masterstroke that essentially spawned its own subgenre of revisionist sequels, with franchises from Harry Potter to The Terminator making use of the concept. Perhaps most notably, Avengers: Endgame recently used the trope for the basis of its plot and even name-checked Back to the Future in return. Its legacy lives strong. | SH

42

Set in 1987’s version of what a game show would look like in the far-flung future of 2019, alleged convicts are pitted against celebrity ‘Stalkers’ in a fight to stay alive. Featuring some of the worst puns ever captured on VHS, this early Stephen King adaptation (under his pseudonym Richard Bachman) remains super fun to this day - who doesn’t like to watch colourful characters get dispatched in perpetually gruesome ways? (Special mention to the LED-lit, opera-singing, electric-shooting Dynamo!) | PP

41

Alex Cox made quite a few films with punk rockers, but none of his movies effortlessly captured the punk rock spirit so well as this sci-fi flick about a mysterious 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. Endlessly quotable and featuring Harry Dean Stanton in an iconic role, it only gets better with age. | NS

40

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door. Five, six grab your crucifix, seven, eight, gonna stay up late. Nine, ten… never sleep again.” The eighties unexpectedly brought us a golden age of American teen horror where the audience were equally repulsed by, scared of and rooting for their favourite killers, be they carrying machetes and wearing hockey masks or, in the case of Wes Craven’s seminal classic, a grimy striped jumper and a battered fedora. The late Freddy Krueger became the most unlikely of pop culture icons with his razor-sharp bladed glove and disfigured face as he relentlessly pursued his teen prey through their nightmares in revenge for being cornered and burned to death for his crimes by a mob of parents. It could only happen in the ‘80s - a gloating child murderer as a hero, and the subject of a spin-off cable TV series, comic books, posters, books, talking plush dolls and action figures. Put that squarely down to the cackling, fiendish charisma of Robert Englund, who carried on the role in a series of sequels, culminating in a cinematic smackdown with Crystal Lake’s Jason Voorhees. As Freddy gloated in the first of the sequels: “You are ALL my children now”… and he wasn’t wrong. | RP

39

It might not be Indiana Jones’ greatest adventure (he’d already had it), but there’s no doubt that it’s beloved by the many fans of the globe-trotting archaeologist. Not in the same league as Raiders, but Temple of Doom is every bit as iconic. ‘Trust me.’ | MN

38

One of the best rollercoasters of a horror film ever produced, this Spielberg-created, Tobe Hooper-directed funfair ride of thrills was a deserved success when released as a flip side to E.T. back in 1982. Its effectiveness lies in its setting. Poltergeist was different because its haunting happened in a normal suburban house, a domestic situation, not the gothic mansions or dark castles of traditional ghost stories. By rooting the tale of a child ripped by supernatural forces from the safety of her family in such a normal environment, Poltergeist thrilled because it felt like it could happen to us. And it was the family’s strong relationships and the performances behind them that gave heart to the frights and made us care about getting Carol Anne back from the other side… As for those frights, the film offered effects which were astonishing for their time, eerily beautiful in some cases, all-out gore in others. Tapping into the nightmares of children and adults (there’s a demonic toy clown under the bed/‘we’ve lost our daughter’), the film presented the traditional family unit, tore it apart and put it back together again via otherworldly means, and we loved it. Just don’t ask how they built all of those houses on top of the graves without putting in the foundations… | RM

37

In some alternate reality, Flash Gordon is a franchise as big as Star Wars. Dino De Laurentiis’ lifelong quest to find the ultimate money-spinner almost came to pass with this lavish piece of sci-fi. This high-camp yet gorgeous romp is memorable for its stonkingly good Queen soundtrack and for scenery-chewing performances from Ornella Muti, Brian Blessed, and Max von Sydow, this is an ‘80s movie in all its opulent splendour. | EF

36

Superman: The Movie remains the template for any superhero origin film, but Superman II suits just as well for sequels. The Richard Donner-directed sections work best - you believe a man can fly because Donner makes you believe it - but Richard Lester does inject a sense of fun to Zod’s revenge. | RM

35

Inspired by a 1960 cult classic from Roger Corman, 1986 saw the Frank Oz directed film release of the Broadway musical smash from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. With a doo-wop, soul-y infused musical score, the film follows Seymour (Rick Moranis) seeing a turn in fortune and love with co-worker Audrey (Ellen Green) when he discovers a new breed of plant-life, which he dubs Audrey II. However, Seymour discovers the plant’s insatiable desire for blood, and with every drop it grows into something more and more monstrous. With a brilliant supporting role from Steve Martin as a sadistic dentist, Motown legend Levi Stubbs providing the voice of Audrey II, and an incredible feat of animatronic puppetry to create the ever-growing plant, this film has cult classic running through its branches. Famously, the theatrical release was controversial: Oz’s original ending, in keeping with the Broadway show where all of the cast dies and Audrey II takes over the world, full invasion-mode, was scrapped at the last minute in favour of a ‘happy ending’. However, over the years, fan pressure saw the demand for a director’s cut, which was finally released in 2012 with the true ending restored to its full glory! | NB

34

Disney’s child-friendly sci-fi classic stars Paul ‘Pee-Wee Herman’ Reubens as Max, a sentient robot/alien who abducts young David from Earth during his mission to harvest information from across the galaxy. A wonderful script, a fantastic ‘80s synthy soundtrack, and a huge helping of the usual Disney magic make this a treat for all ages! | CJ

33

Have a conversation with someone about which remakes are better than their original films, and it’s a safe bet that The Fly will be mentioned within the first breath. And rightly so – it’s loaded with incredible practical effects and good, old-fashioned sci-fi body-horror. But best of all, it stars Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle – later, Brundlefly – who, whether doing topless pull-ups or vomiting on his food while caked under multiple layers of makeup, is never anything less than utterly captivating. | SH

32

Tough guy wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper teaming with all-time genre great John Carpenter? In a movie that highlights the powers of consumerism and the influence of mass media? With one of the greatest fight sequences in cinema history? With one-liners a-plenty? Few movies scream ‘1980s!’ louder than They Live. | AP

31

After losing her love, a young farm girl is betrothed to the kingdom’s crown prince, only to become kidnapped by a trio of outlaws and pursued by a mysterious pirate. Standard yet somewhat surreal fantasy shenanigans ensue as everyone battles for what and who they love. | AM

30

It’s the year 1997. After a botched robbery of master credit cards and the death of his friend Fresno Bob, former combat vet and pilot Snake Plissken is sent to the maximum security prison of Manhattan, run by the United States Police Force. Here, our (anti) hero is given a deadly deal by the warden: rescue the kidnapped President of the United States within 22 hours or be killed by the micro-explosives implanted in his body... | WB

29

With an intoxicating, exuberant blend of fantasy and horror, adventure and romance, martial arts and comedy, John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China could well be the perfect film. Overstating it? Perhaps. But it’s difficult to think of something that’s missing. Carpenter’s Chinatown-set Western may well have been a box office failure upon release but has since become revered as a classic of ‘80s cinema. And then there’s the one-liners: “Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call The President.” We all need a little Jack Burton at times. | JT

28

Why is it that, despite placing sixth in STARBURST’s Best Zombie Movies to See Before You’re Undead feature way back in issue 405, Dan O’Bannon’s gleefully ghoulish monster movie remains criminally underrated in a culture obsessed with the genre it helped cement?! “Not a bad question, Burt.” | KH

27

Featuring the red hot double act of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as father ‘n’ son, The Last Crusade is the second most beloved Indiana Jones movie. The Holy Grail story is fun, the set pieces are cool, our hero’s character is deepened, Julian Glover’s baddie is great, and the final shot is sublime. Spielberg gave Indy a fitting send-off here, or so we thought, as Harrison would don the fedora once again nearly two decades later and will again in 2021. Someone’s been sneakily sipping at that Holy Grail again… | JB

26

Bill and Ted’s plans for world domination with their band Wyld Stallyns are thrown into jeopardy when Ted’s dad threatens to send him to military school if he fails his history exam. But thanks to a time travelling phone box and a collection of kidnapped historical figures, there might just be a solution... Endlessly quotable with a fantastic cast and too many memorable moments to even begin to mention (although the shopping mall scene deserves special credit for being so ridiculously entertaining), this is an excellent adventure that stands up to repeat viewing even now. Party on, dudes! | CJ

25

Framed like a 116-minute Queen music video, Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander plays fast and loose with historical fact as a group of immortal’s cross millennia battling for ‘the Prize’. Look too closely and the plot holes are more preposterous than any of the accents on display, but that’s not really the point. Highlander is a celebration of fantastical ambition, of an idea that grew without the limitation of reasonable logic into an epic tale of heroes and villains. It shouldn’t have worked; it shouldn’t be any good at all. But hey… ’It’s a kind of magic.’ | JT

24

If there’s one thing the ‘80s did better than any other decade, it was superior sequels, and to defend that statement, we offer in evidence Mad Max 2, or in the USA, The Road Warrior. This is, arguably, one of the best examples of motorised mayhem to ever burn rubber on the screen. After a simple flashback, which in a matter of seconds recaps Mad Max (1979) and tells us all we need to know about the post-apocalyptic, dystopian world where fuel is everything, we’re off on a turbocharged rollercoaster of a film that never lets up for a second and became Australia’s most profitable movie at the time. The whole movie is practically a live-action 2000 AD strip. Road Warrior Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), formerly of the Main Force Patrol, is aimlessly driving around the bleak desert landscape, scavenging fuel where and when he can. Max is as burnt out as his vehicle, the last of the V8s. The loner soon becomes part of something bigger when he stumbles upon a refinery populated mainly by well-meaning pacifists under siege by a small army of homicidal marauders who want the precious fuel. Their leader, Lord Humungous and his henchman Wez (Vernon Wells) will stop at nothing to get what they want, and this culminates in a gloriously breath-taking eighteen-minute chase, rivalled only by director George Miller’s 2015 sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road. | RP

23

Tim Burton only had one film – the classic Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure – under his belt when he scored a massive hit with Beetlejuice. Starring Michael Keaton as the titular exorcist (who is very dead himself), it’s a Gothic kaleidoscope of scares, songs, and sight gags which has aged as well as the seemingly eternal Winona Ryder. | AB

22

Based on his manga of the same name, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is revered to this very day as one of the most ground-breaking pieces of animation ever committed to the silver screen. But not just a jaw-dropping visual delight, the plot of this future-set (2019!) sci-fi epic is a gripping rollercoaster of a ride. Set in Neo-Tokyo, biker gang leader Kaneda has to help bring down his childhood BFF Tetsuo; a BFF who has developed extraordinary and erratic powers after a motorcycle accident. Even now, Akira is still seen as the benchmark for animated offerings, such is its legacy and constant influence. And not just on animation, for Akira would go on to influence cinema, period, upon its release and through the subsequent decades. A big-budget live-action redo has long been in the works, and now Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi has been officially tasked with directing such a movie for 2021 – only this time out, the action will be switched over to New Manhattan. While many have been hesitant to see a new take on Akira, knowing Waititi will be on directing duties certainly has excitement and anticipation levels once again amped up at what may lie ahead for this iconic property. | AP

21

One of the most beloved and successful films ever made, E.T.’s story of a boy emotionally stranded after his parents’ divorce and a physically stranded alien finding and saving each other took the world by storm back in 1982. The summer blockbuster of its year in the States didn’t make it to the UK until Christmas, dodgy pirate videos aside, and excitement was tangible upon its release here. Its elegant direction (Spielberg has rarely been simpler), witty script, and pitch-perfect casting - Thomas, Barrymore, McNaughton, and Wallace are superb - made it an instant classic and, despite those pesky videos, nothing could stop its box office domination, its combination of intimate family drama, science fiction wonder and massive emotional wallop beating the likes of Blade Runner and The Thing into financial doom. Why? Simple. Any child who has sobbed over a lost pet dog and any adult who still tears up at the memory of it understands why those final scenes shred the heartstrings. E.T. is as pure a love story as has ever been put on film - the gaining, losing, and cherishing of it - and that humanity is something that should be alien to no one. | RM

20

There’s so much talent involved in Labyrinth – directed by Jim Henson, a screenplay by Terry Jones, produced by George Lucas, starring Jennifer Connelly, puppets from Henson’s Creature Shop. And then there’s David Bowie camping it up as Jareth the Goblin King, singing to a chorus of grotesque creatures as he joyously chucks a baby around. Connelly stars as fifteen-year-old Sarah, who impetuously wishes for baby brother Toby to be taken away by goblins. Unfortunately, her wish comes true. Sarah journeys into Jareth’s realm to rescue Toby, and is given thirteen hours to solve its labyrinth, full of puzzles, traps, and an MC Escher-themed hall of confusingly oriented stairs. While the story is simple, it has a strong central theme about growing up and remembering childhood joys. Labyrinth itself is a childhood joy worth revisiting, one of those films that function perfectly as children’s entertainment but which there’s zero shame in still getting enthralled by as an adult. The puppetry and effects are remarkable, their physicality and cheeky humour standing the test of time more than a lot of CG-heavy movies from more recent years. And, of course, there’s Bowie. All together now: you remind me of the babe... | KM

19

After moving to Santa Carla, brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) soon discover that their new town has the unenviable reputation of being the murder capital of the world. But the area is a haven for vampires, after all. With the help of the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), Michael and Sam avoid becoming murder statistics themselves. Intended as Richard Donner’s follow up to The Goonies, the family adventure film originally featured child vampires, with the lead vamp being called Peter. The idea was that Peter Pan never grew up as he was actually Nosferatu! When production languished, Donner moved onto Lethal Weapon instead. He remained as executive producer, and Joel Schumacher eventually took over as director, but on the condition that the vamps were teenagers instead of kids as he thought it would be sexier and more interesting. Kiefer Sutherland, as the vampires’ supposed leader David, is the standout performance despite him having the fewest lines. Slick and stylish with a killer soundtrack and gorgeous cinematography, this comedy/horror hybrid hasn’t aged a day. Just like its undead antagonists! | CJo

18

It’s an absolute testament to An American Werewolf in London that, to this day, it’s so frequently pointed to as not only the go-to example of a post-modern deconstruction of werewolf mythology but also, arguably, the go-to example of werewolf movies, full stop. A true horror-comedy, combining genuine laughs with groundbreaking effects work and legitimate pathos, it’s the benchmark every werewolf movie made in the last 30 years has aspired to reach. | SH

17

Having plodded through 1979’s Star Trek: The Motionless Picture, the heroic crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise regrouped under director Nicholas Meyer and producer Harve Bennett in a scaled down adventure that stripped away the needless grandeur and pomposity of the previous film and embraced, instead, the franchise’s TV roots. This was the film that Trekkies and Trekkers had been yearning for, one that not only brought the bridge crew back into action but also dealt with the inevitable effects of our heroes getting older and perhaps not being as sprightly as they were back in the day. The returning Ricardo Montalban as the renegade genetic superman Khan from first season episode Space Seed was the cherry on top, as he chewed even more scenery than William Shatner in a glorious performance, literally alternating between purring his lines and spitting out paraphrases from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Add to all this one of our genre’s most emotional death scenes of a beloved character and, as quoted from Spock’s birthday gift to Kirk, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” There would be a further four sequels of varying quality – but none would’ve been possible without The Wrath of Khan, ultimately the first part of a trilogy which might collectively be the greatest Star Trek story ever told. | RP

16

Arnie’s rise to stardom was still on the ascendancy when this high concept, jungle-set man versus alien film was released. Originally played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, the alien itself was completely redesigned by Stan Winston and his brilliant special effects team after they realised that the suit was unworkable and looked hilariously bad! It features Arnie’s favourite catchphrase of his career, ‘Get to the chopper!’, and the Austrian had plenty of bodybuilding rivalries on set, particularly with Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers. In further testosterone-fuelled rowdiness, an insurance company also had to hire a bodyguard to follow Sonny Landham around set to protect the rest of the cast and crew from his infamous violent outbursts! | JG

15

Where do you even start with The Evil Dead? It launched the careers of star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi, spawned two sequels, a bunch of video games, and even a musical, and has remained so popular over the years that the movie was remade in 2013, followed by three seasons of the incredible Ash vs Evil Dead between 2015 and 2018. Quite simply an iconic masterpiece, The Evil Dead is an undisputed classic in the world of cult entertainment and still reigns supreme as one of the absolute best in its genre. | CJ

14

What may appear on first glance to be cheap action schlock is, in fact, one of the sharpest satires of the 1980s and an utter delight of violent mayhem. In a dystopian future (yes, another one – it’s almost as if the ‘80s wasn’t a particularly stable decade), the mayor of Detroit sells control of the police department to mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products. One of OCP’s experiments is to put mortally wounded cop Alex Murphy into a cyborg body. Christened RoboCop, Murphy begins dispensing serious justice to Detroit’s criminals, all while exposing the sinister scheming within OCP. You can see the influence of the Judge Dredd comics, as director Paul Verhoeven, in his first major Hollywood picture, mixes the brutal with the outright silly in a way that packs a hell of a punch. There’s some great worldbuilding, particularly in the cutaway adverts for things like a nuclear warfare-themed family board game. A movie which could only have been made in the ‘80s but which gets better with every watch, RoboCop spawned a couple of inevitably disappointing sequels and one inevitably disappointing remake, but the original remains a high point of sci-fi satire – worth buying for well more than a dollar. | KM

13

Anyone of a certain age will remember that, upon its release, The Shining was not regarded as the horror classic that it is today. Far from it. With many negative reviews, it was criticised for being too slow, for its OTT performances, and for its lack of real frights. It was famously hated by the novel’s author Stephen King and failed to pick up any Oscar nominations at all. Like the sense of dread the film exudes, The Shining took its time to garner its lofty position as one of the greatest horror films ever made. It’s difficult to know where such negativity came from. The Shining is a masterpiece of a film; any element of it could be held up as an example of how to get it right, from the ominously slow pacing to the terrifyingly formal framing, the intimidating production design, the haunting soundtrack, and the maniacal performances. Despite the brilliance of Nicholson and Duvall (hers is surely one of the great horror performances of all time), the real stars of The Shining are Kubrick, a steadycam, and the Overlook Hotel. Because, as terrifying a place as it might be, it somehow insists that you go back again and again.  | RM

12

Along with Superman (1978), modern superhero films owe their entire existence to this groundbreaking take on the Dark Knight. Taking its tone from the works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, fans today still enjoy the Gothic, mysterious take on Gotham City. However, the film had languished in development hell for a decade, jumping between directors such as Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), and actors such as Mel Gibson, Pierce Brosnan, and Bill Murray, only for it to land in the lap of relatively new director Tim Burton. Though the world lauded the now-iconic performance of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, fans were not originally set on Burton’s choice for the Caped Crusader: Michael Keaton. Widely viewed as a comic actor at the time, Keaton ignored the thousands of complaints from fans to quit, the controversy making the front page of The Wall Street Journal! In fact, Keaton gave an influential performance, ultimately silencing the nay-sayers. With a superb supporting cast in Kim Basinger, Michael Gough, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, and Billy Dee Williams (the greatest live-action Two-Face we never had) and a soundtrack from Prince, Batman remains an absolute genre classic. | NB

11

A noirish sci-fi horror imbued from a fever dream that James Cameron had, this was the film that truly launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, as he played a literal killing machine from the future, sent back in time to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance to Skynet’s uprising. It’s amazing how the final product balances wonderfully between a modern-day sci-fi dystopia and a straight-out slasher flick! Interestingly, the titular role almost went to co-star Lance Henriksen or, somewhat ironically, O.J. Simpson (although there were no gloves involved). | JG

10

Return of the Jedi had the trickiest task of any movie released in the 1980s, or any other decade come to think of it. Concluding the original Star Wars trilogy and following the biggest movie ever and the greatest ever sequel was a tall order, one that ILM and LFL were more than capable of tackling. With producer Gary Kurtz gone, the influence of Ralph McQuarrie less than on previous films, and a new director in Richard Marquand, it’s credit to the Maker George Lucas that the film was the success it was. Besides, who else could make you believe that the Ewoks could defeat the Empire? | MN

9

Six years after The Evil Dead’s release, Sam Raimi and co. revisited their original idea with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks - Evil Dead II is one of those rare creatures, a movie that pokes fun at its source material and actually ends up being even better than the original. With more humour, more craziness, and a higher budget allowing for more (splat)terrific special effects, Raimi’s ideas are taken to a whole other level here. If you’ve never seen an Evil Dead film, get on it right now. And if you’ve only got time for one of them, make it this one. | CJ

8

It was well known that George Lucas was a fan of the movie serials that were common in the ‘30s and ‘40s; after all, Flash Gordon was a pivotal inspiration for Star Wars. But what about those hundreds of other serials with the wisecracking hero avoiding just about every kind of deadly trap and tomb imaginable? It’s okay, George had us covered and duly handed the director’s chair to his good friend Steven Spielberg, who knew exactly how to pull off the perfect homage. In 1936, archaeologist, lecturer, and adventurer Professor Henry Jones (Indiana or Indy to his friends) is sent on a mission by the U.S. government to retrieve the fabled Ark of the Covenant, which legend tells us carries the actual remains of the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The trouble is, Hitler has sent his Nazis to find them as well, hoping their supernatural properties will help him in his quest for world domination. Indy must team up with a feisty ex-lover (Karen Allen) and survive multiple brushes with death in snake pits, shootouts, fist fights, chases, and a journey on the outside of a U-boat (we assume it didn’t submerge, despite hearing an order to dive). All in a day’s work! As Indy says, “It ain’t the years honey, it’s the mileage.” | RP

7

Gremlins, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, ensured that 1984 was scary as hell for kids, although the irresistibly cute little Mogwai did go a long way to balancing out the horror of Stripe and his mean-spirited group of Seven Dwarf-loving, old lady-killing alcoholics. The original script was reportedly much darker and leant more on the horror genre than the comedy moments that gave this the levity it needed. Probably the most harrowing Christmas story ever told, Gremlins stands out as a practical effects film that, some dodgy matte effects aside, still stands up against the might of CGI today. A Joe Dante classic. | JG

6

It was lightning in a bottle. A cast of Saturday Night Live alumni, Bill Murray deadpanning every single line to brilliant effect, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as his straight men, street-savvy horror, some genuine scares, the stunning Sigourney Weaver as the reluctant love interest, and cinema’s coolest ambulance conversion in ECTO-1! Our trio of university grant-sponging slackers have to go into business for themselves as paranormal investigators when they are thrown off campus for their antics. Five-star hotels with a Slimer infestation? The New York City library’s symmetrical book stacking problem? Giant marshmallow men in sailor hats looking to get rowdy? Demonic Armageddon? “We’re here to believe you!” Sadly, that lightning couldn’t be caught twice, and the long-delayed but inevitable 1989 sequel (tellingly absent from this list) couldn’t match up to the frantic genius of the original. Who ya gonna call? | RP

5

When did The Thing become one of the greatest suspense/horror/science fiction films of all time? Not back in 1982 when it froze like an ice tomb at the box office and garnered a host of dismissive reviews, that’s for sure! While the box office can be blamed on E.T., the reviews can’t - what were they thinking? Of course, much like the similarly fated The Shining and Blade Runner, the brilliant Carpenter masterpiece is just about as good as a genre film can be, still powerful enough to warrant the label of a genuine classic. Claustrophobic, intense, and insanely graphic, Carpenter’s depiction of a creature able to assimilate and imitate any living being, leaving a group of isolated men questioning who may or may not be human, revels in its premise and ramps up the paranoia until we, like the characters themselves, simply don’t know who to trust. Famed for its stunning physical makeup effects, Rob Bottin’s creations still astonish almost 40 years on, supported by a cast who buy into the fear 100%. | RM

4

Like many entries on this list, Blade Runner had a rough start in life too. A box office bomb, its lukewarm reception by the public and critics meant that Ridley Scott’s follow-up to his classic Alien could easily have been forgotten about had it not been for two things. The first? It’s simply a great film. A detective thriller set in a gorgeously realised future world, Blade Runner is science fiction at its very best - intellectually stimulating and visually thrilling. It’s probably one of the most beautiful looking films of all time. Add to this the complex relationships of what it means to be human acted out by an all-round superb cast, and Blade Runner becomes cinematic poetry. The second? The rise of home video saved many a film from obscurity, never more so than in Blade Runner’s case where its popularity via the home market helped establish first a cult following, then mainstream recognition of its genius. Ahead of its time, this influential classic has been seen everywhere ever since. Its themes still resonate, its look hasn’t dated, it’s as much a great cinematic work now as it ever was. | RM

3

Given that the time-travel genre had firmly existed for almost 100 years at the point of Back to the Future’s release, it’s remarkable that it remains, perhaps, the definitive time travel movie to this day. More than that, it’s a film so dense with set-ups and pay-offs that it’s frequently studied in screenwriting classes. That script was brought to life under the wonderful direction of Spielberg-alum, Robert Zemeckis, and two of the most fun, likeable lead actors we’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. It’s ironic that a film so firmly rooted in its period setting is ultimately such a timeless classic. | SH

2

Sir Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien is rightfully viewed as one of the all-time greatest genre movies. Meshing sci-fi tropes with lashings of true terror, Ellen Ripley’s first encounter with the sinister Xenomorph was untouchable, right? As in, nothing could ever top this legendary picture? We mean, after all, making a sequel to such a well-received movie is an impossible task. Usually, for sure, but somehow Aliens managed to top its predecessor. Directed by James Cameron, this 1986 follow-up brilliantly took everything that was so pitch-perfect about Alien and took it to a whole other level. Again it’s Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley at the centre of the action, with badass Corporal Hicks, android Bishop and young Newt the key players joining her, and this time we even have a Xenomorph Queen causing all kinds of chaos. Not to mention, as well as again delivering a masterclass of sci-fi and horror, Aliens added more of an action skew to proceedings on its way to becoming known as one of the greatest sequel offerings ever made. Now, if only we could get that Neill Blomkamp-handled Ripley, Hicks and Newt follow-up that we keep hearing so much about… | AP

1

That the darkest hour in the original Star Wars trilogy has been voted as the biggest and the best of the ‘80s should come as no surprise.  This film traumatised an entire generation of fans and has cemented its place in genre film history as firmly as a Corellian smuggler in a slab of carbonite. The Rebels had their day in Star Wars (before we started calling it A New Hope), but events were about to take a nasty, unexpected turn with the Empire, understandably sore at losing their prized Death Star, hunting down our happy band of swashbuckling heroes with their dastardly Imperial Probe Droids, and finding them on the ice world of Hoth. From that moment on, nothing would go the good guys’ way. Well, except for Luke undertaking some pretty rigorous Jedi training at the feet of the diminutive Master Yoda – but then, judge him by his size you should not. This is a prime example of a sequel being superior in every way to its predecessor, not only in execution, but also story advancement and the sheer feeling of gloom that pervades the film despite soul-soaring moments like the battle of Hoth, the asteroid sequence, and the approach to the cloud city of Bespin. Its dazzling pace left us little time to ponder how the asteroid space slug’s belly managed to have gravity – but maybe that’s nit-picking. John Williams’ score gave us the eternally memorable, yet grim and menacing Imperial March, and what better music to consider the Millennium Falcon continually misfiring, the betrayal and torture of our heroes, Han in carbonite, and Luke losing his hand? It’s a good thing we had no Internet back then to spoil the most unexpected family reunion in film history! | RP

As ever, the results here are final and we cannot take responsibility for any disagreements between friends and colleagues the feature may cause, but you can always let us know how wrong we were via our socials!

WORDS: ROBIN PIERCE, ROBERT MARTIN, ALAN BOON, ANDREW POLLARD, CHRIS JACKSON, SPLEENY DOTSON, SOL HARRIS, JACK BOTTOMLEY, KRIS HEYS, NICK BLACKSHAW, KIERON MOORE, MARK NEWBOLD, STEPHEN PIERCE, PHIL PERRY, ANDREW MARSHALL, JD GILLAM, CHRISTIAN JONES, NICK SPACEK, WHITNEY SCOTT BAIN

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