When Stranger Things first arrived on Netflix in 2016, it brought with it a time capsule of what the '80s felt like—the puffy shoulder pads, big hair, and Sony Walkmans. This was a time when movies were badder and louder than ever before. They influenced style, culture, and spanned across every single genre in ways that impact the blockbusters of today.
With Stranger Things 3 set for a July 4th release date, there's no doubt about the overt 80s influences that the series still owes to films of this generation, particularly the sensibilities of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. As much as Stranger Things is faithful to the 1980s, or at least the way we remembered that decade, it can never be quite as '80s as the following Netflix films available in the U.S. of A and Canada.
Available in the US
In this 1983 horror thriller writer and producer Steven Spielberg, and director Tobe Hooper presented a picturesque, everything-is-fine suburban family. Except, everything wasn't fine when a team of violent ghosts began to take over a house that damn well should have been abandoned from the beginning.
Director Joe Dante's Gremlins from 1984 never got the respect that it deserved. Yes, it featured cute little fuzz balls that transformed into ugly little creatures set to terrorize the world. But it took place during Christmas and felt like the perfect antidote to all the inherent mushiness of the time.
In case you forgot that this was a list about the 1980s, here's a whole John Carpenter movie about a guy who loves his 1985 Plymouth Fury so much that he doesn't even notice when it becomes aware and tries to kill his entire family. It's the kind of silliness that nearly every Stephen King adaptation from this period would dish out.
The Dark Crystal
Recent talks of an edgier and darker Netflix remake of this 1982 classic have been greatly overstated. The Dark Crystal of the 80s was plenty dark enough. This nightmare disguised as a children's film was Jim Henson's epic masterpiece. Operating entirely through life-like puppets, it told the story of an alien world where a crystal that governed the land is damaged, causing new races to come into being. The Garthim? Nightmares. The Skeksis? Trauma. It's “children's” classic.
Coming to America
Ah Coming to America, Eddie Murphy's last, great movie before the whole "playing multiple people" thing became his go-to routine. It was far different than anything at that time—a little softer than a Spike Lee joint, but far Blacker than the Hollywood norm. And honestly, woe on anyone who doesn't know about the funniest story about an African prince who visited New York City to find the love of his life.
Maybe there was a time when Oliver Stone's filmography wasn't foaming with pending emotional ruin, but Platoon wasn't the relief. Despite being Stone's fourth feature film since his directorial debut, this Vietnam War movie was taken straight from his personal experiences as a grunt during the late 1960s. In it, a young Charlie Sheen plays a soldier who battles a war of conscious between two commanders with conflicting moral interests.
Indiana Jones ( Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Temple of Doom, and the Last Crusade)
A half looter, half archaeology professor travels the world in 1936 to battle Nazis, and gun down sword-swooshing brown folks, all before stealing legendary artifacts. Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones is more problematic than you remember, but there’s not many more iconic figures coming out of the 80s.
She's Gotta Have It
It was a 29-year-old Spike Lee and his first feature-length out the gate. Notably shot in two weeks on a tinybudget, his 1986 classic was a part in-your-face commentary on sex and a love letter to the pre-hipster life of 80s Brooklyn. Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), with her booty-lauding mom jeans, and sundresses explored sexuality through three egotistic men—each hell-bent on earning her undivided attention.
Once Upon a Time in America
It wouldn't be the 80s if we didn't have a longish epic about gangsters in America. Sergio Leone's Italian opus stretched to 229 minutes in his original European cut, which meant three hours of Niro as a bootlegger turned Mafia boss. When you consider that Robert De Niro hasn’t had a great performance this century this is refreshingly vintage.
Harry and the Hendersons
Is it dumb? Yes. Did everyone know this in 1987? Maybe? But does this William Dear-directed movie about Bigfoot living under the roof of the suburban Hendersons sound like the kind of 80s thing you'd fall in love with? Absolutely.
Those ankle socks, shoulder pads, and collared shirts, oh my. Fashion-wise, Heathers may look a bit outdated today, but Michael Lehmann's dark comedy felt groundbreaking 30 years ago. Retro queen Winona Ryder starred as a student among terrible people who used status to bully others beneath them. And boyfriend Christian Slater is the loner who teachers Ryder how to kill them. Good, dark times.
Richard Greenberg confirmed every child's universal fear of monsters under the bed in this flick. Starring 80s golden boy Fred Savage as Brian Stevenson, Little Monsters wasn't just disturbing due to the cheap makeup, body morphing, and disgusting piss-in-a-bottle pranks—it was the fact that this monster who befriended a random kid looked and sounded like Howie Mandel for an hour and 43 minutes.
What's more pre-90s than Al Pacino in Latino blackface? Pretty much everything about Brian De Palma's Scarface—from the fashion to the coke-dusted crime lords wearing corny island T-shirts. While the problematics of casting Pacino as a person of color is up there, the story of the rise of a crazy Tony Montana is a permanent fixture in popular culture. Even today, the punch lines, memes, and cultural references have stood the test of time.
If you want a case study in how parental roles were viewed in the 80s, watch Mr. Mom from director Stan Dragoti. It's 90 minutes of a pre-Batman Michael Keaton struggling to do "women's work," after his wife returns to the workforce. Oh look, it's Keaton struggling to clean up the house! Oh gosh, Keaton really can't cook! Now that's funny!
Available in Canada
The Breakfast Club
If you view high school as a horrible caste system of freaks, geeks and cool kids, John Hughes understood your pain in 1985's The Breakfast Club. Molly Ringwald was your 80s "It Girl" with her 80s eyeliner. Judd Nelson was the bully in denim jeans. Anthony Michael Hall played the sweater-wearing nerd. Emilio Estevez was the athlete in track pants. And Ally Sheedy played the baggy clothed weirdo.
Indiana Jones (1, 2 and 3)
Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3
Yes, it's that really popular franchise from Robert Zemeckis about a time-traveling DeLorean that played with history. And it also makes zero sense. But this was well before time-travel wasn't a total sham worthy of internet dissection. Even still, the adventures of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) brought us back to a time when the VCR was considered high technology, and when we were naive enough to believe in hoverboards. I'm still waiting.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
It's the one from 1986 about the popular kid played by Matthew Broderick who takes a day off with his girlfriend and best friend. Did they hang around watching TV all day or chill on a stoop? Nah. They borrowed a '62 Ferrari, ate well, and scammed on adults. It's still one of the best examples of 80s suburban privilege that we have.
"When there's something strange in the neighborhood, who you gonna call?" A bunch of middle-aged guys in homemade uniforms. Yes, the 2016 remake was great—yes, it was—but the credit will always go to the well-oiled machine of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the original 1984 team. Not only did Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters set the bar for visual effects in the day, but it was also a snapshot of some of the best tunes that the 80s had to offer.
Let me remind you that despite what the IMDB page may say, this is no children's film. There's a maze, some disturbing vibes between David Bowie and (a very young) Jennifer Connelly, and a lot of odd looking puppets. This functioned in the exact 80s style that tended to ignore conversations about how wrong it was for a 40-year-old to be interested in a 15-year-old. But it had David Bowie, so there’s that I guess.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is still the ultimate 80s boy-meets alien story and arguably Steven Spielberg's most beloved creation. Even for a film from 1982, it remains so watchable because bonding through loneliness is such a universal trait. It's easy to identify with a stranded alien and a young kid who find each other through pure circumstance. You'll cry over this classic, and if you don't, you're heartless.
It's easy to tell that Police Academy came out in 1984 because no person of colour would believe that cops could be this funny, and this likable. Let's be real here. Granted, Hugh Wilson created a fraternity-style setting in a story about misfits entering the police force, but it's only funny and acceptable in the way that a 1984-based flick can be.
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