Beloved Fantasy and Sci-Fi Movies of the 80s
Ah, the 80s. A decade of big hair, shoulder pads, and questionable movie soundtracks. I don’t know about you, but I have great memories of 80s fantasy—granted, some of those memories are the “I-love-it-and-love-to-make-fun-of-it” kind. Others are pure excellence that still holds up after all these years. Here are some of the throwback classics of sci-fi and fantasy film that came out of the 80s.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Building on the break-out success of the original in 1977, the next two installments of Lucas’ space saga solidified fans’ love, smashed box office records, and secured places in the vault of fantasy fame. They also gave us immortal lines like, “No. I am your father,” and “Do or do not,” and “I know.”
The level of worldbuilding Star Wars put on screen gave permission and inspiration to a lot of what followed in SFF film. And, for my money, the original effects still top the overdone re-engineered stuff. 30-plus-years later, we’re still asking for more.
Young Jeff Bridges is sucked into his computer game, and hackers and gamers across the world are instantly envious. Props to the classic 80s soundtrack and special effects on this one. They’re so old-school that they’re strangely endearing now, but at the time broke new ground. The movie achieved a Trekkie-esque cultdom in future SFF movies or shows as well. The main character in TV’s Chuck, for example, keeps a Tron poster on his wall, and the movie sparked a remake in 2010, also starring Bridges.
True confessions, I’ve never seen the whole movie. But it’s pretty hard to do a “fantasy films of the 80s” list without mentioning Dune. Many still hold it as a film that helped set the stage for the breadth and depth of worldbuilding to come.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
A boy enters a fantasy world through the pages of a book—how many times have we wished that might happen to us? Luckdragons and giant turtles and Artax in the swamps. Sometimes, I think this is one that doesn’t translate as well into adulthood, but it still musters the childhood nostalgia.
The Goonies (1985)
For me, this was THE go-to fantasy movie growing up. A rag tag group of friends embark on a treasure hunt to find the mysterious ship (and gold!) of pirate One-Eyed Willy and save their neighborhood from foreclosure. Anyone of a certain age dreamed of going on a Goonies adventure with Mikey and the gang. I still do! The truffle shuffle, Sloth, Data. So many great laughs and characters. Mikey’s speech at the wishing well remains one of my all-time favorites. And the ship! It breaks my heart that Hollywood destroyed this ship after the filming—one of the most incredible pirate ships ever in my opinion.
Fantasy with a heavy dose of romance. Matthew Broderick shines as The Mouse, a wanted thief who can’t stop talking to himself (and God), and who helps Michelle Pfeiffer’s and Rutger Hauer’s pair of star-crossed lovers lift their curse. She’s a hawk by day; he’s a wolf by night. The scene where they almost touch is heartbreaking. This one might win the 80s-ist soundtrack award, but it’s got humor, decent swordplay, and Rutger Hauer’s horse!
The Princess Bride (1987)
If I start quoting this one, I’ll never stop. Suffice it to say, The Princess Bride is about as classic and beloved as they come. Peter Falk’s grandpa says it all: “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles.”
To sum up…sheer fun! Besides the great lines and characters introduced by The Princess Bride, it also gave us staple fantasy elements like the Dread Pirate Roberts, The Pit of Despair, The Fire Swamp, shrieking eels, and ROUSes. But the real question remains: “Is this a kissing book?”
Oh, Madmartigan/Val Kilmer. You were so gloriously crazy and awesome we could not look away. This is 80s fantasy at its best—action, magic, brownies(!), a little bit of cheese and whole lot of heart.
Willow is a dwarf (and aspiring wizard) who finds himself in charge of protecting a baby from an evil queen. I was pretty young when I first saw this, but Willow’s journey and character growth still had an impact. And is anyone else creeped out by the queen’s evil poodles?
There are so many other 80s movies to choose from. Which of your favorites would you add to the list?