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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)

The Empire Strikes Back (poster)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.

Tron (1982)

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.

Dune (poster)Dune (1984)

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.

Ladyhawke (poster)Ladyhawke (1985)

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?”

Willow (poster)Willow (1988)

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?



  1. Avatar Joie says:

    So many greats! Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  2. Avatar Megan says:

    The Ladyhawke soundtrack dates the film so much. Otherwise brilliant though. And it is kind of fun, just a shame that it doesn’t stand the test of time as well as a more traditionally scored film might have done.

  3. Avatar Edward Partridge says:

    That is a great list! The Goonies is one of my all time favourites. I would like to include Labyrinth because of Jim Henson’s wonderful puppetry and David Bowie. Also Big Trouble in Little China because it epitomises everything you said in the intro, big hair, shoulder pads, and questionable movie soundtracks.

  4. Avatar Drew says:

    Legend (1985) with Tom Cruise and Tim Curry. Tim Curry as Darkness was awesome. One of my favorite fantasy movies!!

  5. Avatar Jo says:

    Labyrinth! One of my favourite films of all time. And I can’t believe no one has mentioned Indiana Jones yet…

  6. But you forgot Labyrinth!

  7. Dude!


    Conan the Barbarian, Dude!!!

    How could you?! ^^

  8. Avatar Evie Manieri says:

    You guys, you guys — REPO MAN (1984) Classic punk rock SF. So iconic that they released it as part of the Criterion Collection a couple of years ago. The same year – the same freaking year – was THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION. Full-on 80s big-shouldered glory. Nothing like it before or since. “Laugh while you can, monkey boy!”

  9. Avatar yoss says:

    Also 2 good aninated – Fire & Ice (by Ralph Bakshi) & Heavy Metal – both from 1981.

    another fine one – Kroll (1983) & maybe Aliens… (1986) – the list is longer.

  10. Avatar Sebseb says:

    I love everything on the list and the additional ones found in the comments. I think more fine additions to this would be Time Bandits, Baron Munchhausen, Erik the Viking, and Dragonslayer.

  11. Avatar Nicole says:

    Joie – You’re very welcome!

    Megan – Ha! So true about the soundtrack, though it’s so dayed it’s almost endearing.

    Robert – I only saw that once but remember liking it. I should dust it off again!

    Edward – Goonies forever! Great additions too. Thanks!!

    Drew – Yes! One of my friends is a huge Tim Curry fan.

    Jo – I love Indy! It felt more adventure than fantasy, but it’s on the list in my heart.

    Rebekah – Ah, I KNEW there’d be at least one I missed.

    Martin – Never seen it. *ducks head* Sounds like maybe I should.

  12. Avatar Nicole says:

    Evie – Well, if it’s full on 80s big shoulder glory, what’s not to love? 🙂

    Yoss – Ooh, more for the list! Thanks!

    Sebseb – Great additions!

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