The 15 Best Movies Set in the 80s


Recently, the world seems to have gone mad for 80s nostalgia. There tends to be a 20 to 30-year nostalgia cycle that permeates pop culture. In the 1970s, there were throwback series to the 1950s like Happy Days, and one of the most popular series of the 1990s was That 70’s Show. The mid-2000s and 2010s were filled with remakes of classic 80s films like Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, and Robocop or adaptations of popular 80s toys like Transformers. This seemed to reach it’s peak with the ridiculously popular Stranger Things, which is dripping in nostalgia for the era. From its tribute to 80s horror and its inclusion of storylines that could have been taken straight from a movie by Joe Dante, John Carpenter, or even Steven Spielberg himself, the Netflix series is just one of a number of TV shows and movies that have chosen the 80s as their setting.



80’s nostalgia has remained popular. Bill and Ted returned for a long-awaited third movie, Top Gun: Maverick, which was one of the biggest movies of all time. Whatever the (probably depressing) reason for our collective obsession with the decade, here is a look at some of the best recent films set in the 80s.

Update January 22, 2024: This article has been updated with even more great modern movies set in the 1980s and where they are streaming.


15 Summer of 84 (2018)

Fans of classic 80s horror couldn’t heap enough praise on Summer of 84, with some critics calling it the best horror movie of the decade. Released in 2018 but set, as the title suggests, in 1984, the film has all the aspects that made teen horror movies of that era so enjoyable. With a plot clearly influenced by Joe Dante’s 1989 classic The Burbs, it revolves around a group of teenagers who begin to suspect that their police officer neighbor is up to something sinister. The movie’s young cast includes Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, and Tiera Skovbye, while Mad Men‘s Rich Sommer stars as the neighbor character, Wayne Mackey.

What Makes It Great

While Summer of 84 clearly owes a lot to teen horror films that have come before it, what makes the film so good is how it manages to be nostalgic while also finding something fresh to say. Comparisons to The Burbs are hard to escape, but while that film included numerous instances of humor, Summer of 84 goes down a far darker and more chilling path. It’s unlikely to appeal to everyone, but with a committed cast and a few clever twists and turns along the way, Summer of 84 is an unashamedly trashy 80s throwback that’s guaranteed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Stream on AMC+

14 Joker (2019)

Joker

Release Date
October 2, 2019

Todd Phillips’s comic book hit, Joker, took theaters by storm when it was first released in 2019. Serving as an origin story for the titular Batman villain, the film takes place in 1981 and follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a failed stand-up comedian struggling with mental health issues, whose unhappiness with life prompts him to turn to a life of crime and violence. Set against the backdrop of the recession, which has reduced Gotham City to a decaying, rat-infested hub of crime, it uses the wealth divide as a catalyst for Arthur’s crimes, as well as the reason he gains support as The Joker. Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Robert De Niro, star in supporting roles. With a worldwide box office total of just over one billion, the film became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

What Makes It Great

The 1980s depicted in Joker isn’t the one audiences are used to seeing in films. The big hair and outrageous outfits that many, particularly younger, viewers associate with the era are nowhere to be seen, and instead the world portrayed here is a drab and depressing one. And that’s precisely part of what makes Joker such a good film. By placing the story, along with the fictional city of Gotham, in the real-life time period, Phillips is able to create a world in which someone like The Joker could conceivably exist. It means the film feels real and gritty, and much more grounded in reality than other takes on the character. On top of that, a chilling performance by Phoenix, who rightfully won the Oscar for his work here, along with a strong script, make Joker a dark and terrifyingly plausible villain origin story. Stream on Max

Related: These Are Some of the Best ’80s Cult Classics

13 Mandy

mandy

Mandy

Release Date
September 13, 2018

It’s fair to say that Nicolas Cage is certainly one of the most unique movie stars of all time. Love him or hate him, there’s one thing we can all agree on whether he’s appearing in low-budget straight-to V.O.Ds, action-adventure blockbusters, or arty independent films, he always gives it his all. That has never been more apparent than in the insane psychedelic horror experience that is Mandy. Set in 1983, the film sees Cage playing Red Miller, a lumberjack living in a secluded forest, whose girlfriend, Mandy (played by Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped by a religious cult with the help of a cannibalistic, demonic biker gang. Despite making less than $2 million at the worldwide box office, Mandy was a hit with critics and has, ironically, gone on to gain somewhat of a cult status.

What Makes It Great

Violent, bloody, and more than just a little bit bonkers, Mandy is a horror-filled revenge movie that doesn’t mess around. It’s a gloriously inventive and nightmarishly original sophomore outing for writer and director, Pan Cosmatos, whose previous film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, was just as nutty as this. And at the center of it all is an intense and utterly unhinged performance by Cage who, as ever, fully commits to the role and, in doing so, creates an original and wonderfully engaging character. Additionally, with stunning cinematography that drenches the screen in a crimson-red glow and a clever script, Mandy is certainly one of the best, if not the weirdest, films that are set in the 80s. Stream on AMC+

12 The Final Girls (2015)

2015’s The Final Girls is a meta horror-comedy movie about a group of teenagers from the present who are transported back into a fictional 1980s slasher movie (called Camp Bloodbath) in which they become the stars (and victims). Fully self-aware, it revels in the conventions and tropes of those wonderful campy 80s horror flicks. The film largely flew under the radar when it was first released, yet still managed to garner mostly positive reviews from critics, who praised the film’s originality and humor. The film’s cast includes Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, and Thomas Middleditch, among others.

What Makes It Great

The premise of The Final Girls is so ingenious it makes you wish you had come up with it yourself. What makes it even better, however, is how the film manages to deliver on that premise. Sharp, witty, and full of shocks, the film hilariously deconstructs the B-movie horror genre by having it be viewed through the eyes of a bunch of Gen-Zers. Like all good parodies, the film’s recreation of 80s movies is done with care and attention to detail, which ultimately means the laughs hit harder. What’s most surprising about The Final Girls, however, is just how much genuine heart there is to be found in it. It could so easily have just been a straightforward comedy, but director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers M. A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller have imbued the story with enough pathos and emotion to ensure it goes down as a near-perfect homage to a classic era of horror. Rent on AppleTV+

11 Rocketman (2019)

No one personified the excess and flamboyance of the 80s quite like Elton John, as 2019’s Rocketman shows. A biographical musical depicting the legendary musician’s meteoric rise to stardom, the film stars Taron Edgerton in the lead role, alongside Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who worked on the similarly-themed Bohemian Rhapsody just one year prior, it depicts John’s adolescent years, through to his early fame and struggles with drug and alcohol addictions, right up to his career resurgence in the 1980s. It was generally well-received by critics, and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the track, ‘(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’.

What Makes It Great

Like many great musician-focused biopics, Rocketman manages to be an exuberant celebration of its subject matter, while also acting as a raw and honest look at the pressures of fame and the toll of the creative process. Here, John’s back catalog of hits is used incredibly well to portray how the main character is feeling at various points in the story, with everything from joyous, up-beat tracks to slow, somber ballads doing just as much work as the script and cast to convey John’s emotional journey. Furthermore, Egerton perfectly captures the essence of the legendary hitmaker, balancing the larger-than-life aspects of John’s personality with his more vulnerable side. It’s a career-best performance by Edgerton, who wrongly wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. From the soundtrack to the production design to the choreography, there’s so much to enjoy about the biographical musical extravaganza that is Rocketman. Rent on AppleTV+

Related: 10 Best Modern Movies Set in the 1990s

10 Blinded by the Light (2019)

blinded by the light

Blinded by the Light

Release Date
August 9, 2019

Director
Gurinder Chadha

Cast
Viveik Kalra , Kulvinder Ghir , Meera Ganatra , Aaron Phagura , Dean-Charles Chapman , Nikita Mehta

Blinded by the Light, also known as Music of My Life in some regions, is based on the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of the works of Bruce Springsteen. Set in Luton, England in 1987, it chronicles Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager whose life is changed after he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen and whose lyrics speak to the young man.

What Makes It Great

Blinded by the Light, of course, has all of the great 80s fashion, but it also gets into the politics of Britain under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and highlights the bigotry that Pakistani Muslims faced (and sadly still do face) in the country. Yet the best part of it is how tied Bruce Springsteen, a musical icon from the era, is to the story. The lyrics not only speak to Javed but, in the end, manage to reach his strict father. The lyrics about working hard and family are themes that transcend culture and show how music can connect people across cultures. Rent on Prime Video or AppleTV+.

9 I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya chronicles the real life of professional figure skater Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie) and the actual events that led up to the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan, which made world news at the time. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the black comedy follows the titular character’s early life growing up in Orgeon in the 80s, which is depicted as being unconventional and plagued by familial dysfunction. As well as Robbie, the film also stars Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s abusive mother, LaVona Golden, and who went onto win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance here. Meanwhile, Sebastian Stan, McKenna Grace, and Julianne Nicholson all have supporting roles.

What Makes It Great

I, Tonya manages to do something few comedies are able to: it finds the humor in its subject matter without ever taking away from how serious the crime depicted is. It’s a film drenched in examples of black comedy, but that, nevertheless, still has a lot of heart. What also makes the film stand out is its immaculate production, which goes to great lengths to ensure everything from the costumes to the hairstyles to the sets are all era-appropriate. Indeed, among the many nominations the film picked up is a Bafta for Hair and Make-up, and another for Costume Design, and it’s not hard to see why. Add to that impressive performances by the cast, and some inspired direction by Gillespie, and you have a wonderfully rich and sharply clever black comedy biopic.

Stream on Max

8 Totally Killer (2023)

Totally Killer

Totally Killer

Release Date
October 6, 2023

Director
Nahnatchka Khan

Runtime
1hr 46min

Read Our Review

Totally Killer is a movie that is a love letter to the 1980s. It’s one part Back to the Future and another part Friday the 13th, the movie mashes up iconic films from the decade to create something new. The film centers on Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) who, after her mother (Julie Bowen) is murdered by the same Sweet 16 Killer who went on a murder spree 35 years earlier, travels back in time to 1987, where she pairs up with her then teenage mother (Olivia Holt) and father (Luchyln Munro) to catch the killer during his original spree and return to her timeline before she is trapped in the past forever.

What Makes It Great

Totally Killer is both a great slasher film and a great comedy. As mentioned earlier, the mix of the Friday the 13th formula and the Back to the Future formula makes for a great spin on both concepts. Particularly, using the time travel mechanics of Back to the Future allows a contemporary 21st-century teenager to drop into the culture shock of the 1980s (much like how Back to the Future saw a then-contemporary kid of the 1980s thrown into the 1950s). The results are hilarious as Jamie is shocked at just how relaxed everyone is regarding safety, drinking, and even smoking around kids. It is also an effective horror film featuring plenty of jump scares, kills, and twists someone would expect from the genre. Stream on Prime Video.

7 Bumblebee (2018)

bumblebee

Bumblebee

Release Date
December 15, 2018

Runtime
114

The Transformers were a franchise that got its start in the 1980s, so it is only fitting that they would get a movie set during the era. Bumblebee acts as both a prequel to the original films but also a soft reboot. Set in 1987, the film sees Bumblebee land on Earth after the final battle for Cybertron, and after a battle with a Decepticon, he loses his voice and memory. It is only when he is discovered by a young girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) in a junkyard that Bumblebee transforms, and Earth is drawn into an intergalactic conflict, all while Charlie and Bumblebee form a bond.

What Makes It Great

The Transformers franchise excelled in the 1980s. Setting the movie at the time the original toyline burst into popularity gives the filmmakers plenty of chances to feature a lot of great fashion and needle drops, as well as classic vehicles from the era, including Bumblebee’s original VW bug form. Yet that is all set dressing for what turns out to be an incredibly sweet, moving, character piece that follows two souls who together find a part of what they were missing. Bumblebee is a more character-centric entry in the blockbuster franchise, but it still features plenty of great robot action to keep audiences entertained. Stream on Paramount+.

6 Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Richard Linklater has described his 2016 teen comedy Everybody Wants Some!!, which takes place in the early 1980s, as a kind of “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused (his 1993 film about groups of Texas teenagers’ last day of school in 1976). Everybody Wants Some!! centers on freshman baseball player Jake (Blake Jenner) arriving at a small Texas University. Jake meets his teammates and experiences the best few days before classes start. The ensemble cast also includes Zoey Deutch, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, and Wyatt Russell.

What Makes It Great

The jury is still out on how Everybody Wants Some!! compared to the modern masterpiece that is Dazed and Confused. What is clear, however, is that, when judged on its own, the 2016 comedy is an intelligent and entertaining slice of nostalgia. Similarly to other Linklater projects, the film is short on plot and big on characters, themes, and tone, with its recreation of 80s college life being the film’s greatest strength. Filled with sharp dialogue, unique observations, and nuanced performances, Everybody Wants Some!! is an underrated celebration of what it means to be young, wild, and free. Stream on PlutoTV

5 The Iron Claw (2023)

Read Our Review

One of the most recent films to be set in the 80s, 2023’s The Iron Claw, is set against the backdrop of professional wrestling at the height of its popularity. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, the film tells the real-life story of the Von Erich family, a dynasty of professional wrestlers who took the sporting world by storm when they first came onto the scene in the late 1970s. It focuses predominantly on the relationship between the three eldest brothers, Kevin, Kerry, and David, and depicts the success the brothers experienced in their professional lives, as well as the tragedy that unfolded behind the scenes. With an A-list cast that includes Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Lily James, the A24 production has been well received by both critics and fans alike, with many speculating that Oscar success is on the horizon.

What Makes It Great

On one level, The Iron Claw is a film about the world of wrestling in the 1980s and the rises and falls that a career in professional wrestling brings. In this regard, the film is very good: its recreation of the era and setting is detailed and done with a lot of care and attention. What sets The Iron Claw apart from other movies, however, is how it functions as an intimate and deeply tragic story of family. It’s a powerfully moving and heartbreaking film that is guaranteed to leave even the toughest of viewers in tears. This is largely thanks to a beautifully written script by Durkin and some compelling performances by the cast. The Iron Claw’s genius is that it uses its golden age of wrestling set to explore far deeper and more devastating themes. The Iron Claw is currently playing in theaters.

4 Air (2023)

Air (2023)

Air (2023)

Release Date
April 5, 2023

Runtime
1hr 52min

2023 saw a lot of movies based on products set in the 1980s, from Flamin Hot to Tetris, but the best was certainly Air. Set in 1984, the film tells the real-life story behind the creation of the Air Jordan and Nike singing Michael Jordan in a contract that would change sports and marketing forever. The film is directed, written, and co-stars Ben Affleck as Nike CEO Phil Knight, with Matt Damon in the role of Sonny Vaccaro, the man who came up with the idea for the Air Jordan. The film is anchored by a great cast that includes Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Marlon Waynes, Chris Messina, and Matthew Maher.

What Makes It Great

From the moment the movie starts, the audience is immediately transported to the 1980s with a montage of major events set to Dire Straits “Money for Nothing”. From there, the audience is fully in the world of 1980s business, fashion, and sports and sees a snapshot of a moment in history right before a legendary player would redefine basketball. Affleck’s direction is at peak form here as he manages to make a film about pitching a shoe to be as exciting as a heist movie. Air was one of the best movies of 2023 and one of the best movies about the 1990s. Stream on Prime Video.

3 Straight Outta Compton (2015)

An ode to one of the most ground-breaking and controversial musical acts of all time, Straight Outta Compton is the true story of N.W.A’s rise to prominence in the late 80s. Directed by F. Gary Gray, the biographical drama depicts how the group’s members started out using rhymes and beats to convey their own anger, fear, and frustration at the dangerous world of violence that surrounded them and how their music brought the world’s attention to a side of America few were previously aware of. The film was both a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing musical biopic of all time (a record that has since been beaten).

What Makes It Great

While some other films on the list play to our rose-tinted nostalgia of a bygone era, Straight Outta Compton refuses to sugar-coat its subject matter. Uncompromising, frank, and brutally honest, the movie certainly doesn’t shy away from the not-so-great aspects of the decade, many of which had a direct impact on N.W.A’s real-life members. From racial tensions to police brutality to class divides to the AIDS epidemic, the film addresses each of its weighty subjects with the nuance and rawness that they deserve and, in doing so, adds up to an emotionally resonant and cinematically ground-breaking piece of drama. Stream on Hulu

Related: Best Biopics About Black Music Icons, Ranked

2 Sing Street (2016)

Set in Dublin in 1985, Sing Street follows a boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) starting a band to impress a girl (Lucy Boynton). All the while, his home life is struggling as he has been sent to a cheaper Christian Brothers school while his parent’s marriage is falling apart. The film is a coming-of-age tale set to the iconic music of the 1980s, including the music of Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall & Oats, and The Clash, to name a few, as well as some great new original songs.

What Makes It Great

Sing Street is a great coming-of-age story that explores many facets of youth. It explores the bonds of friendship one makes in one’s teen years and how the band these boys form might have started out as a fake band but quickly grows into a sense of community and purpose for them. It is a story of an older brother passing on knowledge to his younger brother by not only teaching him about music, but also in self confidence in himself. The film is both realistic and fantastical, matching the bitter-sweet nature of the movie and the struggles that come with growing up, and how the future is both incredibly exciting and frightening. The movie also highlights how the music and fashion of the 1980s in some incredible ways. Stream on Roku TV and PlutoTV.

1 It: Chapter One (2017)

it

It

Release Date
September 6, 2017

Director
Andres Muschietti

The 2017 version of It is the second major adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name, following the 1990 TV movie version. Set in the small town of Derry, Maine, the film centers on a group of unpopular school kids who set out to take down the shape-shifting supernatural being that has been terrorizing the community. Bill Skarsgård stars as Pennywise the Clown, the film’s main antagonist, while Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, and Wyett Oleff all co-star. Acclaimed by critics and welcomed by fans, It was a massive success when it was first released in cinemas and went on to become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. It was followed by a sequel, It Chapter Two, which found its way to theaters just two years later.

What Makes It great

Just as much a throwback to classic coming-of-age dramas like Stand by Me, as it is supernatural horror, director Andy Muschietti made his 80s inspirations well known with It. Chock-a-block full of retro references, the film takes inspiration from the works of acclaimed directors such as Clive Barker, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, and Steven Spielberg while creating a take on King’s novel that feels entirely fresh. Big on scares but not lacking in heart, the film is a well-crafted piece of horror that doesn’t rely on gimmicks. It’s well-written, stunningly directed, and features some of the best production designs in the whole genre. Furthermore, the performances of the cast are nothing short of superb, with Bill Skarsgård, in particular, delivering a highly engaging and wonderfully sinister turn. For a long time, the 80s has been a popular time period for films to be set in, but no movie in recent years has come close to competing with the sheer brilliance that is It. Stream on Max.



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