The 1980s: Looking Back at a Totally Awesome Decade for Movies!

Movies are so magical because they have the unique ability to transport us to another time and place. As viewers, we watch compelling stories unfold on the silver screen and, for a few hours at least, all our troubles take a backseat. No matter what your preferred cinematic genre is, you know that when you prepare to take in a fantastic flick you are going to be thrust into what Willy Wonka would call a world of “Pure Imagination.” Such is the enduring power of cinema.

As the 1970s wound down, special effects-laden masterpieces had started to become commonplace thanks to visionary filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While the Star Wars saga may have taken a sabbatical after the release of Return of the Jedi, there was no slowing down Spielberg in the 1980s. He went on to help create (with Lucas) the character of Indiana Jones…and inspired an entire generation to turn on their heartlights and be won over by the charm of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. (A film that would go on to become the highest grossing movie of the decade). To this day he remains an undisputed master of moviemaking.

Meanwhile, Spielberg protégé Robert Zemeckis was establishing his own impressive filmography during the ‘80s, highlighted by his work on the Back to the Future trilogy–one that showcased the comedic chops of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. The mastery of dazzling new technology in these films paved the way for Zemeckis’ 1994 triumph, Forrest Gump, the Best Picture winner in which Tom Hanks’ titular character taught us that life is like a box of chocolates…

Another director whose innovation with special effects helped change the course of filmdom during the ‘80s and ‘90s was James Cameron. Originally cutting his teeth in the industry by working with filmmakers like Roger Corman and John Carpenter, Cameron quickly made a name for himself with the 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic The Terminator. His next project was 1986’s Aliens, a daring sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal science-fiction/horror hybrid Alien that illustrated how visionary the director was. Even then, he was just getting warmed up, as later efforts like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, and Avatar illustrated.

While blockbusters get all the buzz, it’s important to remember that the 1980s and ‘90s were also an important time for other genres. From the slasher nightmares of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises to the so-called “Brat Pack” films of John Hughes to powerful dramas like Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill, The Color Purple, and Rain Man, the Reagan era had movies for every taste readily available.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our obvious fondness for the rise of video store culture during the era in which the following pages celebrate. The rise of home media forever altered the way people consume entertainment, and Movies Unlimited has been there since the very beginning. For over 40 years we’ve been your one-stop shop for all things entertainment, and we are beyond honored to be on this journey with you!

What are your favorite films from the 1980s? Let us know in the comments below!

This article originally ran in September and is being reprinted as part of today’s Totally Tuesday celebration of the 1980s!