The 80s was a decade defined by big hair, shoulder pads, neon colours and synthy pop music. Few generations are as nostalgic as those who grew up during the 80s, and we all enjoy some rose-tinted appreciation when we look back at the decade with fondness. The continued rise of the blockbuster boom from the mid 70s saw Spielberg and Lucas dominate the decade with Stars Wars and Indiana Jones, while John Hughes helped launch the teen comedy to massive success. However, while these movies undoubtedly appealed to younger audiences (what kid didn’t grow up wanting to be Han Solo or Indy?), it’s all too easy to overlook some other gems from the decade in favour of these big franchises. These kids movies have managed to stand the test of time and they are still entertaining – albeit sometimes in a pretty 80s way – to modern day audiences both young and old.
10. Labyrinth (1986)
Jim Henson’s Workshop definitely made its mark during the 80s. Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies were hits on the TV while the ‘adult’ muppets successfully continued their late 70s leap to the big screen. Henson also lent his talents to the fantasy genre. The Dark Crystal (1982) was an ambitious family fantasy movie which featured groundbreaking special effects and truly succeeded in a creating a fully formed world out of Henson’s trademark animatronics and puppet skills, but it also got pretty heavy and dark for a kid’s movie and the Skeksis villains – a terrifying cross between an eagle and a reptile – were enough to traumatise younger audiences. Labyrinth was a much lighter, kid-friendly effort. Featuring a lead performance from a pop star at the peak of his popularity (David Bowie is clearly game as Jareth the Goblin King), musical interludes and a fun sense of mischief and adventure, Labyrinth is a rousing, dreamlike fairy tale come to life.
9. The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid was undoubtedly responsible for countless playground beatings and accidental injuries during the 80s as kids tried to emulate “Daniel-san’s” finishing awesome crane kick move. The ‘rite of passage’ was a popular theme in many 80s kid’s movies and it doesn’t get much better than Ralph Macchio’s transformation from bullied outsider to ass-kicking Karate Kid. Beating the the bully, scoring the cheerleader girlfriend and rising above the odds is classic 80s material, but the Karate Kid is still a genuinely well-crafted movie which feels fresh and inspirational.
8. Big (1988)
The 80s saw a spate of age-reversal movies which featured fathers and sons changing roles (Vice Versa and Like Father, Like Son) or old codgers inadvertently becoming teenagers again (18 Again! and Dream a Little Dream), but Big stands tall over the other contenders. Featuring a star-making turn from Tom Hanks, Big is the perfect fantasy for every kid who can’t wait to break free of their parents. Hanks is brilliant as the young boy who turns into a grownup overnight and Big proves that the usual dismal body switch concept can be turned into something fresh and funny.
7. The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Forget about Michael Bay’s recent bloated, CGI-fests – the 80s Transformers movie was the original and best. It upped the ante and the scope of the cartoon series (the movie acted as a ‘bridge’ story between seasons) with a more sophisticated and bigger animation budget, but it did so without losing sight of the characters and tone of the series. Backed with a big power rock soundtrack and a truly bizarre all-star cast (which included Judd Nelson, Orson Welles and Leonard Nimoy), The Transformers: The Movie was the animation blockbuster for every kid who just couldn’t get enough of seeing the Decepticons and Autobots beat the crap out of each other.
6. An American Tail (1986)
The 80s was a standout decade for kid’s animation movies. Disney added the Little Mermaid and The Fox and the Hound to their classic catalogue (we won’t speak of their infamous box office bomb The Black Cauldron) while Amblin Entertainment offered up dinosaur hit The Land Before Time. However, for sheer cutesiness and younger audience appeal it’s hard to beat An American Tail (also produced by Amblin). The story of immigrant mouse Fievel and his quest to reunite with his family in New York City is heartwarming and unique, adding an interesting historical twist on the scenario. The inspirational adventure is brought to life with catchy musical numbers – “Somewhere Out There” can rival even the best Disney songs – and classic animation.
5. Short Circuit (1986)
From chunky digital watches to even chunkier home computers, technology was on the rise during the 80s and everyone ambitiously thought that electronic sidekicks where just around the corner. Although this wasn’t to be the case (the world is still patiently waiting for a Rocky IV style robot servant), many 80s movies featured some over the top techno premises. Johnny Five is an experimental government robot who receives free will when he is hit by lightning and goes on the run to avoid his military captors. It’s a pretty familiar premise but the joke-spewing robot – who led a cast headed by the decades familiar stars Steve Guttenberg and Ally sheedy – went on to become an 80s icon.
4. WarGames (1983)
The computers and gadgetry on display in kid’s techno thriller Wargames may look pretty dated now, but the story is still one of the finest – and first – cinematic takes on hacking. Matthew Broderick plays a computer whiz kid who inadvertently manages to hack his way into a government supercomputer. What he thinks is an innocent computer game is actually life or death military simulation and it’s not long before the FBI come knocking at his door for almost starting World War III. WarGames perfectly taps into the era’s ongoing fears about Cold War and nuclear weapons which, as it turns out, is still fairly prescient to this day. In fact, the clever concept deserves credit for just how ahead of its time it really was – the idea of a cocky teen delinquent causing mass mayhem with just his home computer doesn’t really sound too far-fetched in this day and age.
3. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Was there anything cooler as a kid than the idea of flying around in an alien spaceship and exploring the galaxy? David Freeman is just another run-of-the-mill, average kid who finds himself waking up after a fall eight years in the future and with a brain full of intergalactic material and information. Although he doesn’t remember any of it, David discovers that he was part of an alien experiment which took him around the galaxy. When he reunites with the spaceship that took him he goes on the run from – you guessed it – his military captors as he tries to get back to him family. With a smart script, special effects that still hold up and a hilarious turn from Paul Reubens (AKA Pee Wee Herman) as the spaceship’s artificial intelligence, Flight of the Navigator is a fun kids sci-fi which explores the unknown with some lively and quirky spirit.
2. The Goonies (1985)
If there was one movie which reminded kids that their childhood would never be as awesome as the ones on the big screen it was the Goonies. All kids wanted to find themselves on a big adventure with their friends and the fantasy doesn’t get any better than this iconic 80s treat. There’s hidden treasure, dastardly villains, a lovable ‘monster’ and “never say die!” camaraderie. Oh, and let’s not forget a theme song from 80s queen Cyndi Lauper. The Goonies has a breathless sense of danger and excitement which isn’t afraid to get dark at times (like most 80s kids movies, the Goonies doesn’t shy away from roughing the kids up a little bit and pushing them into life-threatening situations). Producer Steven Spielberg and director Richard Donner really understand the boyhood idea of big adventure and fist-pumping excitement and they bring it perfectly to life on the big screen.
1. E.T. (1982)
The top-grossing movie of the 80s and probably one of the most cherished movies of the decade, E.T. presents a timeless story about friendship and growing up. Unsullied by sequels or remakes (the infamous Atari tie-in video game is best forgotten about), E.T. is probably one of the few movies on this list which will be enjoyed by new generations for years to come. Spielberg shows off his skills as a director who truly knows how to create a magical sense of awe and wonder and the result is one of the finest kid’s movies ever made.