14 Underrated '80s Movies That You Need To See

With the popularity of nostalgia-driven shows like "Stranger Things," interest in '80s pop culture always seems to be taking new and exciting directions. One such example is the fascination with the classic movies of the decade. Sure, everyone knows about the heavy hitters like "Back to the Future," " E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," "The Terminator," and "The Breakfast Club." Yet, there are many other films from the 1980s that need respect, and that's what this list is about.

Here, we'll look at the movies of the '80s that deserve some love and devotion. These movies should become references in TV shows, have cosplays made of them, or at least be included in your next '80s movie marathon. So make sure to grab your favorite scrunchie, a bowl of popcorn, and a can of Tab (or whatever soda you can safely drink), so we can totally explore some fantastic — and underappreciated — '80s cinematic gems!

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

When it comes to John Hughes movies, many people tend to think of "Pretty in Pink." "Some Kind of Wonderful," a film with similar themes, often gets the short end of the cinematic stick. The film centers on an artistically talented high schooler named, Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz), who has a huge crush on the popular girl, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). When Keith finally asks Amanda out on a date, his world becomes even more chaotic than before, especially his relationship with his longtime best friend, Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson). 

Fueled by an incredible soundtrack and electric direction from Howard Deutch, "Some Kind of Wonderful" improves upon the formula Hughes attempted with "Pretty in Pink" with more believable characters and mature subject matter. There are also some fantastic performances, particularly from Masterson and Stoltz, who have the kind of chemistry that most teen movies of the era wish they could capture. Plus, any movie that gets Elias Koteas to play a bully turned good guy with incredible one-liners means it's great by default. 

The Bride (1985)

What do you get when you mix Sting, Jennifer Beals, and a classic horror tale? Franc Roddam's "The Bride," is a strange but aesthetically engaging reimagining of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" that shines a uniquely 1980s light on the story. Roddam skips the creation of Baron Charles Frankenstein's (Sting) first monster (Clancy Brown) and instead shows the production of his latest experiment, Eva (Beals.) Unlike Elsa Lanchester's "Bride" from 1935, this version of the character is much more articulate and is driven to take control of her life — despite her creator's wishes.

Though considered a substantial critical and box office failure during its initial release, "The Bride" is one of those odd gems that deserves a reexamination, especially in a post-Guillermo del Toro landscape. Sure, the plot sometimes is a tad too silly for its own good, as is Sting's ham-driven performance. Yet, those aspects shouldn't detract from an otherwise inventive interpretation that honors the campy spooks of its Universal horror origins with a fascinating (though messy) feminist angle.

Highlander (1986)

Putting a movie like "Highlander" on this list might not make a lot of sense to some. With its memorable Queen-infused soundtrack, delicious catchphrases, and many sequels and spin-offs, why would it ever be considered underrated? Yet, with the film's unique cult status, there are still quite a few moviegoers that haven't dived deep into the strange world of Connor MacLeod and his immortal adventures.

What exactly makes this ridiculous fantasy a must-see piece of '80s cinema? Well, for starters, how many movies include decapitation as a significant power-enhancing ability? Clearly, not enough. Secondly, the film also contains a fascinating ensemble of actors that includes Sean Connery as Connor's guide into the immortal community, Clancy Brown as the deliciously disgusting antagonist, and Christopher Lambert trying his best Scottish accent as the lead protagonist. Plus, there's a stunning musical score by Michael Kamen that deserves to be honored right alongside the best compositions of the decade. s

While "Highlander" might not be for everyone, if you're seeking a uniquely 1980s fantasy, this is the movie for you. 

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

If you're on the hunt for a movie that (visually) defines the vibe of the mid-to-late '80s, then "Earth Girls are Easy" is the treasure you've been searching for. In this music video/musical hybrid, manicurist Valerie (Geena Davis) discovers that a trio of aliens (Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans, and Jeff Goldblum) have crash-landed in her pool. As the film progresses, hilarious hijinks ensue, including everything from the aliens going to nightclubs and getting makeovers to falling in love with human girls. Essentially, it's an MTV fever dream with a hyper day-glow color palette to match.

However, what makes "Earth Girls are Easy" more than just a silly sex comedy is its fascinating female gaze. From the sequences involving Valerie's fantasies and nightmares to the visualization of the alien's makeover, it's clear that co-writer/co-star Julie Brown and director Julien Temple wanted to bring a unique feminine perspective to a subgenre that's often fixated on male desires. For that reason alone, "Earth Girls" deserves your time and attention. Plus, who can resist the hotness of Jeff Goldblum in pastels?

Legend (1985)

For those looking for some genuine fairy-tale filmmaking, Ridley Scott's incredibly underrated "Legend" will likely check all your boxes. The story depicts the battle between good and evil, paying homage to the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm while evoking Scott's signature haunting vibes. There are also unicorns, monsters, Tim Curry portraying a version of the devil, Tom Cruise in a sparkly suit of armor, and two enchanting film scores by Jerry Goldsmith and Tangerine Dream (depending on which version of the movie you're watching.) Essentially, it's an '80s-era "Dungeons & Dragons" book cover brought to life.

Despite all of these magical qualities and its jaw-dropping cinematography by Alex Thompson, the film had not-so-great box office returns and a mixed critical reception. So why should it be included on this list? Well, it's yet another entry in Scott's filmography that is misunderstood. Sure, it might have a story that is both too much and too simple, but it's nearly impossible to ignore the craft that went into each frame. Plus, with superb performances by both Curry as Darkness and an extremely young Mia Sara (in her feature-length debut role) as Princess Lili, this movie deserves a chance for its passionate performances and exquisite attention to detail throughout.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

In the beautiful "Somewhere in Time," a young playwright (Christopher Reeve) crosses paths with a mysterious older woman on the opening night of his show. Years later, he finds out more about the woman (Jean Seymour) in question and thus is inspired to do the unthinkable: travel back in time to meet her. What then occurs is a fascinating adventure that blends science fiction with history and romance in one splendid package that is enchanting from beginning to end.

Despite its initial lackluster reception, "Somewhere in Time" has gained a devoted following that, over the years, has even inspired a convention. What exactly makes this movie such a treasure? Well, between the lovely performances of Seymour and Reeve and the hyper-romantic direction by Jeannot Szwarc, it's one of those rare films that often comes across like a painting brought to life. It brilliantly balances its corny lovey-dovey qualities with dramatic tension, producing an offbeat time-travel story that is the definition of poignant.

Willow (1988)

With a sequel TV series on the way, it's still sad to realize how many people haven't seen Ron Howard's "Willow." The film follows a quest involving Elora Danan (Kate and Ruth Greenfield and Rebecca Bearman), an infant destined to save the land from the destruction wrought by the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Since Elora's only a baby, she needs help from unlikely heroes to complete her quest. It then becomes up to Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), an aspiring sorcerer, the quirky swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), and various other magical individuals to accomplish this impossible task.

With its signature quirks from director Ron Howard and creator George Lucas, "Willow" is the definition of delightful. Sure, it has spooky creatures and other intense sequences. Yet, it evokes so much of what people love about classic adventure tales, particularly its delicate balance of comedy and genuine emotional pay-offs. The film also contains visual effects that changed the industry such as a morphing sequence that still holds up to this very day. Ultimately, "Willow" is a movie that deserves critical acclaim and should be admired by fans of all ages for its timeless story of hope during the darkest times.

Streets of Fire (1984)

When it comes to movies full of bold choices, Walter Hill's "Streets of Fire" is definitely at the top of the heap. The film takes place in an alternate reality where the '80s mix with the '50s in a strange hybrid of retro and modern. There, we meet Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), a famous rock singer who finds herself kidnapped by an evil biker gang led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). When news gets out of Ellen's disappearance, it's up to her ex-boyfriend, Tom Cody (Michael Paré), to rescue her and bring peace to their community. With bad blood and other bumps along the way, Tom is clearly in for an adventure he'll never forget.

From the beginning, "Streets of Fire" takes audiences on a neo-noir journey like no other. From its rocking soundtrack (including songs written by the immortal Jim Steinman) to its distinct cinematography by Andrew Laszlo, there are very few movies that "Streets" can be compared to. That's what makes this Walter Hill film so fascinating to watch. It doesn't care about explaining its world but instead wants its viewers to go along for the ride. Is it for everyone? Maybe not. But for those who love music-infused filmmaking, this might be your cup of tea.

Broadcast News (1987)

Sometimes, the best romantic comedies have a bit of a sharp edge. "Broadcast News," is a sexy yet hilarious tale that brilliantly balances its laughs with commentary on TV journalism. We follow Holly Hunter's Jane Craig, a news producer who always knows the right thing to say in anchor Tom Grunick's (William Hurt) ear. As the film progresses, we witness the ever-building chemistry between these two and how their professional lives interweave with their personal. Of course, as with any rom-com, Jane's best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), also has a crush on her, making the already crazy world of television even nuttier.

While it features many of the typical rom-com tropes, what ultimately makes "Broadcast News" something special are the performances. Holly Hunter, for example, brings an additional power boost to the intimidating but lovable Jane — an aspect that was presumably in the script but is elevated by her dynamic portrayal. Similarly, both Albert Brooks and William Hurt are excellent as romantic and professional rivals who add a unique spin to their otherwise prototypical characters. Overall, with this ensemble and an electric screenplay by writer-director James L. Brooks, "Broadcast News" remains a hidden gem of the decade that rom-com devotees and movie fans, in general, should embrace.

The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Have you ever wanted to see the Phantom tear individuals limb-from-limb slasher style? Well, you're in luck because there just so happens to be a version of "The Phantom of the Opera" that stars Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund. In this adaptation of Gaston Leroux's classic story, a modern-day Christine Daaé (Jill Schoelen) finds herself remembering her past life as an opera singer in London. There, she encounters Erik Destler (Englund), a disfigured composer who lives deep underneath the opera house and just happens to be in love with the young singer. As time passes, Christine realizes that Erik isn't the angel she once believed him to be as he turns her various lives upside down.

Though filled with the typical gothic romance of other versions of the story, the charm of this "Phantom" is all about the camp factor. From Robert Englund's over-the-top delivery of the film's beloved one-liners to Jill Schoelen's commitment to being a scream queen, this movie is pure chaos in the best of ways. Is it the most faithful retelling of Leroux's tale? No. But for horror fans or those who love the story, this is undoubtedly a retelling you'll never forget.

Say Anything (1989)

In Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything," audiences meet Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) and Diane Court (Ione Skye), two teenagers who never thought they would ever end up together. When Lloyd finally asks Diane to go with him to their senior graduation party, their opposite social circles eventually blend, resulting in a genuine, beautiful romance, but with tensions building between Diane and her father, Jim Court (John Mahoney), the mature romance between these young lovebirds might be doomed before it even takes off.

While it certainly has fans, "Say Anything" doesn't get the same admiration as John Hughes' teen flicks. Everyone knows about the boombox sequence along with a few other iconic moments. Still, this movie is among the teenage rom-coms that deserve to be loved just as much as Hughes' best. But why should you watch it? Well, not only does it contain one of John Cusack's best performances, but the relationship between Lloyd and Diane is one of the most genuine in any teen romance. It's nearly impossible not to root for them (and this movie) from beginning to end.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

If you're a fan of costume dramas, then Stephen Frears' "Dangerous Liaisons" should be a priority on your watchlist! Adapted from the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the story revolves around two ex-lovers, Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont (John Malkovich), who plot to get revenge in the most highly deplorable of ways. As their plans go into motion, their various relationships become even more chaotic than they had planned. The results? A deliciously beautiful yet haunting examination of human sexuality and romance.

Not only does "Dangerous Liaisons" have one of the most excellent casts in all of cinematic history (including Michelle Pfeiffer along with a young Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves), but it also has some of the most stunning costumes in any film of that decade. Designer James Acheson won an Academy Award for them. Yet, the most significant reason "Dangerous Liaisons" had to make this list is how well Frears juxtaposes the lavish sensibilities of '80s filmmaking with the era in which the story takes place. His unique angle along with the movie's other filmmaking achievements make it a feast for the cinematic soul.

Valley Girl (1983)

In the original 1983 film version of "Valley Girl," popular student Julie (Deborah Foreman) and punk rocker Randy (Nicolas Cage) cross paths at a party. While they obviously come from very different social circles, sparks fly between them, resulting in a romance that's both campy and genuine. Yet, as with any teen story inspired by "Romeo and Juliet," Julie and Randy's friends aren't too keen on the pair being a couple, making for some awkward scenarios. The film follows the teenage lovebirds as they face the naysayers in their lives, proving that their love can conquer any challenge.

Though recently reimagined as a movie musical, this initial take on the "Valley Girl" story could have only been made in the '80s. From the footage of teens at local malls to the unique sequences filmed at Los Angeles nightclubs, it's fun to see how often Martha Coolidge's film feels like a hybrid of a documentary and rom-com. It's an aesthetic choice that distinguishes the movie from its teen movie competition, making it a quintessential flick any '80s fan needs to see.

Grease 2 (1982)

While its plot has similarities to the 1978 hit musical film, "Grease 2" often feels like a commentary on the ridiculous nature of the original. The story follows a similar structure but reverses the roles, making Michelle Pfeiffer's character the rebel that transforms Maxwell Caulfield's goodie-two-shoes exchange student into the "cool rider" of her dreams. Yet, considering the polarizing reactions to the original film, it's no surprise that most critics didn't quite get the magic of "Grease 2" back in 1982. Thankfully, that's changed over the decades, and the film now has a passionate following.

Why is a movie about the early 1960s exploits of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies a must-see for those wanting to watch '80s cinema? It's the iconic performances, of course. Not only does Michelle Pfeiffer give it her all in the campiest way possible, but the rest of the ensemble is equally up to the task of matching her over-the-top energy. Plus, how can you not love a movie that has incredible songs filled with cheesy sexual innuendo? Ultimately, if you love poking fun at the original, then "Grease 2" is tailor-made for you.