1980s: 37 of the Best Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade

Most present-day sci-fi films deliver spectacular visual treatments. Four decades ago, when filmmakers rely heavily on practical effects instead of CGI, a good science fiction feature needed to be more than just a collection of eye-candy scenes. It needed great script, top-notch acting, and originality. Some of the best sci-fi movies of the decade: 1980s are listed below.

Altered States (1980)

Following the 1980s release, the sci-fi horror Altered States quickly earned a cult following. It tells the story of psychiatrist Edward Jessup, who is obsessed with the idea of drug-induced altered consciousness, resulting in someone having palpable creepy visions.

Escape from New York (1981)

When the President of the United States is held hostage by one of the country’s most notorious crime bosses, the government has no choice but to seek help from an unlikely savior. This is where Snake Plissken, a decorated war hero turned criminal, comes in.

Scanners (1981)

A group of individuals with telepathic and telekinetic abilities, known as scanners, use their power to make people’s heads explode. The explicit scenes of scattered brains set the bar high for VFX during the early 1980s.

Blade Runner (1982)

The year is 2019. Los Angeles is a futuristic city where human-like bioengineered “replicants” run rampant. Rick Deckard is on a mission to find and destroy four of them, which evidently arrived on Earth through illegal means.

The Thing (1982)

Initially savaged by critics upon release, John Carpenter’s The Thing is worth a revisit many times over. Each viewing reveals more good things than before. It follows the struggle of a group of scientists isolated in a polar environment in their attempt to kill a shape-shifting alien.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Spielberg had many chances to push the boundary of VFX at the time with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Instead of aiming for crowd-cheering visual effects, the film focuses on the experience of childhood as the main character forms an emotional bond with a stranded alien.

Tron (1982)

In terms of visual effects, Tron is the exact opposite of E.T. Lisberger took the route that Spielberg didn’t and came up with dazzling VFX wizardry. It tells the story of a video game developer and a computer programmer as they are trapped inside a type of game software.

The Terminator (1984)

A cyborg assassin travels back in time to kill the mother of a future post-apocalyptic hero. The Terminator has its share of cheesy script, but comes out as one of the decade’s best in the hands of director James Cameron.

Brazil (1985)

The dream sequences make for a large portion of the sci-fi aspect in Brazil. In the character’s reality, the world is a much more chaotic place ruled by a totalitarian government. Don’t take the film seriously; it is an audacious comedy filled with imaginative visuals.

Back to the Future (1985)

Few films scream science-fiction louder than Back to the Future. It has a time-machine, the futuristic-looking DeLorean, and hoverboards. Despite the lack of cinematic seriousness, the film did an excellent job capturing and channeling the space-age spirit of the era.

RoboCop (1987)

A murdered police officer is brought back to life by science. While the premise of RoboCop seems quite laughable, it ends up being an iconic sub-service sci-fi film of the 1980s. The action sequences and violent scenes make the feature worth a second viewing and more.

Akira (1988)

A biker gang member named Tetsuo bumps into a child who has just escaped from government lab. After the unexpected contact, he begins to develop psychic powers beyond his ability to control.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Dr. Buckaro Banzai is a neurosurgeon, physicist, rock star, and test pilot. In other words, he is the embodiment of a comic book hero. Now he must use everything he knows to take down aliens from Planet 10. The lunacy is outlandish.

The Abyss (1989)

A group of roughnecks are summoned to recover a dead submarine from the bottom of the ocean. As they dive to the location, there is something else lurking nearby the sunken vessel.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

A lust for oil drives mutants and people into an endless bickering in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The Road Warrior presents a desperate look at the future, which makes for an excellent backstory to start a relentless spectacle of gladiatorial action sequences.

Repo Man (1984)

An outright cult movie with an absurd touch of sci-fi, Repo Man is a full package of unusual comedy filled with a concentration of unlikely yet digestible circumstances. It features alien corpses, UFO scientists, government agents, and a televangelist on a hunt for an otherworldly spaceship.

Predator (1987)

With one of the most memorable monsters in the history of cinema and befitting the soldier/hero portrayed by Schwarzenegger, Predator is a film that stands the test of time. The premise of an all-powerful alien on the hunt for mankind’s finest specimens leads to a short yet satisfying game of blood-sprinkled hide and seek.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Sitting on the boundary between sci-fi and supernatural realm, Ghostbusters delivers neither a scary story of the undead nor alien invasion. It simply is a sharp comedy about ghosts and people, with apocalyptic overtones wrapped in a family-friendly box. 

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Largely accepted as Star Trek’s best big-screen installment, The Wrath of Khan delivers its plot in warp speed progression. Beneath the all-around intense sci-fi setting, the exploration into human characters is never left behind.

They Live (1988)

If there can be too many ideas in a film, They Live probably fits the bill and then some. One of them is the imagery of a monster depicted simply as a skull-faced creature wearing a human wig and the premise of too-much capitalism.

The Fly (1986)

A remake of the 1958 film of the same name, The Fly carries pretty much the same premise as the original. However, it introduces even more stomach-churning visual effects.

Aliens (1986)

Even after three decades, the gripping moments and all the scares in Aliens are still watchable. There are admittedly some borrowed ideas here and there, but everything works well with James Cameron as a director at his best.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

In addition to Young Sherlock and Tron, Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter is one of the first sci-fi films to heavily utilize CGI. It follows the exploit of Alex Rogan, a young arcade gamer recruited as a gunner in an interstellar war.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

The cult classic, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, tells the story of two students who causally time-travel to pass their class. It marks the beginning of a good-natured trilogy; sequels Bogus Journey and Face the Music are just as enjoyable.

Cocoon (1985)

A drama comedy about senior citizens gaining back their youthful spirits with the help of an otherworldly life force turns out to be a captivating idea. Great visual effects and acting make Cocoon a pleasure to watch.

Starman (1984)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: starman

A sci-fi premise does not usually put an emphasis on a love story. For sure there can be relationships and conflicts, but they are almost always beneath the surface. Starman is a peculiar case in which the alien and human bond grows to become a romantic tale.  

Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: star wars the empire strikes back

The second film of the original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back also is the darkest of the three. At the same time, it is the most technically sophisticated while being the least exuberant.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: night of the creeps

The extraterrestrial threat is used mainly as a floodgate of non-otherworldly horrors in Night of the Creeps. Rather than dealing with aliens, the protagonists have to defend themselves against hordes of axe murderers and demon dogs.

Short Circuit (1986)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: short circuit

Long before Wall-E, the 1986 sci-fi Short Circuit presents Johnny 5, a military robot that accidentally becomes sentient after a glitch in the power grid. The robot is now on a mission to avoid getting disassembled. 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: star trek the final frontier

It is true that the message in Star Trek depicts the idea of camaraderie, not only on Earth, but across the universe. In spite of all that, it cannot conceal its American heart. This time the crew of USS Enterprise takes on a renegade Vulcan in a hostage situation.

The Running Man (1987)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: running man

Social warnings depicted in The Running Man are eerily accurate. The dystopian world is set in 2017 with all range of problems from violent TV to widening inequality. It is loosely based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: voyage home

Under the serious sleeve of interstellar exploration, The Voyage Home comes out as an almost hilarious adventure of Captain Kirk and crew. Traveling back in time to 1986, the crew must find and bring humpback whales to the future to help decipher mysterious signals. 

The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: transformers

A blend of sleek animation, great soundtrack, and heartbreaking storyline, The Transformers: The Movie never fails to bring tears to the eyes. It is a sci-fi masterpiece of the decade. The carnage is a spectacle like nothing else.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi (1983)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: return of the jedi

The third film of the Star Wars original trilogy, Return of the Jedi brings the galactic evil force to a close, or so it seems. The sleek lightsabers and over-the-top depiction of artificial intelligence live on.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: flash gordon

There are two things that make Flash Gordon a great film. First, it is truthful to the source material (both serials and comics); second, the soundtrack by Queen makes an already promising idea exceed expectations. 

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: flight of the navigator

Although the special effects couldn’t live up to modern visual standards, Flight of the Navigator is able to pack a punch with a well-crafted blend of adventure and fantasy. There is an alien spaceship here, but it is mostly about family relationships.

Videodrome (1985)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: videodrome

The line between machine and man blurs to obscurity in Videodrome. It is a near-future fantasy thriller following the exploits of a man as he plunges down into hallucination and madness. 

The Brother from Another Planet (1984)

Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade: the brother from another planet

Full of social commentary, The Brother from Another Planet tells the story of a mute alien, who crash lands in Harlem. The alien finds it easy to blend in and secures a job as a technician. Despite the comfort, the alien does not belong here.

The 1980s were probably our favorite decade for sci-fi movies. What about you? Do you like any of the sci-fi movies from that decade? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you may want to know about.

What are considered the best sci-fi movies of the 80’s?

According to space.com and Grace Dean here are the top ten sci-fi movies of the 80’s.

10. Tron-release date July ,1982

 9. Flash Gordon-release date December, 1980

 8. RoboCop-release date July, 1987

 7. Predator-release date June, 1987

 6. Blade Runner-release date June, 1982

 5. The Thing-release date June, 1982

 4. Aliens-release date July, 1986

 3. The Terminator-release date October, 1984

 2. Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back-release date May, 1980

 1. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial-release date June, 1982

For more details about each of these films go to space.com

15 Forgotten 1980’s sci-fi adventure films

According to screenrant.com here is a list of 15 excellent films that have been forgotten but are worth checking out. 

15. Enemy Mine (1985)

14. The Abyss (1989)

13. Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983)

12. The Adventures of Hercules (1985)

11. Space hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

10. Tron (1982)

 9. The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

 8. Short Circuit (1986)

 7. Explorers (1985)

 6. Flight of the Navigator (1986)

 5. The Last Starfighter 

 4. Cocoon

 3. Krull

 2. Robot Jox

 1. Starman

For more details on each of these films, go to screenrant.com and read Derek Draven’s article called ‘15 Forgotten 1980’s SciFi/Adventure Films That were Excellent.’

9 underrated sci-fi movies from the 80’s and where to stream them

According to gamerant.com here’s where to find underrated sci-fi movies from the 80’s.

Warning Sign (1985) – Available on Amazon Prime Video

Lifeforce (1985) – Available on Amazon Prime Video

Cocoon (1985)- Available on Amazon Prime Video

The Last Starfighter (1984) – Available on Amazon Prime Video

Tron (1982) – Available on Disney Plus

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) Available on Amazon Prime Video

The Quiet Earth (1985) Available on Amazon Prime Video

Altered States (1980) Available on Amazon Prime Video

1984 (1984) Available on Amazon Prime Video

Go to gamerant.com for more details on these movies. Article by Rhenn Taguiam