Some of the most magical kid’s movies ever made came straight out of the 80s. This isn’t just because of the nostalgia factor these movies hold but also because the 80s produced a plethora of imaginative and iconic films and characters that are still being revived to this day. While the special effects may not be as advanced as what we see in modern films (not by a long shot), the storytelling and creativity of visionaries like Steven Spielberg, John Hughes, and Jim Henson still captivate audiences of all ages. From heartwarming tales of friendship like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to epic outer space adventures like Star Wars, the 80s brought forth a diverse range of cinematic experiences that continue to hold a special place in the hearts of anyone who grew up in that era. We were given a treasure trove of gems that will forever be cherished and remembered for their impact on popular culture. So here, in no particular order, is a list of 26 of the best 80s kids movies that continue to captivate audiences today.
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1. The Goonies (1985)
Which kid doesn’t dream of going on a thrilling treasure hunt with their friends? The Goonies captures the adventurous spirit of childhood through the group of misfit kids who embark on a quest to find hidden pirate treasure in an attempt to save their hometown from developers. This 1985 film, directed by Richard Donner, is filled with humour, heart, and memorable characters that have made it a beloved classic for decades. From the lovable Chunk (Jeff Cohen) to the resourceful Mikey (Sean Astin), each character brings their own unique charm to the story. The “Goonies never say die!” and neither will our love for this timeless adventure.
2. Back to the Future (1989)
Marty McFly is a typical teenage boy who accidentally travels back to the 1950s in a time-travelling DeLorean invented by his eccentric friend, Doc Brown. This 1985 film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, combines science fiction, comedy, and adventure to create an entertaining and thrilling story. While it’s been almost four decades since we first met Marty and Doc, Back to the Future continues to be a beloved classic that stands the test of time.
3. Ghostbusters (1984)
“If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!” This 1984 film, directed by Ivan Reitman, is a supernatural comedy that follows a group of eccentric scientists who start a unique ghost removal service in New York City. With its catchy theme song and memorable antics by Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, Ghostbusters quickly became a cult classic. While this decade may have seen many reboots and sequels, the original Ghostbusters will always be the absolute best!
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4. The Neverending Story (1984)
Who can forget Fantasia’s beautiful world and all its magic? Filled with flying dragons, mystical creatures, and glorious landscapes, The Neverending Story captivated us with its enchanting tale of a young boy’s journey through a book that comes to life. With an evil force threatening to destroy Fantasia, the boy must summon his courage and help save this world of imagination. The film’s stunning visuals, deep emotional themes, and epic musical score are just some of the reasons why The Neverending Story will always be a beloved classic.
5. The Karate Kid (1984)
If you didn’t watch Karate Kid growing up, did you even really have a childhood? Just Kidding! This iconic 1984 film follows the story of Daniel LaRusso, a teenager who moves to a new town and finds himself being bullied by a group of karate students. With the help of his wise and eccentric neighbour, Mr. Miyagi (who is also a martial arts master), Daniel learns not only karate but also valuable life lessons about discipline, perseverance, and inner strength. The film was so beloved that it spawned multiple sequels and even a remake in 2010. Not to mention its insanely popular T.V. series, Cobra Kai, which continues the story of Daniel and his former bully, Johnny Lawrence, as adults. Needless to say, The Karate Kid has left a lasting impact on popular culture and has become a timeless classic.
6. Stand by Me (1986)
Stand by Me is a rare and enduring coming-of-age film that has captivated us since its release in 1986. Based on Stephen King’s novella The Body, the movie follows a group of young boys as they embark on a journey to find a dead body, exploring themes of friendship, loss, and the bittersweet transition from childhood to adolescence along the way. With its heartfelt storytelling, authentic performances, and nostalgic soundtrack, Stand by Me has become a beloved classic that continues to resonate with viewers of all generations.
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7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
While Indiana Jones has had many adventures over the years, Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of the franchise’s most iconic and thrilling films. The film follows Jones as he races against time to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the wrong hands. Packed with action-packed sequences, witty dialogue, and a charismatic performance by Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the reason why we fell in love with Indiana Jones in the first place.
8. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Rick Moranis became a household name thanks to his role as Wayne Szalinski in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In this family-friendly adventure film, Moranis plays an eccentric inventor who accidentally shrinks his own children and their friends to the size of ants. As they navigate through the backyard jungle, encountering larger-than-life insects and numerous other obstacles, the kids must find a way to return to their normal size. With its imaginative premise, heartwarming moments, and impressive special effects (for its time), it isn’t hard to see why we all loved this movie so much.
9. The Princess Bride (1987)
Ah, The Princess Bride. This beloved cult classic, directed by Rob Reiner, is a delightful blend of romance, adventure, and comedy. The story follows the adventures of Westley, a farmhand turned pirate, as he embarks on a quest to rescue his true love, Princess Buttercup, from the clutches of an evil prince. Along the way, he encounters a colourful cast of characters, including a vengeful Spaniard, a giant with a heart of gold, and a cunning Sicilian. Whether you’re a fan of true love or swashbuckling sword fights, this film has something for everyone to enjoy.
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10. Gremlins (1984)
It’s hard not to love the quirky and dark humour of Gremlins. The film tells the story of a young man who receives a mysterious Mogwai as a pet but soon discovers that the creature spawns evil and mischievous gremlins when a few very specific rules are not followed. With its blend of horror and comedy, Gremlins offers a unique and entertaining viewing experience that keeps us all coming back every Christmas season.
This beloved science fiction film, directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, follows the heartwarming journey of a young boy who befriends an extra-terrestrial stranded on planet Earth. As they form a deep bond and work together to help E.T. return home, they must navigate the challenges of trying to keep his existence a secret. In between, we get some iconic scenes and catchphrases that have become ingrained in pop culture. We’ll certainly never forget the image of E.T. and Elliott flying across the moon on their bicycle or the famous line, “E.T. phone home.” With its themes of loyalty, friendship, and acceptance, this film is easily one of the greatest family films ever made. There isn’t a bigger 80s kids movie.
12. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
In a galaxy far, far away, The Empire Strikes Back takes viewers on an epic adventure as the Rebel Alliance battles against the evil Galactic Empire. This second instalment of the original Star Wars trilogy delves deeper into the characters’ journeys and introduces iconic moments such as the revelation of Darth Vader’s true identity. With its thrilling action sequences, captivating storyline, and unforgettable characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, The Empire Strikes Back solidified its place as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.
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13. Uncle Buck (1989)
In the delightful world of family comedies, Uncle Buck is a classic. Starring the comedic genius John Candy, the film follows the hilarious misadventures of an unconventional uncle tasked with babysitting his nieces and nephew. With its heartwarming moments and laugh-out-loud humour, Uncle Buck epitomises the classic 80s family comedy we loved so much.
14. Beetlejuice (1988)
Halloween wouldn’t quite be the same without the quirky and hilarious film Beetlejuice. Directed by Tim Burton, this dark comedy follows the afterlife adventures of a recently deceased couple and their encounters with the mischievous ghost Beetlejuice. I can’t really think of a reason why anyone wouldn’t enjoy this cult classic. The film’s unique blend of humour, fantasy, and macabre elements makes it a standout in the genre. Is Beetlejuice one of the biggest 80s kids movies of all time?
15. Short Circuit (1986)
Who didn’t wish they had a lovable robot like Johnny 5 after watching Short Circuit? This beloved 80s movie captured the hearts of audiences with its endearing story of a sentient robot discovering humanity and the importance of friendship. When Number 5 is accidentally struck by lightning, it gains self-awareness and a thirst for knowledge, leading to some hilarious and heartwarming adventures that keep this lovable robot alive in our hearts. As far as 80s kids movies go, Short Circuit remains a classic.
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16. Big (1988)
Can you ever really go wrong with a Tom Hanks movie? This man was a legend of the 80s and 90s, and Big is no exception. Tom Hanks delivers a charming performance as a young boy trapped in a man’s body, navigating the challenges of adulthood with childlike wonder. This heartwarming film reminds us never to lose touch with our inner child and embrace life’s joy and innocence. Plus, I bet you all wanted a giant keyboard to play on after watching this movie!
17. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Young girls all over the world were, and are still, captivated by the enchanting tale of The Little Mermaid. This Disney classic tells the story of Ariel, a curious and adventurous mermaid who dreams of exploring the human world. Ursula, a powerful sea witch, forges a devious deal with Ariel, granting her legs in exchange for her voice. As Ariel embarks on her journey to win the heart of her love (Prince Eric), she must navigate the challenges of being a human without her voice. With bops like Under the Sea and Part of Your World, you can’t go wrong with this classic Disney film. While a live-action Disney film adaptation has been released this year, for nostalgia, the 1989 original will always hold a special place in our hearts.
18. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
A juicy mystery set in a world where cartoons and humans coexist, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a groundbreaking film that seamlessly blends live-action and animation. The storyline follows a cartoon rabbit named Roger, who is accused of murder and seeks the help of a hard-boiled detective named Eddie Valiant to clear his name. As they unravel the conspiracy, they encounter iconic animated characters like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse (Yes, these two icons shared screen time), making it a must-watch for both animation enthusiasts and mystery lovers. You can’t talk about the best 80s kids movies without mentioning Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
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19. The Land Before Time (1988)
A story of friendship and survival, The Land Before Time follows a group of young dinosaurs as they journey to find the Great Valley, a place of safety and abundance. Along the way, they encounter various challenges and learn important lessons about teamwork, bravery, and the power of hope. This heartwarming animated film is one for the whole family to enjoy. Even three decades later, this story never gets old.
20. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
The 80s and 90s saw a strange obsession with movies about mice. There was An American Tail, The Rescuers, and even The Great Mouse Detective. But I’m not exactly complaining because this strange obsession gave us the gem that is The Secret of NIMH. Based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, this animated film tells the captivating story of a widowed mouse named Mrs. Brisby who embarks on a dangerous journey to save her family. With its dark and mature themes, stunning animation, and compelling characters, The Secret of NIMH stands out as a unique and memorable entry into the world of animated films.
21. The Dark Crystal (1982)
This slightly eerie fantasy film follows a young Gelfling named Jen as he embarks on a dangerous quest to restore balance to his world. With its stunning puppetry and immersive world-building, it isn’t hard to see why The Dark Crystal has become a cult classic among fantasy film enthusiasts.
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22. Labyrinth (1986)
Any movie that stars David Bowie is bound to be a whimsical and fantastical trip. With the aforementioned music icon bringing his unique charm and charisma to the role of Jareth, the Goblin King, Labyrinth takes viewers on a visually stunning journey through a mystical labyrinth filled with riddles and challenges. Sixteen-year-old Sarah finds herself transported to a magical realm after wishing for her baby brother to be taken away by the Goblin King. As she navigates through the labyrinth, Sarah encounters various strange and whimsical creatures, forming unexpected friendships along the way. The film’s imaginative world-building and enchanting storyline have made it a cult favourite to this day. Labyrinth remains one of the best 80s kids movies of all time.
23. An American Tail (1986)
Cute mouse, check. Emotional ballads, check. Heartwarming storyline, check. An American Tail has everything you want in a classic animated film. Set in 19th-century Russia, the movie follows the journey of a young mouse named Fievel as he immigrates to America with his family in search of a better life. Along the way, Fievel gets separated from his loved ones and must navigate New York City’s bustling streets, encountering both friends and foes. With its memorable characters and catchy musical numbers (I still cry every time I hear Somewhere Out There), An American Tail is a great watch for the whole family.
24. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
This 1986 sci-fi tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named David who knocks his head and wakes up eight years later to find that he hasn’t aged a day. As he tries to adjust to his new reality, David discovers a mysterious spaceship that takes him on an adventure through time and space. With its blend of humour, heart, and thrilling special effects, Flight of the Navigator is a must-watch for fans of 80s sci-fi.
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25. Little Monsters (1989)
In the 80s, some of us still feared monsters living under our beds or hiding in our closets. Little Monsters takes this childhood fear and turns it into a hilarious and heartwarming story. When Brian befriends a mischievous monster named Maurice, they embark on a wild and imaginative journey to save Brian’s little brother from the clutches of an evil monster named Boy. With its clever humour and endearing characters, Little Monsters is a delightful reminder that sometimes the scariest monsters are the ones we create in our own minds. It’s definitely one of the best 80s kids movies of all time.
26. Breakfast Club (1985)
You know you were a child of the 80s if you can still remember the iconic fist pump at the end of The Breakfast Club. This coming-of-age film, directed by John Hughes, takes place in a high school where five teenagers from different social cliques are forced to spend a Saturday in detention together. As they initially clash and stereotype each other, they eventually open up and form unexpected connections, realising that they are more similar than they thought. The film tackles themes of identity, societal pressures, and the importance of empathy, resonating with audiences for its relatable characters and timeless message about breaking down barriers.
Are there any great 80s kids movies you would add to this list?