The Best Sci-Fi Movies of the '80s, Ranked – MovieWeb

January 27, 2022
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The sci-fi boom of the ’80s gave us many classics that are still influential to this day, but which of them are the best?
Sci-fi is a popular movie genre, enchanting audiences with out-of-this-world ideas and technology, even influencing today's tech by using science fiction to create science fact. Drawing on topics that are based in science but are still currently fictional (aliens, robots, interstellar travel, and so on) has let writers and directors to explore their creativity over the years. From horror movies to action-adventure, sci-fi has so many opportunities to branch out that each new movie is able to thrill people in different ways than the other.
The real sci-fi boom came shortly after the success of Star Wars, the popular franchise that is still growing to this day. Ever since, it has paved the way for smash hits and multiple franchises, many of which began in the ‘80s. Even though these movies are around 40 years old now, they are still very popular and are watched over and over again. Take a look at the best sci-fi movies that were released in the ‘80s.
Predator is an action horror film set in the jungles of Central America. As a military rescue team flies in to help save a foreign cabinet minister and his aide from insurgents, they quickly find that not everything is as it seems. Not only was their true mission (to stop a Soviet-backed invasion) hidden from them, but something is hunting them through the jungle and killing them off. Their new mission is to escape from this largely invisible alien, using all the technology they have, as they hurry back to the extraction point in one piece. Reviews for the movie were arguably mixed, and critics couldn’t seem to agree on whether they liked the movie or not, praising some technical aspects while condemning aesthetic ones. However, 20th Century Fox saw it as a success, using the popularity it gained with audiences to make three sequels, lots of merchandise, novels, comics, and games, and even began a crossover series with another popular sci-fi horror movie, creating Alien vs. Predator.
Set in a dystopian future, RoboCop plays around with the idea of cyborgs. Officer Alex Murphy (an excellent Peter Weller) is killed in action in the streets of Detroit, and his corpse is taken to become the RoboCop. With his new coding, he becomes the perfect cop—however, without any real clarity about the memories of his previous life, dreams and people haunt his programming. He begins to discover who he is, but his humanity is stuck in the machine that holds him back. The Paul Verhoeven movie was a clever critique of capitalism and the technology surrounding it, and was well-received by fans and critics alike, as people were intrigued by the cyborg– instead of a robot-like human, the cyborg showed what the loss of humanity is like. The movie was such a success that two sequels were made, as well as two TV spin-offs, and even a recent reboot. However, nothing compares to the original.
Related: Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 2010s Ranked
The second film in the Alien franchise, Aliens is set in the far future. Lieutenant Ellen Ripley is the only survivor from her ship when the alien Xenomorph attacked, having escaped in a shuttle after her ship was destroyed. When communications are suddenly lost with a new colony, Ripley joins a team to look into what happened, almost certain that the aliens had gotten to everyone. Even after the success of the first Alien movie, this sequel took a while to produce. With delays and a lack of enthusiasm from 20th Century Fox, it almost seemed like it wouldn’t happen. However, it did go through, and became one of the greatest sequels ever made, beginning a franchise that has spanned decades. It remains an important piece in pop culture, and there doesn’t seem to be plans for the franchise to end any time soon.
The Terminator is a thrilling action movie that brings another famous cyborg to the big screen. This cyborg is the titular assassin, who has time-traveled to the past from a future where robots have taken over, but the human resistance is about to win. The Terminator is looking to kill the resistance leader’s mother, Sarah, before she conceives him, hoping to put a stop to the rebels. Reese, another time traveler, works against him to try and save Sarah and make sure the past still goes as planned. The movie won a Saturn Award for best science fiction film, along with two others for makeup and writing. Though the studio was afraid it wouldn’t do well and feared the critical response, reviews were mostly positive, and it remains an iconic piece of pop culture today. Another long-running franchise was born from this James Cameron film, also; he seems to be a fan of franchises. There are currently six films, the most recent released in 2019, and the original has left an indelible mark on sci-fi, influencing many other movies in the genre.
The classic film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is more than just a movie about an alien, it's an iconic coming-of-age film. When a group of aliens that were visiting Earth gets chased off by the government, they accidentally leave one of their own behind. Luckily for him, he hides in a shed where a young boy, Elliot, finds him and befriends him. Working together, they must find a way to get the alien home while avoiding the government agents spying on them. The movie was nominated for many awards, including several Academy Awards and some Golden Globes, and was universally well-received by critics. It did amazingly well with audiences, if the 16 weeks it spent at the top of the box office says anything. It’s warmed the hearts of any who have watched it, and still remains a popular sci-fi film to this day.
Related: Alien-Like Sea Creatures Found in Ancient Area of Pacific Ocean Look Like E.T.
Blade Runner is a movie adaptation of Philip K. Dick's book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Former police officer Rick Deckard is brought back to the station, where they ask him to do another job. There are bioengineered humans, known as replicants, that need to be “retired,” which was what Deckard previously did as a blade runner. As he begins to hunt down the four illegal replicants, he discovers that the line between human and replicant is not as solid as it may seem. It’s clear that this movie helped set the very foundations for a new branch of sci-fi to form: cyberpunk. Featuring societal decay alongside high-tech like cybernetics and artificial intelligence, the genre is usually set in a near-future Earth, where the antagonists are typically megacorporations or artificial intelligence. Though the movie wasn’t a hit upon release, it quickly grew in popularity when released globally, and to this day still reflects a lot of modern trends and concerns. It (like another Ridley Scott film, Alien) is considered a masterpiece of the genre, and a phenomenal sequel was recently made by Dennis Villeneuve titled Blade Runner: 2049.
In Back to the Future, the classic time travel trope is used surprisingly—instead of an adventure into the future, seeing all the new technology that’s in store, the movie actually goes back to the banal 1950s. Marty McFly is friends with Doctor Emmett Brown, who has turned a DeLorean car into a time machine. After accidentally traveling to the past, Marty interrupts his parents' first meeting, threatening his very existence. Not only does he have to figure out how to get back to where he’s from, but he has to make sure his parents get together first if he still wants to be around. The movie received great reviews from critics upon release despite the struggle it took for the movie to land in a studio that was actually willing to film it. Back to the Future has had two sequels, making it a full trilogy, and still has popular merchandise to this day, ironically continuing to draw in more fans as time moves forward.
Any sci-fi list of the '80s (or even of all time) would be incomplete without at least one Star Wars movie on it. During the ‘80s, two were released: Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi. These films follow the second and third parts of young Luke Skywalker's journey through the stars, discovering what it is to be a Jedi as he tries to help the rebels take down the empire and the Sith ruling it. As he and his friends discover, it’s a lot easier said than done.
The Star Wars franchise is one of the biggest out there. While these two movies were the last in the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy came after almost a decade, and a sequel trilogy another decade after that. While both the prequel and sequel trilogies have gained mix reactions from fans and critics, any negativity has obviously had no effect on the popularity of the franchise, as multiple spin-off movies have been created, or are in the works; Disney has even started creating multiple new shows in the universe, like the meticulously detailed The Book of Boba Fett, for Disney+. Their series The Mandalorian and the spin-offs from that show are all directly based on this trilogy, set only a few years after the fall of the empire. These two classic movies are a staple of the sci-fi genre and have literally shown how to make a trilogy and a franchise, and it seems their popularity will never wane.
With its imagination and technology, science fiction contributes to culture in ways other movies can’t. These are some of the best of the 2010s.
Katelin McDougald is a writer who is also an avid fan of many things in the entertainment industry. Movies, TV shows, books, video games—you name it! Though she loves fantasy through and through, action and adventure, as well as mysteries, are among her favorites too!

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