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Stripped of their innocence, children of the 1980s turned to movies in droves to escape the world of Cold Wars and nuclear proliferation. In the dark of the theater, popcorn in-hand and a very large sugary, caffeinated drink on the floor between their high-top sneakers, adolescents immersed themselves in movie experiences. Theaters were packed regularly. Movies that pulled the audience into an action-driven kid adventure were just the answer for the country's children. No self-respecting 1980s movie list for kids would leave out Steven Spielberg's ET and its classic sibling, The Goonies. But what really rocked this audience's world were hits like The Last Starfighter, The Karate Kid, and anything starring Fred Savage. He was like a twelve-year-old George Clooney!
The choices on this list still hold up, and the entertainment industry always tries to repeat their magic. Don't be surprised to see Hollywood remake, sequel, reboot, or reimagine these classic films in the near future. Why focus on originality when you've got a well-established goldmine? Most of what we see in theaters now is inspired by the films on the 1980s movie list for kids, anyway!
The Goonies (1985)
This movie was truly the day every 80s kid wished he or she could experience. A group of friends decide to go on a massive treasure hunt to stop the bank from taking their house. What starts out as a last-ditch effort turns into mayhem and madness as they encounter the Fratelli Family. Think morons mixed with mafia and a majorly freaky but friendly brother named Sloth, who wants One-Eyed Willie’s treasure almost as much as the kids. With the requisite love story and no parental supervision, this is a must-have on the 1980s movie list for kids.
Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
No 1980s movie list for kids is complete without a ridiculous lack of parental supervision, and this story takes the cake. Chris is a reluctant babysitter who just got ditched for date night. She assumes she's in for a boring evening, but expectations go awry when her friend Brenda needs a ride from downtown. The babysitter and the three kids experience everything from fraternity parties, flat tires, and gangs to the mafia, lost children, and singing the blues. With help from a friend, Chris even discovers what a good guy looks like. Amazingly enough, no one gets caught.
The Last Starfighter (1984)
While video games were reaching their height of popularity, this film captured the heart of every little boy who wanted to be part of his favorite video game. This film follows Alex, who has just beaten the Starfighter game. Suddenly, he finds himself thrust into a real-life Starfighter world, in which he is chased by a villainous alien. Suddenly, a down-on-his-luck human teenager is the only hope for the alien city, Rylos. Meanwhile, on planet Earth, the alien sent to fill in for Alex is hoping to get lucky with Alex’s girlfriend. If you are looking for a crazy 80s movie, then look no further!
The Monster Squad (1987)
Entering an alternate reality and living your fantasy were the themes of so many of the movies made in the 1980s. In The Monster Squad, a group of die-hard monster fans find out that the monsters they root for in the movies are real and coming to destroy their hometown. This leaves the nerdy kids against Dracula and his monster minions. This flick might seem tame now, but to a child in the 1980s? This was the stuff of dreams or nightmares! A missing amulet is what Dracula seeks, and he will go to any length to find it—unless the kids can stop him first.
Little Monsters (1989)
What could be more 1980s than a feature film starring a young Fred Savage and a blue-skinned Howie Mandel? Were you ever scared of the monster under your bed? Well, the monster under Brian’s bed is named Maurice, and he is a bucket of fun! Like all classic 80s movies, Brian is a bit of an outcast, and after being transported by Maurice to the magical world of monsters, he gets to play the hero. Maurice and Brian work together to take down the evil monster, and Brian just might develop some self-confidence along the way.
No 1980s movie list for kids would be complete without Gremlins, a truly epic 80s film. Shot without all the special effects kids expect today, it still manages to be one of both the scariest and funniest movies of all time. Billy is given the most adorable creature for Christmas from his father. Its name is Gizmo, voiced by Howie Mandel. There are only three rules:
1. Don’t get it wet.
2. Don’t put it in bright light.
3. Never, ever feed it after midnight.
When the rules get broken, terror breaks out in Billy’s small town while maintaining a PG-13 rating and fitting in its iconic love story.
How do you create a classic 80s film? A cup of magic, a pint of teenage angst, and a whopping dose of zero parental supervision. Sarah, upset she is being forced to babysit, wishes the Goblin King would take her little brother away. He happily acquiesces. Sarah must go after the handsome Goblin King to win her brother back. The labyrinth is a mix of mazes and puzzles run by the Goblin King himself. David Bowie, the lead of the film, looks much like he did onstage. You also get to hear his amazing vocals. Throughout the film, the misunderstood teen fights to save her brother—all before her dad gets home from dinner.
Flight of the Navigator (1986)
This film on the 1980s movie list for kids is what would you get if Escape to Witch Mountain and E.T. had a baby. David is just a boy who fell into a ravine. Right? Not this time, because David wakes up eight years later! In the hospital, doctors find some strange brain waves—which NASA manages to get ahold of. The space organization finds this phenomenon very interesting, because they recently found a crashed spacecraft giving off the same waves. Escaping from the hospital before NASA can use him as a guinea pig, David meets up with the alien captain, who agrees to help him. David must help the alien return to space as part of the deal. Once you add in a talking robot, a classic 80s film is born!
The Wizard (1989)
Anyone who ever spent hours playing Nintendo will love this movie. UpDownUpDownBABAStart! If you understand this, then this film should be on your watch list! The 80s cast is to-die-for, with the older brothers played by Christian Slater and Fred Savage. The dad is played by Beau Bridges. The film tells the tale of misunderstood Jimmy Woods, whose parents’ divorce is about to rip him away from his hero brother, Corey. After discovering that Jimmy is a Nintendo wizard, Corey takes his brother on an epic adventure to a Nintendo championship. Corey learns the importance of being a good brother, and he even manages to have his first romance with a stowaway named Hayley. Valuable lessons about the significance of family are learned as the boys' parents chase after them. You will be rooting for these runaway kids through the whole movie!
E. T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
This movie is positively perfect from the first trail of Reese’s Pieces to the epic bicycle scene near the end. E. T. is a staple on any 1980s movie list for kids. Elliott—along with his brother and little sister—finds an alien. Elliott’s mom isn’t home much since their dad left, so they attempt to keep E. T. as a pet. They even take him Trick or Treating. Elliott realizes that him and E. T. are linked in an extraordinary way, but the men in white suits storm their home, separating them. With both of their lives on the line, a daring rescue ensues to get E. T. home and Elliott safe from harm. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but the film teaches us with just the right amount of action and drama. You will be happy to watch E. T. phone home over and over again.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Talk about an epic movie! This story follows the tale of a bullied kid, Sebastian, left reeling from the loss of his mother. When he stumbles into an old bookstore to get away from the bullies, the well-meaning shopkeeper tells him he cannot borrow an amazing-looking book, knowing full well that Sebastian will take it. Hiding in his school’s attic, Sebastian spends the day reading, discovering along the way that the book is watching him. During the climatic finish, Sebastian must save the Princess before her world, Fantasia, falls to ruin. You meet some amazing characters, such as a boy warrior, a stone man, a magical dragon, and the fastest snail you ever saw. When Sebastian gets sweet revenge on the bullies at the end, you will hoot and holler right along with him.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Daniel, a bullied boy, learns how to defend himself the right way with help from Karate master Miyagi. Daniel has a hard time fitting in after he is forced to move to California from New Jersey. Mr. Miyagi sees Daniel getting beat up, and he promises to teach him how to fight if he saves his knowledge for the Karate Championship coming up in a few months. Surprise! The main bully is also in the Karate Tournament. Daniel learns more than just fighting from the elderly trainer, who teaches him many life lessons, such as how using the fire in his belly the right way can set him on the road to redemption.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Rick Moranis of the 80s classic Revenge of the Nerds plays a crazy scientist whose new invention—a shrink ray—accidentally shrinks his own kids! A favorite on the 1980s movie list for kids, his children find themselves smaller than ants along with their enemies—the neighbors' kids. An amazing journey takes the kids from the backyard into the house, dodging such dangers as the dog, the sprinkler, and massive bugs. Learning to work together and developing a surprise romance leads them back to the shrink ray. After narrowly avoiding getting eaten in a bowl of Cheerios, the youngsters fight to be reset to their original size. Full of action and comedy, this movie is sure to please.