10 Movies That Perfectly Captured The 1980s Experience, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes

With big hair and radical music, these are 10 movies that perfectly capture the 1980s experience, ranked by Rotten Tomatoes.

10 Movies That Perfectly Captured The 1980s Experience, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes

With big hair and radical music, these are 10 movies that perfectly capture the 1980s experience, ranked by Rotten Tomatoes.


With popular shows like Stranger Things cashing in on the nostalgia of the decade, it's obvious that the 1980s is one of the most fondly remembered eras of all time. Known as a great time for movies and music, the '80s were so perfectly encapsulated in its popular media.


Whether it was modern comedies like Adventureland, or witty horror films like American Psycho, some movies captured the vibe of the radical 1980s well. Though many great films channeled the spirit of the decade, some gained much higher scores on Rotten Tomatoes than others.



Wet Hot American Summer (2001) - 37%


One of the best ways to understand the essence of a time is to see how that time is parodied. Wet Hot American Summer tells the story of a group of teens who have the time of their lives on the last day of summer camp in 1981.


As simple as the premise sounds, Wet Hot American Summer is actually an irreverent spoof of recognizable 1980s film cliches. Taking the summer camp movie tropes to the extreme, the absurdity of the humor is often what makes the film so funny. Intentionally cheesy and unrepentant in its weirdness, the film has viewers questioning what was so great about the decade being parodied. Despite its low Tomatoes score, Wet Hot American Summer has become a cult classic.



American Psycho (2000) - 69%


Not all portraits of the '80s are necessarily flattering, and some reflect the darkest aspects of a time that is usually looked back on with fondness. American Psycho follows Patrick Bateman, a high-powered banker by day who balances his double life as a sadistic killer by night.


Though it was changed somewhat from the novel, American Psycho is still a horrifying and witty look at the rise of corporate greed in the 1980s. Using its story as an allegory for the cutthroat nature of business and yuppie culture in general, the film is as biting as it is scary. Helped along by a brilliant performance from Christian Bale, American Psycho certainly captures a tone of the '80s, but that tone is a dark one.



The Wedding Singer (1998) - 69%


Flashing back to the middle of the decade, The Wedding Singer is a rare film that is a perfect time-capsule to its setting. The film follows a wedding performer who falls for the girl of his dreams. The only hang-up is that they are both engaged to be married to someone else.


Bringing back the hairstyles, the fashion, and the music that made the '80s what it was, The Wedding Singer is also a great story first and foremost. Adam Sandler gives an uncharacteristically subtle performance, and the film is funny and heartwarming in equal measure. Set in any other decade, the film would have been good, but its '80s nostalgia puts it over the top.



Class Of 1984 (1982) - 71%


Even though it was made in 1982, Class of 1984 perfectly summed up the fears and anxieties of the entire '80s. The story follows a well-meaning substitute teacher who is the only person brave enough to take on a gang of punks that control the high school with an iron fist.


Cheesy and over-the-top in its depiction of gang violence, it is an unfriendly reminder of the state of the world in the early 1980s. The horrific rise in crime in the previous decade had profoundly affected the public at large, and Class of 1984 is a result of that fear. As a film though, it maintains a fun, early 1980s aesthetic, and is one of the best Punk Rock movies of all time.



Edge Of Seventeen (1998) - 80%


Many LGBTQ+ stories were sadly absent from the tapestry of the 1980s, but after the fact, filmmakers hoped to rectify that glaring omission. Edge of Seventeen is the story of a gay teen who begins to explore who he is and his sexuality in the summer after he graduates from high school in 1984.



One of the film's strongest aspects is that it isn't limited in its focus. Not only does it follow Eric's story, but it also shows a wide range of emotions from the most important people in his life. A coming of age story at its heart, Edge of Seventeen harkens back to the John Hughes movies of the '80s, but with the benefit of over a decade of hindsight.



Blinded By The Light (2019) - 88%


Jam packed with music from Bruce Springsteen, the teen comedy Blinded by the Light was a heartfelt love letter to a decade and a musical superstar. The film follows a teen in 1980s England, who escapes from the harsh realities of his life by finding community and solace in the music of American rocker Bruce Springsteen.


Based on a true story, the film is a charming character portrait that resurrects the best aspects of the 1980s. Basing the film around one of the biggest superstars of the decade was a smart choice, and The Boss' music provides emotional weight to the story. Despite its heartwarming nostalgia, the film is still a relatively realistic look at its time period and setting.



Adventureland (2007) - 89%


If ever a film could be called anti-nostalgia, then Adventureland would certainly fit that bill. It is the story of an aimless college graduate who wastes a summer working a menial job at a local amusement park while he figures out what he wants from life.



Like a slice of life from the '80s, Adventureland is not a frilly and nostalgic look at its setting. Instead, the movie focuses on its character's angst and the complicated emotions of post-collegiate life. Though it is set in the 1980s, the film glorifies older music, and the characters often eschew anything that is hip and new. While it may not be the happiest or most nostalgic look at the time period, Adventureland still managed to capture its setting better than many other films of its kind.



Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - 92%


The AIDS crisis is one of the dimmest moments of the neon-tinted decade, and Dallas Buyers Club aimed to shine a light of hope on a dark time. After being diagnosed with the disease himself, a notorious hustler goes out of his way to help people diagnosed with HIV get the drugs they need to survive.


Gone is the glitz and glamor of the day, and instead the viewer gets a realistic portrait of a man in crisis. Reckoning with his own homophobia, Ron learns compassion through his similar circumstances with the people he discriminates against. Generally recognized as one of Matthew McConaughey's best roles, Dallas Buyers Club pulls no punches with its dark look at the 1980s.



Suburbia (1983) - 93%


Though it wasn't made with the benefit of hindsight, Suburbia had its finger on the pulse of a moment. The film follows a depressed teen who finds solace by running away to join a roving group of delinquent youths on the streets of Los Angeles.


Director Penelope Spheeris drew from her documentary filmmaking experience to deliver a fiction film with a gritty edge. Capturing the oncoming rush of Gen-X angst that would wash over the decade, Suburbia is a drama about teenage expression that is a cry for help for millions of lost youths. Outside of its thrilling narrative, the film stood as a warning to audience members of the dangers of a society that didn't properly care for its youngest members.



Broadcast News (1987) - 98%


The corporatization of the news was one of the most lamentable aspects of the 1980s, and Broadcast News perfectly captured the cresting of that wave. An upstart news producer finds herself at the center of a feud between two warring newsmen.


Anchored by three brilliant performances, the film is a prescient look at the direction that reporting was heading in. Ripe with snappy dialogue and extremely funny scenarios, the movie is as much an analysis of the news industry as it is the decade as a whole. One of its greatest strengths is that as time goes on, Broadcast News continues to get more and more relevant.



Harriet Angela

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