Perm your hair and grab your Walkman as we rundown the best 80s sci-fi movies.
The 80s are famous for so many things — the release of the first Macintosh computer, the rise of hip-hop and punk rock, big hair, and bold, bright fashion choices, but most importantly, we’re taking a look at the movies.
It can’t be questioned that the 1980s was a standout decade for the sci-fi movie genre, with so many iconic titles emerging. From extraterrestrial relationships to galaxies at war, the 80s was full of cinema moments that transformed the movies that have come after it.
Of course, with a plethora of fantastic movies on offer from this decade, it’s hard to narrow down a top ten. But, after wading through all the perms and shoulder pads, we’ve done the hard work for you and collated this list of the best 80s sci-fi movies for you to peruse and enjoy. As often is the case, the worlds imagined in the 80s are often set in years that have already been surpassed, making watching them now even more fascinating. We're still waiting for the hoverboards we were promised,
The sci-fi genre doesn’t start or stop with the 80s though, and whilst a few of these 80s hits made it to our best sci-fi movies list, there’s a lot more on offer that you might want to check out. Or, if you’re interested in more intergalactic adventures, take a look at our best space movies and best space horror movies lists.
- Release date: July 9, 1982
- Cast: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner
First up, in 1982, Disney released Tron, a movie about a computer programmer called Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who is transported into a virtual world and pitted against a malevolent software in order to escape and return home. A groundbreaking concept for a sci-fi movie of its time and one that has been continually praised for its use of CGI to bring “the Grid” to life. It’s virtual reality as imagined in the 80s and there’s something incredibly nostalgic about seeing the world through that lens.
Tron is a cult movie of the sci-fi genre and it has earned a place on our best 80s sci-fi movies list for the leaps it took in the sci-fi world. Also those light cycle bikes were rad.
9. Flash Gordon
- Release date: December 5, 1980
- Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow
Flash Gordon, the luxuriously blond-haired comic book superhero, came to life in 1980 when director Mike Hodges brought him to the big screen. Flash, a star football player, is tasked with traveling to the planet Mongo to fight Ming the Merciless and save Earth.
A quirky and amusing tale that sees Max von Sydow as its shining star playing the Emperor Ming himself. Max’s acting prowess for the character turns this mad, intergalactic adventure into a fun flick for sci-fi movie fans. It wasn’t exactly popular at its time of release, but Flash Gordon is now a cult sci-fi movie classic, praised for its entertainment value, iconic scenes, and let’s not forget Queen’s epic soundtrack. Flash, Ah-ah!
- Release date: July 17, 1987
- Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy
Dead or alive, you're coming with me! Legendary director Paul Verhoeven brought us RoboCop , the crime-fighting, ass-kicking cyborg of the Detroit Police Department. Whilst out on a job, police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is murdered by a criminal gang. He’s then brought back to life by mega corp Omni Consumer Products as RoboCop - part man, part robot, all cop. What better origin story for revenge than a cop turned superhuman with a thirst for righting wrongs?
Starting In 1987, RoboCop marked the beginning of spin-offs, sequels, and a questionable reboot years later, but nothing can beat the original. RoboCop is jam packed with violence, action, and a surprising amount of emotional depth as it satirizes and warns us against the dangers of the unchecked power of corporate greed.
- Release date: June 12, 1987
- Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall
Here’s another movie from 1987, but this time it’s the start of one of sci-fi’s most iconic horror franchises - Predator. Fronted by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the midst of his sci-fi movie domination, he takes on the role of Major “Dutch” Schaefer. Dutch is joined by elite paramilitary mercenaries on a mission to save political hostages in the Guatemalan rainforest.
Not a simple task in and of itself, but one that’s made even harder when the team come face-to-face (or face to terrifying alien mandibles) with Predator (Kevin Peter Hall), an out-of-this-world hunter set on stalking and brutally killing them. Big muscles, big monsters, and even bigger scares makes for an excellent sci-fi movie.
6. Blade Runner
- Release date: June 25, 1982
- Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young
In 1982, director Ridley Scott imagined the city of Los Angeles in 2019 as a dystopian landscape riddled with futuristic technology impacting society in detrimental ways. We're not quite there yet, but it's safe to say that we're on the path.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is an ex-policeman brought out of retirement as a special agent with a mission to take down violent replicants found illegally on Earth. It’s a slow burner that leads viewers down a rabbit hole questioning what it means to be human, all set against the neon backdrop of the dystopian future.
Blade Runner is an utter masterpiece of the sci-fi genre and is a perfect marriage of the neo-noir and cyberpunk movements in cinema. It’s also one of the best sci-fi movies based on books, a retelling of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
5. The Thing
- Release date: June 25, 1982
- Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Up next, a movie that thrusts the realism of special and practical effects over the use of CGI. Known to this day for its ability to instill fear in sci-fi fans across the world, The Thing uses film trickery and prosthetics to create a movie filled with iconic horror moments.
The premise? A research team in Antarctica are thrown into turmoil when an extraterrestrial lifeform takes over their research base. What’s even scarier is that it has the ability to assimilate and imitate those around it, so no one knows who to trust. This spectacular movie found its way into sci-fi lovers’ hearts with its unique storyline, realistic effects, and, of course, Kurt Russell’s incredible beard.
- Release date: July 18, 1986
- Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn
Aliens is the bigger, badder, more squirm-inducing relative to 1979’s Alien. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) returns after years in a cryo sleep to find that the xenomorphs are still a huge problem and are threatening the existence of a human colony.
Combining the Oscar-nominated performance from Sigourney with a seat-gripping finale showdown versus the alien queen, Aliens has its emblematic sci-fi moments that transformed this franchise and sparked four more movies after it. If you’re looking to watch through the franchise, or maybe you’re already a fan, we’ve put together the Alien movies, ranked worst to best for your viewing pleasure.
3. The Terminator
- Release date: October 26, 1984
- Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Bringing together the directorial skills of James Cameron, the bulging muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the acting skills of Linda Hamilton comes The Terminator. The Terminator spawned a franchise spanning six movies, some of which you might want to steer clear of, but luckily we’ve got a guide to The Terminator movies, ranked worst to best.
James Cameron led the first two movies in the franchise and brought the character to life as Arnie’s relentless killing machine hunts down Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) whose unbeknownst unborn son will shape humanity’s future. Arguably, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a sequel worthy of a prized spot on our list, but it came out in 1991, and instead we praise The Terminator for being the movie that kicked it all off.
2. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
- Release date: May 21, 1980
- Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Could we make a list and not include Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, considered by many as one of the best Star Wars’ movie? No, we could not. Packed full of sci-fi action and some of cinema’s most iconic story moments, The Empire Strikes Back is a dazzling example of the sci-fi movie genre.
From Han and Leia’s first kiss, to Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s incredible duel, to the pinnacle Star Wars movie moment “I am your Father”. The Empire Strikes Back is a well-rounded piece of cinema with an amalgamation of great action scenes and fully formed storytelling.
1. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
- Release date: June 11, 1982
- Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote
And finally, topping our list of the best sci-fi movies of the 80s, comes E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. When director Steven Spielberg released this sci-fi movie, everyone was in awe of the tale of a troubled child and the relationship he forms with a friendly alien.
E.T. explores themes of friendship, childhood, and growing up in a world where you can often feel misunderstood that still resonates with viewers today despite its 1982 timestamp. E.T. won over our hearts and did something new to the sci-fi movie genre in bringing an emotional connection between human and alien that shows bonds are not always linear.
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Grace is a freelancer who started writing for Space.com since 2021. She's a huge fan of movies, TV, and gaming, and if she's not clutching her Xbox controller or scanning the streaming platforms for the next must-watch shows, you'll find her spending copious amounts of time writing about them on her laptop. Specialties include RPG, FPS, and action-adventure games as well as 80s sci-fi movies and book adaptations.