The Best Year of the 1980s, According to Movies, Is…


Lately, I’ve been a bit obsessed. I wrote a parents’ guide to 80s movies to watch with their kids, and in writing it, I became re-inspired to watch many of them with my own family. As I took note of which movies we were instinctively drawn toward, I began noticing patterns that I had not noticed previously.

In reflecting on those patterns, I started noticing trends that had to do with movies from the 80s, and those trends eventually started blossoming into a hypothesis, which I would then share with literally anyone who would take the time to even half-listen to my ranting.

Ask my wife; she’ll confirm it.

The first trend I noticed the most was that a LOT of our favorite movies seemed to be centered around 1985, plus or minus 1-2 years. In other words, I started getting the suspicion that 1985 may have been the greatest year for movies, and in leading up to 1985, movies increasingly got better, while after 1985, movie quality steadily declined.

The second part to my budding theory was that Hollywood steadily increased its reliance on sequels as cash cows, which, for the most part, really sucked, because what made the 80s really great in terms of movie-making was the sheer volume of originality when it came to film. I mean, come on – think about some of our favorite 80s movies, and then ask yourself if they would have a cookie’s chance in a toddler’s hand of being made today.

Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo? Not a chance. Howard the Duck? Nope. Then again, perhaps it was the extreme, almost obscene originality of Howard the Duck that made studios a bit gun-shy to produce anything THAT far out of the proverbial box.

This leads me to the third part of my theory, which is that the American movie industry is currently experiencing a drastic creativity crisis. Too many sequels. Too many remakes of previously original and beloved films. NOT ENOUGH ORIGINAL IDEAS.

So, as a professor and researcher, I decided to test my theories. Now, this is NOT a rigorous or peer-reviewed research study, so yes, I admit it is flawed.

We don’t need to nitpick those flaws to death in the comments. Even with the flaws, I would wager that the results remain pretty close to the same in the end.

Anyway, here’s the methodology I used:

  • Using (Internet Movie Database), I pulled up database results for the most popular movies of each year. These results are sorted by the bestselling movies. Here’s an example link.
  • I scanned the list for each year and wrote down every last one of the movies that I either have already seen and enjoyed with my kids or movies that I know for a fact they would enjoy but haven’t yet seen. I used a LOT of leeway here so as to include as many movies as humanly possible and ended up including a lot of movies I might not actually ever watch with them, but they are still beloved classics by others. Generally speaking, once you get to the #150-200 mark of each year’s list, you’re getting to the softcore porn movies, films even Lifetime wouldn’t show, and straight-to-video stinkers.
  • I compiled a list for each year, from 1982-1988, which provided me with three years on either side of 1985 to examine any emerging trends. Then, I counted the number of quality (i.e., watchable and enjoyable) movies for each year, followed by counting the number of those movies that were sequels.

Without further fanfare, let’s look at the data. First, here is a chart showing the number of enjoyable movies for each year:

Number of movies

Whoa. That’s pretty telling.

Now, here’s the number of sequels among all those delicious movies:

Number of sequels

Numbers don’t lie.

My first theory, that 1985 was the pinnacle of creative, original, family movie night friendly films, was pretty accurate. As for the years leading up and away, well, 1983-1984 and 1986-1988 were pretty great years for movies as well. However, among those good movies were an increasing number of sequels, creating the trend or the norm that plagues Hollywood today. My man, Roberto, wrote an incredible article (and pseudo scientific article) on the impact of sequels here.

This now begs the question of whether that trend continued into the 90s as well, and maybe that’s a task I need to tackle once I get the write-up done for a parent’s guide to 90s movies for family movie night.

In other words, to be continued…


In case anyone is curious, here’s the list, ordered by descending popularity at the box office. Sequels are highlighted.

List of 80s Movies


2 thoughts on “The Best Year of the 1980s, According to Movies, Is…

  1. Pingback: Open Letter to Hollywood: Enough with All the Sequels and Reboots (Seriously, Knock It Off) | Raised on Movies

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