Best Mainstream Horror Movies of the 1980s

According to Quentin Tarantino, the 1980s were one of the worst decades for cinema. The writer-director of such classics as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs proclaimed in a 2015 Vulture interview that – back in the 1980s, movies sucked, and Hollywood’s bottom-line product was at its worst since the 1950s. However, when it comes to the horror genre, this line of thinking does not apply. Most cinephiles will state with a great deal of confidence that the 1980s were, in a sense, a golden era for mainstream horror, particularly films in the slasher subgenre, as this decade gave birth to many of its classic icons.

There is no doubt that John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween kick-started the low-budget horror craze due to it grossing over $70 million on a budget of only $300,000. Once this occurred, producers saw cheaply-made movies about young adults in peril as the perfect money-making opportunity. Interestingly enough, many titles from this period that fans consider classics were not financially successful, receiving only short theatrical runs. Therefore, we have chosen to focus on 1980s films that not only scared audiences but raked in some massive dough at the box office. Naturally, constructing any best-of list is an entirely subjective endeavor that often causes many heated debates. One about best-of movies rival those regarding which is the most profitable online casino bonus, or should you bit or lick ice cream? Nevertheless, we did our best concerning the selection below. We hope you enjoy it.

Child’s Play

Released in 1988, and directed by horror master Tom Holland, Child’s Play is about as legendary as mainstream horror movies get. Even those that are not avid movie watchers can recognize this film’s main antagonist, Chucky. A possessed Good Guy doll that goes on murderous rampages. Despite Tom Holland of Psycho 2-fame helming this project, it is the brainchild of Don Mancini. Mancini wrote all seven original entries in this series, directing the last three. The franchise got rebooted in 2019, with Mark Hamill replacing Brad Dourif as the voice of Charles Lee Ray/Chucky. Child’s play grossed $44 million via North American ticket sales on a budget of $9 million.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Here is a fun bit of trivia. Slasher pioneer Wes Craven was a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology in New York before directing Last House on the Left in 1972? Following the success of that Virgin Spring remake, Craven went on to helm three more projects before making New Line Cinema millions with A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Starring a then-unknown Robert Englund and a young Johnny Depp, this supernatural slasher tells the story of four teenagers who get stacked in their dreams by a severely burned pedophile wearing a bladed leather glove. A Nightmare on Elm Street generated $57 million in box office revenues on a budget of $1.1 million. It spawned seven sequels and a remake. There was also a horror anthology series named Freddy’s Nightmares which aired in syndication from 1988 until 1990. It featured forty-four episodes, with actors like Jeffery Combs, Julie Suzanne Chen, and George Lazenby guest starring. Hollywood star Brad Pitt had a role in one of the episodes, as did Lori Petty.

Friday the 13th

Halloween’s Michael Myers and Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees are the two quintessential figures in the slasher subgenre. What is interesting about the latter is that he does not appear in the first Friday the 13th movie in the form mainstream audiences know him today. In the 1980s’ Sean S. Cunningham film, he is not the main antagonist. We will not reveal who the Crystal Lake killer is in this movie. We do not want to spoil the movie for those few that have not seen this ever-green horror yet. Created to replicate the success of Halloween, Friday the 13th proved super successful in this task, pulling in almost $60 million in global ticket sales on a budget of only $500,000. The screenplay’s initial title was A Long Night at Camp Blood but got changed per a request from Sean S.Cunningham. The Friday the 13th franchise consists of eleven entries, not counting a 2009 remake, produced by Michael Bay.

Pet Sematary

Stephen King is one of the most prolific novelists of all time. His catalog of novels features sixty-three titles that have sold more than 350 million copies. Over forty of his works have morphed into feature films. While Pet Sematary may not rank as one of the best King adaptations ever, it still was a highly successful movie that turned a sizeable profit, defying critics and opening at blockbuster levels. The plot of Pet Sematary centers around a quiet family who lives close by a Native American burial ground, which can return creatures and humans from the dead. Paramount Pictures produced and distributed this 1989 hit, which has now attained cult status. Pet Sematary, directed by Mary Lambert and starring Dale Midkiff, grossed $57 million on an $11 million budget.

Dressed to Kill

Here is an underrated gem. While most people know Brian De Palma as the man responsible for Scarface, Carlito’s Way, the Untouchables, and Mission Impossible, few remember his run of suspense horror movies that mimic the Italian Giallo genre. Dressed to Kill hit theaters in 1980, with Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson in the title roles. It depicts the murder of a housewife in New York City and then moves to follow the prostitute who witnessed the crime. Dressed to Kill is heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring POV shots and other thriller techniques popularized by this English auteur. The film generally received favorable reviews and won Angie Dickinson the Saturn Award for Best Actress. It was the 21st highest-grossing movie at the US box office in 1980, pulling in almost $32 million in revenues on a budget of $6.5 million. Regardless of its critical acclaim and financial success, Dress to Kill managed to snag three Golden Raspberry Awards, including one for worst director.