What Were the Box Office Hits of the 1980s?

Different decades have numerous box office hits, but there are particular decades where the most successful films released are still recognized as timeless classics in the present day. Some of the most memorable box office hits were released in the 1980s, and in this article, we will talk about those hits and why they are considered iconic and memorable. Here is a list of the box office hits of the 1980s.

The Shining (1980)

The Shining is a horror film that was released in 1980 and was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, who also co-wrote the film alongside novelist Diane Johnson. The film is based on the 1977 novel of the same name written by Stephen King, one of the most prolific novelists of the horror genre. The movie stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic who decided to accept a new job as an off-season caretaker of a fictional establishment called the Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrance brought along with him his wife Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and their young son Danny (played by Danny Lloyd) to the hotel. What followed was a series of horrific and unfortunate events that befell the Torrance family.

When the film was released, it got mixed reviews from critics, and even Stephen King criticized the film because it deviated a lot from the story of his novel. During the first Golden Raspberry Awards (an award show for the worst movies) in 1981, The Shining was nominated for Worst Director (for Stanley Kubrick) and Worst Actress (for Shelley Duvall). However, years after the premiere of the film, the reception for The Shining became much more positive, and by the 2000s, it was already considered one of the greatest films of all time because of its story, acting, and cinematography.

One of the most iconic scenes of the film was when Danny Torrance was riding his Big Wheel tricycle on one floor of the Overlook Hotel. While playing with his tricycle, the ghostly figures of young female twins wearing the same blue dress suddenly appeared in a hallway. The Big Wheel tricycle that Danny used in the scene was very popular in the 1970s, and to know more about it, you can check out The Most Nostalgic “As Seen on TV” Toys of the 1970s.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel to Star Wars, a blockbuster sci-fi film that was released in 1977. While it is the second film in the Star Wars franchise, it is the fifth chapter in the chronology of the “Skywalker Saga,” which follows the story of the Skywalkers, mainly Anakin Skywalker (the protagonist of the prequel films) and Luke Skywalker (the protagonist of the original trilogy).

The Empire Strikes Back focuses on Luke Skywalker, who received training from an alien named Master Yoda in order to become stronger and stop the Galactic Empire from executing their numerous malevolent plans. Much like the first Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back was a financial success, as it was able to get about $549 million at the box office against a $30.5 million budget. 

Today, many Star Wars fans would argue that The Empire Strikes Back is the greatest Star Wars film ever made because of its dark and mature themes while also having one of the greatest plot twists in the history of cinema. Some fans today would have posters of The Empire Strikes Back in their bedroom to show how much they love the film. If you want to buy movie posters and other 80s-themed items as gifts for loved ones, you can read our Nostalgic 80s Gift Ideas.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action-adventure film that was directed by Steven Spielberg and was the first film in the popular Indiana Jones franchise. The film was released in 1981 and its story is based on an idea that was created by George Lucas (the creator of Star Wars) and Philip Kaufman (a screenwriter known for writing the film adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being). The story of the film is set in 1936 and follows an archaeologist named Indiana Jones, who was tasked to recover the Ark of the Covenant, an artifact that is said to make an army invincible.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was the highest-grossing film of 1981, as it was able to earn about $389 million against its $20 million budget. Similar to most of the films mentioned in this article, Raiders of the Lost Ark is regarded as one of the best films ever made, and it even sparked the revival of the “treasure hunt” genre for films, TV shows, and video games.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, also known simply as E.T., is a sci-fi film that premiered in 1982 and was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, while the script was written by Melissa Mathison. The story of the film follows a boy named Elliott (played by Henry Thomas) who becomes friends with an alien that he named “E.T.” for “extraterrestrial.” Elliott would then have to help E.T. find his way home.

The concept for the movie was based on Spielberg’s imaginary friend that he created after his parents’ divorce in the 1960s. What’s interesting about the filming process of E.T. was that it was shot in rough chronological order as opposed to filming scenes for the different points of the film’s story. The chronological nature of the movie’s filming allowed the young cast to be more invested in the story, which then helped facilitate emotional and convincing performances for them. When E.T. was released, it was received with wide critical acclaim, and it was able to earn more than $795 million against a $10.5 million budget.

A toy that the movie made even more popular in the 1980s is Speak & Spell, an electronic toy computer that was released by tech company Texas Instruments in 1978. The Speak & Spell, as its name already suggests, helps in teaching kids how to spell certain words and pronounce them properly. If you want to know more about it, read The Nostalgic Origins of the Speak & Spell Toy.

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is another sci-fi film that was released in 1982 and was directed by Ridley Scott, who is also known for creating the Alien film franchise that began in 1979 with the release of the sci-fi horror film of the same name. Blade Runner focuses on the story of Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), a “blade runner” or a hunter of fugitive replicants (synthetic humans) who is trying to track down a group of rogue replicants led by Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer). The film is an adaptation of a novel written by Philip K. Dick titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Although Blade Runner wasn’t a big blockbuster hit in the 80s compared to The Empire Strikes Back and E.T. the Extraterrestrial, it would still be considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, and it also helped inspire the “cyberpunk” genre, which is composed of decaying architecture and designs that are set in a futuristic world. The cyberpunk aesthetic also has neon lights, which are quite popular in the 1980s. If you want to have neon lights or neon signs at home, check out our Nostalgic 80s Home Décor Ideas.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters is a comedy film that was produced and directed by Ivan Reitman, who previously worked on the 1981 war comedy film Stripes. Ghostbusters starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as three parapsychologists who started a ghost-catching business in New York City. Besides starring in the film, Aykroyd and Ramis also wrote the film.

When Ghostbusters was released on June 8, 1984, it quickly became a global phenomenon. Its popularity is proven by its box office success, as it earned more than $290 million against its $25 million budget. The film also sparked the creation of the Ghostbusters franchise, which consisted of films, TV shows, video games, comic books, and other forms of entertainment.

Interestingly, Ghostbusters made one particular snack popular worldwide, and this snack is the Twinkie. Twinkies are sponge cake snacks that are filled with vanilla cream inside, and these Twinkies have appeared in one scene in the film where it was used to represent New York City’s “psychokinetic energy.” A character described that the “psychokinetic energy” detected in New York City during the events of the movie were meters or feet longer than a regular Twinkie, and another character replied, “That’s a big Twinkie.” To know more about this snack, check out The Interesting Origins of Twinkies.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club is an independent teen comedy-drama film that was directed, produced, and written by John Hughes, who was first known as an author of comedy stories and essays for the National Lampoon Magazine. The film centers on five teenagers with different backgrounds who serve a Saturday detention that is supervised by a vice-principal who is ruthless and authoritative.

The Breakfast Club is the least expensive film on this list, as it only has $1 million in budget. However, the film was a surprise success at the box office because it grossed over $51 million despite being an independent film. The Breakfast Club helped inspire the teen comedy-drama genre that was popular throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s.

Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future is a sci-film directed by Robert Zemeckis, who first became known for directing the action-comedy film Romancing the Stone (1984). Aside from directing the film, Zemeckis also co-wrote the script with Bob Gale, a comic book writer and screenwriter. Back to the Future focuses on Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), a teenager who was accidentally sent back to 1955 by a modified and time-traveling DeLorean car. Unfortunately, by being present in 1955, McFly inadvertently threatened his own existence as his presence in the said time period prevented his parents from falling in love. So, McFly’s mission is to ensure that his parents fall in love and go back to the present time.

Back to the Future was the highest-grossing film of 1985, and it was also a critical success, as critics praise its story, the acting of the cast, and its humor. Many people who grew up in the 1980s would regard Back to the Future as one of the most memorable films of their childhood.

Back to the Future also influenced the popularity of many brands and products, including a brand of novelty footwear called Moon Shoes, which appeared in one scene in the film. These Moon Shoes have trampoline-like springs at the bottom to allow kids to jump much higher compared to jumping with regular shoes. To know more about the Moon Shoes, check out The Most Nostalgic “As Seen on TV” Toys of the 1990s.

Aliens (1986)

Aliens is the sequel to the 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien, which was directed by Ridley Scott. But the sequel was written and directed by James Cameron, who previously directed another sci-fi film called The Terminator (1984). The film revolves around Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), who was the sole survivor of the first film and agreed to return to the site where her crewmates died in order to investigate what really happened in their ship.

The movie was a massive success both critically and commercially. Sigourney Weaver received the most praise for her acting in the film, while James Cameron was also commended for creating a story that was considered to be more terrifying than the one in the first film. Many fans would argue that Aliens is better than the first film, although there are some who would say that the two films are equal in terms of quality and impact.

Die Hard (1988)

The last movie on the list is Die Hard, an action film that was released in 1988 and was directed by John McTiernan, who also directed the sci-fi horror film Predator (1987). The movie’s story is based on a 1979 novel written by Roderick Thorp titled “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Die Hard stars Bruce Willis as New York City police detective John McClane, who visits his estranged wife in a Los Angeles skyscraper. Unfortunately, on the day of his visit, a terrorist takeover is happening inside the same skyscraper.

Although the initial reviews for the film were mixed, Die Hard became a blockbuster hit in different parts of the world, and it earned about $139 million against its $25-35 million budget. Die Hard helped launch the career of Bruce Willis as a leading man, and Willis would continue to appear in the sequels for Die Hard, like Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).

The 1980s was a decade that was full of classic blockbuster films. For people who haven’t watched the 80s movies that we listed above, now may be the best time to watch them so that these people will know why the mentioned movies are considered memorable and influential.