Looking for the best 80s kids’ movies? Today I’m sharing a round up of 1980s films that I think your children will love.
You have a few important jobs as a parent.
There’s feeding, clothing and protecting your child from physical harm, of course. And (very) close behind these things is ensuring you don’t allow your children to think that Beverly Hills Chihuahua represents what good cinema is all about.
Over the past couple of months, Flea and I have been on a mission – to see, and rate, the top 20 best 80s kids movies. Because the 1980s were when (imho) some of the finest movies known to mankind were created.
What are 80s Kids Movies?
Our list excludes some well-known 1980s films that I think are still a bit too old for Flea and would be more suited to a list for teens. This includes films like Say Anything, Pretty in Pink or Breakfast Club, for example.
I’ve excluded a few 80s movies that I loved, but which bored Flea to tears (War Games, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Labyrinth). And because I’m a purist, I’ve excluded a few movies made in the 80s and released in the 90s – most notably Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
But overall, I think we’ve covered most of the best 80s kids movies.
It should be said that there was a lot more tolerance for swearing in the 1980s – many of the movies listed below include the odd profanity, even those aimed at quite young kids – I’ve tried to indicate where this is the case. But most of these are suitable for 9/10 year olds with just the occasional, “Look, there’s a squirrel” moment to distract kids from what’s happening on screen.
20 Best 80s Kids Movies
1. The Goonies
The Goonies is Steven Spielberg’s epic story of a group of misfits who embark on a treasure hunt to save their neighbourhood from evil developers. It’s one of the true can’t-miss 80s kids movies because of the Truffle Shuffle, the gorgeous blend of coming-of-age drama and comedy adventure, and the little tear I always get when it comes to the line, “We’re all Goonies.” Sniff.
2. Adventures in Babysitting
This movie is one of those amazing 1980s films that shouldn’t entertain kids as much as it does – but Flea finds it hilarious. There’s quite a bit of swearing (including one ‘f’ word) and one mention of Playboy but if you can gloss over those things, your kids will LOVE this movie.
Basically, the babysitter ends up having to go to into the big city with her charges – two teenage boys and a small, superhero loving girl. There are crazy car chases, gang fights and a finale on the sloping roof of a skyscraper. It’s brilliant.
12 year old Josh is sick of being small – too small to get the girl, too small to ride the roller coaster, too small to be great at sports. So he wishes to be big – and turns into Tom Hanks.
This 80s kids movie is a fab comedy mixed with a warm coming-of-age tale, and there are a few killer scenes. When I was 12, I *so* wanted to live in Josh’s New York apartment (trampolines and vending machines? Yes please!) and who wouldn’t want to stick their head out of the top of a Limo while listening to Billy Idol? One of the VERY best 80s movies.
4. The Lost Boys
This is a teen movie, so there’s a bit of pretty mild swearing, but for the most part it’s child-friendly. Although, I did cover Flea’s eyes for the one gruesome scene, where the kids around the campfire get eaten by Kiefer Sutherland and his team of bad boy vampires.
Flea loved the brilliant Frogg brother vampire hunters and Corey Haim as the innocent younger brother: “My own brother, a blood-sucking vampire. You wait till Mom hears about this!” I love 1980s Jason Patric. That is all.
Some movies are so good that you totally overlook the dodgy 1980s effects – and this is a perfect example.
ET might look a bit gross (especially to adult eyes) but Flea was completely captivated by the notion of finding a friend and saving them. Add flying bikes, chases and space ships to the mix and you’ve pretty much got kid movie heaven. And if you don’t cry when Elliott says, “We can grow up together, ET” then you’re dead inside.
6. The Princess Bride
I simply can’t imagine raising a child who doesn’t get it when I tell them, “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.” Basically, The Princess Bride isn’t just one of the best 80s kids movies. It’s one of the funniest, most amazing films EVER made, and if you don’t fall in love with Cary Elwes, then you don’t deserve to watch films, in my opinion.
The rodents of unusual size, saving a mostly dead person, climbing the cliffs of insanity — it’s all just brilliant.
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This is one of the all-time best 80s kids movies, and it’s my go-to movie therapy when I’m feeling low.
Kids will love this story of the charming bad boy who everyone loves, and the evil headmaster who can’t bring Ferris down. There are tips on faking illness to get out of school, kick-ass Beatles tunes and a Ferrari gets trashed. It’s just brilliant. And if nothing else, your kids need to know that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!”
This 1980s kids movie makes my top five Christmas movies – Every. Single. Year.
What kid wouldn’t be enchanted by the idea of a cute, fluffy pet that sings and talks – but unexpectedly turns into an evil monster when fed after midnight? One note of caution – there’s a sad story in this movie that explains how Phoebe Cates’ character realised there’s no Santa, but we glossed over this with a, “Well, would you believe in Santa if that happened to YOU?” (you *so* wouldn’t). Gremlins is dark, funny and festive – it’s good viewing year-round, but best served during Christmas.
9. An American Tail
Any list of 80s kids movies wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this film. But watch this one at your peril – it’s like having every single heartstring pulled at once. By the time tiny mouse Fievel has lost his family, washed up in America and found a corner to sing, “Somewhere out There” you’ll be in bits. Guaranteed.
But Flea loved rooting for the mice against the evil cats, and singing along with the terrific score.
10. Flight of the Navigator
If you missed it, this is the story of David, a kid who goes missing, only to be returned home eight years later – exactly the same age as he was when he left. Abducted by aliens and returned to the wrong moment in time, David is effectively kidnapped again by government scientists and has to escape, and navigate a talking spaceship home.
Flea loved the adventure here, and the intriguing premise of not growing up – and the cute, small alien creatures didn’t hurt. This one’s properly family friendly, with lots of fun music, to boot. One of the things I really notice about 1980s movies is how independent the kids in them are allowed to be. It’s sort of lovely to see, and prompts some interesting conversations in our house.
11. The Fox and the Hound
This is the only Disney movie on our list of 80s kids movies, and I love it because it’s got a bit of edge to it – it’s the story of a doomed friendship between a fox and a hound. Featuring Kurt Russell and Mickey Rooney, it’s a cut above most of the 1980s animated movies. But it’s sad at the end. Just a friendly warning.
If you’ve got a kid who likes to be scared (Flea is definitely one of those kids), then Beetlejuice is a great comedy – gross, raucous, anarchic and just scary enough for older kids to get a kick out of.
Winona Ryder is amazing as the depressed goth teenager who can’t stand her family, and the songs definitely stand the test of time.
Another one of those 1980s kids movies where the basic effects just add to the charm, Ghostbusters is the tale of three nerdy scientists who save New York from a badass ghost who wears a lycra bodysuit (hey, it was the 80s).
Kids love the slime, the cool lasers, and the humour, which is mostly childish, and entirely brilliant. And there’s never a bad time for a hearty chorus of, “Who you gonna call?”
14. Back to the Future
I have a theory this 1980s movie – with its cringe-inducing Mom/Son smooching scene – would never get made today but that would be a tragedy. This is the movie that made me covet a red gilet and a skateboard, so I could be just like Michael J Fox, and Flea’s now pretty much in the same place.
There’s time-travel, a cool car, rock and roll music and the dazzling notion that your parents used to be complete nerds. It’s a winner.
15. The Neverending Story
Sure, the creature effects are a bit basic by 2014 standards, but the idea of a book that comes to life and absorbs you – that’s about as timeless as stories get.
This is the tale of Bastian, a young, shy boy who finds a magical story about a world that is slowly dying because human children have stopped using their imaginations. It’s all about the power of books, and stories, and imagination and it’s just lovely. Flea must have watched this movie 20 times over the past three or four years, and still sits entranced, through the whole thing.
16. The Outsiders
My reason why your kids should watch this exciting drama starts and ends with this: “Stay gold, pony boy.”
This story of a group of kids from the wrong side of the tracks spawned the brat pack generation. It’s moody, it’s a tiny bit scary and one of the best 80s kids movies for tweens and teens.
17. Dirty Dancing
Because nobody puts Baby in a corner. It’s one of the very best 1980s movies for teens, with a classic love story. But Flea loved the dances, the songs and the finale performance more than any of that.
The illegal abortion storyline went over my daughter’s head when she was younger, but you might want to make a note if you’re watching with older kids.
18. The Karate Kid
You know that thing where they make new versions of classic 1980s movies and your annoying parents make you watch the originals because they’re way better and don’t have a creepy Mini Will Smith in it?
Wax on, wax off, kids.
19. Little Monsters
This movie is genius and one of the best 80s movies for kids in primary school.
Every kid knows that there are monsters living under the bed and in this movie, they come and say hello. Little Fred Savage becomes best friends with the Boogeyman, and it’s all fun and games until the monsters kidnap Fred’s little brother.
This one’s a lovely adventure story with lots of laughs and a properly scary idea – if they can’t rescue the boy by morning, he’ll be lost to the monster world for ever!
If 80s kids movies did one thing brilliantly, it was giving us the opportunity to watch kids who looked just like us have the most incredible adventures. Think Space Camp, Explorers, Project X, War Games etc.
One of the best 80s films in this genre is DARYL, a story about a boy who is actually a cyborg, created by the military to be a super data-analysing life form. DARYL escapes from his prison, spends time with a regular family, plays video games – oh, and steals a fighter jet. It’s properly exciting and scary, with the odd sad moment. Two thumbs up.
Want more 80s kids movies?
So those are our top 20 best 80s kids movies – did we miss any of your favourites? Check out the comments for readers’ recommendations of more brilliant 1980s films!