Adventure Movies

10 Best Adventure Movies from the 1980s, Ranked

March 24, 202414 Mins Read

After the dark adventures of the 1970s, an awakening of creative and heartwarming epic fantasies marked the 1980s, entertaining audiences of all ages. These movies combine fantasy, magic, and lore meant mostly for all ages; many have raised a lot of today’s adults. Moreover, these movies also raised some of Hollywood’s biggest stars of today, such as Jennifer Connelly, Josh Brolin, and Ke Huy Quan, to name a few.

This decade also allowed moviemakers and viewers to dream and conjure different worlds. The world hasn’t been the same since Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and the 1980s gave the underdogs and “geeks” a chance to come out on top and revel in the popularity of comics, epic fantasies, and video games. The best adventure movies of the 1980s are also some of the greatest adventures ever made. Though the list is long, the ten that marked the decade are still as loved as the first time they were released.

10 ‘Crocodile Dundee’ (1986)

Directed by Peter Faiman

The movie that made all non-Australian people call Australians “Crocodile Dundee,” this movie is still the highest-grossing Australian production of all time, after nearly 40 years since its premiere. The creators Paul Hogan, John Cornell, and Ken Shadie created a wild comedic adventure about an Australian survivalist from the Outback in New York. Crocodile Dundee follows Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), a NYC-based reporter who travels to the Northern Territory of Australia to interview Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan).

Dundee is thought to be a successful bushmaster who lost half his leg in a fight with a crocodile, but Sue soon realizes that was all hearsay. As she and Mick develop a friendship, she takes him on a journey to New York City, where their friendship turns romantic. Though the romantic aspect is a great addition to the film, the driving point of the movie is Paul Hogan’s portrayal of Dundee, a man who isn’t used to cities at all, let alone one as huge as New York. His goofy but charming act made Crocodile Dundee the cult classic it is today. Interestingly, Hogan won the Golden Globe for Best Actor for this role in 1987.

Crocodile Dundee

Release Date
September 26, 1986

Peter Faiman

paul hogan , Linda Kozlowski , John Meillon , David Gulpilil , Ritchie Singer , Maggie Blinco


John Cornell , paul hogan , Ken Shadie

Crocodile Dundee can be streamed on AMC+ in the U.S.

Watch on AMC+

9 ‘Romancing the Stone’ (1984)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Romancing the Stone and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, are among the funniest rom-coms of the 1980s and a direct inspiration for numerous later jungle adventures with damsels in distress and resourceful jungle connoisseurs falling in love. Romancing the Stone was likely the biggest inspiration for Sandra Bullock‘s recent feature The Lost City, where she played a similar role to Kathleen Turner‘s.

Kathleen Turner plays Joan Wilder, a romance novelist with a mysterious brother-in-law who leaves her a treasure map in the mail one day. After Joan’s sister gets kidnapped and the treasure map is the ransom, she travels to the South American jungle and enlists the help of the savvy Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) to get out of the treacherous conditions. Romancing the Stone is funny, action-packed, and entertaining, with no lack of chemistry between Douglas and Turner. Douglas almost unexpectedly steps into a comedic role well, while Kathleen Turner feels almost seamless. Kathleen Turner said in an interview that she and Douglas nearly fell in love while filming, with their obvious chemistry giving the movie a special spark.

Romancing the Stone Film Poster

Romancing the Stone

Release Date
March 30, 1984

106 minutes

Diane Thomas , Lem Dobbs , Howard Franklin

Romancing the Stone can be streamed on Apple TV in the U.S.

Watch On AppleTV

8 ‘The Dark Crystal’ (1982)

Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz

Though there’s nothing heavy about The Muppets, Jim Henson dipped his toes into broodier material with The Dark Crystal. It was marketed as a family film and still is, but it’s much darker compared to Henson’s other work. The famous animatronics king, writer, entertainer, puppeteer, and creative genius wrote The Dark Crystal with Frank Oz, a long-time collaborator.

The movie is filled with animatronic puppets that stood the test of time; it follows the story of a Gelfling named Jen, who was raised and guided by urSu, the leader of the Mystics; Jen needs to fulfill the prophecy of finding the missing shard of the dark crystal and complete it before The Three Suns meet. If she doesn’t, the rulers of everything familiar to the creatures will become the Skeksis, a violent and dominating species. The lore of The Dark Crystal is deep, as can be read in the book titled The World of the Dark Crystal. This book was written together with the original screenplay, so any fan can delve deeper into the movie’s universe. This isn’t all too necessary, though – The Dark Crystal itself does a great job of explaining the history and significance of each species, with many allusions to human nature, from evil and greed to love and kindness.

The Dark Crystal Film Poster

The Dark Crystal

Release Date
December 17, 1982

Jim Henson , Frank Oz , Gary Kurtz

Jim Henson , Kathryn Mullen , Frank Oz , Dave Goelz , Steve Whitmire , Louise Gold

93 minutes

Jim Henson , David Odell

Warner Bros.

The Dark Crystal can be streamed on Apple TV in the U.S.

Watch On AppleTV

7 ‘Escape From New York’ (1981)

Directed by John Carpenter

For someone who hasn’t seen Escape from New York, the name Snake Plissken should be pretty familiar anyway. One of the most legendary John Carpenter characters (and movies), Snake is an iconic action hero who embarked on, not one, but two escape adventures during the 1980s. He was also the direct inspiration for Hideo Kojima‘s complex video game series Metal Gear Solid and its main character, Solid Snake. The references are a pretty obvious homage to Kurt Russell‘s Snake.

Escape from New York follows Snake in the future (compared to 1981); it’s 1997, and the whole of Manhattan is essentially one big prison. But, it’s not just any prison – it’s a maximum security facility that harbors some of the most hardcore criminals in the US. When the President’s plane gets knocked down in Manhattan, the eye-patch-wearing badass Snake Plissken is asked to get the chief of the country out safely. The movie is an unlikely adventure in the sea of epic fantasies created in the 1980s, but Carpenter was the king of the 1980s, so anything he made was bound for greatness. Kurt Russell is the ideal choice for the role of an aloof, versatile criminal with a knack for both self-preservation and keeping others alive. This might even be his biggest legacy, after The Thing, or any other cooperation (out of five) with Carpenter.

Escape From New York

Release Date
May 23, 1981


1997. New York City is now a maximum security prison. Breaking out is impossible. Breaking in is insane.

Escape From New York can be streamed on The Criterion Channel in the U.S.

Watch On The Criterion

6 ‘The NeverEnding Story’ (1984)

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

Image via Warner Bros.

Fans of fantasy movies from the 1980s could never skip talking about The NeverEnding Story, and, for great reasons – this movie is the full package: it has fantasy, epic world-building, a ton of adventure, and it’s fun for the whole family. Movies for people of all ages can border on being childish, but The NeverEnding Storyrarely falls into such a trap during its runtime.

The movie follows a young boy, Bastian, who tries to escape the real world (in which his divorced, overly realistic father and his bullies live) by drawing and reading. When Bastian hides in a library while running from his bullies one day, he’s introduced to a magical book. Curious, he starts reading it and exploring the fantastical world of Fantasia. Fantasia soon sucks Bastian in, inviting him to become the land’s hero; the line between reality and fantasy thins, and Bastian is more and more encapsulated. The NeverEnding Story stands out because anyone who watched it as a child still loves to revisit it, whether they have children of their own or not. This, paired with the memorable soundtrack and art direction, makes The NeverEnding Story a real feast for kids and adults who love to feel like kids once again.

The Neverending Story

Release Date
July 20, 1986

Noah Hathaway , Barret Oliver , Tami Stronach , Patricia Hayes , Sydney Bromley , Gerald McRaney , Moses Gunn


The NeverEnding Story can be streamed on Apple TV in the U.S.

Watch On AppleTV

5 ‘Labyrinth’ (1986)

Directed by Jim Henson

Similarly to The Dark Crystal and The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth sucks viewers into a fantastical world of magical creatures. The world in Labyrinth is filled with mystical creatures like goblins, ogres, and forest creatures, all ruled by a mystical Goblin King Jareth, played by the irreplaceable David Bowie. The protagonist is Sarah, played by the 16-year-old Jennifer Connelly. Sarah has a baby brother, Toby, who often frustrates her.

One day, while reading the book The Labyrinth, Sarah impulsively wishes Toby to get taken away by the goblins from it. Jareth appears before Sarah, asking her if taking Toby is what she really wants. Though she changes her mind, Jareth takes Toby away anyway, giving Sarah 13 hours to save him by finding the center of a massive labyrinth in his world. Labyrinth was created by Jim Henson, co-written by Monty Python‘s Terry Jones, and produced by George Lucas. This epic has stunning musical features (with some written by Bowie himself), great animatronics, and even lessons – Sarah learns how to be selfless, brave, and responsible for another life, her brother’s. Casting Bowie as Jareth was the choice that makes Labyrinth so special; he was always able to embrace fluidity and exude boldness, which came in handy for portraying such a gray character. Though Labyrinth is deemed full of gray and controversial areas today, it keeps a special place in people’s hearts.

Labyrinth Film Poster


Sixteen-year-old Sarah must solve a labyrinth to rescue her baby brother when he is taken by the Goblin King.

Release Date
June 27, 1986

Jim Henson

101 minutes

Main Genre

Dennis Lee , Jim Henson , Terry Jones

Labyrinth can be streamed on AppleTV in the U.S.

Watch On AppleTV

4 ‘Willow’ (1988)

Directed by Ron Howard

Another memorable adventure from the pen of George Lucas and the directing baton of Ron Howard, Willow leaves a legacy similar to Star Wars. It’s another slightly darker adventure, tackling motives of greed, nobility, and the common fight of good versus evil. Because of them, together with the vastness of the magical world Lucas created, Willow is still special to its many original fans. Willow takes place in a medieval-esque fantasy world where the queen Bavmorda wants to get rid of an unborn baby that’s meant to succeed her.

She traps all the pregnant women, but the mother of the intended heiress, Elora Danan, manages to get her out of the castle. Elora ends up in a small Nelwyn village, where Willow (Warwick Davis) finds her. Willow must return Elora to her kind, so she can fulfill the prophecy, and embarks on an adventure with her. Along the way, they meet Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a small-time crook who offers his help. The movie was so loved that Disney decided to give it a series in 2022, but its success (and overall quality) was seemingly disappointing to many hardcore fans. After the first season, the series was canceled, and perhaps for good reason – many people in love with Willow’s magic prefer it to stay the intact and innocent epic adventure it was from the start.

Willow Film Poster


Release Date
May 20, 1988

126 minutes

Main Genre

George Lucas , Bob Dolman

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Willow can be streamed on Disney+ in the U.S.

Watch On Disney+

3 ‘The Princess Bride’ (1987)

Directed by Rob Reiner

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” This iconic replica by Mandy Patinkin is just one of the things that make The Princess Bride so memorable. Besides being one of the most quotable movies of the 20th century, it’s a story of love, revenge, chivalry and courage like no other. All the princess stories have these themes, and so the name The Princess Bride suits the story more than well.

Robin Wright plays the farm girl Buttercup, who is in love with Westley (Cary Elwes). Westley goes away to get rich, so he can provide for her, but disappears and is presumed dead. Five years later, Buttercup is set to marry the Prince, but she still loves Westley. Before the wedding, she gets kidnapped by a team of misfits, and the adventure of a lifetime begins. Rob Reiner‘s Princess Bride is a charming and jolly combination of comedy and tenderness, with several great sword fights which were, undoubtedly, added to give the story a more adventurous spirit. Fans who grew up during the 2000s might see the movie Stardust as a nice homage to The Princess Bride, though the original will never be beaten as the ultimate 1980s feel-good movie.

The Princess Bride Film Poster

The Princess Bride

A bedridden boy’s grandfather reads him the story of a farmboy-turned-pirate who encounters numerous obstacles, enemies and allies in his quest to be reunited with his true love.

Release Date
October 9, 1987

98 minutes

William Goldman

Act III Communications

The Princess Bride can be streamed on Disney+ in the U.S.

Watch On Disney+

2 ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

The first of five installments about the intrepid archeologist Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, changed the adventure genre forever. The people we’d often hear legends and myths about, adventurers that traversed unknown territories, were finally combined into one badass man. According to many stories, George Lucas based Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones on the real-life paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews. The stories of his journey and adventures feel unreal, but as they say, life is often stranger than fiction.

Harrison Ford stepped into the role of Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, embodying a man equally charming and clever, sometimes too much for his own good. As Indiana is hired to reach the mystical The Ark of the Covenant, he’s instructed to do so before German Nazi forces. If they reach it, it’s believed that they will become invincible. With a common enemy like the Nazi Army, it’s tough not to cheer for Jones. The story is set in 1936, and it had all the right people behind it for that time – directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted for the screen by Lawrence Kasdan, Raiders of the Lost Ark has the spice that’s missing from some of the later Indiana Jones installments (most recently, the one from 2023).

Raiders of the Lost Ark can be streamed on Disney+ in the U.S.

Watch On Disney+

1 ‘The Goonies’ (1985)

Directed by Richard Donner

Asking anyone between 30 and 50 today “What’s the greatest adventure movie of all time?” their answer might unequivocally be “The Goonies.” This movie has more than just shaped the adults of today by giving them an adventurous and curious spirit; it’s also raised some of the most beloved Hollywood stars of today, from Josh Brolin and Sean Astin to Ke Huy Quan.

Four kids living in the Goondocks neighborhood in Astoria, Oregon – Mikey, Chunk, Mouth, and Data – find a treasure map in one of their neighbors’ attics. As the Docks are intended for foreclosure and demolition, the kids have no choice but to rummage through old memories and gather one last time. But, the four boys – who call themselves The Goonies – find a treasure map that leads to a hidden ship. They embark on the adventure of locating the ship, encountering human and supernatural enemies along the way.

The Goonies are the ultimate 1980s adventure comedy, with a memorable cast that inspired coming-of-age movies to become more entertaining and fun-filled.

This movie’s legacy goes far and wide, with the city of Astoria celebrating the movie’s 25th anniversary in 2010. Around 15,000 people gathered at the Goondocks to celebrate their favorite movie; with a legacy like this, it’s obvious why child ensembles became the leading inspiration for numerous other epics afterward.

The Goonies Film Poster

The Goonies

Release Date
June 7, 1985

114 minutes

The Goonies can be streamed on Fubo TV in the U.S.

Watch On Fubo TV

KEEP READING: The 25 Best ’80s Movies, Ranked

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