Adventure Movies

The 20 Best 80s Kids Movies Ever Made

January 12, 202422 Mins Read

The 1980s left a lasting mark on popular culture through its various iconic films, television, and music scenes. Many classic hits that were remade or rebooted in the modern era originated from the 1980s, including Top Gun, The Little Mermaid, and Indiana Jones. However, the kid-oriented films of this decade particularly stand out, as they ended up becoming lasting classics that kids today can enjoy while their parents reminisce in nostalgic glory.

The entries on the list stand out from other films released during the decade for many reasons. Some were genre-defining films, while others became instant classics. Some found major success at the box office, while some even became the highest-grossing film of their respective year of release. Many of these films were even selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, due to their status of being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Without further delay, here are the 20 best 80s kids movies ever made.

Updated Jan. 12, 2024: This article has been updated with additional information and useful features.

20 The Goonies (1985)

Released theatrically in 1985, The Goonies is an adventure comedy film starring Sean Astin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, and Ke Huy Quan. Based on a story by Steven Spielberg, the film follows a group of kids living in the “Goon Docks” of Astoria, Oregon. In an attempt to save their homes from foreclosure, they discover an old treasure map that leads them on an adventure to unearth a long-lost treasure. However, their discovery draws the attention of a criminal family who want the treasure for themselves.

The Goonies Is an Iconic Cult Film

Though it may not be as widely-recognized nowadays, The Goonies would be an instrumental film in the early careers of Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, and Josh Brolin. The sheer number of child actors here should’ve doomed The Goonies to failure, yet they somehow create a set of performances that are not only convincing, but genuinely compelling on top of it. Ke Huy Quan even had a lead role in Temple of Doom only a year prior to The Goonies, having played the comic relief character of Short Round. Director Richard Donner would later go on to direct the widely-recognized buddy cup film franchise, Lethal Weapon, towards the latter half of the 1980s.

Buy or Rent on Prime Video

19 Back to the Future (1985)

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, and Thomas F. Wilson, Back to the Future is a science fiction film released in 1985. Set in the same year it was released, the film follows teenager Marty McFly as he is sent back in time via a time-traveling DeLorean car constructed by Emmett “Doc” Brown. Now stuck in 1955, Marty accidentally prevents his parents from falling in love, forcing him to get them back together before he is subsequently wiped away from existence.

Back to the Future Popularized the DeLorean

As memorable as it was original, Back to the Future was a staple of many childhoods throughout the 1980s, due in part to the terrific lead performance by Michael J. Fox, and the unique premise made more intense with dramatic stakes. The film also had a hand in turning the infamous DMC DeLorean car, a vehicle once mocked for its bizarre features, into a coveted piece of cinematic history. Of course, we can’t mention Back to the Future without also mentioning the fantastic score provided by Alan Silvestri, whose compositions made the film’s most memorable scenes truly pop.

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18 Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters is a 1984 supernatural comedy film starring Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Dan Aykroyd as Ray Stantz, and Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler. After being kicked out of university, these three friends form the “Ghostbusters,” an unconventional business where they rid New York City of paranormal phenomena when needed – for a price. Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis also star, with Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson, and William Atherton starring in supporting roles.

Ghostbusters Is an All-Time Classic Comedy

​​​​Whether you grew up with the original film, its numerous animated series, or any combination of the two, Ghostbusters wouldn’t be where it is without the incredible talent attached to the production. With a script penned by both Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, along with memorable scenes featuring Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, Ghostbusters melded the supernatural with super hilarity in a way you’ll rarely find nowadays. Even if it wasn’t necessarily a movie made for kids, that didn’t stop them from swarming in to see the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man wreaking havoc.

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17 The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Released in 1984, The NeverEnding Story is a fantasy film directed by Wolfgang Petersen as his first English-language film. It is based on Michael Ende’s 1979 novel of the same name, and stars Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerald McRaney, Moses Gunn, and Alan Oppenheimer. The film follows a boy who finds a magical book, one that tells a dramatic tale of good overcoming evil in the magical world of Fantasia.

The NeverEnding Story Took Bold Risks

Despite the disparity between the film’s title and its finite length, The NeverEnding Story would become an iconic piece of 1980s filmmaking for many kids, making it perfect fodder for a modern-day reboot. Whether its success was due to its imaginative characters, its willingness to venture into darker territory, or its surprisingly bold storytelling, is up for debate. The film would even become the subject of numerous pop culture parodies over the years, with references in both The Simpsons and Robot Chicken lending it more credence as a 1980s staple.

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16 The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid is a 1984 martial arts drama film starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, and William Zabka. It follows Daniel LaRusso, an Italian-American teenager who moves with his widowed mother to Los Angeles. LaRusso quickly becomes a target for bullying from the locals, including Johnny Lawrence, the ex-boyfriend of LaRusso’s love interest. As a result, LaRusso learns karate from Mr. Miyagi, a war veteran, so he can learn to defend himself in a karate tournament against his bullies.

The Karate Kid Lives On

You could argue that a handful of elements in The Karate Kid meld together to form a 1980s classic. Maybe it’s the incorporation of Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, whose subdued performance lent his character an authentic aura of wisdom. Maybe it’s the similarities to Rocky that are found throughout, where an underdog learns to improve himself via martial arts. Maybe it’s the over-the-top nature of the film’s villains, with William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence in particular taking the cake. Whatever the case may be, The Karate Kid is a film whose differing elements combine into a compelling whole, making bank at the box office while also leaving an enduring influence on pop culture as a whole.

Buy or Rent on Apple TV


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15 Stand by Me (1986)

Released in 1986, Stand by Me is a coming-of-age drama based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella, The Body. Set in 1959 and taking place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon, Stand by Me follows four boys who go on a dangerous journey to find a dead body. Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell star as Gordie Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio, respectively, with Kiefer Sutherland as John “Ace” Merrill.

Stand by Me Was a Perfect Coming-Of-Age Film

Though not necessarily a “kids” movie by a typical definition, Stand by Me is no less a film many kids saw during the 1980s. Corey Feldman continued his prolific film career here alongside Wil Wheaton, and the film itself would secure an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Rob Reiner takes King’s original novella, a story made more unique by its aversion to outright horror, and turns it into one of the most captivating coming-of-age films ever made, a film tailor-made for the transition between childhood and adulthood.

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14 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on an original story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. It is the first in the Indiana Jones franchise, and stars Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, with Karen Allen and Paul Freeman in supporting roles. The film follows an adventurous archaeologist racing against Nazi forces in 1936, as he tries to uncover the long-lost Ark of the Covenant — an ancient artifact which is rumored to contain incredible power. Since its release, there have been four more films in the Indiana Jones franchise, with the latest one being released in 2023.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Is a Classic Adventure Film

Before Temple of Doom would play a hand in establishing content ratings for the film industry as a whole, Raiders of the Lost Ark is likely the most kid-friendly of the wider Indiana Jones franchise — minus the infamously horrifying face-melting scene, of course. Everything leading up to that, however, was a brilliant modernization of the adventure serials of old, with Harrison Fold finding a new home in the role of the titular Indiana Jones. His enthusiasm for portraying the character made the Indiana Jones films as a whole a blast to watch.

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13 Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Starring Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, and Kristine Sutherland, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is a comedic science fiction film released in 1989. The film follows a struggling inventor who does exactly what the title suggests, accidentally shrinking both his own children and those of his neighbors to miniature size. After being accidentally thrown out with the trash, getting back to normal size is fraught with all the dangers you’d come to expect from a suburban backyard.

Honey, I Was a Box Office Success

The film was an unexpected box office success, becoming one of the highest-grossing live-action Disney films for a time. Though its success seems modest compared to Disney’s modern offerings, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was popular enough to spawn two feature-length sequels in addition to a full-blown theme park attraction, the latter usually being reserved for the best of the best that Disney has to offer. It’s certainly an impressive accolade. Director Joe Johnston would utilize the success of this film in his future films, with The Rocketeer, Jumanji, and Captain America: The First Avenger being other notable high points in his filmography.

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12 The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride is a fantasy adventure comedy film that was released in 1987. The film stars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, and Christopher Guest. The film is adapted from William Goldman’s 1973 novel of the same name, telling the story of the adventurous farmer Westley as he attempts to rescue Princess Buttercup from Prince Humperdinck.

The Princess Bride Is Beloved Nowadays

While the film saw moderate success at the box office, it has since gained a cult following, and is considered one of the best movies of the 80s. It’s for good reason. Aside from featuring a unique premise, Rob Reiner’s direction allows Cary Elwes and Robin Wright to truly shine with some impressively memorable quotes. Even Andre the Giant, whose health concerns and scheduling conflicts threw a few hurdles into the production, stands out as a memorable performer throughout.

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11 Gremlins (1984)



Release Date
June 7, 1984

Hoyt Axton , John Louie , Keye Luke , Don Steele , Susan Burgess , Scott Brady

Gremlins is a 1984 comedy horror film starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, and Frances Lee McCain. The story follows a young man who receives a “mogwai,” a supernatural creature, as a pet, with a strict set of rules to always follow for its care. However, when the rules are broken, the mogwai multiplies into small, destructive, mischievous gremlins that wreak havoc on Christmas Eve.

Gremlins Is a Violent Holiday Classic

Arguably one of the biggest oddities to come out of the decade in terms of its premise, Gremlins combines slapstick comedy and violence in such a way that it resembles a PG-13 Looney Tunes cartoon instead of a toned-down cut of Evil Dead. The violence depicted did cause a bit of a stir at the time, especially when paired with Temple of Doom, but you could argue that it made the surrounding film work more effectively as a result. The Gremlins themselves are horrible monsters, and their risqué antics — along with their equally grisly demises — make for a film that’s equally entertaining and tense.

Buy or Rent on Apple TV



Release Date
June 11, 1982

Steven Spielberg

Often simply dubbed E.T., E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a 1982 science fiction film produced and directed by Steven Spielberg. The film focuses on Elliott, a boy who befriends the titular alien as he’s left behind on Earth. Along with his friends and family, Elliott must find a way to send E.T. back home while protecting him from increasingly persistent federal agents. E.T. stars Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert MacNaughton, and Drew Barrymore.

E.T. Is a Classic Spielberg Story

The film was a blockbuster, surpassing Star Wars as the highest-grossing film of all time until Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park broke the record in 1993. It would subsequently receive nine separate Academy Award nominations, ultimately winning Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score, while receiving nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s a film whose cultural influence would even have a real-life effect on a popular candy, as the film’s utilization of Reese’s Pieces in lieu of M&M’s bolstered the candy’s sales. We’d be remiss to forget that E.T. also featured the breakout role of Drew Barrymore, who would later go on to star in films like Donnie Darko and Scream.

Buy or Rent on Prime Video


Every Steven Spielberg Movie From the ‘80s, Ranked

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9 The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is a 1980 epic space opera film based on a story by George Lucas. Set three years after the events of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back continues the ongoing battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance, with the valiant Luke Skywalker pursuing his Jedi training under the guidance of Grand Master Yoda. The ensemble cast consists of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz.

Arguably the Best of the Skywalker Saga

For a time, Star Wars fans would debate and argue over which Star Wars film was the best of the original trilogy. In the end, most still agree that Empire Strikes Back is the franchise’s narrative peak. Empire Strikes Back took the best of the Star Wars franchise and crafted a captivating film out of it, introducing one of the most shocking twists in cinematic history on top of venturing in a darker direction compared to its predecessor. Some would even go so far as to argue that Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest sci-fi films of the 1980s. Older Star Wars fans, likely those who grew up watching the original trilogy, will also tout the film’s biggest strength: it doesn’t have any Ewoks.

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8 Uncle Buck (1989)

Starring John Candy and Amy Madigan, Uncle Buck is a comedy film released in 1989. The film follows a bachelor, Buck Russell, who babysits his brother’s kids — 15-year-old Tia, eight-year-old Miles, and six-year-old Maizy — while he and his wife are away. However, while the youngest of the kids quickly take to Buck’s presence, Tia keeps herself closed off.

Uncle Buck Paired John Candy With John Hughes

John Candy and John Hughes were a match made in heaven, as Uncle Buck would become a cult classic in the modern day. The film was met with mixed reviews from critics upon release, but garnered significant box office returns, no doubt due in part to John Candy’s performance as the title character. If that wasn’t enough, Macaulay Culkin did a fantastic job here a full year before his breakout performance in Home Alone, pairing well with his numerous costars.

Buy or Rent on Prime Video

7 Beetlejuice (1988)



Release Date
March 30, 1988

Tim Burton

Directed by Tim Burton, Beetlejuice is a fantasy horror comedy film released in 1988. It stars Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, and Michael Keaton. The film follows a recently deceased couple, now residing in their former domicile as ghosts, who enlist the aid of an unconventional exorcist to remove the new residents occupying their home. A sequel is currently in development, with a theatrical release date set for September 2024.

Beetlejuice Was Tim Burton’s Sophomore Film

Being Tim Burton’s sophomoric effort as a director, there’s a lot to like here. The impressively-manic performance of the title character provided by Michael Keaton, the numerous makeup effects that won the film an accompanying Academy Award, and the dual performances of Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as the film’s leads all amount to an iconic 1980s film that embodies the decade. Frankly, it’s shocking that this classic film hasn’t been revisited sooner.

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6 Short Circuit (1986)

Short Circuit is a science fiction comedy film released in 1986, directed by John Badham. Starring Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G. W. Bailey, and Tim Blaney, the film follows an experimental military robot who seemingly gains sentience after being struck by lightning. The robot successfully escapes its containment facility, and with the help of a young woman, he continues to evade capture while attempting to convince his creator that he has become self-aware and conscious.

Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 Is a Technical Marvel

Though Short Circuit may not have been critically-beloved, it has certainly resonated as a cult classic from the 1980s. The robotic Johnny 5, brought to life by Tim Blaney, is arguably an encapsulation of the lighthearted depictions of sci-fi from the era, made all the more impressive by the intricate robotic puppetry behind his movements. It’s a film seemingly tailor-made for the geeky kids of the time. Though plans for a remake drift in and out of discussion, one can’t deny that Johnny 5 had an influence on future depictions of robotic characters in cinema.

Stream on Hoopla

5 Big (1988)


Release Date
June 3, 1988

Big is a fantasy comedy-drama film released in 1988. The film follows Josh Baskin, a young boy who wishes to be “big.” Shortly after making this wish, he awakes one morning to find that he has magically turned into an adult played by Tom Hanks. Josh is subsequently kicked out of his home and must rent a room and get a job to pay for his expenses. While doing so, he must find the fortune-telling machine that made his wish come true, so he can undo it.

Big Made Tom Hanks Into a Big Star

To say that Big was important for Tom Hanks would be an understatement. Garnering critical acclaim aimed squarely at Hank’s performance, Big would subsequently catapult him into stardom. The film itself would see additional acclaim in the form of Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. But kids likely don’t put much value on these awards. In fact, most kids likely remember Hanks’ famous piano sequence fondly, spawning poorly-played imitations all around the world.

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4 The Little Mermaid (1989)

The Little Mermaid is an animated musical fantasy film released in 1989 by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 28th Disney animated feature film, based on a fairy tale of the same title by Hans Christian Andersen. René Auberjonois, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jodie Benson, Pat Carroll, Paddi Edwards, Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Ben Wright, and Samuel E. Wright provide their voices for the film.

It follows a teenage mermaid princess named Ariel, who wishes to become a human after becoming fascinated with the surface world. She ends up falling in love with a human prince, but being a mermaid limits her ability to spend time with him. She ultimately makes a deal with the sea witch, Ursula, to become human – though it comes with a price.

The Little Mermaid Started the Disney Renaissance

What can be said about The Little Mermaid that hasn’t been said already? Memorable and iconic songs, charismatic voice performances, stunning animation, and more would lay the foundation for the greater Disney Renaissance that would cement itself throughout the entirety of the 1990s. The Little Mermaid paved the way for Disney’s ultimate success, both as a media juggernaut and as a staple of VHS collections and family viewing sessions everywhere.

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The ’80s gave kids of all ages some of Hollywood’s absolute best.

3 Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a fantasy comedy film released in 1988, and is loosely based on Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit. The film stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Stubby Kaye, and Joanna Cassidy, with Kathleen Turner and Charles Fleischer providing their voices. The film combines live-action and animation, taking place in a world where humans and cartoon characters co-exist. The film follows Eddie Valiant, a private investigator with a prejudice against “toons”, who must help exonerate Roger Rabbit after he is framed for murder.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit Is a Technical Marvel

Arguably the single most technically-impressive film in this collection, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is nothing short of a miracle. A celebration of all things animated, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a film made for the cartoon enthusiast — or, alternatively, most kids at the time. It was an incredible novelty to see characters like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse share the screen for the first time, and knowing the strict legal obligations the film had to follow in order to accomplish such a goal, it was made all the more impressive as a result. That’s not even mentioning Christopher Lloyd’s haunting performance as the film’s main antagonist, or the painstaking effort to mix live-action with animation, or the appropriately compelling performance by Bob Hoskins as the grizzled lead.

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2 The Land Before Time (1988)

The Land Before Time is an animated adventure film released in 1988, featuring the voices of Gabriel Damon, Candace Hutson, Judith Barsi, and Will Ryan. The film follows a young dinosaur named Littlefoot, who finds himself alone after his mother is attacked by a monstrous Tyrannosarus rex. Desperate for a new home, Littlefoot ventures to the Great Valley, all while making a handful of friends along the way. However, Littlefoot and his friendly posse must make their way to the Great Valley while tackling numerous challenges to their survival. The Land Before Time is the first film in its respective franchise, with thirteen sequels following.

The Land Before Time Respected Its Audience

Though the popularity of Don Bluth’s original film may have fallen to the wayside in recent years, The Land Before Time remains a testament to his impressive efforts outside the world of Disney, even going toe-to-toe with Disney’s own Oliver & Company at the box office. Where Bluth’s film differs from Disney’s counterpart, however, is its focus on mature ideas.

The Land Before Time is a perfect kids movie, with some of its impressive sequences eliciting all sorts of emotions out of its intended audience. It was a film that respected the children that went to see it, one that still lingers in the memories of those who’ve seen it long after it finished its run in theaters.

Buy or Rent on Prime Video

1 The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Produced by Walt Disney Productions, The Fox and the Hound is an animated film released in 1981. It is the 24th animated feature produced by Disney and, like The Little Mermaid, is loosely derived from an existing story, this time written by Daniel P. Mannix. The film follows a fox named Tod and a hound named Copper who, against all odds, find a way to form an amicable friendship in spite of envrionmental pressures and their own developing instincts.

The Fox and the Hound Is One of the Most Important Disney Films

Though The Fox and the Hound was entertaining in its own right, despite mixed reviews by critics and an explosive budget, it’s what happened during the development of The Fox and the Hound that makes it one of the best kids films of the 1980s.

The film was the infamous catalyst for Don Bluth’s departure from Disney, leading him to work on the aforementioned The Land Before Time and other impressive films. The film additionally marked a transitionary period for Disney’s production process, with a new batch of animators and other production staff taking over for those who had retired during the film’s production. This new team included names like Brad Bird, John Lasseter, Henry Selick, Tim Burton, Christopher Buck, and Ron Clements, each of whom would go on to either play a role in the burgeoning Disney Renaissance or modern Disney productions to this day.

Though The Fox and the Hound may not be the most critically adored film on this list, its existence is indirectly responsible for some of the latest and greatest animated films made for kids in the past few decades.

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