Best 80's Underrated Movies

Best 80's Underrated Movies

The 1980s was the heyday of the blockbuster, with larger-than-life movies like Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, and Aliens dominating the box office charts. But nestled among the big hits were scores of smaller films that failed to get their due upon release. Movies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Midnight Run, and Adventures in Babysitting were critically acclaimed yet struggled to find an audience. Other offbeat fare like Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, and Three O'Clock High eventually earned cult followings despite lacklustre box office takes.

"I remember going to the video store as a kid and always being drawn to the boxes of movies I'd never heard of. The '80s was such a fertile time for quirky comedies, oddball horror flicks and all-around cinematic gems that never quite broke through to the mainstream."

Let's unearth some of the most memorably offbeat and unjustly overlooked movies of the '80s, from rollicking comedies to atmospheric genre films. Just because they didn't make a mint at the box office doesn't mean they aren't worth watching today.

The Man with One Red Shoe (1985)

  • Director: Stan Dragoti
  • Genre: Comedy, Spy/Parody
  • Runtime: 92 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Tom Hanks
    • Lori Singer
    • Dabney Coleman
The Man with One Red Shoe

Part spy spoof, part screwball comedy, The Man with One Red Shoe provides a showcase for the physical comedy and hapless everyman appeal of Tom Hanks. Hanks plays a concert violinist who gets caught up in CIA intrigue when he's mistaken for an informant. What follows is a series of delightfully silly set pieces strung together by a goofy mistaken identity plot. Director Stan Dragoti brings plenty of visual imagination while Hanks fumbles his way through a gauntlet of spy mayhem. Fans of Hanks' early silly comedies should eat it up.

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Miracle Mile (1988)

  • Director: Steve De Jarnatt
  • Genre: Apocalyptic, Thriller
  • Runtime: 87 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Anthony Edwards
    • Mare Winningham
    • John Agar
Miracle Mile

Miracle Mile takes the apocalyptic fears of the nuclear age and boil them down into a single eventful night. Anthony Edwards stars as a musician who answers a mysterious late-night call and is warned that nuclear war is imminent. Unsure if the call is real or a prank, Edwards has just 70 minutes to decide what to do. What follows is a real-time odyssey through nocturnal Los Angeles that mixes Romantic intrigue and "end of the world" dread to hypnotic effect. Filled with striking camerawork and an ominous synth score, Miracle Mile is an off-kilter apocalyptic thriller that has earned a cult following.

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The ‘Burbs (1989)

  • Director: Joe Dante
  • Genre: Comedy, Satire
  • Runtime: 101 minutes
  • Main Actors:
The 'Burbs

Joe Dante's black comedy The ‘Burbs skewers suburban paranoia, with Tom Hanks playing a homeowner who becomes convinced his new neighbours are murderers. Co-starring Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern and Corey Feldman, the 1989 film finds big laughs in the notion of benign suburban streets harbouring secret psychos and Satanists. While a modest success upon release, The ‘Burbs has only grown in stature over the years. Dante's comic sensibilities paired with Hanks' everyman appeal makes this a winningly off-kilter and underseen entry in both their filmographies.

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Near Dark (1987)

  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Genre: Vampire, Western, Horror
  • Runtime: 95 minutes
  • Main Actors:
We love you Bill Paxton!

Before hitting Oscar gold with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow applied her stylish action chops to the vampire genre with Near Dark. Starring Adrian Pasdar as a young man inducted into a family of nomadic vampires, the violent 1987 horror Western methodology blends vampire bloodlust with Western iconography for hypnotic results. With taut action scenes and evocative visuals that burn the desert landscape into memory, Near Dark deserves mention among the best vampire films ever made.

After Hours (1985)

  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Genre: Comedy, Thriller
  • Runtime: 97 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Griffin Dunne
    • Rosanna Arquette
    • Verna Bloom
After Hours

Martin Scorsese brings his kinetic filmmaking style to this paranoid dark comedy starring Griffin Dunne as a office drone whose night on the town goes horribly awry. This 1985 gem makes clever use of its NYC locations, turning the Big Apple into an urban labyrinth fraught with danger. Full of unexpected plot twists and arresting visuals, After Hours represents an offbeat entry in Scorsese's esteemed filmography. Fans of quirky comedic thrillers owe it to themselves to visit this weird, anxiety-inducing snapshot of Reagan-era Manhattan.

The Monster Squad (1987)

  • Director: Fred Dekker
  • Genre: Comedy, Horror
  • Runtime: 82 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Andre Gower
    • Robby Kiger
    • Stephen Macht
The Monster Squad

The Goonies meets classic monster movies in this endearing 1987 horror comedy written by Shane Black and directed by Fred Dekker. When Dracula rounds up Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Gillman to take over the world, it's up to a group of kids obsessed with creatures features to thwart their plans. The Monster Squad indulges the adolescent fantasy of kids taking on legendary monsters while also honoring the spirit of those classic films. With an infectious spirit and great creature effects to boot, it's surprising this horror gem isn't more widely known.

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Mystery Train (1989)

  • Director: Jim Jarmusch
  • Genre: Anthology, Drama
  • Runtime: 110 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Masatoshi Nagase
    • Youki Kudoh
    • Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Mystery Train

Early in his career, indie auteur Jim Jarmusch applied his minimalist art house style to this loose anthology film centered around a Memphis hotel full of lost souls. 1989's Mystery Train weaves together three stories each following different groups of eccentric characters whose lives intersect over one fateful night. With a seductive nocturnal vibe and colorful characters like foreign tourists and lovelorn ghosts, Jarmusch evokes Elvis' Graceland hometown through the wandering spirits who gravitate there. Mystery Train doesn't follow a traditional narrative, making it esoteric viewing, but patient audiences will soak up the atmospheric storytelling.

Troop Beverly Hills (1989)

  • Director: Jeff Kanew
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Runtime: 105 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Shelley Long
    • Craig T. Nelson
    • Betty Thomas
Troop Beverly Hills

For those who grew up in the late '80s and '90s, Troop Beverly Hills holds a special nostalgic appeal. Shelley Long stars as a spoiled Beverly Hills housewife who tries to bond with her daughter by becoming the leader of her Wilderness Girls troop. This sly culture clash comedy milks laughs from pampered valley girls trying to rough it in the woods. Featuring goofy small roles from Craig T. Nelson, Betty Thomas, Mary Gross and Stephanie Beacham, Troop Beverly Hills is featherweight fun with lots of over-the-top '80s flair.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

  • Director: W.D. Richter
  • Genre: Science fiction, Comedy
  • Runtime: 103 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Peter Weller
    • John Lithgow
    • Ellen Barkin
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Cult director W.D. Richter (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) concocted this wildly imaginative 1984 sci-fi action comedy starring Peter Weller as the title character. Neurosurgeon-cum-rock musician Buckaroo Banzai travels between dimensions and battles alien invaders with the help of his scientist/comic book hero team the Hong Kong Cavaliers. Too eccentric for mainstream success but perfect for midnight movie fans, Buckaroo Banzai Totally immerses audiences in its freewheeling, science-loving world. The dizzying high concept storytelling isn't for everyone, but lovers of offbeat sci-fi should eat up every odd detail.

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Into the Night (1985)

Into The Night

Director John Landis aims for Hitchcockian suspense and dark humor in this 1985 gem starring Jeff Goldblum as an insomniac who gets mixed up with a smuggler (Michelle Pfeiffer) carrying illicit diamonds. What follows is a dangerous all-night escapade as the mismatched pair get entangled with Iranians, thieves, and hitmen in pursuit. With Goldblum and Pfeiffer displaying excellent chemistry, Into the Night mixes romance, laughs and thrills into an intoxicating nighttime reverie. Filled with memorable supporting turns from David Bowie, Dan Aykroyd and others, it's a neon-lit blast straight from the '80s.

Centered Box with Highlighted Borders

And for good measure (as at the time of writing this it would have been Harry Dean Stanton's birthday - I miss you HDS!), an added bonus Pick.

Repo Man (1984)

  • Director: Alex Cox
  • Genre: Science fiction, Comedy, Punk
  • Runtime: 92 minutes
  • Main Actors:
    • Emilio Estevez
    • Harry Dean Stanton
    • Tracey Walter
Repo Man

A punk rock alien invasion movie? That's the delightfully bizarre concept behind 1984 cult classic Repo Man starring Emilio Estevez as an LA punk who stumbles into a gig repossessing cars. This biting Reagan-era satire mixes sci-fi elements with punk attitude to hugely entertaining effect. With streetwise dialogue and an amazing soundtrack, Repo Man has an attitude all its own. The film has become a benchmark for oddball genre fare and remains compulsively watchable.

The '80s was an era when quirky comedies, cerebral sci-fi, and imaginative genre films could break through to find audiences. The movies above represent some of the most memorable under-the-radar offerings of the decade, from high concept comedies to artsy genre fare. Track them down and enjoy an enticing taste of the less-appreciated side of '80s cinema. What other overlooked gems are worth rediscovering? Let me know!