20 Best Horror Movies from the 1980s

20 best horror movies from the 1980s robert forto

Ah, the ’80s—a decade probably best remembered by its big hair, leg warmers, and mullets—but let’s not forget the gruesome, chill-inducing, and oh-so-wonderfully-terrifying horror movies that came to define the genre for generations to come.

Take A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film that still fuels our nightmares (and also turned us off striped sweaters forever). Or the bloodbath and masterpiece that is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. (We’re scared of long, empty corridors to this day.) And who could forget the most terrifying holiday horror movie of all: Gremlins.

Sure, modern horror’s great, but scary flicks from the ’80s weren’t afraid to have to take chances, so join us on our terrifying trip down memory lane: Here are 20 of the best ’80s horror movies, from total classics to the weird and experimental sort that’ll make you hide under the covers.

1. Gremlins (1980)

What happens when a bunch of troublemaking Furby-like dolls terrorizes a small town on Christmas day? That’s what Gremlins explore, and we’re really happy our parents gave us G.I. Joe’s growing up instead.

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2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

This Wes Craven ’80s flick which spawned a handful of sequels, dug into people’s ultimate fear: What if our nightmares were real? And what if there was no way to escape them? Freddy Kruger remains the GOAT of the decade’s horror villains.

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3. The Shining (1980)

A novelist and his family are tasked with watching over a hotel in the Rocky Mountains during a particularly harsh winter season, which, as you likely know, spirals into utter madness. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!

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4. Poltergeist (1982)

A family is stalked by an otherworldly figure casting a dark shadow on their home (which also has the ability to reach them through their television set, our other worst fear).

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5. The Thing (1982)

A group of American researchers in Antarctica witness a helicopter shooting at a sled dog that’s entered their camp—only to discover the dog is not the friendly, cuddle-up-to-you kind. (We’ll save you from any spoilers.)

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6. Aliens (1986)

Legendary for all kinds of reasons, but mainly because the sequel somehow managed to be better than the already great original. We stan Sigourney!

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7.  Evil Dead (1981)

A group of young college students descend upon an isolated cabin in the woods—where all good things happen—and encounter the ultimate demonic figure in this gory flick.

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8. Cujo (1983)

We have a lot of feelings about Cujo. Is it the best horror flick ever? Probably not. But it’s entertaining as hell, and it’s even funnier when you realize that the dog is played by a mechanical dog and a stuntman in certain shots.

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9. Friday the 13th (1980)

It was critically panned at the time of this classic flick’s release. Still, it was massively popular at the box office and gave rise to 11 (yes, 11) sequels. Here’s where it all began.

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10. Videodrome (1983)

A David Cronenberg special, Videodrome follows the president of a TV station that stumbles across the dark web of television when he finds a show that tortures its characters. Is it all fiction, though? (You can pretty much guess the answer.)

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11. Child’s Play (1988)

There are plenty of villains on this list to be terrified of, but alas, nothing scares us more than Chucky. Here’s where the Child’s Play franchise was born.

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12. The Fly (1986)

Jeff Goldblum goes through the ultimate transformation in this horror classic, and we’re happy to see him in any capacity.

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13.  Christine (1983)

What if the villain was a murderous and blood-thirsty car……said no one ever until Stephen King wrote a novel about it, later adapted into this horror classic.

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14. Pet Semetary (1989)

Another brilliant Stephen King film adaptation, Pet Sematary explores one family’s experience with the tragic loss of their son—and what they’re willing to do to see him again.

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15. Fright Night (1985)

What happens when a vampire becomes your next-door neighbor and pursues your mom and girlfriend? We know now thanks to this cult classic (also remade in 2011).

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16. April Fools Day (1986)

College friends spend the weekend leading up to April Fools in a mansion. Things start to go awry when one of the friends picks the others off. Yikes.

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17. Children of the Corn (1984)

Adapted from a Stephen King short story, a young couple is trapped in a small town where children have killed all the adults and now worship a deity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

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18. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

A werewolf attacks two American backpackers. When one survives, he has to figure out whether or not he’s a werewolf and what he will do about it. This horror/comedy won an Academy Award for Best Makeup and has a (not great) 1997 sequel.

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19. The Changleing (1980)

A composer moves to Seattle after his wife and daughter’s deaths. Little does he know… the house he bought is haunted. The film was nominated for two Saturn Awards.

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20. The Fog (1980)

Starring Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, The Fog tells the tale of a California town suddenly engulfed in fog, bringing back vengeful ghosts of mariners who died there a century ago. Horror legend John Carpenter helmed this cult classic.

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If you like this list, check out In Search of Darkness and In Search of Darkness 2, which explore ’80s horror movies and their impact through the perspective of the actors, directors, producers and SFX craftspeople who made them.

Please do us a favor and check out Scary Movies at the Fort on Facebook. Each October, we host the 31 Nights of Horror.