Here it is - our unique and off-the-wall selections of late-1970's and 80's movie classics to watch with your kids.
It is true - there are probably a thousand other posts out there about the best movies to watch with your kids. Most of them are stuffed full of obvious (i.e. Disney) movies, but not this one!
This list of classic 80's movies to watch with your kids is unique.
We dug deep into the archives and tested these movies on real-life kids (okay, just my 9 year old). There are some obvious ones, but some you probably wouldn't think of as well.
Let's get started with our list (in no particular order).
Here's a quick list of our favorite late '70's and 80's movie classics to watch with your kids.
Use these buttons to jump down to a specific movie overview with plot summary info and helpful tips for parents.
Smokey and the Bandit (Series - 1977)
A bit dated, but that's what makes it so darn cool. AMIRITE?
The original Smokey and the Bandit first came out in the summer of 1977. By most estimations, it was not expected to be a success.
It apparently didn't get that memo and went on to be a smashing hit - so much so that they ended up making two sequels (three movies in total).
Now, of course, like all movies with at least one sequel, the original is widely regarded as the best. Smokey and the Bandit II is quite good (in my opinion, at least) as well. The third movie falls short, but once you watch the first two you're almost obligated to watch all three, right?
Add just a bit more nostalgia to this movie series because it stars Burt Reynolds. Burt Reynolds recently passed away in September of 2018. Mr. Reynolds and his movies were a big part of mine and I suspect a lot of us 40-something's childhoods.
What's the plot of Smokey and the Bandit?
The plot is pretty simple - Smokey and his partner in crime, "Snowball" (played by Jerry Reed) are on a mission to pick up a semi truck load of Coors (nice product placement) beer in Texas and transport it to Georgia. All the while, Smokey (played by Jackie Gleason) are in "hot pursuit".
As a parent, what do I need to know about Smokey and the Bandit?
Keep in mind, as with all movies from this "era" they may contain elements that children just wouldn't see in modern movies. Subtle hints of sexism, on-screen smoking, drinking and even racism are not uncommon. You shouldn't be afraid of these elements, but use them as "teachable moments" instead.
Teen Wolf (Original - 1985)
What's not to love about a hairy "teenage" kid running around town?
Really, any Michael J. Fox movie could go on this list (and there will be others below, I'm sure). I put Teen Wolf on first because I really believe it's one of Michael's most over-looked movies, and kids love it!
There was a "sequel" made to Teen Wolf called Teen Wolf Too, but you really should just ignore that one.
The original Teen Wolf came out the same year as, arguably Michael J. Fox's biggest hit movie, Back to the Future was released. I think that may be part of why this movie is overlooked.
While it wasn't a huge critical success (receiving just 6.0 out of 10 on IMDb), nor commercial success (grossing about 1/6 that of Back to the Future), it's still a very good movie.
What's the plot of Teen Wolf?
Teenager, Scott Howard (played by Fox) is a typical 80's teen. He's struggling with growing up, he's on a high school basketball team that can't beat their way out of a wet paper bag, and he's hung up on a girl that isn't good for him.
Scott finds out one evening that he's a werewolf and that it actually runs in the family, too.
He embraces his werewolf transformations and ultimately lets it consume him, playing on his basketball team as the wolf, walking the halls of the school as the wolf, and riding down the streets of town on top of a delivery truck doing back flips as a wolf.
As a parent, what do I need to know about Teen Wolf?
Really the biggest elements of Teen Wolf that may require some explaining are pretty typical teenager stuff. There's one scene where Scott Howard is seduced by a female classmate in the dressing room of a theatre. No nudity is shown, but it's just a "hook up", which may require some explanation.
There's also a scene where Scott and his buddies enter a liquor store and attempt to purchase beer. While common, under-age drinking is not something that should be taken lightly, especially if you're watching Teen Wolf with pre-teen or "tween" children.
Red Dawn (Original - 1984)
Probably my favorite Patric Swayze movie.
For me, the movie Red Dawn is one movie that I can watch over and over. I remember watching the original so much as a kid that I wore the VHS tape out until it broke. This was seriously my favorite movie in the mid-80's. Maybe even more so than (gasp) that movie about a war among the stars.
At the time - the height of the cold war - Red Dawn was just real enough to be scary. It was also cool, because the main characters were mostly younger kids in their teens and early twenties.
Yes, there was a re-make of Red Dawn in 2012 that stars Chris Hemsworth (yes, Thor). The re-make is decent and probably worth a watch as well, but you still can't top the original.
What's the plot of Red Dawn?
The intro to Red Dawn is actually fairly interesting so make sure you pay attention to the intro explanation sequences.
In short, the USSR invades a small Colorado town. Amongst the chaos and confusion, a group of kids, "led" by Jed (played by Swayze) and his brother Matt (played by Charlie Sheen), mount a resistance against the occupying force.
The group of about a dozen or so freedom fighters become known as the Wolverines, taking on the name of the high school sports team.
As a parent, what do I need to know about Red Dawn?
There's a little bit of everything in this movie, but first of which is obviously violence. It's not super graphic, but people do get shot (even firing squad-style execution) and there are explosions, gun battles, etc.
The movie is really about a group of teens trying to survive and resist without much "adult" leadership around. There are other subtle issues, such as relationship, sibling rivalries, betrayals of trust and the like.
Red Dawn isn't as bad (aside from the violence) as many modern movies.
One person's sacrilege is another person's cult classic.
Not everyone will agree with this choice, but I guess that's what makes it a good addition, too.
Spaceballs is a comedy that makes fun of the Star Wars movies - most closely resembling The Empire Strikes Back.
It's a movie that clearly doesn't take itself too seriously - I suspect that's most of what Spaceballs is making fun of. Director Mel Brooks is known for comedies of this type and Spaceballs has become a cult classic over the years.
Critics seemed to enjoy the movie (it's rated 7.1 out of 10 on IMDb), it did not experience commercial success at the time of release, only grossing around $6M opening weekend and $38M overall.
Neither critical nor commercial success necessarily determines how "good" a movie is, and Spaceballs is definitely on my list of must-watch classics with my kids.
What's the plot of Spaceballs (from IMDb)?
After squandering the fresh air in the distant planet Spaceball, the good-for-nothing President Skroob orders the arch-villain henchman, Dark Helmet, to abduct the adjacent planet Druidia's Princess Vespa to strong-arm her father, King Roland, to provide them with the code to the planet's atmosphere.
Under those circumstances, the seasoned mercenary, Lone Starr, and his trusty half-human, half canine sidekick, Barf, will attempt to save the princess in distress, while at the same time, the ruthless loan shark, Pizza the Hut is after them.
But in the end, only he who can harness the mystical and mighty force known only as "The Schwartz", will be able to save the day.
As a parent, what do I need to know about Spaceballs?
Kids won't understand all the humor in Spaceballs - there are quite a lot of innuendos in the movie, including sexual innuendos.
"I see your Schwartz is as big as mine!"
While you'll have to keep an ear out for this type of thing, there's really no violence or anything on-screen that should be of much concern.
I actually think "kid's movies" that have humor baked in for adults are some of the best movies!
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Starring crazy Mel Gibson back when he was paid to act crazy.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome isn't the first in the Mad Max series, but in my opinion, it's the best. Mad Max movies were post-apocalyptic before post-apocalyptic was cool. Nowadays, it seems everything happens after the apocalypse.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a bit raw, that's true. It's probably not well-suited for children under the age of 8, but that should be evident by the PG-13 rating.
What's the plot of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (from IMDb)?
Bartertown is a city on the edge of a desert that has managed to retain some technology if no civilization. Max has his supplies stolen and must seek shelter there in a post apocalyptic world where all machines have begun to break down and barbarians hold what is left. He becomes involved in a power struggle in this third Mad Max film where he must first survive the town, survive the desert and then rescue the innocent children he has discovered.
As a parent, what do I need to know about Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a very visual movie. There's a lot going on, and that can be a bit shocking at times. The story, plot and acting are all quite good, but kids don't really care about that stuff anyway, do they?
Besides the visuals, car chases, explosions, and what-nots, you'll probably also have to explain the whole apocalypse thing to your kids at some point.
Oh, and you could opt to watch The Road Warrior instead (the prequel to Beyond Thunderdome), but it's more violent and is also Rated R.
It's like Battleship, but with nukes.
What originally drew me to WarGames is that I was very much a fledgling computer gaming geek, much like the main character, David (played by Matthew Broderick).
It has a lot of typical 80's charm, not the least of which is the Cold War plot. I did (and do) like the realism of the plot. Sure, some aspects are a bit far-fetched, but it's pretty believable and engaging.
I remember both wishing it was me in the movie while simultaneously also being very glad it wasn't me. This movie is a definite must-watch for any geek dad gamers with kids.
What's the plot of WarGames (from IMDb)?
A young computer whiz kid accidentally connects into a top secret super-computer which has complete control over the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It challenges him to a game between America and Russia, and he innocently starts the countdown to World War 3. Can he convince the computer he wanted to play a game and not the real thing?
As a parent, what do I need to know about WarGames?
WarGames is pretty tame, compared even to other movies on this list.
I see two "parenting opportunities" in this movie - first is a way to educate our kids about consequences of our actions. We may not see what we're doing and the consequences at the time, but sometimes our actions have a lasting impact.
Especially for children old enough to understand, I also see the opportunity to educate them about both the Cold War and nuclear weapons. No, that doesn't mean to scare the bejesus out of them. The fact is the Cold War isn't completely over and nuclear weapons most definitely are still a thing.
The Last Starfighter (1984)
Another nod to video gamer history.
An instant gamer classic, The Last Starfighter was essentially the inner child of every video gamer at the time. If you could extract the way we felt playing video games into a movie plot, this would be it.
Back when The Last Starfighter came out, they didn't have the graphics realism of video games today. We 80's kids still had to use our imagination a bit. I remember watching this movie and looking over my shoulder just a bit more.
You know, because I was probably being recruited, too.
What's the plot of The Last Starfighter (from IMDb)?
Alex Rogan lives in a trailer court where his mother is manager and everyone is like a big extended family. He beats the Starfighter video game to the applause of everyone in the court and later that day finds he has been turned down for a student loan for college.
Depressed, he meets Centauri, who introduces himself as a person from the company that made the game, before Alex really knows what is going on he is on the ride of his life in a "car" flying through space.
Chosen to take the skills he showed on the video game into real combat to protect the galaxy from an invasion. Alex gets as far as the Starfighter base before he really realized that he was conscripted and requests to be taken back home.
When he gets back home, he finds a Zando-Zan (alien bounty hunter) is stalking him. Unable to go home and live, Alex returns to the Starfighter base to find all the pilots have been killed and he is the galaxy's only chance to be saved from invasion. To defeat the invaders, who are paying the bounty on him, he must be victorious.
As a parent, what do I need to know about The Last Starfighter?
The Last Starfighter is a fairly typical rags-to-fame type story. A boy from "nowhere" becomes the best at playing a video game and is the only one that can save the planet.
Clearly the lure of this type of storyline is big for a young, impressionable boy (or girl).
The movie is pretty "safe" with only minor scenes of violence. Larger stories of a youth leaving home to fight a battle that isn't necessarily his to fight remind me of what was asked of my grandfather's generation back in WWII, but I doubt many kids would pick up on that.
Still, it can be an interesting way to introduce the concept of sacrifice for the greater good.
Top Gun (1986)
Yeah, it's a bro-chismo movie, but we love it anyway.
Top Gun is another one of the few movies out there that I can watch at least once per year and it still doesn't get old. If it comes up on cable on a Sunday afternoon? Forget out it. My day is over.
Top Gun was one of (if not the) first movies I saw in the movie theater without my parents, so maybe that has something to do with the appeal for me.
Say what you want about star Tom Cruise, Top Gun represented the epitome of cool back in the 80's, and I think that coolness lives on.
What's the plot of Top Gun (from IMDb)?
Code-named "Maverick", Pete Mitchell, the impetuous daredevil Navy-pilot ace, is accepted into Miramar's elite Fighter School, also known as "Top Gun". There, as the impulsive pilot competes with the best of the best, not only will he meet Charlie, the flying school's curvaceous astrophysics instructor, but also the brilliant and highly competitive fellow student, "Iceman", with whom right from the start, he will engage in a reckless contest. As Maverick is haunted by his father's mysterious death, will he be able to suppress his wild nature to win both the prestigious Top Gun Trophy and the girl?
As a parent, what do I need to know about Top Gun?
Despite being a "war movie" the violence level in Top Gun isn't bad. There are dog fights and a few planes are shot down. Other than that, violence really isn't much of a factor.
If there are teaching moments in Top Gun, I'd say the first one is about Maverick and how he really doesn't start out as much of a team player. He mostly does his own thing, and is said to be reckless by his competing pilots.
Spoiler Alert: Mav's co-pilot, Goose, is fatally injured in a training dog fight, possibly due to Mav's over-aggressiveness. This is a pivotal and introspective moment for Maverick and ultimately leads to his turn-around from lone-wolf to team-player.