1980 Movies

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The Best Movies of 1980

This year's cinematic offerings were versatile, encapsulating different genres and resonating with audiences in unique ways. We are going to talk about such films that truly captured the essence of 1980, standing out from the rest due to their unique narratives and cinematic styles.

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to Star Wars (1977), is one of the best sequels ever produced. It carried forward the story of good versus evil in a faraway galaxy while further developing the already established characters. The film increased the intrigue of the Star Wars universe and amplified its iconic status. The storytelling and character development were top-notch, helping the audience build a deeper connection with the series. Both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back played a vital role in establishing Star Wars as a pop-cultural landmark. They are justifiably recognized as the best movies of their respective years.

The Blues Brothers

Next on our list is The Blues Brothers, a film filled with music, comedy, action, and adventure. The film was about two criminal musicians on a mission to save their old orphanage from closure. The narrative was replete with energetic sequences, memorable music, and a blend of both absurd slapstick violence and subtle, dry humor. It had elements of a crime film as well as a musical. As a viewer, you might find yourself exclaiming, "This movie has got everything!" The film delivered a unique viewing journey from beginning to end, making it a cult classic that holds a special place in the hearts of its fans.

Ordinary People

A family drama at its core, Ordinary People was the recipient of the Best Picture award at the 1980 Oscars. The film presented a heart-wrenching tale of a family struggling with grief after the loss of a son. It sheds light on the conflicts and tensions that surface in a family while dealing with a tragic loss. Ordinary People was directed by Robert Redford and was noteworthy for featuring Mary Tyler Moore in an unconventional role, that of a grief-stricken mother. While it may not be as well-remembered as some of the other films from 1980, it remains a compelling narrative that continues to resonate with its viewers.

The Long Good Friday

Another riveting crime film from 1980 is The Long Good Friday, focusing on a London crime boss attempting to expand his criminal operations. The plot thickens with the possibility of a traitor within his organization. The film showcased a gripping performance by Bob Hoskins, whose portrayal of the crime boss was both memorable and commendable. The film also featured an impressive performance from Helen Mirren in one of her first major roles, adding another layer of appeal to this gripping crime story.


Pixote, a Brazilian crime film that provided a hard-hitting depiction of life on the streets. It followed the narrative of a 10-year-old who escapes a detention facility with his friends, only to be thrust into a harsh life of crime. With its gritty, down-to-earth portrayal of crime, especially involving children, Pixote can be quite unsettling to watch. Nonetheless, it remains an important film, bringing attention to the harsh realities of life faced by many young individuals in the past and even today.

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick, a filmmaker renowned for his meticulous artistry, took Stephen King's novel "The Shining" and adapted it into a film. The story centers around a father and his family, who become caretakers of The Overlook Hotel in its off-season. The eeriness of the hotel unsettles viewers from the start, and as the story advances, it incrementally introduces elements of horror. The film's horror is twofold, playing on both psychological and supernatural elements to deliver a cinematic masterpiece. Four decades since its release, the film's impact remains largely undiluted. It's a testament to the notion that quality filmmaking transcends the limitations of time.

The Elephant Man

Director David Lynch, famous for his surreal storytelling style, presents a more grounded narrative with "The Elephant Man." This biographical film tells the tale of Joseph Merrick and the struggles he endured due to his unique medical condition. Unlike Lynch's usual oeuvre, this film is emotionally taxing not because of an abstract narrative or surreal horror but due to its overwhelming sadness. It portrays Merrick's real-life tragedies with an authenticity that strikes a chord, making it a moving film that's hard to forget. Lead actors John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins give stellar performances that breathe life into this remarkable tale.


Akira Kurosawa, a Japanese film titan, flexed his creative muscles with "Kagemusha." He served as the director, primary producer, and co-writer. The plot revolves around a thief hired to impersonate a deceased warlord due to their strikingly identical looks, despite their disparate personalities. "Kagemusha" is a magnificent representation of Kurosawa's extraordinary filmography, brimming with audacious visuals, theatrical performances, and an epic narrative scope. The film serves as a captivating piece of art that demands attention and respect.


One of the decade's most treasured comedies, "Airplane!" offers a fast-paced spoof on disaster movies. The story unfolds as an outbreak of food poisoning incapacitates almost everyone on board an airplane, including the pilot. This forces a war-traumatized pilot to overcome his past and land the plane safely. Despite the seemingly tense plot, the film approaches every element with a sense of humor, converting a potentially nerve-wracking story into a comedy classic. This eccentric parody remains ageless, eclipsing the seriousness of the disaster movies it mocks.

Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker with an illustrious career spanning over 50 years, delivered one of his most impactful works with "Raging Bull." This sports drama/biopic showcases the life of Jake LaMotta, a successful boxer whose greatest opponent was his uncontrollable anger outside the ring. Employing stark black-and-white visuals and authentically brutal boxing scenes, the film successfully recreates the era it represents. The remarkable performances by the cast, led by Robert De Niro, enhance the authenticity, making "Raging Bull" one of the most impressive sports movies ever made.

1980 Movies & Industry Highlights

Cinema, an art form that transcends time and cultural boundaries, saw a transformative year in 1980. The power of this medium to incite thought, evoke emotion, and entertain was on full display.

The Successes of 1980

The box office figures for 1980 serve as clear indicators of a prosperous year for cinema. Some of the highest-grossing films that year include "The Empire Strikes Back," distributed by Fox, with a revenue of approximately $209 million, followed by "9 to 5" with an earning of around $103 million.

Other films that made their mark include "Stir Crazy," "Airplane!" and "Any Which Way You Can," each with revenues of over $70 million. Not far behind in earnings were "Private Benjamin," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Smokey and the Bandit II," "The Blue Lagoon," and "The Blues Brothers." All these films collectively set a new benchmark for box office success.

Global Cinematic Successes

"The Empire Strikes Back" not only made waves in North America but also on the international stage, with a worldwide gross revenue of over $538 million. The year also saw significant international successes like "The Gods Must Be Crazy," a South African production that amassed around $200 million, and "Airplane!" with a global revenue of approximately $130 million.

Memorable Events

1980 was not only about financial success. The year was also marked by a series of events that added to its cinematic significance. On April 29, cinema lost one of its most influential figures, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, also known as "The Master of Suspense."

The industry was not without its controversies. On June 9, comedian Richard Pryor ignited himself while free-basing cocaine and consuming 151-proof rum. This incident, along with the release of "The Blues Brothers" as the first feature film based on characters from "Saturday Night Live," kept the industry in the headlines.

Political Impact on Cinema

The world of cinema and politics intersected when former Screen Actors Guild president and actor Ronald Reagan won the 1980 United States presidential election. This intersection of politics and cinema underscored the pervasive influence of film on American society.

Shifts in Audience Preferences

1980 saw shifts in audience preferences and industry trends. Economic downturns generally led to an increased interest in uplifting entertainment and comedy films. Films such as "Airplane!" "The Blues Brothers" and "Caddyshack” were met with enthusiasm.

Financial Aspects and Industry Trends

The cost of making films escalated to an average of $6 million, which reduced the production of films targeting niche audiences. However, studios persisted in releasing a wide array of films, hoping that the success of a few would offset any losses. The year also saw Allied Artists sold to Lorimar Productions and the colossal failure of "Heaven's Gate," leading to the bankruptcy of United Artists.

The 1980 Legacy

The year 1980 was a turning point in the cinematic landscape. It was a year of financial success, memorable events, and changing audience preferences. Despite the challenges it faced, the cinema industry continued to grow and evolve, setting the stage for the advancements that were to come.