Ranking the Best to Worst and Scariest Horror Movies from the 80s

Ranking the Best to Worst and Scariest Horror Movies from the 80s

There are tons of iconic 1980s movies including Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, and Indiana Jones, but some of the most iconic are horror movies from the 80s. From big-budget classics to B-movie cult films and everything in between, the decade scares, of all types.

Capture uses professional equipment and state-of-the-art tracking and security systems to make sure you are never scared about losing your precious memories, home movies, and photos during digitization, but we know that you sometimes want to be scared so we put together this ranking of the best, worst, and scariest horror films of the 1980s. 

Keep reading to learn about the best and worst horror movies, scariest flicks, biggest blockbusters, and iconic movies and characters including The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Myers, and more. 

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The Best Horror Movies from the 80s

There are tons of great horror movies from the 1980s, but these are the absolute best according to online rankings and critical acclaim. 

The Shining

The Shining, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall and directed by Stanley Kubrick is generally regarded as one of the top horror films of the 1980s as well as of all time. 

While it’s more artsy and slow-burning than slasher films, it maintains bone-chilling suspense throughout the entire film. In fact, the digitized DVD version won a Saturn Award for best collection, which symbolizes the lasting impact the movie has had. 

Children of the Corn

Another Stephen King short story about moving to a small Nebraska town only to encounter a religious cult of terrifying children who want to kill anybody over the age of 18. The movie spawned various sequels and remakes and, while not as popular as some of the other options on this list, it is one of the most beloved cult horror movies from the 80s.

Poltergeist

In the box office classic Poltergeist, a family is haunted by ghosts and the ambitious special effects may not stand up today, but for 1982 they were wonderfully haunting. This movie examines themes of family life, capitalism, consumerism, and greed all while offering terrifying sequences that keep you up at night. 

Nightmare on Elm Street

This 1984 film by Wes Craven introduced us to Freddy Krueger, one of the most iconic and feared serial killers in retro horror movies and cinema as a whole. Krueger invades dreams to seek revenge and keep us all up at night. The experimental slasher dynamics trick the audience by confusing what is real and what is imagined. 

Videodrome

In Videodrome, 1983, a creepy television employee played by James Woods wants to show Videodrome, a program based on torture and punishment. Horror movie enthusiasts claim that it’s one of the best body horror films ever and it includes tragic, disgusting, and gruesome body mutilation special effects. 

The Thing

The Thing by filmmaker John Carpenter builds suspense, unlike almost any other horror movie of the 80s or any era. It follows a research team in the tundra of Antarctica as they are hunted by a shapeshifting, and highly terrifying alien. It’s grotesque, offers fantastic acting, creates tension, and is considered to be a premium example of sci-fi horror. 

Creepshow

Creepshow is a horror anthology containing 5 tales based on comics from the 1950s. It is creepy, intriguing, and distinctly 80s horror with a touch of humor and fun intermingled with bone-chilling scenes of grueling fear. 

The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead, and its sequel The Evil Dead 2, are directed by Sam Raimi. The first features Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss as they are hunted by demons in the woods. While the plot is simple, the characterization explores guilt, reconciliation, love, and sacrifice in intriguing ways. The movie is not only scary, but fun, absurd, and sometimes even laughable with excessive gore and special effects.

Friday the 13th 

The original Friday the 13th as well as several sequels were released in the 1980s, so audiences got to know Jason Voorhees well and our Polaroids pictures of Halloweens throughout the 80s were filled with the youngsters wearing the iconic hockey mask. One of the best things about the original Friday the 13th is the characterization. Every character seems real and dynamic due to great writing and superb acting. 

Gremlins 

This horror-comedy film is iconic simply because it launched an entire genre of films about small, menacing, and terrifying antagonists. It’s fun, memorable, and offers plenty of jump scares and suspension building plot lines. 

An American Werewolf in London

This scary movie by John Landis follows college students who’re exploring Britain. They are attacked by a scary werewolf and can’t seem to get answers from any of the locals. The script is well-written and helped this movie become one of the most classic horror films by examining themes including ethics, identity, and friendship. 

The Fly

The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum and directed by David Cronenberg, is a somewhat silly, but often scary, 80s horror flick about a scientist who transforms into a house fly. It thoughtfully uncovers the consequences of poor actions and ethics of good and evil while also showing the animalistic nature of humanity. 

Hellraiser

Hellraiser, based on the novel by Clive Barker, is a horror and fantasy book that introduces the iconic character Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley. It also inspired a long list of sequels with one being released as recently as 2022. Not only is the original frightening, but it’s very gory with knives, hammers, and hooks as well as demons, cenobites, and grotesque special effects. 

The Changeling 

The Changeling is a ghost story that’s considered a cult film and standout in the supernatural psychological horror subgenre. It flips the typical haunted house tropes on their head and was initially written by playwright Russell Hunter after he experienced strange phenomena. Starring George C. Scott as the main character, the acting is some of the best out of all the best 80s horror movies. 

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead, the 1985 movie by George A. Romero and part of the Night of the Living Dead series, focuses on a team of scientists trapped in a missile silo. With plenty of zombies, a combination of action and horror, and a bleak outlook on how, according to Romero, “a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse,” this movie stands the test of time. 

The Lost Boys

This film by Warner Bros stars Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, and Keifer Sutherland, making it one of the most iconic horror movies from the 80s. While it is not as scary as some of the other films on our list, it’s fun, tense, and distinctly 80s. It follows comic-book nerds as they interact with a gang of vampires for tons of fun and memorable scenes.  

Near Dark 

Near Dark is about a cowboy who meets a woman at a bar who turns out to be a vampire. She bites him and they are forced to unite with a gang of other vampires. It examined love and morality as the main character has to decide about continuing with the vampires or returning home to his family. 

The Howling 

This 1981 horror film directed by Joe Dante is often overlooked in the horror genre in the modern world but won the 1980 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film. It also led to the hiring of Dante for Gremlins and investigates werewolves in a much different way than An American Werewolf in London. 

Phenomena/Creepers

This Dario Argento vintage horror film stars Jennifer Connelly who has psychic powers that let her communicate with insects. She uses them to chase a serial killer. While it was originally released in Italy as Phenomena, it was cut by about 20 minutes and released in the U.S. as Creepers. 

Re-Animator

This film by Stuart Gordon is based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story “Herbert West-Reanimator” about a scientist who can revive the undead. It was released to positive reviews and while overshadowed by blockbusters throughout the years, it remains a popular cult classic. 

Fright Night

This film directed by Tom Holland was released in 1985 and led to a sequel, a remake, and another sequel spanning nearly 30 years. It’s supernatural, funny, and terrifying all in the span of 106 minutes. Plus, the VHS release that was later transferred to digital DVD featured pan-and-scan version of the film that was also highly praised as there were great props and settings that weren’t available without widescreen. 

The Worst Horror Movies from the 80s

While we’ve already examined some of the best 80s films in the horror genre, let’s examine some of the very worst. Some of these became cult B-movie classics while others are only remembered by horror fans for being terrible. 

The first of the worst is Maniac, a low-budget movie with a terrible rating that follows a deranged mama’s boy on a killing spree. It amassed a cult following due to the historical guerilla filming more reminiscence of Super 8 film reel home movies than an 80s feature. Plus, it stars a young Elijah Wood. 

One of the worst horror movies of all time is Troll 2. While it was released in 1990, it was filmed in the 80s and tried to act as the sequel to the first film released in 1986 despite being unconnected. Troll 2 tries so hard but doesn’t seem to get anything right. Everything from the costumes and special effects to the acting was awful. 

Other awful scary movies from the 80s include The New York Ripper, Oasis of Zombies, Amityville 3-D, Jaws 3, and The Hills Have Eyes Part II. While some are considered cult classics due to some redeeming qualities, all of these movies are considered some of the worst horror movies of the 80s and all time. 

The Highest Selling Horror Movie from the 80s

If you consider Ghostbusters (1984) a horror flick, it would be considered the highest grossing of the 80s earning $282.2 million during the initial theatrical run. Plus, it spawned one of the most popular 80s trends with sequels, toys, clothing, and a whole array of other products. The Ghostbusters crave would continue throughout the 80s and into the 90s with both children and adults hopping in on the fun. 

Despite low box office returns initially, The Shining later became the highest grossing horror film of the 80s not called “Ghostbusters.” This was due to rentals and VHS sales as the VHS had recently won the format war and most people had VCRs that you can still buy in 2023

Other high-grossing scary movies of the 1980s include Friday the 13th making $39 million domestically on a low budget, Halloween II, and several A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, specifically 3, 4, and 5. 

The Scariest Horror Movie from the 80s

What people find frightening or terrifying is often very subjective. Some people get more scared of supernatural villains while others have nightmares about realistic serial killers or psychological manifestations. 

That being said, the most common answer to this question is likely The Shining. While it does miss out on the slasher element, it has everything else from supernatural to psychological. From the hedge maze to the “Redrum”, blood elevator, nightmare inducing twins, and ax-wielding “Here’s Johnny,” it’s hard to get through the film without a sense of unease and a few jump scares. 

Plus, the direction and artistic undertones hadn’t been seen at this level on the big screen since Psycho, Rear Window, and other Alfred Hitchcock classics. The Shining influences horror cinematography and the impact still continues to this day where high-quality digital cameras and special effects can take it to another level. 

Iconic Characters and Villains

The 1980s left us with tons of iconic characters and villains, many of which are still being featured in films to this day. 

The most famous villains that were introduced in the 1980s are almost certainly Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, but there are plenty of others too. Child’s Play introduced us to Chucky while Tobe Hooper made Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 which built upon the original Leatherface story. 

You also can’t leave Beetlejuice off the list of the most iconic characters, but the entire all-star cast created wonderfully beloved characters like Lydia Deetz (Wynona Rider), Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) Delia Deetz (Catherine O-Hara), Charles Deetz (Jeffry Jones), and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin). 

Special Effects and Practical Makeup

The 1980s was the height of practical effects because it was the last decade without high-quality CGI. While creating digital copies of analog media means you can improve the special effects and preserve the videos forever, the practical effects initially created in 1980s horror movies offered something that’s hard to capture with digital special effects. 

For example, in Day of the Dead, a follow up to the 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead, the practical effects department led by Tom Savini used a combination of realistic makeup and lifelike prosthetics to demonstrate that the zombies were everywhere and there was little chance of escape.

Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, pushed 80s special effects to their limits. They put the Predator actor in a red suit to contrast against the green of the jungle so that they could make the creature become invisible using a reverse green screen. They also added electrical sparks, thermal vision, and glowing blood made from glow sticks and lubricant. 

Subgenres of Horror in the 80s

It is an understatement to say that not every horror movie is the same, and that’s because there are several subgenres. For example, slasher films feature a knife, sword, axe, or chainsaw-wielding maniac. These include Halloween, Friday the 13, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 

Supernatural horror often includes a supernatural entity or force, like those found in Poltergeist and Ghostbusters. Monster Movies or Creature Features have zombies, vampires, and monsters in them. Body horror is a subgenre that showcases grotesque transformations and physical disfigurement. Finally, you have ski-fi horror that includes James Cameron films like Aliens. 

Impact on Contemporary Horror

The 1980s led to some major changes in the way horror movies were made. Not only did practical effects improve to appear more realistic, but many of them demonstrated that you could have a terrifying film that was also campy or funny. 

In addition, many horror movies from the 80s built upon the psychological horror of the 60s and 70s (seen in Alfred Hitchcock films), but then added a gruesome or slasher element. While they were more violent overall than those that came before them, many also had underlying psychological or social themes that resonate with the audience. 

However, the storytelling was often pushed to the background in slasher films. It was about being terrified with friends, not about a thick plot. That being said, some offered a deeper plot than others like The Shining, Poltergeist, and The Thing. 

Not only do many of the characters live on, but the impact of must-watch horror movies from the 80s lives on in our nightmares and the horror movie genre as a whole. 

Conclusion

Horror movies from the 80s include both all-time classics and lesser known gems that make it one of the most cherished eras in the horror genre. With major releases like The Shining, Friday the 13th, and Child’s Play to enduring classics like The Thing and An American Werewolf in London, it was truly one of the best decades for fear. 

If you have your own favorite home movies from the 1980s, whether scary, funny, or nostalgic, Capture can turn them into high-quality digital copies using state-of-the-art equipment. Plus, you’ll never experience the horror of lost memories because our multi-million-dollar tracking and security system monitors them through every hand. Click here to learn more! 

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