18 Iconic ’80s Kids Movies That Defined Our Childhoods


It was a decade for adventure, fantasy, and a side of childhood trauma.

1.

Willow


Lucasfilm

Directed by Ron Howard from a story by George Lucas, Willow is a fantasy about a Nelwyn man, Willow (Warwick Davis), who discovers a Daikini baby and must protect her from an evil queen intent on her destruction thanks to a foreboding prophecy. It’s full of adventure and fun and an incredible enemies-to-lovers romance in the characters of Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and Sorsha (Joanne Whalley). 

2.

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial


Universal Pictures

If you can think about E.T. or hear its soundtrack without tearing up, you’re a stronger person than I. The sci-fi adventure about a boy named Elliot who discovers an alien in his backyard and tries to protect him from evil scientists while also helping him get home is both funny and absolutely heart-wrenching. 

3.

The Land Before Time


Universal Pictures

Directed by Don Bluth, The Land Before Time is about a group of young dinosaurs who, separated from their herds, have to find their own way to an oasis called the Great Valley. Full of cute characters and lots of fun moments, the most impactful scene is nevertheless when Littlefoot’s mother dies. It was scarring children long before The Lion King

4.

The Goonies


Warner Bros

Goonies never say die! A classic adventure movie about a group of kids who discover a treasure map and go on the hunt for a fortune that could save their homes — while also trying to escape the clutches of a crime family. It’s an exhilarating story with a strong, funny, and relatable cast of characters, starring ’80s icons like Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Josh Brolin and Martha Plimpton.

5.

The Secret of NIMH


MGM

Don Bluth’s directorial debut is a dark, expansive and incredible animation about a single mother mouse, her quest to save her sick son, and the hyper-intelligent rats she meets that are a result of human experimentation. Just your usual children’s fare, you know. 

6.

All Dogs Go to Heaven


MGM

What’s that? Another traumatising movie? Thanks, Don Bluth. This one opens with the murder of a dog (!!), who leaves heaven to seek revenge on his ex-friend who killed him but winds up befriending an orphan girl and learning about the meaning of life and love in the process. The ending is a tear-jerker. 

7.

The Dark Crystal


Universal

Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, The Dark Crystal is the tale of a gelfling named Jen and his companion Kyra who set out on a quest to restore the Dark Crystal and rid the land of the evil ruling Skeksis for good. With incredible puppetry and animatronics, The Dark Crystal is both magical and slightly eery. It had a TV revival on Netflix in 2019, which sadly only lasted one season but is well worth the watch. 

8.

Labyrinth


Lucasfilm

Also directed by Jim Henson, and produced by George Lucas, Labyrinth stars David Bowie as the Goblin King, a magical leader who steals the baby brother of teen Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly. Watching Sarah’s journey through the titular labyrinth as she attempts to get her brother back is quite a ride — full of whimsy and more than one trippy moment. 

9.

The Little Mermaid


Disney

The movie that ushered in the renaissance era of Disney; their first fairy-tale inspired movie in decades led them to great success. Disney took Hans Christian Andersen’s rather bleak story and gave it the happy ending treatment, with the little mermaid in question married to her handsome prince and living on land as opposed to…being dead because her prince is useless and not in love with her. See, not every ’80s movie was traumatising!

10.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids


Disney

Rick Moranis was the star of so many ’80s and ’90s childhoods, thanks in no small part to this movie series. In this first instalment, he plays an inventor who accidentally shrinks his and his neighbors’ kids and unknowingly throws them in the trash. The kids then have to travel the epic, long journey through their own backyard. Considering how, ahem, huge this movie was when it was released, we really don’t talk about it enough anymore. 

11.

Harry and the Hendersons


Universal

Remember when everyone was super obsessed with Bigfoot? This movie explored what would happen if Bigfoot were real and accidentally run over and taken home by a middle class family. Both funny and surprisingly heartfelt, John Lithgow’s performance is a highlight of the movie.

12.

The Never-Ending Story


Warner Bros

Based on the book of the same name by Michael Ende, The Never-Ending Story tells two narratives: that of Bastian, a shy, bullied boy who discovers a magical book and gets literally lost in the story; and the story-within-the-story of the land of Fantasia and the young warrior Atreyu who is on a quest to save it. The movie is full of memorable creatures, at least one devastating moment, and one of the most iconic theme songs of the ’80s. 

13.

The Last Unicorn


ITC Films

Based on the book by Peter S Beagle, who also wrote the screenplay, and featuring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee, The Last Unicorn is a somewhat dark, deeply weird, but absolutely beautiful animated movie about a unicorn who discovers she is the last of her kind and sets off to find others like her.

14.

Oliver & Company


Disney

Who knew a novel by Charles Dickens about an orphan who is exploited for child labor, taken in by thieves, and protected by a sex worker who is subsequently murdered would make such a delightful animated kids movie? Oliver & Company removes a lot of the darker elements of the plot and turns Oliver into a kitten who is taken in by street dogs. It features iconic musical numbers and the voice talents of Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, and Bette Midler.

15.

An American Tail


Universal

This Don Bluth movie features Fievel, a Russian-Jewish mouse who emigrates to America with his family but gets separated from them and must find his way back to them and start his new life with the help of new American friends. Like much of Bluth’s work, it doesn’t shy away from dark and depressing elements. 

16.

The Princess Bride


20th Century Fox

Not strictly a kids movie, but not NOT a kids movie, The Princess Bride is without doubt one of the best films of all time. Directed by Rob Reiner from a screenplay by William Goldman, who also wrote the book it was based on, the satirical fairy tale is hilarious and so much fun. The framing device of a grandfather reading the story to his sick grandson adds a touch of heart and sentiment that grounds it. 

17.

Short Circuit


TriStar Pictures

Starring Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, Short Circuit is about a military robot that is struck by lightning and gains human-like intelligence. Sounds like the premise for a horrific dystopia, but this comedy takes a much more wholesome and light turn with it, as the robot in question, Number 5, learns what it is to be human. 

18.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


Buena Vista

With a delightful mix of animation and live action, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a funny send-up of classic noir, with Bob Hoskins nailing it as grizzled detective Eddie Valiant, the perfect foil for the zany Roger. Christopher Lloyd is also memorable — and terrifying — as bad guy Judge Doom, who is intent on ridding the world of toons despite secretly being one himself. 

What is your fave ’80s kids movie?

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