10 Best Kids Movies of the 80s
The 80s left a lasting mark on pop culture through several unforgettable films, such as Top Gun, The Breakfast Club, and Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom. However, the decade’s children’s films particularly stand out, as some were genre-defining films and instant classics that found major box office success while garnering critical acclaim.
While 80s adult movies focused on bigger explosions, gory and horrifying themes, 80s kids movies relied on themes of friends, families, and adorable animals. These children’s films represented some of the best and most gripping films of the entire decade.
10/10 An American tail takes on immigration and anti-Semitism
An American tail premiered in 1986 and followed a family of Russian Jewish mice through the eyes of their seven-year-old son, Fievel Mousekewitz. The mice lived in a house with the Moskowitz family, and when the Moskowitz house was attacked in an anti-Semitic raid, the two families fled Russia and headed for the United States. En route to New York, Fievel was separated from his family.
As Fievel and his family tried to find each other, they faced corrupt politicians, poverty, and extortion. An American tail was a popular and wholesome animated story for children with its poignant messages and themes.
9/10 The Little Mermaid Sets the Stage for Later Disney Movies
The little Mermaid followed the adventures of Ariel, a mermaid who desperately wanted to live among humans. She got her wish when Ursula the Sea Witch offered to trade Ariel’s voice for a pair of legs.
Launched in 1989, The little Mermaid served as a bridge between the simple production seen in Disney animation in the 80s and the more complex animated features that would be common in the 90s. The little Mermaid was a well-known fairy tale, Disney made the film unforgettable by adding iconic musical numbers, talking animal sidekicks, and a rebellious protagonist. This formula would become a hallmark of Disney films of the 90s.
8/10 The fox and the dog succeeded despite the naysayers
The fox and the hunting dog followed the friendship of a hunting dog named Copper and a red fox named Tod. Copper and Tod struggled to maintain a friendship as society told them they should be natural enemies. Eventually, Tod saved Cooper’s life and gave them hope that they would be “friends forever”.
The fox and the hunting dog came out in 1981 and lacked many of the brilliant production values that made Disney movies so recognizable. Critics criticized the animation and voice acting, but the film still became the 14th highest-grossing film of 1981.
7/10 The Land Before Time started an entire movie franchise
The land before time was released in 1988. The film followed four dinosaurs and a pterosaur as they fled famine-infested lands and attempted to reach “The Great Valley”, a land that promised to be full of fresh leaves for herbivores. Littlefoot served as the leader of the group, which also included Cera, Ducky, Petrie, and Spike.
The land before time focused on friends as they learned to overcome their prejudices. Eventually, they all became close friends. This wholesome tale started a franchise, which has resulted in 13 sequels.
The famous science fiction film by Steven Spielberg, AND the extra-terrestrial, told the story of 10-year-old Elliott who discovered an alien hiding in his tool shed. The story followed Elliott and ET as they learned about each other’s culture and tried to evade government detection.
Elliott went above and beyond for ET by abducting him from a government lab and helping him find his way back to his spaceship. HEY received nine Oscar nominations and is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time. The Library of Congress added the film to the United States National Film Registry because the film was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
5/10 NIMH’s Secret Interpreted a Beloved Children’s Novel
The NIHM secret was based on the popular children’s novel, Mrs. Frisby and the NIHM Rats by Robert C. O’Brien. The film followed Mrs. Frisby, a field mouse living on the Fitzgibbon farm. Mrs. Frisby was worried about moving her family before the start of the plowing season. To find a solution, Ms. Frisby enlisted the help of a colony of rats.
Through The NIHM secret, Mrs. Frisby discovered that her husband and the rats were subjected to experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, which boosted their intelligence, lengthened their lives and slowed aging. Like many children’s films in the 80s, The NIHM secret focused on family and unlikely friendships to save the day.
4/10 The Goonies have become a cult classic
The Goonies was released in 1985 and revolved around the adventures of a group of children who live in “The Goon Docks”, a neighborhood in Oregon. The kids became worried because their house was about to be foreclosed and decided the best way to avoid losing their home was to find the legendary treasure of “One-Eyed Willy”. As they attempted to find the treasure, they also had to battle the Fratelli crime family.
The Goonies combined comedy, adventure, pirates and important social themes into an entertaining and beloved children’s film. No matter what kind of movie a kid wanted to see in the ’80s, this cult classic delivered.
3/10 The last unicorn told a scary story for children
In The last unicorn, a female unicorn believed that a cruel entity named Red Bull led her sisters to the end of the Earth. The 1982 animated film followed The Last Unicorn as it searched for the remaining unicorns, battled mystical beasts, and experienced love and regret for the first time.
Many 80s animated stories had simple moral lessons and unmistakably happy endings. However, The last unicorn offered something different: genuinely scary moments and a bittersweet ending. The characters in the film dealt with feelings of loss and regret, and the film did not offer them an easy way to heal. The complex ethics of The last unicorn make it one of the highlights of 80s movies.
2/10 All Dogs Go To Heaven Tackles Heavy Topics With A Comedic Tone
All dogs go to heaven came out in 1989 and followed a German Shepherd named Charlie. At the start of the film, Charlie and his friend Itchy escaped from the pound but were murdered by Carface. Arriving in Heaven, Charlie decided he’d rather return to Earth to exact revenge on Carface. The rest of all dogs followed Charlie as he learned to be selfless and regain his place in heaven.
All dogs go to heaven was followed by a sequel and a television series which continued Charlie’s adventures. All dogs go to heaven stood out from other films of the 80s because it tackled serious subjects, such as death and abandonment, with a comedic tone.
1/10 The Transformers: The Movie Predicted the Frightening Future of 2005
In the 80s, Transformers was one of the most successful anime series. The 1986 movie, The Transformers: The Movie, capitalized on that success and told its story 20 years after the end of the second season. In the film, the Aubotbots attempted to stop a planet-eating robot while simultaneously mounting a defense against the Decepticons.
Although The Transformers: The Movie was not a box office success, it gained more positive reception over time. The film went on to receive praise for its emotional and darker take on the Transformers universe.
NEXT: 10 ’80s Movies That Should Have Been Hits But Had Impossible Competition