Disney Plus: 13 Of The Best '80s Movies To Watch Now
After many months of build-up, Disney+ has finally launched. Disney's much-anticipated streaming platform arrived with hundreds of movies and TV shows available to stream, spanning the many decades of live-action and animated storytelling from the studio. In fact there's so much available, that it might be a bit confusing to know where to start, so we've jumped into the line-up to pick some must-watch titles.
The 1980s was an interesting era for Disney. Movies such as Star Wars and Jaws had changed the face of blockbuster filmmaking in the 1970s, with rising directors such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg forging a thrilling vision for populist cinema that made many of the more traditional crowd-pleasers--disaster movies, musicals, animated fairy tale adaptations--seem a little old-fashioned in comparison. Disney wasn't alone in the '80s in trying to adapt to what younger audiences were looking for, but it did mean that there were some commercial missteps along the way, especially in the way the studio attempted to draw in an older audience with some surprisingly dark fantasy movies.
But while some of these films, such as the Black Cauldron and Return to Oz, weren't hits, they make for fascinating viewing today. And it wasn't all weird fantasy. There were hugely entertaining comedies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the inventive sci-fi of Flight of the Navigator, and more traditional animated classics such as The Little Mermaid. They're all on Disney+, along with much more from the decade. So to get you started, here are the best '80s movies to stream on Disney+. And once you’ve read that, check out GameSpot's guides to what's available on day one and every cartoon from your childhood to watch.
1. The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Jim Henson's Muppets had been a familiar fixture on TV for many years before they made their movie debut. The Great Muppet Caper was their first big-screen outing and it absolutely captures the madcap, irreverent spirit of their TV hit The Muppet Show. Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, and the rest of the gang find themselves in London on an adventure involving stolen diamonds, and there are cameos from the likes of John Cleese, Peter Falk, and Peter Ustinov.
2. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
The 1980s were not a great decade for Disney's animation brand. There were a number of releases, but it wasn't until The Little Mermaid in 1989 that the studio delivered a true classic. The Fox and the Hound is worth a watch though--it's got a great voice cast (led by Kurt Russell and Mickey Rooney), impressive animation, and a storyline about an unlikely animal friendship that is both funny and surprisingly moving. And inevitably, Disney is currently developing a live-action version for Disney+
3. TRON (1982)
It's a sign of just how revolutionary TRON was that in 1982 Disney was not allowed to submit it for a visual effects Oscar because the Academy considered computer-generated effects "cheating." How times have changed. This groundbreaking movie stars Jeff Bridges as a programmer who finds himself trapped within the software of a computer, where he must compete against programs to escape. It's a dazzling technical achievement with a unique visual style that still doesn't look like anything else.
4. Return to Oz (1985)
While sequels can sometimes take a while to be made, it's unusual to wait 46 years for a follow-up. But in 1985, the sequel to the classic The Wizard of Oz was released. This was an era where Disney was making darker fairy tale and fantasy movies, and the tone of Return to Oz is very different to the original, with more adult themes and some pretty scary imagery. Dorothy has been placed in a psychiatric hospital after her experiences in Oz, but she escapes and returns to the magical land for more adventures. The movie was a box office failure, but viewed today, it's an intriguing oddity and well worth checking out.
5. The Black Cauldron (1985)
Like Return to Oz, The Black Cauldron was part of Disney's attempt to win over older audiences with darker material. And like Oz, it bombed commercially. This was an animated film based on Lloyd Alexander's fantasy saga, The Chronicles of Prydain, and even after 12 minutes were cut prior to release following test screenings, it was still too weird and scary for kids. But that's what makes it a fascinating watch today--it's a visually stunning movie that hints at the direction the studio might have continued in if it had found a bigger audience.
6. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
This charming sci-fi adventure actually started life an independently produced film that was rescued by Disney when the original Norwegian production company that made it went bankrupt. But it's easy to see why the House of Mouse would pick it up--it's got all the charm, imagination, and excitement we associate with the studio. A 12-year-old boy returns 8 years after he was taken on a space adventure by an alien robot, having not aged a day. It's well acted and written, and like the best kids movies of the era, isn't afraid to get a little dark when the plot requires. It also features Pee-Wee Herman as the voice of the alien robot, which is pretty cool.
7. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
While The Great Mouse Detective isn't as well remembered as the animated Disney movies that followed over the following decade it was an important release for the studio. It was a critical and commercial success, and after the failure of The Black Cauldron, convinced Disney that animation was still a viable medium. Inspired by classic stories of Sherlock Holmes, the movie follows an intrepid mouse investigator called Basil as he solves crimes in 19th Century London. It was one of the first animated films to use CGI alongside traditional techniques, and the result is a stylish, inventive, and highly entertaining movie.
8. Three Men and a Baby (1987)
This comedy starred three of the most iconic leading men of the decade--Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, and Ted Danson--and was the most successful movie of the year at the US box office. It's remake of a French film from two years earlier, and was directed by none other than Star Trek's Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy. The movie focuses on a trio of ill-prepared womanising bachelors who attempt to look after a baby that Danson's character has fathered with a co-worker. It's a very silly film, with a subplot involving wacky drug dealers and some missing heroin, but the effortless charm of the three stars also make it a hugely watchable one.
9. Willow (1988)
With the Star Wars trilogy behind him, in 1988 George Lucas took on another big budget fantasy movie. Willow was co-written and produced by Lucas and directed by Ron Howard (who many years later would make the Star Wars spin-off Solo), and starred Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer as a farmer and warrior who go on a quest (there's always a quest!) to save a baby from an evil queen. The movie was only a moderate success at the time, but has built something of a cult reputation over the years, and comes to Disney+ after its deluxe Blu-ray release earlier this year.
10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The second highest grossing movie of 1988 (behind Rain Man), this dazzling and ingenious mix of live action and animation remains one of the decade's best. Bob Hoskins plays private detective Eddie Valiant in a word where real people and cartoon characters live alongside each other. Valiant is pulled into a mystery in Toon Town when the popular star Roger Rabbit is seemingly frame for murder. The film is an incredible technical achievement, and it's matched by the great performances, hilarious script, and inventive direction from Back to the Future helmer Robert Zemeckis.
11. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
This much-loved family sci-fi comedy became the highest grossing live-action Disney movie ever, a record it held for five years. Rick Moranis stars as a bungling inventor who accidentally shrinks his children, leading to an adventure where they must get back to their house through the dangers of their now-giant garden. It's a lot of fun, and featuring some still-impressive VFX, as the kids encounter a variety of terrifying giant insects. Interestingly, the movie was written by horror filmmaker Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond); Gordon was originally set to direct it too, but had to pull out at the last minute due to illness, and was replaced by Joe Johnson.
12. Turner & Hooch (1989)
1988's Big had made Tom Hanks one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and he followed it a year later with Turner & Hooch. It's a buddy cop movie with a difference. Hanks plays a detective whose partner is killed by a criminal gang, leaving Hanks to look after his French mastiff Hooch. It was actually the second cop/dog movie released in 1989 (the first being K-9), but it's definitely the best of the two. Who wouldn't want to watch the combination of Tom Hanks and a huge loveable dog?
13. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Little Mermaid was the movie that gave Disney its animation mojo back, and kickstarted an incredibly successful subsequent decade for the studio. The film had been in the works for a long time, and when it finally arrived it proved a huge hit with both critics and audiences. The songs and characters have become vital parts of modern pop culture, and it remains one of the most iconic films in the Disney canon. It was also the last Disney feature to use traditional hand-painted animation, before digital animation took over. There's a live-action version in the works, but in the meantime, the original is a must-watch.