Ranking ’80s Nostalgia Movies from Worst to Best


Reagan is president. Folks are wearing day-glo. There’s a cah-ray-zay party going on. Young people are feeling angsty about their impending adulthood. This is the premise of Take Me Home Tonight, the backward-looking Topher Grace/ Anna Faris movie that opens tonight, but it could just as easily describe any number of movies that have popped up since the late ’90s, when nostalgia for the ’80s first came into vogue. And considering that critics are calling Take Me Home “aggressively unfunny” and saying “it grinds the ungodly awfulness of so many ’80s comedy conventions into an even deeper rut,” you may well be better off watching one of them. After the jump, we rank some of the most memorable movies set in the ’80s, 1998-present, from worst to best.

Glitter (2001)

Anyone who thinks we’ve become so self-aware that camp isn’t possible in the 21st century hasn’t seen Glitter. Mariah Carey’s pet project finds her playing an ’80s nightclub dancer with a sob-story past who rises from backup singer to solo superstar. The movie is poorly written, terribly acted, and features some of the cheesiest couple-fights in film history. Perhaps most unforgivably, considering that its star is one of the best-selling singers of all time, the music was crap. These days, some profess an ironic affection for Glitter, but us? We just find it depressing — not to mention boring.

The Wedding Singer (1998)

Adam Sandler is a hapless, adorable wedding singer who gets left at the altar. Drew Barrymore is about to marry the world’s biggest tool. And the whole movie is pretty much an excuse to play every single song that immediately comes to mind when you think “’80s music” — which is probably why we were forced to endure a Broadway version in 2006. Look, as romantic comedies go, it’s not terrible. But that God-forsaken rappin’ granny…

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

In the past few years, comedies set in the ’80s have become somewhat self-aware. And so it happened that, in 2010, John Cusack starred in a film in which he and his loser buddies return the ski lodge where they used to party as teenagers, step into a malfunctioning hot tub, and journey back in time to their glory days. Any movie called Hot Tub Time Machine is going to be fairly stupid, but there are enough legitimately funny moments to make it worth watching.

Adventureland (2008)

Tender virgin Jesse Eisenberg graduates from college in 1987, thinks he’s going to grad school, finds out that his parents can’t pay for it, and then takes a depressing job at a second-rate amusement park. He meets wild and crazy Kristen Stewart. They and their Adventureland co-workers get into all sorts of mischief. The sexy bombshell’s name is Lisa P. Love is gained and lost and… you get the picture. Despite some frustratingly emo moments, this slow, languid film perfectly conveyed the aimlessness, disappointment, and unexpected discoveries the summer after college brings.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

What is it about Jesse Eisenberg that makes him so compatible with movies set in the ’80s? We’re not sure, but he and co-stars Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Anna Paquin made Noah Baumbach’s breakthrough, semi-autobiographical film about the dissolution of an overeducated Brooklyn clan one of the most perceptive movies we’ve seen about destructive, inter-familial dynamics.

The House of the Devil (2009)

The ’80s were a great time for low-budget horror films. Ti West’s The House of the Devil isn’t just set in that era — its spare style, thrifty production values, and Satanic cult theme are all an homage to those vintage slasher flicks. But this isn’t just pastiche; it’s also pitch-perfect, heart-pounding horror that is an absolute must-watch for anyone who wishes today’s scary movies weren’t all empty-headed torture porn.

The Last Days of Disco (1998)

One of the first movies to indulge in ’80s nostalgia, Whit Stillman’s beloved Last Days of Disco may also be the best film about that era’s hard-partying, post-college cohort. Set in the early years of the decade, it follows Alice and Charlotte, two recent grads who work in publishing, live in close quarters, stay out late, hop from bed to bed, and live out the long ’70s hangover that the title implies.

24 Hour Party People (2002)

While disco was dying in New York, Manchester was recovering from Joy Division’s post-punk tragedy and giving birth to a brand new form of dance music. Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People is a whirlwind tour through Tony Wilson’s Factory Records universe: Happy Mondays, New Order, Hacienda — they’re all in there, in one of the most inspired accounts of ’80s music across the pond.

Persepolis (2007)

The ’80s weren’t all rich kids snorting coke and dancing, though. In Iran, fundamentalist Muslims seized power, sending the culture back a couple hundred years, forcing women into hijabs, and torturing anyone who didn’t agree. Marjane Satrapi grew up in Tehran during that period, and this big-screen adaptation of her fantastic graphic memoir tells a difficult, personal story with grace and humor.

American Psycho (2000)

No author owns the ’80s like Brett Easton Ellis. But while other film adaptations of his work range from terrible (Less Than Zero) to mediocre (The Rules of Attraction), director Mary Harron hit the nail on the head with her lean, mean take on American Psycho. No other film communicates the decade’s grossest excesses and greatest moral bankruptcies. And Christian Bale was so convincing in the lead role that we still can’t look at him without seeing Patrick Bateman.