The 1980s was a decade of cultural and artistic confidence and exuberance, represented in all media including the movies. The brilliance of the decade’s films is reflected in the posters created to accompany them, and many of these designs are fine artworks in their own right. This list brings together 20 amazing movie posters of the 1980s, set out chronologically and representing the highlights of that astonishing decade.
1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Image: The Empire Strikes Back
The year 1980 saw the release of George Lucas’s follow-up to the hugely successful Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner. Although originally a sequel, the film became Episode V of the Star Wars saga following the more recent release of three prequels. Artist Roger Kastel created this beautiful hand-painted poster for the film’s theatrical release, taking his inspiration from a poster for Gone With the Wind.
2. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
American illustrator Richard Amsel produced some of the most iconic movie posters of the 20th Century, including this for the original release of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film, in which adventurer archaeologist Jones thwarts the Nazis in their efforts to capture the Ark of the Covenant, was the top-grossing film of 1981.
3 Excalibur (1981)
Another key figure in the development of film posters was American artist Bob Peak, who created this design for Excalibur, director John Boorman’s classic interpretation of the King Arthur legend.
4. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Image: Chariots of Fire
Chariots of Fire is an Oscar-winning film based on the true story of British runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, competitors in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
5. The Thing (1982)
Image: The Thing
American Artist Drew Sturzan produced this striking poster for John Carpenters 1982 film The Thing. The film is terrifying sci-fi horror story with a team of researchers in the Antarctic who come into contact with a parasitic alien life form.
6. Blade Runner (1982)
Image: Blade Runner
Blade Runner, the third film on the list to star Harrison Ford, is Ridley Scott’s dystopic vision of the future based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Award-winning cinematic artist and painter John Alvin created the design, and is responsible for some of the most recognizable movie posters of the late-20th Century.
7. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Image: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial tells the story of an American boy called Eliot who discovers a friendly alien stranded on Earth. The poster references a scene in the movie when Eliot and E.T. fly above a forest on a BMX, a sequence that Empire magazine named as the most magical moment in cinema history.
8. Amadeus (1984)
This powerful design is the poster for Amadeus. The film’s epic tale follows the lives of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, composers in 18th Century Vienna.
9. The Terminator (1984)
Image: The Terminator
James Cameron’s 1984 action movie The Terminator is a brutal science fiction noir in which a cyber assassin is sent back in time from 2029 to track down the mother of a future resistance leader. The film, the first of four installments, gave Arnold Schwarzenegger one of defining roles of his acting career as the eponymous Terminator.
10. Re-Animator (1985)
This poster is for the cult-classic Re-Animator, director Stuart Gordon’s reinterpretation of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror story, Herbert West-Reanimator. The film tells the story of a medical student’s experiments with a life-restoring serum, and the horrific, and often comic, results.
11. Back to the Future (1985)
Image: Back to the Future
Back to the Future is one of the defining movies of the 80s, following the story of teenager Marty McFly who is accidentally transported back in time from 1985 to 1955. McFly meets his parents’ younger selves during his comic time travel adventures. Drew Struzan designed the film’s iconic poster, showing Michael J. Fox as McFly next to the DeLorean sports car, which the Doc has converted into a time machine.
12. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Image: The Breakfast Club
Another classic movie of the 80s is John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, featuring five archetypal American high school students who meet during detention and emotionally bond despite their differences.
13. Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a classic dystopian sci-fi satire centring on worker Sam Lowry and the dysfunctional Orwellian society in which he lives.
14. Aliens (1986)
The sequel to the classic Alien is itself a defining moment in science fiction and action cinema, with Sigourney Weaver’s heroine Ripley and a team of Space Marines battling an army of alien creatures.
15. Stand by Me (1986)
Image: Stand by Me
Of all the coming-of-age and buddy movies of the 80s, Stand by Me is one of the best. Based on Stephen King’s short story The Body, the film is narrated by a writer who, following the death of a friend, recounts his adventures with three friends as they set out to find a missing boy.
16. Blue Velvet (1986)
Image: Blue Velvet
This is a poster for the German release of David Lynch’s masterpiece Blue Velvet, with the stars Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper as the unsettlingly malevolent Frank.
17. The Fly (1986)
Image: The Fly
David Cronenberg’s 1986 sci-fi body horror The Fly is a remake of the original from 1958, with Jeff Goldblum playing a scientist whose teleportation experiments result in a monstrous metamorphosis.
18. The Princess Bride (1987)
Image: The Princess Bride
John Alvin’s poster art for The Princess Bride reflects the fantastical nature of the swashbuckling fantasy comedy. The film’s narrative is worked around a grandfather reading a story to his sick grandson, the film relating the fairytale adventure.
19. Withnail and I (1987)
Image: Withnail and I
Artist Ralph Steadman provided the artwork for this brilliant poster for Withnail and I, the much-quoted black comedy by Bruce Robinson, starring Richard E. Grant as Withnail and Paul McGann as ‘I’.
20. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Image: Do the Right Thing
At the close of the 1980s, Spike Lee released Do the Right Thing, which he produced, wrote and directed. Featuring an ensemble cast, the film is set during one day on a single Brooklyn street, as the various residents face the summer heat as simmering tensions boil over. The film was controversial but critically and commercially successful, and like the best films of the 1980s, reflected the culture of that amazing decade.