Kids movies

18 iconic children’s films from the 80s that defined our childhood

It’s been a decade for adventure, fantasy, and a side of childhood trauma.




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


AND the extraterrestrial

Universal Images

If you can think of HEY or listen to its soundtrack without tearing yourself apart, you are a stronger person than me. 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 helping him get home is both funny and absolutely heartbreaking.


The land before time

Universal Images

Directed by Don Bluth, The land before time tells about a group of young dinosaurs who, separated from their herds, must find their own way to an oasis called the Great Valley. Full of cute characters and lots of fun moments, the most memorable scene nonetheless is when Littlefoot’s mother dies. He healed children long before The Lion King.


The Goonies

Warner bros

Goonies never say die! A classic adventure film about a group of children who discover a treasure map and set off in search of a fortune that could save their home, while trying to escape the clutches of a criminal family. It’s an exhilarating story with a cast of strong, funny, and relatable characters, starring ’80s icons like Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Josh Brolin, and Martha Plimpton.


The secret of NIMH


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


All dogs go to heaven


What is that? Another traumatic film? Thanks, Don Bluth. It opens with the murder of a dog (!!), who leaves paradise to get revenge on his ex-friend who killed him, but ends up befriending an orphan and thus learns the meaning of life and love. The end is a tear.


The black crystal


Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, The black crystal is the story of a gelfling named Jen and his mate Kyra who set out on a quest to restore the Black Crystal and rid the land of evil in power Skeksis for good. With amazing puppets and animatronics, The black crystal is both magical and slightly disturbing. It had a TV revival on Netflix in 2019, which unfortunately only lasted for one season but is well worth watching.




Also directed by Jim Henson and produced by George Lucas, Labyrinth stars David Bowie as the Goblin King, a magical boss who steals the little brother of teenage Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly. Watching Sarah’s journey through the titular maze as she attempts to retrieve her brother is quite a journey – full of whimsy and more than a trippy moment.


The little Mermaid


The film that ushered in the era of Disney’s rebirth; their first fairy-tale-inspired film in decades led them to great success. Disney took Hans Christian Andersen’s rather dark story and gave it the happy ending treatment, with the little mermaid in question married to her handsome prince and living on earth instead of being … dead because her prince. is useless and not in love with her. You see, not all 80s movies were traumatic!


Honey, I cut down on the kids


Rick Moranis was the star of so many childhoods of the ’80s and’ 90s, thanks in large part to this series of films. In this first part, he plays an inventor who accidentally shrinks his children and those of his neighbors and unknowingly throws them in the trash. The kids then have to travel the long, epic journey through their own backyard. Considering how huge this movie was when it was released, we really don’t talk enough about it anymore.


Harry and the Hendersons


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


The never-ending story

Warner bros

From the book of the same name by Michael Ende, The never-ending story tells two stories: that of Bastian, a shy and harassed boy who discovers a magic book and literally gets lost in the story; and the story in the history of the land of Fantasia and the young warrior Atreyu who seeks to save it. The movie is full of memorable creatures, at least one devastating moment, and one of the most iconic ’80s theme songs.


The last unicorn

ITC Films

Based on the book by Peter S Beagle, who also wrote the screenplay, and starring the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury and Christopher Lee, The last unicorn is a somewhat dark, deeply eerie, but absolutely beautiful animated film about a unicorn who finds out that she is the last of her kind and goes in search of others like her.


Olivier & Company


Who would have thought that a Charles Dickens novel about an orphan exploited for child labor, taken away by thieves and protected by a sex worker who is then murdered would make such a delicious children’s animated film? Olivier & Company removes much of the darker plot elements and turns Oliver into a kitten who is taken in by street dogs. It features iconic musical numbers and the vocal talents of Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin and Bette Midler.


An american tail


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


The princess to marry

20th century fox

Not strictly a children’s movie, but NOT a children’s movie, The princess to marry is without a doubt one of the best movies 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 feeling that founds it.


Short circuit

TriStar Pictures

With Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg, Short circuit is about a military robot that is struck by lightning and gains human-like intelligence. It sounds like the premise of a horrific dystopia, but this comedy takes on a much healthier, lighter turn as the robot in question, number 5, learns what it’s like to be human.


Who wants the skin of Roger Rabbit?

Buena vista

With a delicious mix of animation and live action, Who wants the skin of Roger Rabbit? is a fun send off of classic noir, with Bob Hoskins nailing it down as grizzled detective Eddie Valiant, the perfect foil for the wacky Roger. Christopher Lloyd is also memorable – and terrifying – as the villainous Judge Doom, who intends to rid the world of toons despite being secretly one himself.

What’s your favorite 80s children’s movie?

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