The 80s were truly a memorable decade. Between its signature vibrant colors, bold fashion statements, and sensational trends, the era seemed to awaken people’s most creative parts. Film and television audiences have surely seen a resurgence of this era that is fondly remembered, especially in recent years. For example, take the immediate popularity of new shows like stranger things and familiar stories like The Karate Kidreturning to their roots for reboots and continuations.
Although the 80s are generally considered a happy and dynamic period, they come with their characteristic dark side. This was expressed through a treasured library of films from a golden age of entertainment, which have left their mark on pop culture to this day. Surprisingly, many films aimed at younger audiences fall into this category, attracting viewers of all ages. In fact, many adults today still remember some of those awful movie moments from their childhood. Let’s take a look at the scariest kids movies of the 80s, ranked.
seven The Neverending Story (1982)
This epic tale takes viewers into the magical realm of Fantasia, deep within the pages of a mysterious book. The never-ending story follows a young boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver), who comes across a copy of the book, The never-ending story, where he learns that this fantasy world is threatened by The Nothing, an evil force of darkness. Crossing paths with many mythical beasts and strange creatures (some friendly and some not), Bastian eventually finds himself in the world of the story. The battle for love and light rages on with some truly tragic moments and chilling sequences. Who could forget the heartbreaking scene where warrior Atreyu’s (Noah Hathaway) horse, Artax, is swallowed up by a swamp?
6 Legend (1985)
Legend pits good and evil against each other in an outlandish adventure. Jack (Tom Cruise) and Lili (Mia Sara) unite with an army of friends to defeat the Dark Lord (Tim Curry), the demonic being who seeks to obliterate all light from the world. He plans to accomplish this by killing all the unicorns, which started the story. A set of fairies, dwarves and elves join forces against the goblins to perform the Dark Lord’s evil bidding. A review by Roger Ebert of the film reads: “Like many recent sword and sorcery films, it is so effective at rendering evil, so good at depicting the grim and dark fates facing heroes, that it is too dreary and dark for its own good.” With nightmarish visuals, a star-studded cast, and opulent set design that turns fantasy into jaw-dropping reality, it’s no wonder this movie sticks in the minds of ’80s kids.
5 Labyrinth (1986)
Labyrinth is a beloved fantasy musical that originated under the masterful direction of Jim Henson. David Bowie stars as Jareth, a feared goblin king with a funky punk-rock look. After young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) wishes to keep her baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) away, she enters a bewildering maze populated by all manner of creatures and fights against the odds to get him back. This film’s legacy lives on through its crazy costumes, stuck-in-your-head songs, and otherworldly aesthetic. The genuinely spooky elements of this film – hulking goblins, horned beasts, and child abduction – also shine through. Just remember what Sarah says to break the spell at the end of the film: “You have no power over me!” A long-awaited sequel is in the works from strange doctor director Scott Derrickson.
4 The Last Unicorn (1982)
One of the most beloved animated feature films of the 80s, The last unicorn has developed a cult following since its first box office flop. In an enchanted forest, a unicorn (Mia Farrow) discovers that she is threatened with extinction and could be the very last. She embarks alongside an unlucky magician named Schmendrick (Alan Arkin) and a wise and wild woman named Molly Grue (Tammy Lee Grimes) to hunt down the evil King Haggard (Christopher Lee), who has a role in the disappearance of the unicorns. This film is full of heartbreaking moments, including a confrontation with the evil Red Bull and the traveling carnival of Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury), a witch who keeps magical creatures in her care. One particular scene involves a harpy escaping from her cage and devouring her captor with disgusting ferocity.
3 The Secret of the NIMH (1982)
The NIMH Secret brings the true terrors of animal testing to life in a fantastical setting. This superb animated piece is based on the children’s novel, Mrs. Frisby and the NIMH Rats. In the film, the renamed Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman), a field mouse, goes on a journey to care for her sick son, Timothy (Ina Fried). She consults with a wise rat colony leader named Nicodemus (Derek Jacoby), who reveals to her that the rats were experimented on by the National Institute of Mental Health – NIMH for short. These trials made them smarter and extended their lives, encouraging them to use human advancements. The film moves into darker territory as Mrs. Brisby’s quest continues and her very life hangs in the balance, with boat down-style roots in unfortunate realities. An animated series continuing the tale is in the works at Fox.
2 The Black Crystal (1982)
The dark crystal was another figment of Jim Henson’s wild imagination, bringing this spooky story to life through spooky puppets and heavy world-building. In an attempt to restore balance to the world, Jen (Stephen Garlick) is a Gelfling on a mission to retrieve a piece of the titular Jewel, which was shattered years ago. In his absence, the Skeksis race rose to power, instilling a reign of terror. The world of Thra is full of bizarre creatures that surely still crop up in the nightmares of ’80s kids. of brutal murders and a pit of the murderer Garthim. And let’s not forget the death scene of Emperor Skeksis. As the tradition continued on the Netflix show The Dark Crystal: The Rise of ResistanceUnfortunately, he will not return for a second season.
1 Return to Oz (1985)
Pick up where The Wizard of Oz leave behind, Back to Oz was certainly a dark take on Dorothy’s continuing story. The film follows our favorite character (Fairuza Balk) as she escapes a chilling psychiatric procedure, ending up in Magical Land once again. But Oz isn’t as she left it – it’s been taken over by the Nome King (Nicol Williamson), who has thrown the Technicolor world into utter chaos. Dororthy is chased through the ruins of the Emerald City by the terrifying Wheelers, humanoid creatures with wheels for extremities. Teaming up with a ragtag gang of friends after her original crew’s imprisonment, Dorothy fights to restore Oz’s glamor once and for all. Obviously, this movie has some spooky moments to spare, as it reimagines Oz as a hellish realm. A review of the Guardian says that the film now “exists largely in the nightmares of people in their forties”.