The 16 Most Underrated Romance Films of the 1980s

1980s romance movies for every mood. Delight in the passion, the humor, and the drama.
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There is a collective nostalgia about certain portions of the 1980s; that decade held a strange middle ground between the fast-paced era of high Internet technology, and the simpler, grittier ages that came before. A sense of dystopia arose on the horizon, as neoliberal capitalism joined forces with rugged individualism beneath the banner of the Cold War.

One of the shining lights of the 1980s is the romantic tinge to so much of the media—a certain glamour that sparkled on the silver screen. It was as if the cinematography took tips from the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the bright lights made the actors, already larger than life, burst from the screen like cultural gods.

Within the genre of romance movies from the 1980s, a great range also existed. From the incredibly self-serious, to the profoundly silly, we saw an incredible array of exploration into the nature of love and lust. Some of the great early films focused on non-hetero relationships also started being made, showcasing LGBTQ+ relationships in a different way, taking what had once been more avant-garde (more “artsy”) and allowing it to be seen by more mainstream crowds.

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Somewhere in Time (1980)
Somewhere in Time (1980)
Director Actors
Jeannot Szwarc Christopher Reeve, Christopher Plummer, Bill Erwin, George Voskovec, John Alvi

Through self-hypnosis, a Chicago playwright magically dives into the past to find the actress whose portrait he cannot get out of his mind.

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Somewhere in Time (1980)

Somewhere in Time (1980) failed to win the love of most of the critics of the year, and is totally a hit-or-miss with modern viewers as well. Personally, I like this sort of romance story: yes, it’s deeply dramatic, and the film does miss out on some of the fun that could have been had with the time travel concept, but that’s not what it’s about. This is a film about an impossible over-the-top sort of stylized romance, the kind that makes the room fall quiet; it’s asking us to believe in more than just magical time-travel mumbo-jumbo, it’s asking us to believe in a fairly spiritual sort of romance… if you put aside your preconceptions and let yourself sink into that—if you meet the film where its at—it works.

Out of Africa (1985)
Out of Africa (1985)
Director Actors
Sydney Pollack Robert Redford, Meryl Streep

A Danish author moves to Africa at the beginning of the 20th century, trying to build a new life for herself. Based on a 1937 autobiographical novel by Karen Blixen.

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Out of Africa (1985)

Out of Africa (1985) is a sprawling, powerful romance that offers the true Golden Age classic romance experience for more modern audiences. There’s a sumptuous charisma between Streep and Redford, and Streep’s performance here is really to be admired. This is definitely a slow film, but that continental pacing is all in service of a moving human romance intelligently crafted and beautifully portrayed.

Just One of the Guys (1985)
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Director Actors
Lisa Gottlieb Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner and Billy Jayne

In this loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, a teenage journalist feels that her male teachers aren’t taking her articles seriously, so she decides to make it like a man and disguises herself as one so she can finally be seen for her talents and not her looks.

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Just One of the Guys (1985)

Just One of the Guys (1985) doesn’t explore things in the same way as a modern gender-explorative film would, but for its time the gender-swap laughs came alongside a healthy dose of questions regarding the nature of gender identity. The film ultimately does pretty much what you’d expect, but it does it really well, offering good comedy, solid performances, and some deft screenwriting along the way.

Endless Love (1981)
Endless Love (1981)
Director Actors
Franco Zeffirelli Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt

Based on the 1979 Scott Spencer novel

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Endless Love (1981)

Endless Love (1981) suffers from the same problem as many film adaptations of original novels: it fails to understand the point of the source material and refuses to adhere to the source’s subtext. The author himself said of it: "I was frankly surprised that something so tepid and conventional could have been fashioned from my slightly unhinged novel about the glorious destructive violence of erotic obsession".

Given this, is there anything worthwhile after all? What makes this film “underrated?” Brooke Shields, for one. Her performance is credible and powerful, and she feels fully realized in her role. There are other moments, too, that capture the eye and deserve praise, even if the whole film doesn’t really come through. Go in prepared to analyze as you watch, and with the full realization that you’ll need to read the book afterward, and this can be a worthwhile experience.

A Room with a View (1985)
A Room with a View (1985)
Director Actors
James Ivory Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliot, Julian Sands

In the final days of the repressed culture of Edwardian England, a young woman discovers her love for a free-spirited young man. It is based on, and very closely follows, E. M. Forster's 1908 novel of the same name.

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A Room with a View (1985)

A Room with a View (1985) handles its adaptation of the original source material perfectly, taking pains to adhere to what worked best in the novel while at the same time flourishing those areas that can really come to life upon the screen. A joy to see all these actors together, with a witty script, and some truly earnest moments that put this film above and beyond most romances of this, or any other, decade.

Earth Girls Are Easy (1989)
Earth Girls Are Easy (1989)
Director Actors
Julien Temple Geena Davis, Julie Brown, Charles Rocket, Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans, and Jim Carrey

Titillated by broadcasts from earth depicting human women, three hard-up alien dudes descend on Southern California in search of love.

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Earth Girls Are Easy (1989)

Earth Girls Are Easy (1989) is purely silly, funny, and ridiculous. For that, it often gets dismissed and ignored, but the reality of this little film’s existence is that it is utterly earnest about how silly it is, and that makes it truly delightful.

The Big Blue (1988)
The Big Blue (1988)
Director Actors
Luc Besson Rosanna Arquette, Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno

In this heavily fictionalized portrayal of the lives of two of the greatest modern free divers in history, friendship, competition, love, and a yearning for the deep blue create a romantic vision of the ocean like no other.

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The Big Blue (1988)

The Big Blue (1988) was described by French Cinema historian Rémi Lanzoni as "one of the most significant cult movies of the 1980s", an exercise in brilliant and emotional cinematography as well as a non-traditional plot. This is a film woven through sight and emotion, not an A-Z romance narrative.

Starman (1984)
Starman (1984)
Director Actors
John Carpenter Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen

An alien from an advanced civilization encounters our invitation to Earth aboard the Voyager 2 probe and assumes the form of a dead man in order to interact with humanity.

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Starman (1984)

Starman (1984) takes viewers on the sort of journey they probably don’t except from science fiction, let alone from a piece directed by cult legend of cheese, action, and horror John Carpenter. But this is so much more than a simple sci-fi story; it weaves the science fiction tropes effortlessly into a heartfelt romantic drama that’s become one of the great cult films of the generation.

The Accidental Tourist (1988)
The Accidental Tourist (1988)
Director Actors
Lawrence Kasdan William Hurt, Kathleen Turner

When a middle-aged travel writer’s son dies suddenly, his mind and marriage are turned upside down. But as he carries on with his life, the shattered pieces of his psyche find solace in new relationships, and new ways of seeing the world.

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The Accidental Tourist (1988)

The Accidental Tourist (1988) is a pure emotional journey that begins with a poignant pain too many, these days, can relate to, but shifts the perspective of death and loss toward a kinder vision. There’s so much in here that I love, from the witty romance arc, to the superb acting, to the great sense of recapturing the purpose of life through an experience of deep grief. This is one of the 1980s gems that too many people have yet to discover.

The Princess Bride (1987)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Director Actors
Rob Reiner Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, and Chris Sarandon

In one of the greatest tales of daring and romance ever convinced, a plot to kill a princess is foiled by a mysterious man in black.

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The Princess Bride (1987)

The Princess Bride (1987) is easily one of my favorite all-time films. There’s a magic to it, a sense of both a theatrical production and an artistic masterpiece of a film; there’s humor and horror, sadness and joy, and throughout it all lives one of the best classic romances of the age.

My Beautiful Launderette (1985)
My Beautiful Launderette (1985)
Director Actors
Stephen Frears Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gordon Warnecke, Derrick Branche

In the wake of hardships caused in Britain by Thatcher’s social cuts, two young men, one of them a target for conservative backlash (as a gay man of Pakistani descent), decide to renovate a dilapidated laundrette.

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My Beautiful Launderette (1985)

My Beautiful Launderette (1985) is, perhaps, even more important in these charged times than it was in the 1980s. It’s an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking, and it’s inspired a number of recent adaptations, including a TV serial and a stage play. The film doesn’t show up on the greatest romance lists often enough to my mind.

The Karate Kid, Part II  (1986)
The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)
Director Actors
John G. Avildsen Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio, Tamlyn Tomita

In this sequel to the cult classic, a young Daniel follows Mr. Miyagi to Okinawa to visit Miyagi’s ailing father. There, both will discover more than they imagined, as old flames are rekindled, and new bonds are forged.

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The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)

The Karate Kid, Part II (1986) doesn’t get the love it should. Partly, that’s because it’s absolutely cheesy, and the martial arts aspect loses focus in the film. But there’s a remarkable dual romance plot in this one that’s subtle and sweet, and if the film as a whole is viewed as a romantic work, with all the glitz that comes with that, then I think it can be really appreciated in a different way.

Streets of Fire (1984)
Streets of Fire (1984)
Director Actors
Walter Hill Willem Dafoe, Diane Lane, Michael Paré

In a dark and rain-soaked city, rock’n’roll is the dream that never dies, and gangs wrestle and war to the beat of drums and the thrum of the guitar.

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Streets of Fire (1984)

Streets of Fire (1984) pops and sizzles on the screen like nothing else; it’s Romance with a capital “R” and the sort of film that gets under your skin and makes you want to dance. Seriously, one of the best rock-opera films ever.

Always (1989)
Always (1989)
Director Actors
Steven Spielberg Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman

When an ace daredevil pilot dies while fighting a raging forest fire, he discovers a life after death, and a purpose, that he never could have imagined.

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Always (1989)

Always (1989) is a great unsung epic by Spielberg, showcasing all of his directorial brilliance applied to an absolutely charming and heartfelt fantasy romance.

Tempest (1982)
Tempest (1982)
Director Actors
Paul Mazursky John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Molly Ringwald, Susan Sarandon

A middle-aged architect discovers that his life is crumbling, so he escapes his high-profile modern world and, his teenage daughter in tow, moves to Greece. But there, something awaits them beyond expectation.

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Tempest (1982)

Tempest (1982) is a very loose retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and it works with the themes of the play really well. It’s got this gritty realism style that I absolutely adore, and both Sarandon and Ringwald are superb, with Cassavetes’ stylistic hands clearly evident in the background of Mazursky’s clever direction. Definitely a potent romance, and in surprising ways.

Moonstruck (1987)
Moonstruck (1987)
Director Actors
Norman Jewison Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, John Mahoney, Louis Guss.

A widowed Italian-American woman accepts her boyfriend's proposal, but discovers that she may just be falling for his estranged, hot-tempered younger brother instead.

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Moonstruck (1987)

Moonstruck (1987) is one of the best romance films of any decade, period. Cher is sublime, Cage is brilliant, the whole premise of this film is brimming with a magical realism that defies description.

The age of Netflix
The age of Netflix

Once upon a time, Netflix’s DVD library hosted well over 100,000 titles and sent out roughly 12 million DVDs per week. Now, with the advent of easy-to-use streaming services, the amount of content viewers have available has shrunk to the low thousands. Look up any list of “films to watch” and you’ll find a tiny selection of movies, usually curated by people all reading the same lists and commenting on the exact same hot new show or film.

But, is that all there is? With over a hundred years of incredible filmmaking on the planet, isn’t there something missed when we only pay attention to the latest and greatest? This series is dedicated to answering that question and to exploring a small handful of the unsung films from decades past. I’ll examine each decade in turn, all the way back to the earliest days of film, and I’ll be exploring every genre of film there is! From science fiction, to drama, to romance, to comedy—I’m going to cover the entirety of film history for you, bringing out the golden nuggets for you to enjoy.

As always, with these articles, I love hearing your feedback in the comments section, or on Twitter @indubitablyodin. Let me know what your favorite films of the decade were, which ones you think I should have included, and which you hope I’ll mention in one of my next decades!

The best way to view the MCU is chronological.
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Want to watch the MCU in the order of production, starting with 2008’s Iron Man? Check out my ultimate guide here!