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The Best Movies of 1981

Updated March 29, 2021 10.4k votes 792 voters 18.5k views119 items

List RulesOnly movies released in theaters in 1981.

A list of the best movies of 1981, from action films like "Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark" to comedies like "The Great Muppet Caper." The '80s were a decade where Hollywood thrived. In were new stars and big blockbusters and 1981 was no exception. Some the best movies of this year are some of the best teen, coming of age, adventure, comedies, and dramas in history. The films on here are very memorable and had audiences on the edges of their seats, and still pack a punch so many years after they were first released. You shouldn't be too surprised by the movies listed on this list of top 1981 films.
  • 1
    Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The...  more

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    12 Stories That Prove The Making Of 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' Was An Adventure Behind The Scenes Too#5 of 73 The Greatest Movies To Watch Outside

  • 2

    Escape from New York

    Jamie Lee Curtis, Kurt Russell
    Escape from New York is a 1981 American science fiction action film co-written, co-scored, and...  more

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    #21 of 180 The Best Dystopian And Near Future Movies#15 of 100 The 95+ Greatest Dystopian Action Movies

  • 3

    Mad Max 2

    Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence
    Mad Max 2 is a 1981 Australian post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller. The...  more

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    #67 of 92 The Most Rewatchable Action Movies#284 of 549 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

  • 4

    An American Werewolf in London

    Jenny Agutter, Frank Oz
    An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 horror comedy film written and directed by John...  more

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    #45 of 123 The Best Intelligent Horror Movies#311 of 456 The Most Quotable Movies Of All Time

  • 5


    Bill Murray, John Candy
    Stripes is a 1981 American comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Harold...  more

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    #83 of 155 The Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time#90 of 451 The Best Movies For Guys

  • 6

    The Evil Dead

    Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi
    This film is a 1981 American horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive...  more

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    #15 of 722 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time#22 of 126 The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time

  • 7

    The Fox and the Hound

    Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney
    he Fox and the Hound is a 1981 American animated drama film based on the Daniel P. Mannix...  more

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    #34 of 534 The Best Animated Films Ever#25 of 298 The Best Duos of All Time

  • 8

    On Golden Pond

    Jane Fonda, Katharine Hepburn
    On Golden Pond is a 1981 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell. The screenplay by Ernest...  more

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    #144 of 1,195 Every Oscar Winning Film Ever#23 of 50 The Best Oscar-Nominated Movies of the '80s

  • 9

    The Cannonball Run

    Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw
    The Cannonball Run is a 1981 comedy film starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise,...  more

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    #215 of 1,139 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time#48 of 304 The Funniest '80s Movies

  • 10

    Das Boot

    Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer
    Das Boot is a 1982 German epic film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by...  more

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    #1 of 51 The Best Submarine Movies Of All Time#8 of 222 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time

  • 11

    For Your Eyes Only

    Roger Moore, Sheena Easton
    For Your Eyes Only is the twelfth spy film in the James Bond series, and the fifth to star...  more

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  • 12

    Chariots of Fire

    Stephen Fry, Kenneth Branagh
    Chariots of Fire is a 1981 British historical drama film. It tells the fact-based story of two...  more

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    #55 of 93 The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies For Best Picture#72 of 301 The Best Movies Based On True Stories

  • 13


    Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren
    Excalibur is a 1981 dramatic fantasy film directed, produced and co-written by John Boorman...  more

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    #167 of 380 The Best Movies Based On Books#238 of 306 The Greatest Movie Themes

  • 14


    Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore
    Arthur is a 1981 comedy film written and directed by Steve Gordon. The film stars Dudley Moore...  more

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    #91 of 126 The Greatest Date Movies Of All Time#55 of 291 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

  • 15

    Body Heat

    Mickey Rourke, Kathleen Turner
    Body Heat is a 1981 American neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan....  more

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  • 16

    Halloween II

    Jamie Lee Curtis, Dana Carvey
    Halloween II is a 1981 slasher horror film directed by Rick Rosenthal, and written and...  more

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    #11 of 86 The Best Teen Slasher Movies#3 of 62 The Best Horror Movies About Hospitals and Mental Asylums

  • 17

    Time Bandits

    Sean Connery, John Cleese
    Time Bandits is a 1981 British fantasy film co-written, produced, and directed by Terry...  more

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    #98 of 112 Movies That Need Sequels#72 of 196 The Best Adventure Movies

  • 18


    Willie Nelson, James Caan
    This film is a 1981 neo-noir film written and directed by Michael Mann and based on the 1975...  more
  • 19

    The Howling

    Dee Wallace, John Sayles
    The Howling is a 1981 werewolf-themed horror film directed by Joe Dante. Based on the novel of...  more

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    #75 of 114 The Best Horror Movie Franchises#320 of 541 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies

  • 20

    The Great Muppet Caper

    John Cleese, Diana Rigg
    The Great Muppet Caper is a 1981 mystery musical comedy film directed by Jim Henson. It is the...  more

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    #173 of 362 The Best Musical Movies Of All Time#30 of 117 The Best Movies Based on TV Shows

  • 21

    Blow Out

    John Travolta, John Lithgow
    Blow Out is a 1981 thriller film, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The film stars John...  more

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    #200 of 231 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time#322 of 512 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

  • 22


    Tom Cruise, Sean Penn
    Taps is a 1981 drama film starring George C. Scott and Timothy Hutton, with Ronny Cox, Tom...  more

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    #90 of 173 The Most Utterly Depressing Movies Ever Made#35 of 42 The All-Time Best Tom Cruise Movies

  • 23

    Friday the 13th Part 2

    Betsy Palmer, Lauren-Marie Taylor
    Friday the 13th Part 2 is a 1981 American horror film directed by Steve Miner. It is a direct...  more

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    #11 of 105 The Best Horror Movie Sequels#2 of 84 The Best Slasher Movies Of The 1980s

  • 24

    History of the World, Part I

    Mel Brooks, Orson Welles
    History of the World, Part I is a 1981 comedy film written, produced, and directed by Mel...  more

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    #234 of 306 The Best Ensemble Movies#45 of 47 The Best Sword and Sandal Films Ever Made

  • 25


    Mel Gibson, Bill Hunter
    Gallipoli is a 1981 Australian film directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark...  more

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    #66 of 376 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked#7 of 75 The Best Movies About Historical Battles