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The Best Movies of 1981  

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Originally by Ranker Community
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List Rules Only films that played 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.
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Jamie Lee Curtis, Dana Carvey, Kyle Richards
Halloween II is a 1981 slasher horror film directed by Rick Rosenthal, and written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. It is the second installment in the Halloween series and is a ...more

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#182 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #215 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #65 of 180 The Best Movie Sequels Ever Made

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Betsy Palmer, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Warrington Gillette
Friday the 13th Part 2 is a 1981 American horror film directed by Steve Miner. It is a direct sequel to Friday the 13th, picking up five years after that film's conclusion. The film marks the ...more

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#217 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #234 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #77 of 771 The Best Horror Movies of All Time

28
Thief is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Willie Nelson, James Caan, Tuesday Weld
This film is a 1981 neo-noir film written and directed by Michael Mann and based on the 1975 novel by "Frank Hohimer". The film stars James Caan as the titular thief and Tuesday Weld ...more
29
Star Wars Episode V: The... is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Michael Morris added Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill
The Empire Strikes Back is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner. Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay, with George Lucas writing the film's story ...more

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#16 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetimefeaturing Here's Why The Last Jedi And Empire Strikes Back Are Pretty Much The Same Movielisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

30
Scanners is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Michael Ironside, Patrick McGoohan, Jennifer O'Neill
Scanners is a 1981 Canadian science-fiction horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jennifer O'Neill, Steven Lack, Michael Ironside, and Patrick McGoohan. In the film, ...more

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#343 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #141 of 771 The Best Horror Movies of All Time #11 of 15 15 Movies With Great Ideas Ruined By Terrible Execution

31
The Gods Must Be Crazy ... is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Marius Weyers, Jamie Uys, Ken Gampu
The Gods Must Be Crazy is a 1980 South African comedy film written and directed by Jamie Uys. Financed only from local sources, it is the most commercially successful release in the history of ...more

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#218 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #151 of 997 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films #319 of 719 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked

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Mel Blanc, Frank Welker, June Foray
The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie is a 1981 Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies film with a compilation of classic Warner Bros. cartoon shorts and animated bridging sequences produced by Friz ...more

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#323 of 599 The Best Animated Films Ever #172 of 439 The Funniest '80s Movies #3 of 17 The Best G-Rated Cartoon Movies

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John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy
Heavy Metal is a 1981 Canadian adult animated anthology science fiction fantasy film directed by Gerald Potterton and produced by Ivan Reitman and Leonard Mogel, who also was the publisher of ...more

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#356 of 599 The Best Animated Films Ever #309 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #322 of 371 The Best Musical Movies of All Time

34
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Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams, Rutger Hauer
Nighthawks is a 1981 American thriller film directed by Bruce Malmuth and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rutger Hauer, Billy Dee Williams, Lindsay Wagner, Persis Khambatta and Nigel Davenport. The ...more
35
The Postman Always Rings... is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, Anjelica Huston
The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1981 film adaptation of the 1934 novel by the same name by James M. Cain. The film was produced by Lorimar in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and ...more

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#22 of 44 The Best Jack Nicholson Movies #48 of 209 The Best R-Rated Crime Thriller Movies #18 of 185 The Very Best Erotic Thriller Movies

36
Fort Apache, The Bronx ... is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Paul Newman, Pam Grier, Ed Asner
Fort Apache, The Bronx is a 1981 crime drama film made by Producers Circle and Time-Life Films, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Filmed on locations in the Bronx, New York City, New York, ...more

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#78 of 101 The Best Docudrama Movies #23 of 65 The Best Paul Newman Movies #29 of 38 The Best Cop Movies of the 1980s

37
Reds is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman
Reds is a 1981 epic film that was co-written, produced, and directed by Warren Beatty. The picture centers on the life and career of John Reed, the journalist and writer who chronicled the ...more

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#314 of 601 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made #150 of 241 Critically Acclaimed Movies That Kinda Sucklisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

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My Dinner with Andre is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory, Jean Lenauer
My Dinner with Andre is a 1981 American comedy-drama film directed by Louis Malle. Two old friends (Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn) meet for dinner; as one tells anecdotes detailing his ...more

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#314 of 439 The Funniest '80s Movies #263 of 710 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars #56 of 102 The 100+ Best Movies Streaming On The Criterion Channel

39
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Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Cathy Moriarty
Neighbors is a 1981 film based on the novel by Thomas Berger. It was released through Columbia Pictures, was directed by John G. Avildsen, and starred John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cathy Moriarty, ...more
40
Absence of Malice is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Paul Newman, Sally Field, Bob Balaban
Absence of Malice is a 1981 American drama film starring Paul Newman, Sally Field, and Bob Balaban, directed by Sydney Pollack. The title refers to the legal definition of libel defamation, and ...more

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#452 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #1,505 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #25 of 46 The Greatest Legal Dramas Ever Made

41
Southern Comfort is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Peter Coyote
Southern Comfort is an American action/thriller film directed by Walter Hill and written by Michael Kane, and Hill and his longtime collaborator David Giler. It stars Keith Carradine, Powers ...more
42
True Confessions is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Burgess Meredith
True Confessions is a 1981 crime film directed by Ulu Grosbard, loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder case of 1947. The film stars Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as the brothers Spellacy, ...more
43
The French Lieutenant's ... is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, David Warner
The French Lieutenant's Woman is a 1981 film directed by Karel Reisz, produced by Leon Clore and adapted by playwright Harold Pinter. It is based on the novel by John Fowles. The music score is ...more
44
My Bloody Valentine is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Don Francks, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy
My Bloody Valentine is a 1981 slasher film directed by George Mihalka and written by John Beaird. The film tells the story of a group of teenagers who decide to throw a Valentine's Day party ...more

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#181 of 771 The Best Horror Movies of All Time #61 of 128 The Best Horror Movie Franchises #7 of 11 This Artist Transforms Your Favorite Horror Movies Into 'Goosebumps' Covers

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Outland is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, John Ratzenberger
Outland is a 1981 British science fiction thriller film written and directed by Peter Hyams. The film stars Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, and Frances Sternhagen. Set on Jupiter's moon Io, it has ...more

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#121 of 155 The Best Science Fiction Action Movies #36 of 40 The Best '80s Western Movies #25 of 26 TV Shows and Movies with the Best Use of Airlocks

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Ghost Story is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Ghost Story is a 1981 American horror film directed by John Irvin and based on the 1979 book of the same name by Peter Straub. It stars Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., John ...more

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#461 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #363 of 771 The Best Horror Movies of All Time #86 of 161 The Best '80s Horror Movies

47
Ragtime is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Jack Nicholson, Samuel L. Jackson, Fran Drescher
Ragtime is a 1981 American drama film, directed by Miloš Forman, based on 1975 historical novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow. The action takes place in and around New York City, New Rochelle, and ...more

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#356 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #508 of 719 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #17 of 23 Movies You Never Expected To Show Skin

48
Mommie Dearest is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest
Mommie Dearest is a 1981 American biographical drama film about Joan Crawford, starring Faye Dunaway. The film was directed by Frank Perry. The story was adapted for the screen by Robert ...more

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#380 of 575 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #331 of 460 The Most Quotable Movies of All Time #1,306 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies

49
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Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Michael Caine
Escape to Victory, known simply as Victory in North America, is a 1981 film about Allied POW who are interned in a German prison camp during WW II who play an exhibition match of Association ...more

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#159 of 177 The Best Sports Movies Ever Made #110 of 158 The Most Inspirational Sports Movies #35 of 135 The Best Prison Movies

50
Eye of the Needle is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dimos Dicoudis added Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Kate Nelligan
Eye of the Needle is a 1981 American spy film directed by Richard Marquand and starring Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan. Based on the novel of the same title by Ken Follett, the film is ...more