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The Best Movies of 1981 

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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.
list ordered by
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Harrison Ford, Alfred Molina, Karen Allen
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan was from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. It was produced by ...more

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#7 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Moviesfeaturing 12 Stories That Prove The Making Of 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' Was An Adventure Behind The Scenes Toolisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

2
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Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells
Mad Max 2 is a 1981 Australian post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller. The film is the second installment in the Mad Max film series, with Mel Gibson starring as Max Rockatansky. ...more

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#356 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #332 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

3
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Bill Murray, John Candy, Dennis Quaid
Stripes is a 1981 American comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, and John Candy. It also featured several actors in their first ...more

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#388 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #32 of 1,007 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films #26 of 1,198 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time

4
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Jamie Lee Curtis, Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine
Escape from New York is a 1981 American science fiction action film co-written, co-scored, and directed by John Carpenter. The film is set in a then near-future 1997 in a distopian United States ...more

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#86 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #40 of 153 The Best Science Fiction Action Movies #358 of 582 The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

5
Das Boot is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Uwe Ochsenknecht
Das Boot is a 1981 German epic film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann. ...more

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#376 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #13 of 382 The Best War Movies Ever

6
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Jenny Agutter, Frank Oz, Rik Mayall
An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 horror comedy film written and directed by John Landis, and starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne. The film starts with two young ...more

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#28 of 796 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #448 of 1,198 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Timelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

7
Excalibur is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart
Excalibur is a 1981 dramatic fantasy film directed, produced and co-written by John Boorman that retells the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Based solely on the 15th ...more

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#174 of 348 The Best Movies Based On Books #148 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

8
On Golden Pond is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Jane Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda
On Golden Pond is a 1981 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell. The screenplay by Ernest Thompson was adapted from his 1979 play of the same title. Henry Fonda won the Academy Award for ...more

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#355 of 582 The Greatest Film Scores of All Time #209 of 710 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Starslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

9
The Fox and the Hound is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney, Corey Feldman
he Fox and the Hound is a 1981 American animated drama film based on the Daniel P. Mannix novel of the same name, produced by Walt Disney Productions and released in the United States on July ...more

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#93 of 217 Musical Movies With the Best Songs #104 of 371 The Best Musical Movies of All Time #47 of 589 The Best Animated Films Ever

10
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Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, Hugh Hefner
History of the World, Part I is a 1981 comedy film written, produced, and directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks also stars in the film, playing five roles: Moses, Comicus the stand-up philosopher, ...more

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#76 of 1,007 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films #139 of 460 The Most Quotable Movies of All Time

11
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Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi
This film is a 1981 American horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive produced by Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who also stars alongside Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker. This film ...more

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#1,172 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #15 of 796 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #759 of 1,007 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films

12
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Ursula Andress, Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier
Clash of the Titans is an 1981 British-American fantasy adventure film involving the Greek hero Perseus, and features the final work of stop motion visual effects artist, Ray Harryhausen. It was ...more

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#775 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #22 of 116 The Scariest Giant Monster Movies

13
Chariots of Fire is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Stephen Fry, Kenneth Branagh, Ian Holm
Chariots of Fire is a 1981 British historical drama film. It tells the fact-based story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of ...more

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#17 of 127 The Best Oscar-Winning Scores #253 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guyslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

14
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Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, Burt Reynolds
The Cannonball Run is a 1981 comedy film starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, and an all-star supporting cast. It was directed by Hal Needham, produced by Hong ...more

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#226 of 1,198 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time #181 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

15
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Mickey Rourke, Kathleen Turner, William Hurt
Body Heat is a 1981 American neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It stars William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Richard Crenna, and features Ted Danson, J.A. Preston, and ...more

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#295 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #492 of 582 The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

16
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Sean Connery, John Cleese, Ian Holm
Time Bandits is a 1981 British fantasy film co-written, produced, and directed by Terry Gilliam, and starring Sean Connery, John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Ralph Richardson, Katherine Helmond, Ian ...more

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#444 of 1,007 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films #366 of 1,198 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time #191 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

17
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Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, John Gielgud
Arthur is a 1981 comedy film written and directed by Steve Gordon. The film stars Dudley Moore as the eponymous Arthur Bach, a drunken New York City millionaire who is on the brink of an ...more

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#129 of 302 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time #226 of 1,007 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Filmslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

18
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Roger Moore, Sheena Easton, Charles Dance
For Your Eyes Only is the twelfth spy film in the James Bond series, and the fifth to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. It marked the directorial debut of John Glen, who ...more

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#275 of 348 The Best Movies Based On Books #383 of 625 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies

19
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John Travolta, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz
Blow Out is a 1981 thriller film, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The film stars John Travolta as Jack Terry, a movie sound effects technician from Philadelphia who, while recording ...more

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#203 of 254 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time #37 of 135 The Best Movies About Movies

20
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John Cleese, Diana Rigg, Jim Henson
The Great Muppet Caper is a 1981 mystery musical comedy film directed by Jim Henson. It is the second of a series of live-action musical feature films, starring Jim Henson's Muppets. This film ...more

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#123 of 371 The Best Musical Movies of All Time #407 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

21
The Howling is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Dee Wallace, John Sayles, Slim Pickens
The Howling is a 1981 werewolf-themed horror film directed by Joe Dante. Based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, the screenplay is written by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. ...more

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#68 of 796 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #361 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

22
Gallipoli is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Mel Gibson, Bill Hunter, Robert Grubb
Gallipoli is a 1981 Australian film directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, about several young men from rural Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the ...more

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#91 of 382 The Best War Movies Ever #390 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #1 of 38 The Best Movies Set in Australia

23
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Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, George C. Scott
Taps is a 1981 drama film starring George C. Scott and Timothy Hutton, with Ronny Cox, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, and Evan Handler in supporting roles. Hutton was nominated for a Golden Globe award ...more

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#386 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #33 of 42 The All-Time Best Tom Cruise Movies

24
Porky's is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
Kim Cattrall, Alex Karras, Art Hindle
Porky's is a 1981 Canadian-American comedy film about the escapades of teenagers at the fictional Angel Beach High School in Florida in 1954. Released in the United States in 1982 with an R ...more

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#147 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys #103 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

25
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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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#1,145 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #65 of 179 The Best Movie Sequels Ever Made