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The Best Movies of 1981

Updated September 4, 2020 10.9k votes 769 voters 17.5k views

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.
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  • Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark1
    374
    52

    Released1981

    Directed bySteven Spielberg

    Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The...  more

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  • Escape from New York2
    203
    79

    Escape from New York

    Jamie Lee Curtis, Kurt Russell

    Released1981

    Directed byJohn Carpenter

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

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    #21 of 178 The Best Dystopian And Near Future Movies#14 of 93 The 35+ Greatest Dystopian Action Movies

  • An American Werewolf in London3
    181
    85

    An American Werewolf in London

    Jenny Agutter, Frank Oz

    Released1981

    Directed byJohn Landis

    An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 horror comedy film written and directed by John...  more

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    #45 of 114 The Best Intelligent Horror Movies#619 of 1,137 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time

  • Stripes4
    196
    96

    Stripes

    Bill Murray, John Candy

    Released1981

    Directed byIvan Reitman

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

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    #53 of 81 The Most Patriotic Movies of All Time#82 of 450 The Best Movies For Guys

  • Mad Max 25
    204
    92

    Mad Max 2

    Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence

    Released1981

    Directed byGeorge Miller

    Mad Max 2 is a 1981 Australian post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller. The...  more

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    #275 of 549 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made#37 of 167 The Best Science Fiction Action Movies

  • The Evil Dead6
    153
    70

    The Evil Dead

    Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi

    Released1981

    Directed bySam Raimi

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

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    #24 of 126 The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time#158 of 372 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime

  • The Fox and the Hound7
    127
    55

    The Fox and the Hound

    Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney

    Released1981

    Directed byRichard Rich, Art Stevens, Ted Berman

    he Fox and the Hound is a 1981 American animated drama film based on the Daniel P. Mannix...  more

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    #41 of 542 The Best Animated Films Ever#26 of 297 The Best Duos of All Time

  • The Cannonball Run8
    174
    67

    The Cannonball Run

    Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw

    Released1981

    Directed byHal Needham

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

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    #116 of 512 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked#47 of 305 The Funniest '80s Movies

  • On Golden Pond9
    140
    71

    On Golden Pond

    Jane Fonda, Katharine Hepburn

    Released1981

    Directed byMark Rydell

    On Golden Pond is a 1981 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell. The screenplay by Ernest...  more

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  • Das Boot10
    144
    78

    Das Boot

    Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer

    Released1981

    Directed byWolfgang Petersen

    Das Boot is a 1981 German epic film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by...  more

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    #8 of 221 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time#1 of 51 The Best Submarine Movies Of All Time

  • For Your Eyes Only11
    136
    49

    For Your Eyes Only

    Roger Moore, Sheena Easton

    Released1981

    Directed byJohn Glen

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

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  • Excalibur12
    139
    69

    Excalibur

    Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren

    Released1981

    Directed byJohn Boorman

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

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  • Chariots of Fire13
    145
    77

    Chariots of Fire

    Stephen Fry, Kenneth Branagh

    Released1981

    Directed byHugh Hudson

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

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  • Arthur14
    130
    73

    Arthur

    Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore

    Released1981

    Directed bySteve Gordon

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

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    #92 of 126 The Greatest Date Movies Of All Time#147 of 291 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

  • Porky's15
    125
    60

    Porky's

    Kim Cattrall, Alex Karras

    Released1982

    Directed byBob Clark

    Porky's is a 1981 Canadian-American comedy film about the escapades of teenagers at the...  more

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    #216 of 922 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films#50 of 90 The Funniest Movies About Family

  • Body Heat16
    107
    61

    Body Heat

    Mickey Rourke, Kathleen Turner

    Released1981

    Directed byLawrence Kasdan

    Body Heat is a 1981 American neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan....  more

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    #50 of 54 The Best Movies Where the Bad Guy Wins#297 of 675 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars

  • Time Bandits17
    123
    76

    Time Bandits

    Sean Connery, John Cleese

    Released1981

    Directed byTerry Gilliam

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

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    #86 of 112 Movies That Need Sequels#126 of 206 The Best Adventure Movies

  • Halloween II18
    137
    71

    Halloween II

    Jamie Lee Curtis, Dana Carvey

    Released1981

    Directed byRick Rosenthal

    Halloween II is a 1981 slasher horror film directed by Rick Rosenthal, and written and...  more

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    #11 of 70 The Best Teen Slasher Movies#3 of 61 The Best Horror Movies About Hospitals and Mental Asylums

  • The Great Muppet Caper19
    104
    58

    The Great Muppet Caper

    John Cleese, Diana Rigg

    Released1981

    Directed byJim Henson

    The Great Muppet Caper is a 1981 mystery musical comedy film directed by Jim Henson. It is the...  more

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    #172 of 356 The Best Musical Movies Of All Time#53 of 117 The Best Movies Based on TV Shows

  • The Howling20
    87
    37

    The Howling

    Dee Wallace, John Sayles

    Released1981

    Directed byJoe Dante

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

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    #101 of 722 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time#310 of 541 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies

  • Blow Out21
    90
    50

    Blow Out

    John Travolta, John Lithgow

    Released1981

    Directed byBrian De Palma

    Blow Out is a 1981 thriller film, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The film stars John...  more
  • Thief22
    85
    42

    Thief

    Willie Nelson, James Caan

    Released1981

    Directed byMichael Mann

    This film is a 1981 neo-noir film written and directed by Michael Mann and based on the 1975...  more
  • History of the World, Part I23
    117
    71

    History of the World, Part I

    Mel Brooks, Orson Welles

    Released1981

    Directed byMel Brooks

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

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    #112 of 261 The Best Ensemble Movies#17 of 57 The Best Roman Movies

  • Taps24
    101
    59

    Taps

    Tom Cruise, Sean Penn

    Released1981

    Directed byHarold Becker

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

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  • Friday the 13th Part 225
    119
    78

    Friday the 13th Part 2

    Betsy Palmer, Lauren-Marie Taylor

    Released1981

    Directed bySteve Miner

    Friday the 13th Part 2 is a 1981 American horror film directed by Steve Miner. It is a direct...  more

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