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The Best Movies of 1981

Updated September 4, 2020 11.5k votes 719 voters 16.0k 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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  • 1
    Indiana Jones and the Raiders  is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    363
    50

    Released1981

    Directed bySteven Spielberg

    Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The... more on Wikipedia
  • 2
    The Evil Dead is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    152
    59

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #15 of 721 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time#9 of 88 The Goriest Movies Ever Made

  • 3
    The Fox and the Hound is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    129
    38

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #41 of 572 The Best Animated Films Ever#26 of 295 The Best Duos of All Time

  • 4
    On Golden Pond is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    139
    57

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #143 of 1,189 Every Oscar Winning Film Ever#426 of 836 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Made

  • 5
    Escape from New York is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    193
    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 on Wikipedia

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    #57 of 164 The Best Science Fiction Action Movies#14 of 94 The 35+ Greatest Dystopian Action Movies

  • 6
    Stripes is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    189
    86

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 7
    An American Werewolf in London is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    175
    76

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 8
    The Cannonball Run is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    165
    60

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #48 of 314 The Funniest '80s Movies#183 of 554 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies

  • 9
    Das Boot is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    136
    65

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 10
    Chariots of Fire is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    143
    69

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #134 of 149 Movies That Should Never Be Remade#63 of 172 The Best Sports Movies Ever Made

  • 11
    Arthur is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    128
    64

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 12
    Mad Max 2 is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    190
    94

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 13
    Excalibur is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    126
    62

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #714 of 1,647 The Most Rewatchable Movies#173 of 364 The Best Movies Based On Books

  • 14
    For Your Eyes Only is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    123
    46

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 15
    Porky's is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    114
    53

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 16
    The Howling is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    88
    30

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 17
    Body Heat is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    105
    53

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #415 of 457 The Most Quotable Movies of All Time#75 of 121 The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time

  • 18
    The Great Muppet Caper is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    104
    47

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 19
    Time Bandits is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    121
    68

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 20
    Halloween II is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    137
    67

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 21
    History of the World, Part I is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    117
    64

    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 on Wikipedia
  • 22
    Taps is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    105
    51

    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 on Wikipedia

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    #35 of 42 The All-Time Best Tom Cruise Movies#90 of 157 The Most Utterly Depressing Movies Ever Made

  • 23
    Gallipoli is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    75
    39

    Gallipoli

    Mel Gibson, Bill Hunter

    Released1981

    Directed byPeter Weir

    Gallipoli is a 1981 Australian film directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson and Mark... more on Wikipedia

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    #65 of 374 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked#437 of 522 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

  • 24
    Clash of the Titans is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    116
    68

    Clash of the Titans

    Ursula Andress, Maggie Smith

    Released1981

    Directed byDesmond Davis

    Clash of the Titans is an 1981 British-American fantasy adventure film involving the Greek... more on Wikipedia
  • 25
    Friday the 13th Part 2 is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Movies of 1981
    121
    73

    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 on Wikipedia
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