watchworthy presents

The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s 

Ranker Film
Updated November 15, 2019 4.1k votes 593 voters 39.5k views 48 items

List Rules Vote up your favorite suspense films that were released in the 1980s

The 1980s gave us some of the greatest suspense films of all time. Packed with nonstop action, deception, and intrigue, the best ‘80s thriller movies will have you on the edge of your seat, gripping your bag of popcorn, and waiting to see what’s going to explode next.


This list of the top ‘80s thriller movies features many classic pictures. The mobster movie classic
Scarface, for example, makes the list due to its tightly coiled plot and suspenseful mood. Written by Oliver Stone, directed by Brian de Palma, and starring Al Pacino, Scarface initially received mixed reviews, but has since gone on to achieve a high level of prestige. We can’t talk about ‘80s thrillers without mentioning Die Hard. With Bruce Willis facing off against a megalomaniacal terrorist played by Severus Snape himself, Alan Rickman, the first film in the Die Hard franchise does not disappoint. Packed with quotable lines, an intense stand-off, and plenty of fireworks, this film is the quintessential ‘80s action thriller.


Here, you’ll also find everyone’s favorite Caped Crusader.
Batman, starring Michael Keaton in the titular role, pits the Dark Knight against Jack Nicholson’s The Joker. The film went on to influence the superhero genre immensely, setting the stage for numerous sequels, spinoffs, and an animated series. What do you think are the greatest ‘80s thriller movies? Vote up your favorites, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section. 
Data-driven recommendations based on voting from over 40 million monthly visits to Ranker. Try the free app
list ordered by
1
Die Hard is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

Released: 1988

Directed by: John McTiernan

Die Hard is a 1988 American action film directed by John McTiernan and written by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart. It is based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorp. Die ...more

More Die Hard 

#19 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #42 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made Behind The Scenes Of Alan Rickman's Defining Role: Hans Gruber

2
Scarface is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Michelle Pfeiffer, Al Pacino, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Released: 1983

Directed by: Brian De Palma

Scarface is a 1983 American crime drama film directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone. A remake of the 1932 film of the same name, Scarface tells the story of Cuban refugee Tony ...more

More Scarface 

#719 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #21 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys

3
First Blood is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, David Caruso

Released: 1982

Directed by: Ted Kotcheff

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial First Blood is a 1982 American psychological thriller and action film directed by Ted Kotcheff, co-written by and starring Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo, a troubled and misunderstood veteran. ...more

More First Blood 

#41 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #235 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #168 of 363 The Best Movies Based On Books

4
Batman is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michael Keaton

Released: 1989

Directed by: Tim Burton

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial Batman is a 1989 American superhero film directed by Tim Burton, based on the DC Comics character. The Dark Knight of Gotham City (Michael Keaton) begins his war on crime with his first major ...more

More Batman 

#23 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #19 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Rankedlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

5
Escape from New York is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Jamie Lee Curtis, Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine

Released: 1981

Directed by: John Carpenter

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

More Escape from New York 

#86 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #84 of 100 The Best Movies On Shudder #20 of 161 The Best Dystopian And Near Future Movies

6
Blade Runner is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
stubb added Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah, Sean Young

Released: 1982

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Blade Runner is a 1982 American neo-noir dystopian science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos. The screenplay, ...more

More Blade Runner 

#37 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #192 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies Blade Runner Already Had A Sequel, And It Was The Trashiest Movie Of 1998

7
Witness is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Harrison Ford, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover

Released: 1985

Directed by: Peter Weir

Witness is a 1985 American thriller film directed by Peter Weir and starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. The screenplay by William Kelley, Pamela Wallace, and Earl W. Wallace focuses on a ...more

More Witness 

#402 of 804 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Made #93 of 710 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Starslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

8
The Untouchables is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner

Released: 1987

Directed by: Brian De Palma

The Untouchables is a 1987 American drama film directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet. Based on the book The Untouchables, the film stars Kevin Costner as government agent Eliot ...more

More The Untouchables 

#105 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #43 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Rankedlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

9
RoboCop is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Alex Van Halen, Peter Weller, Leeza Gibbons

Released: 1987

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial RoboCop is a 1987 American cyberpunk action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan, in the near future, RoboCop ...more

More RoboCop 

#62 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #335 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #78 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys

10
The Running Man is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura

Released: 1987

Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser

The Running Man is a 1987 American science fiction action film loosely based on the 1982 novel The Running Man, written by Stephen King and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. ...more

More The Running Man 

#44 of 159 The Best Science Fiction Action Movies #32 of 161 The Best Dystopian And Near Future Movies

11
Mad Max 2 is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells

Released: 1981

Directed by: George Miller

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

More Mad Max 2 

#69 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #379 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #300 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

12
48 Hrs. is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte, Annette O'Toole

Released: 1982

Directed by: Walter Hill

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial 48 Hrs. is a 1982 American action comedy film directed by Walter Hill, starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as a cop and convict, respectively, who team up to catch a cop-killer. The title ...more

More 48 Hrs. 

#73 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #134 of 1,199 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time

13
The Abyss is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Chris Elliott

Released: 1989

Directed by: James Cameron

The Abyss is a 1989 American science fiction-adventure film written and directed by James Cameron, starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Michael Biehn. When an American submarine ...more

More The Abyss 

#196 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #136 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Rankedlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

14
Mississippi Burning is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Willem Dafoe, Gene Hackman, Frances McDormand

Released: 1988

Directed by: Alan Parker

Mississippi Burning is a 1988 American thriller film directed by Alan Parker and written by Chris Gerolmo. It was loosely based on the FBI investigation into the incidents involving of three ...more

More Mississippi Burning 

#262 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #16 of 321 The Best Political Films Ever Madelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

15
Friday the 13th is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Kevin Bacon, Tom Savini, Betsy Palmer

Released: 1980

Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial Friday the 13th is a 1980 American slasher film directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller. The film concerns a group of teenagers who are taken out one by one while attempting ...more

More Friday the 13th 

#77 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #95 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked The Most Chilling Quotes From 'Friday the 13th'

16
Fright Night is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon

Released: 1985

Directed by: Tom Holland

Fright Night is a 1985 American horror comedy film written and directed by Tom Holland and produced by Herb Jaffe. It stars William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall and Amanda Bearse. ...more

More Fright Night 

#216 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #329 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

17
The Dead Zone is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Tom Skerritt

Released: 1983

Directed by: David Cronenberg

This film is a 1983 American horror thriller film directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay by Jeffrey Boam was based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The film stars ...more

More The Dead Zone 

#327 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #1,251 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #173 of 812 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time

18
Christine is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Kelly Preston, Alexandra Paul, John Madden

Released: 1983

Directed by: John Carpenter

Christine is a 1983 American horror thriller film directed by John Carpenter and starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul and Harry Dean Stanton. It was written by Bill Phillips and ...more

More Christine 

#616 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #74 of 812 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time 'Christine’ Is One Of The Most Underrated Adaptations To Come Off Stephen King’s Assembly Line

19
The Hitcher is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell

Released: 1986

Directed by: Robert Harmon

The Hitcher is a 1986 action horror film directed by Robert Harmon and written by Eric Red. The film stars Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jeffrey DeMunn.

More The Hitcher 

#147 of 812 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #74 of 128 The Best Horror Movie Franchises

20
WarGames is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Matthew Broderick, William H. Macy, Ally Sheedy

Released: 1983

Directed by: John Badham

WarGames is a 1983 American science-fiction film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film stars Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and ...more

More WarGames 

#254 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #85 of 159 The Best Science Fiction Action Movieslisted on The Very Best Movies About Hackers

21
No Way Out is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
stubb added Brad Pitt, Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman

Released: 1987

Directed by: Roger Donaldson

No Way Out is a 1987 thriller film. It stars Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, and Sean Young. Will Patton, Howard Duff, George Dzundza, Jason Bernard, Fred Thompson, and Iman appear in supporting ...more

More No Way Out 

#145 of 524 The Greatest Crime Movies Ever Made #42 of 212 The Best R-Rated Crime Thriller Movies

22
Body Heat is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Mickey Rourke, Kathleen Turner, William Hurt

Released: 1981

Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan

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

More Body Heat 

#294 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #207 of 710 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars

23
The Accused is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Andrea Louise added Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis, Garry Chalk

Released: 1988

Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan

The Accused is a 1988 American drama film directed by Jonathan Kaplan, loosely based on the the real-life event involving Cheryl Araujo in New Bedford, Massachusetts and the resulting trial ...more

More The Accused 

#24 of 46 The Greatest Legal Dramas Ever Made #15 of 23 The Very Best Courtroom Thriller Movieslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

24
Red Dawn is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson

Released: 1984

Directed by: John Milius

Red Dawn is a 1984 American film directed by John Milius and co-written by Milius and Kevin Reynolds. It stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, and Jennifer Grey. ...more

More Red Dawn 

#81 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #320 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #91 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys

25
Manhunter is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Thriller Movies of the 1980s
Brian Cox, Garcelle Beauvais, Joan Allen

Released: 1986

Directed by: Michael Mann

Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial Manhunter is a 1986 American thriller film based on Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. Written and directed by Michael Mann, it stars William Petersen as Will Graham and features Brian Cox as ...more

More Manhunter 

#113 of 250 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time #74 of 147 The Best and Scariest Psychological Thrillers of All Time