4 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1984

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1984. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Martin Bell documents the lives of youth living in the streets of Seattle in the early eighties with profound empathy. It's a type of filmmaking that doesn’t judge or condescend, but seeks to capture the humanity of its subjects. The result is a film bursting with life and laughter, and although tragedy lurks around every corner it isn’t over-sentimentalized or exploited, taking a backseat to the compassionate depiction of everyday moments. 

The audience is left to its own devices to pull together the extent to which these youth have been failed by a broken safety-net and the expired promise of an American dream. These ideas rise to the surface naturally and serve as a testament to the power of the documentary form when it’s loosened from the grip of mawkish narrators and sugary moralizing.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dewayne Pomeroy, Lulu Couch, Roberta Joseph Hayes

Director: Martin Bell

Named for all the connections that form a functioning society, Threads is a harrowing look at what might happen when those ties are rent apart by nuclear war. This British TV movie — released during the Cold War — so violently seized on the nuclear anxieties of the time that its premiere was dubbed “the night the country didn’t sleep.” Depressingly, it hasn’t lost that initial resonance, and so it remains a panic attack-inducing watch.

Threads begins in the kitchen-sink vein of a Ken Loach movie. In the northern industrial town of Sheffield, a young couple from different social classes (Reece Dinsdale and Karen Meagher) discover they’re about to be parents — but looming above their small-scale drama are the clouds of war, as televisions and radios blare out the details of escalating tensions between the US and the USSR. And then, it happens: the town is strategically bombed, and Threads unfurls into an unrelenting nightmare. In the documentary-like approach that follows, it spares no graphic or emotional detail, charting both the personal devastation caused by the bomb and the annihilating impact of the nuclear holocaust on all the vital infrastructure we take for granted. In short, one of the bleakest, most terrifying movies ever made.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, War

Actor: Ashley Barker, Brian Grellis, David Brierly, Dean Williamson, Ed Bishop, Harry Beety, Henry Moxon, Jane Hazlegrove, Joe Belcher, Karen Meagher, Lesley Judd, Maggie Ford, Michael O'Hagan, Nat Jackley, Patrick Allen, Peter Faulkner, Reece Dinsdale, Richard Albrecht, Rita May, Ruth Holden, Steve Halliwell, Ted Beyer

Director: Mick Jackson

Widely regarded as one of the finest concert movies of all time, Stop Making Sense depicts musical innovators The Talking Heads at the height of their game. Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), and starring the eccentric and energetic David Byrne, the show is a marvel of perfectly executed choreography and mid-eighties musicality. Halfway through the set, one might think they've heard all of the hits, but they keep coming and coming. Before Beyonce was Queen, before Bieber was conceived, this film shows what is capable with a camera, a guitar, and some genius.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alex Weir, Bernie Worrell, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Lynn Mabry, Tina Weymouth

Director: Jonathan Demme

Rating: PG

Before he was Jim Morrison, Iceman, or Batman, Val Kilmer made his big screen debut as Nick Rivers, the doltish American rock 'n' roll idol who is unwittingly embroiled in an East German underground resistance plot in Top Secret!. Skewering everything from WWII romances and Cold War spy thrillers to ‘60s popstar musicals, this delightfully silly spoof from the team behind Airplane! is jampacked with sight gags, double entendres, and multi-layered setpieces delivered at such a manic pace that you’ll need several rewatches to exhaust all of its comedy. Its lowbrow style means that some jokes are undoubtedly dated, but there’s a lot of timeless wit on display here, including zinging one-liners, tongue-in-cheek lampooning of cinematic clichés, and slapstick gags in the vein of masters of the form like Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. Top Secret! is blessedly under no illusions as to what we want from a movie like this, so the fact that there’s no comprehensible plot in sight only adds to the enjoyment here.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Andrew Hawkins, Billy J. Mitchell, Charlotte Zucker, Christopher Villiers, Dimitri Andreas, Eddie Powell, Harry Ditson, Ian McNeice, Jeremy Kemp, Jim Carter, John Sharp, Lucy Gutteridge, Mac McDonald, Michael Gough, Nicola Wright, Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, Val Kilmer, Warren Clarke

Director: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams