4 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1985

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1985. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

An attempt to articulate just how vast and magnificent the scope of Akira Kurosawa’s 乱 (Ran) is will inevitably fall short. Recognized as a master of epics, including his 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai, 1954), Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear set in medieval Japan. Each shot is labored and precise, as sublime landscapes overwhelm the screen, dwarfing the armies of men fighting below. 

At the center of the ensuing wars is Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging warlord. Ichimonji divides his conquered land between his three sons, Taro, Jiro, Saburo. The Ichimonji clan, however, will not settle for less than everything. Father and sons scheme against one another, leading to violent plots for control over the kingdom. Greed poisons the Ichimonji’s bloodline, pervasive and all-consuming. The tragedy that unfolds is indeed as poignant as any great Shakespeare work. 

The road ahead is lined with bodies, blood, jealousy, paranoia—and it’s a long way to the bottom from the throne. Kurosawa, confronting his own mortality and legacy, achieves a titanic masterpiece with Ran. Few films so deeply grasp the tragedy of war at this visceral level. While Ran is not an easy watch, it’s a must-watch for all.

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Robert lies dying in hospital, an activist still raging against the lack of financial support and mainstream acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis. David volunteers to be his “buddy” while he’s bedbound, keeping him company and conversing. He’s less bothered by how the world treats homosexuality and AIDS, and although he commits to sticking by Robert, he’s doubtful of the need for his protests.

The film is firmly on Robert’s side, giving him space to shout and show frustration. What’s more, Buddies never treats sex as dirty or dangerous, allowing it to be something in which gay people find joy and solace, refusing to cast it as shameful. By the end of the decade, Geoff Edholm, who played Robert, and director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. had both lost their lives to the pandemic. It’s a snapshot of hospital rooms across the world, which were often hidden from sight, as a community was left to fend for itself, unsupported. David comes to understand.

Contemplative English literature professor Vivian leaves New York for Reno, Nevada, to facilitate her divorce from a lifeless marriage. There she meets Cay, a sculptor and free spirit living relatively uncloseted for the time. What starts as an inspiring friendship soon turns to attraction. It is partly the story of Vivian's sexual awakening, partly a transformative love story persuasively depicted through earnest, unadorned dialogue and love scenes, and vulnerable performances. A heartfelt and tender romance, the scenes are delightfully set to a soundtrack of Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash singles and filmed over the expansive horizons of the Nevada desert.