19 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1985

Staff & contributors

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

While billed as a “ramen western”, Tampopo satirizes plenty of other American genres, including, but not limited to: 1) the inspirational sports film, with Tampopo’s diligent training, 2) the erotic, arthouse drama through its egg yolk kiss, 3) the witty, social comedy pointing out the absurd in dinnertime tables, and 4) the melodramatic mafia romance with its room-serviced hotel getaway. But the film doesn’t buckle under the weight of carrying all these genres– instead, the customer vignettes are all delicately plated to balance out the hearty journey of a store owner learning about ramen and the bemused, yet cohesive contemplation about food. Tampopo is one of a kind.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Akio Tanaka, Chōei Takahashi, Fukumi Kuroda, Gō Awazu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Takagi, Hyōe Enoki, Isao Hashizume, Izumi Hara, Ken Watanabe, Kenso Kato, Kinzō Sakura, Kōji Yakusho, Mariko Okada, Masahiko Tsugawa, Naritoshi Hayashi, Nobuko Miyamoto, Nobuo Nakamura, Rikiya Yasuoka, Ryutaro Otomo, Toshimune Kato, Toshiya Fujita, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yoshi Katō, Zenpaku Kato

Director: Jūzō Itami

Rating: NR

Martin Scorsese had just spent a year prepping for The Last Temptation of Christ when Paramount Pictures unceremoniously pulled the plug on the movie just one month before production was due to start. After Hours was Scorsese’s way of exorcising all that disappointment and frustration, and you can feel it: this black comedy vibrates with manic intensity as it charts a night from hell in the life of Paul (Griffin Dunne), a somewhat scuzzy yuppie living in ‘80s New York City.

In keeping with its title — which suggests the movie is suspended in temporal limbo — After Hours feels like it takes place in some mythological hellscape, a demonic underworld in which everyone Paul meets has been sent forth with the express mission to make his life more miserable. Surreal coincidences pile up, deepening his paranoia and turning his simple goal of returning home into a labyrinthine quest for survival on the deserted, rain-soaked streets of SoHo. It’s the kind of celluloid nightmare that terrorizes and thrills you at the same time (a la the Safdie brothers’ best works, which draw inspiration from After Hours). Only a director of Scorsese’s caliber could turn profound professional disappointment into such a win as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bronson Pinchot, Catherine O'Hara, Charles Scorsese, Cheech Marin, Clarence Felder, Dick Miller, Frank Aquilino, Griffin Dunne, Henry Judd Baker, John Heard, Larry Block, Linda Fiorentino, Margo Winkler, Martin Scorsese, Murray Moston, Paula Raflo, Robin Johnson, Rocco Sisto, Rockets Redglare, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Tommy Chong, Verna Bloom, Victor Argo, Victor Bumbalo, Victor Magnotta, Will Patton

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

, 1985

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.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Akira Terao, Daisuke Ryû, Haruko Tôgô, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Ueki, Jinpachi Nezu, Jun Tazaki, Kazuo Katô, Kenji Kodama, Kumeko Otowa, Mansai Nomura, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Norio Matsui, Pîtâ, Reiko Nanjo, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Susumu Terajima, Takeshi Katō, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuo Yamashita, Tokie Kanda, Toshiya Ito, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Zushi, 井川比佐志

Director: Akira Kurosawa

, 1985

In the movie Brazil, our hero Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce) lives in a dystopian world that relies on the cold productivity grind of machines. He’s in a constant battle between the high-level dominating powers that be and the low-level beatdown scums of society. Saving him from complete misery is a recurring dream he has of a beautiful woman. There, nothing else matters but love, which fills his draining soul and makes his life seem worthwhile. 

The way director Terry Gilliam handles a serious matter in such a comedic way is fantastic, and the amount of thought and effort he puts into creating every single bit of existence in this film is mind-boggling. With Brazil, he succeeds in establishing his own style, making a mark for himself in an age when plenty of auteurs compete for mere recognition.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Ann Way, Barbara Hicks, Bill Wallis, Bob Hoskins, Brian Miller, Bryan Pringle, Charles McKeown, David Gant, Derek Deadman, Derrick O'Connor, Don Henderson, Gorden Kaye, Harold Innocent, Howard Lew Lewis, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Jack Purvis, James Coyle, Jim Broadbent, John Flanagan, John Grillo, John Pierce Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Katherine Helmond, Kathryn Pogson, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Myrtle Devenish, Nigel Planer, Oscar Quitak, Patrick Connor, Peter Vaughan, Ralph Nossek, Ray Cooper, Robert De Niro, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Sheila Reid, Simon Jones, Terence Bayler, Terry Gilliam

Director: Terry Gilliam

Rating: R

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. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Perfect for Halloween marathons with friends, The Return of the Living Dead treads the now well-worn template of zombie apocalypse movies with outstanding practical effects and a refreshingly unserious attitude. What the film might lack in terms of character writing or deeper themes, it more than makes up for with a relentless forward momentum. There isn't any grand mission to be accomplished when these morticians collide with a group of young punks, other than understanding what drives the undead creatures outside in order to survive the night. As a result, this is a movie that lives firmly in the moment, with thrills aplenty and its greatest moments found in the freaked-out reactions of its ensemble cast. The late James Karen, with his hilariously exaggerated hollering and whimpering, only nearly steals the show from the film's wonderful animatronics and disgusting prosthetic makeup. It's a great zombie movie for the reluctant horror newbie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror

Actor: Allan Trautman, Beverly Randolph, Brian Peck, Cathleen Cordell, Cherry Davis, Clu Gulager, David Bond, Don Calfa, Drew Deighan, James Dalesandro, James Karen, Jewel Shepard, John Durbin, John Philbin, Jonathan Terry, JR, Linnea Quigley, Mark Venturini, Michael Crabtree, Miguel A. Núñez, Miguel A. Núñez, Jr., Robert Craighead, Thom Mathews

Director: Dan O'Bannon

Shattering the rules for how a biographical drama can look and be told, Paul Schrader's Mishima rejects the usual character study template in favor of a much more abstract attempt to understand a person through their art. Told in fragments that flit between Mishima's early life, dramatizations of his fiction novels, and the final day of his life, the film pieces together what it believes was the core of this person's life. Schrader's script (co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader) traces within Mishima's history a lifelong struggle with perceptions of his own masculinity and authority—as if he spent his every waking moment trying to compensate for a lack that he could hardly articulate. The character's eventual turn towards reactionary beliefs makes logical sense in the film, but remains baffling all the same.

With all of its talk about beauty—enhanced by Philip Glass' opulent musical score, and Eiko Ishioka's breathtaking production design that transforms Mishima's novels into tactile stage productions—the film conceals an incredibly dark heart. Mishima doesn't inspire sympathy so much as he inspires morbid fascination, and it's both a daring and frustrating choice to focus entirely on the character's harmful delusions without room for much else. Still, Schrader has constructed an unforgettable audiovisual experience that lingers long after it's over.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alan Poul, Bandō Mitsugorō X, Chishū Ryū, Eimei Esumi, Go Riju, Haruko Kato, Hideo Fukuhara, Hiroshi Katsuno, Hiroshi Mikami, Hisako Manda, Jun Negami, Junkichi Orimoto, Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Koichi Sato, Kunihiko Ida, Masahiko Sakata, Masato Aizawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Miki Takakura, Minoru Hodaka, Mitsuru Hirata, Naoko Ohtani, Naomi Oki, Naoya Makoto, Reisen Ri, Roy Scheider, Ryō Ikebe, Sachiko Hidari, Setsuko Karasuma, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yasuaki Kurata, Yasuhiro Arai, Yuki Kitazume

Director: Paul Schrader

Rating: R

Slow and almost silent, Edward Yang’s second feature film pins us down in a fast-moving city. In 1980s Taipei, Chin and Lung are childhood sweethearts who try to build a life together, but differences between their wants threaten to pull them apart. Chin bravely adapts to the changes she faces—moving house, shifting jobs, etc.—while Lung misses his promising baseball career and prioritizes familial debt. Through their relationship, the film captures the anxieties of a generation pulled between new Western consumerism and old Asian familial obligations. Watching the two lovers feels like being lost in a cold urban city, unable to move and not knowing where to go.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Chen Shu-fang, Chin Tsai, Cynthia Khan, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ko I-chen, Ko Su-yun, Lin Hsiu-ling, Mei Fang, Peng Sun, Su-Yun Ko, Tsai Chin, Wu Nien-Jen, Yang Li-yin, 吴念真

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated

Daniel Day-Lewis earned his breakout performance as Johnny, a reformed skinhead in this tale of  interracial gay romance in Thatcher’s Britain. Gordon Warnecke plays Johnny's lover Omar, the aimless son of a Pakistani intellectual who is given a leg-up by a successful uncle when he’s put in charge of rescuing a failing laundrette in gritty South London. Remarkably, Omar and Johnny’s romance isn’t presented as all that transgressive; far more central are the experiences and attitudes towards “assimilation” of Omar’s British-Pakistani family, the elders of whom live double lives and indulge both their financial and sexual greed. My Beautiful Laundrette is transgressive in many ways, but mostly in the dizzying array of tensions it sets its sights on — racial, ideological, class, generational, and gender — an ambitious quality that can, admittedly, overwhelm at times. But ambition is an admirable flaw for a film to have, particularly one as sharp and groundbreaking as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ayub Khan-Din, Badi Uzzaman, Bhasker Patel, Charu Bala Chokshi, Chris Pitt, Colin Campbell, Daniel Day-Lewis, Dawn Archibald, Derrick Branche, Dulice Liecier, Garry Cooper, Gerard Horan, Gordon Warnecke, Gurdial Sira, Jonathan Moore, Neil Cunningham, Nisha Kapur, Ram John Holder, Richard Graham, Rita Wolf, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, Shirley Anne Field, Souad Faress, Stephen Marcus, Walter Donohue

Director: Stephen Frears

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.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: David Rose, David Schachter, Geoff Edholm, Tracy Vivat

Director: Arthur J. Bressan Jr.

Rating: Not Rated

Most people aspire to have families, deciding to form their own by marrying, bearing children, and if fertility makes that impossible, adopting one. The Official Story is centered on upper middle class Alicia, who’s already made the idyllic family life, with the last piece completed with her adoption of Gaby, but there are secrets held from her, or rather, there are realities that she chose not to listen to because of the painful implications. Writer-director Luis Puenzo juxtaposes the family secret to the violent ones the Argentine junta government kept from its citizens. It's not a subtle comparison– Puenzo makes it obvious– but it's an effective one, as Alicia has to reckon with the fact that she lies in bed with a stranger, as Argentina has to reckon with the remaining junta members and enablers.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Analia Castro, Andrea Tenuta, Aníbal Morixe, Carlos Weber, Chela Ruíz, Chela Ruiz, Chunchuna Villafañe, Chunchuna Villafane, Fabián Rendo, Guillermo Battaglia, Héctor Alterio, Héctor Alterio, Hugo Arana, Lidia Catalano, María Luisa Robledo, Marcos Woinsky, Maria Luisa Robledo, Norma Aleandro, Oscar Ferrigno Jr., Pablo Rago, Patricio Contreras, Paula Canals

Director: Luis Puenzo

Rating: Not Rated, NR

A Room with a View is downright beautiful. Amidst the impressionistic scenery of Florence’s and England’s countrysides, paired with iconic classical opera, some of Britain’s best actors bare the feelings of their snobbish, upper-class characters in stylish and historically-accurate costumes. But all of these elements aren’t just silly decorations. Like the novel it’s based on, the characters’ refined and respectable veneer, and their insistence on propriety, is a front that hides the feelings stirring in their gut, particularly that of the lovers George Emerson (Julian Sands) and Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter). Inevitably, these feelings can’t be contained– they can only be examined. And when Emerson earnestly declares his love, it’s so powerful to be seen as one’s self rather than as decoration.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amanda Walker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Fabia Drake, Helena Bonham Carter, Isabella Celani, James Wilby, Joan Henley, Judi Dench, Julian Sands, Kitty Aldridge, Luigi Di Fiore, Maggie Smith, Matyelok Gibbs, Mia Fothergill, Patricia Lawrence, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Cellier, Peter Munt, Rosemary Leach, Rupert Graves, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: Not Rated

Fright Night wastes no time confirming that, yes, that handsome new neighbor is a vampire, and yes, he has to be defeated. By cutting to the chase, the film refreshingly lets its heroes and villains spend a lot of time together, goading each other on in a battle of wills. But apart from that, Fright Night sticks to the reliable '80s-horror formula, full of spectacular makeup effects, cheesy thrills, and delightfully over-the-top performances. Chris Sarandon is irresistible as the evil vampire Jerry Dandrige, while Roddy McDowall's heartfelt performance as the fraud vampire hunter Peter Vincent gives us a redemption arc worth rooting for.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror

Actor: Amanda Bearse, Art Evans, Bob Corff, Chris Hendrie, Chris Sarandon, Dorothy Fielding, Ernie Holmes, Heidi Sorenson, Irina Irvine, Jonathan Stark, Nick Savage, Pamela Brown, Prince Hughes, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Stewart Stern, William Ragsdale

Director: Tom Holland

Rating: R

A beautiful enigma from start to finish, Angel's Egg follows a young girl carrying a large egg through a desolate, post-apocalyptic world. She meets a young boy who helps her on her journey, and together they search for answers about the egg and the world they inhabit. Filled with religious symbolism, it teeters between a story about the creation of the universe and a meditation on the nature of faith and belief. From director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), this largely wordless film relies on its surreal and enigmatic dark visuals and atmosphere to tell its story. Heavy with silence and shadows, this disturbingly stunning film is up for interpretation. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

Actor: Jinpachi Nezu, Keiichi Noda, Mako Hyodo, Mako Hyoudou

Director: Mamoru Oshii

For skeptics of the western, Silverado might be too overstuffed with storylines that feel more appropriate for a series than a single film. But those willing to give it a chance should find a consistent level of entertainment with the movie's wide array of cowboys and sheriffs trying to outmaneuver each other. The action gets surprisingly intense, with impressive stunts and shootouts selling the idea that these characters could go at any time. And with the relatively young and fresh faces of Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, John Cleese, and Jeff Goldblum popping up, it feels like a greatest hits of the '80s and '90s, with these charismatic actors all getting a turn playing in the sandbox.

Genre: Action, Action & Adventure, Drama, Western

Actor: Amanda Wyss, Autry Ward, Bill Thurman, Brad Leland, Brian Dennehy, Brion James, Danny Glover, Dick Durock, Earl Hindman, Gene Hartline, Jake Kasdan, James Gammon, Jeff Fahey, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Haynie, Joe Seneca, John Cleese, Jonathan Kasdan, Ken Farmer, Kenny Call, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Linda Hunt, Lois Geary, Lynn Whitfield, Marvin J. McIntyre, Meg Kasdan, Patricia Gaul, Ray Baker, Richard Jenkins, Rosanna Arquette, Rusty Meyers, Sam Gauny, Scott Glenn, Sheb Wooley, Thomas Wilson Brown, Todd Allen, Troy Ward, Zeke Davidson

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Rating: PG-13