22 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1987

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1987. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

The last work by legendary American director John Huston is this exquisitely rendered adaptation of a James Joyce short story. The Dead is nestled inside an intimate festive dinner shared by the family and close friends of the Morkan sisters, two well-to-do elderly spinsters living in Dublin in 1904. The film is a family affair in more ways than just that, too: for Huston’s final feature, son Tony wrote the script and daughter Anjelica (as Gretta) was its star.

As with so many end-of-year gatherings, the prevailing mood of the dinner is one of sentimental nostalgia, as the hosts and their guests swap memories, toast each other, and tearily reminisce about the way things were. Anjelica Huston’s performance is also a quiet architect of that atmosphere, as Gretta slips in and out of dreamy reveries throughout the evening to the puzzlement of her husband Gabriel (Donal McCann) — something that surges to the fore in an astonishingly moving final revelation. Huston directed the film on his proverbial deathbed, which infuses it with significance — but, even if it wasn’t the capstone to his illustrious career, The Dead would still stand as one of the finest treatments of mortality and longing ever committed to the screen.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Bairbre Dowling, Brendan Dillon, Cathleen Delany, Colm Meaney, Dan O'Herlihy, Donal Donnelly, Donal McCann, Helena Carroll, Ingrid Craigie, Kate O'Toole, Maria McDermottroe, Marie Kean, Paul Grant, Rachael Dowling, Sean McClory

Director: John Huston

Despite the amusing specificity of its title, this lovely documentary from director Les Blank is really for all of us. Through the example of gap teeth — a physical feature many of the participants here report being made to feel self-conscious about — the film makes a rallying call to embrace ourselves and all of our physical “flaws.”

A big part of what makes this film so heartening is that so many of the women featured here (including model Lauren Hutton) have come out on the other side of loathing their gap teeth, giving us a tangible example of what it looks like to love yourself in spite of other people’s opinions about your body. What’s more, even within a limited runtime, Blank finds space to devote to exploring other aspects of the featured women’s lives — their art, professions, religious practices — and thereby quietly expands the film’s focus from physical beauty and onto the myriad beauties of life itself. It’s an ironic pleasure that Gap-Toothed Women ultimately refuses to define its subjects by the very feature described in its title, and instead gives us this life-affirming shot of wisdom for the ages.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Lauren Hutton, Lauren Moore, Sandra Day O'Connor

Director: Les Blank

Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War. 

Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Annelinde Gerstl, Beartice Manowski, Beatrice Manowski, Bernard Eisenschitz, Blixa Bargeld, Bruno Ganz, Chick Ortega, Christoph Merg, Curt Bois, Didier Flamand, Elmar Wilms, Erika Rabau, Hans Marquardt, Hans Martin Stier, Harry Howard, Johanna Penski, Jürgen Heinrich, Kid Congo Powers, Laurent Petitgand, Lina Otto, Matthias Maaß, Mick Harvey, Nick Cave, Olivier Picot, Otto Kuhnle, Otto Sander, Patric Kreuzer, Paul Busch, Peter Falk, Roland Wolf, Rowland S. Howard, Scott Kirby, Sigurd Rachman, Simon Bonney, Solveig Dommartin, Teresa Harder, Thomas Wydler, Ulrike Schirm, Wolf-Dirk Vogeley

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

Abbas Kiarostami delivers a tale of towering simplicity. A young boy mistakenly takes his friend’s notebook home and, knowing the friend faces expulsion without it, goes on a journey to bring it back. He visits the neighboring town but without a clue where his friend lives must rely on the kindness of strangers and overcome the stubbornness of adults who get in his way.

This adventure is both a loose moral parable as well as a striking portrait of life in rural Iran. More than this, it’s a testament to the capacity of children’s films to communicate depth when the filmmaker respects a child’s intelligence. The earnest young actors at its heart add an emotional immediacy that underscores Kiarostami’s empathetic direction.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Ahmed Ahmed Poor, Biman Mouafi, Mohamed Hocine Rouhi, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

There are moments in our childhood that we deeply regret, even if we didn’t know better, even if innocence can excuse us, and even if we weren’t the ones primarily responsible for the mistake. The memory of it can be haunting, but none has been as devastating as the memory depicted in Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical period drama Au Revoir les Enfants. Malle brings us to the boarding school rhythms with ease, straightforwardly depicting it as is, but with the camera and the sequencing recognizant of the implications. With the natural dynamic between the unthinking Julien (Malle’s younger self) and the alert and afraid Jean formed through subtle moments, Au Revoir les Enfants culminates into the heartbreaking coming-of-age moment that Malle personally lived through in World War II.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Arnaud Henriet, Francine Racette, François Berléand, François Négret, Gaspard Manesse, Irène Jacob, Luc Etienne, Pascal Rivet, Peter Fitz, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Raphael Fejtö, René Bouloc, Sergio Kato, Stanislas Carré de Malberg

Director: Louis Malle

Rating: PG

, 1987

Vivid, seductive, and highly romantic, Rouge starts as an enchanting tale of a ghost courtesan that haunts a modern-day couple to look for her lost lover. It’s easy to be swayed by the ghostly lovers – the courtesan Fleur (Anita Mui) and wealthy pharmacy chain heir Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung) start off the film courting each other (and the audience) through lush visuals, dramatic declarations, and Cantonese song. They agree to a suicide pact and promise to find each other in the next life. However, as Fleur haunts newspaper journalists Yuen and Chor, it’s clear how different Hong Kong has become. From its culture to its attitudes towards romance, Rouge suggests that while modern day Hong Kong may be more cold and standardized, the past as we know it is only a gorgeous dream. And that dream hides a tragic, sordid reality.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Alex Man, Anita Mui, Emily Chu Bo-Yee, Irene Wan, Kara Hui, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Kara Wai Ying-Hung, Lau Kar-Wing, Leslie Cheung, Patrick Tse Yin, Ruby Wong, Ruby Wong Cheuk-Ling, Tam Sin-Hung, Wong Yu

Director: Stanley Kwan

Rating: Not Rated

Sisters Martine and Filippa, daughters of a founder of a religious sect, live a simple and quiet life in a remote coastal village in Denmark. Throughout the course of their lives, they reject possible romances and fame as part of their commitment to deny earthly attachments. This is upended by the sudden arrival of a French immigrant named Babette, who served as their house help to escape the civil war raging in her country.

Babette’s Feast is an inquiry into simplicity and kindness, and whether these would be sufficient to achieve a life of contentment. The religious undertones perfectly fit with the film’s parable-like structure, where bodily and spiritual appetites are satisfied through a sumptuous feast of love, forgiveness, and gratitude.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Asta Esper Hagen Andersen, Axel Strøbye, Bendt Rothe, Bibi Andersson, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Cay Kristiansen, Ebbe Rode, Else Petersen, Finn Nielsen, Gert Bastian, Ghita Nørby, Ghita Nørby, Holger Perfort, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Lars Lohmann, Lisbeth Movin, Pouel Kern, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Stéphane Audran, Stéphane Audran, Therese Hojgaard Christensen, Thomas Antoni, Vibeke Hastrup, Viggo Bentzon

Director: Gabriel Axel

Rating: G

, 1987

Celebrated Malian filmmaker Souleyman Cissé crafted Yeelen (which means ‘brightness’) as an explicit antidote to the “ethnographic” lens through which Western directors often told Africa-set stories. That intention is certainly felt, because Yeelen doesn’t trouble itself to translate its folklore-drawn premise for audiences unfamiliar with 13th-century Malian myths. Rejecting Western storytelling conventions, it instead uses those of the culture it depicts — a looping approach to time and matter-of-fact magical realism — to present the tale of Nianankoro (Issiaka Kane), a supernaturally gifted young man whose sorcerer father (Niamanto Sanogo) plots to kill him because of the threats he poses to the elder man's power. 

 A basic primer to the customs central to Yeelen is provided in the opening titles, but knowledge of the culture it communicates through isn’t a prerequisite to watching and enjoying the film because its epic conflicts — both Oedipal (father versus son) and religious (flesh versus spirit) — and otherworldly sensibilities make it both instinctively familiar and mesmerizing. A deserved winner of the Cannes Jury Prize, though the fact that it was the first African film to win one of the festival's awards — 40 years into its existence — makes this an unjustly belated milestone.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aoua Sangare, Balla Moussa Keita, Ismaila Sarr, Issiaka Kane, Niamanto Sanogo

Director: Souleymane Cissé

Rating: NR

A marvelous combination of perfect casting and a sizzling script. William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter are such natural talents they could make reading a dictionary watchable, but seeing them weave through James L Brooks punchy dialogue is a delight to behold. The three form the foundation of this drama that is as much about journalistic ambition as it is about love.

Hunter and Brooks are principled workaholics at a news station juggling a platonic friendship that seems destined for more but lacks a driving spark. Enter Hurt, a charming though self-admittedly stupid news anchor, who Hunter at once resents and yet can’t help falling for. What seems like a ready-built rom-com plot, however, churns into something else entirely. It’s a delicious film crackling with wit and character and is as funny as it is astute. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Amy Brooks, Christian Clemenson, Ed Wheeler, Frank Doubleday, Gennie James, Gerald F. Gough, Gerard Ender, Glen Roven, Holly Hunter, Jack Nicholson, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Kimber Shoop, Leo Burmester, Lois Chiles, Luis Valderrama, Marc Shaiman, Marita Geraghty, Martha Smith, Nat Benchley, Peggy Pridemore, Peter Hackes, Raoul N. Rizik, Richard Thomsen, Robert Katims, Robert Prosky, Robert Walsh, Stephen Mendillo, William Hurt

Director: James L. Brooks

Bill Forsyth, an acclaimed Scottish director best known for his films Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl, directs an underrated masterpiece with the 1987 drama Housekeeping. Adapted from Marilynne Robinson’s outstanding novel, Housekeeping is the story of two sisters, Ruthie and Lucille, who are orphaned and raised by their peculiar Aunt Sylvie. 

As the young sisters grow apart, Ruthie gravitates toward her transient aunt. This is a movie about not quite fitting in—about feeling like your life exists just outside of modern time, somewhere off to the side of railroad tracks running over frozen water. Sylvie shows Ruthie that there is more to life than their small, cold town of Fingerbone. In fact, there is a whole world out there, calling to misfits like them.

Housekeeping is deftly directed, balancing both humor and tragedy. Christine Lahti’s performance is also, with no exaggeration, one of the greatest of all times, as she conveys so much of Sylvie’s yearning to go, go, go with as little as a glance toward the beckoning horizon.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Andrea Burchill, Anne Pitoniak, Betty Phillips, Bill Smillie, Bob Hughes, Brian Linds, Christine Lahti, Dolores Drake, Georgie Collins, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Leah Penny, Margot Pinvidic, Sara Walker, Sheila Paterson, Wayne Robson

Director: Bill Forsyth

Rating: PG

The film that catapulted Kevin Costner to fame, No Way Out, is based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing, "The Big Clock", and is also preceded by a film adaptation of it, around 40 years prior. Director Roger Donaldson found himself in charge of a film, haunted by the Cold War and spy thriller tropes, but already aligning itself with the late 80s erotic thriller. In a way, No Way Back is a symbol of this transitional period, but by retaining the classic noir vibe (deception, fleeing, yearning), it becomes a tribute to the past. In the film's own past, a love triangle is taking shape in a rather unconventional way: layered with all three of the aforementioned dispositions. Two men want the same women, but their relationship is further complicated by professional hierarchies and the quest to own the past they both shared with Susan. 

 

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Brad Pitt, Charles Walker, Chris D., David Armstrong, David Paymer, Dennis Burkley, Fred Thompson, Gene Hackman, George Dzundza, Howard Duff, Iman, Jason Bernard, John D'Aquino, Kevin Costner, Leo Geter, Leon Russom, Marshall Bell, Matthew Barry, Michael Shillo, Nicholas Worth, Peter Bell, Sean Young, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: R

British director Adrian Lyne (9 1/2 Weeks) is famous for his uncompromising treatment of seedy eroticism and charged stories. Fatal Attraction is a staple of the erotic thriller genre and with good reason, it's steamy and very 1980s in the best possible way. Like a good vintage, it has the whiff of old times, but with the pleasure of a spectacle that belongs to the past. That's the lens through which you can view the story of a deranged mistress who won't stop at anything to ruin your life and marriage, and still savour some sanity in the 21st century. Seen from a slightly removed perspective, the film becomes a stylized variation on conservative AIDS panic and a provocation to conservative heteronormativity. It has to be said that not all of the film has aged well, especially the gender politics at play. But if you can soothe yourself with a revisionist reading, it pairs well with Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct: the things Michael Douglas's characters do for (extramarital) thrills...

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anna Thomson, Anne Archer, Barbara Harris, Carol Schneider, Christine Farrell, Christopher Rubin, David McCharen, Ellen Foley, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Faith Geer, Fred Gwynne, Glenn Close, Greg Rhodes, J.D. Hall, J.J. Johnston, James Eckhouse, Jan Rabson, Jane Krakowski, Judi M. Durand, Justine Johnston, Larry Moss, Lois Smith, Lynnanne Zager, Marilyn Schreffler, Mary Joy, Meg Mundy, Michael Arkin, Michael Douglas, Mike Nussbaum, Rocky Krakoff, Sam Coppola, Stuart Pankin, Tom Brennan, Vladimir Skomarovsky

Director: Adrian Lyne

Rating: R

When falling in love with another, or when another person falls in love with you, the relationship is formed by the ideas in your and their heads, specifically about your dynamic, your respective personalities, and the potential outcome of this love. Law of Desire is centered on this idea, unfolding through a chaotic gay love triangle that demonstrates the ways the ideas and fantasies can differ. And as the characters inevitably go through fairly melodramatic reactions when they realize the desires of another person, in the most colorful fashion (literally and figuratively), Pedro Almodóvar creates an amusing and daring examination of the genre it’s inspired by.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Agustín Almodóvar, Alfonso Vallejo, Antonio Banderas, Bibiana Fernandez, Carmen Maura, Eusebio Poncela, Fernando Guillén, Fernando Guillen, Fernando Guillén Cuervo, Germán Cobos, Germán Cobos, Helga Line, Lupe Barrado, Manuela Velasco, Marta Fernandez Muro, Miguel Molina, Nacho Martinez, Pedro Almodóvar, Rossy de Palma, Victoria Abril

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: NC-17

New York, especially in older movies, seems to be an enchanting place with endless possibilities, as long as you’re willing to put in the work. With Hong Kong’s handover to China, it’s no wonder plenty of Hong Kong natives decided to emigrate to the Big Apple. That being said, this experience isn’t always smooth. Mabel Cheung’s An Autumn’s Tale is a fairly simple romance, but it also captures the rough times of the assimilation process of Hong Kongers, the way they have to toughen up to eke out a living, and the joy they manage to hold, even just for a while. And as the young Chow Yun-fat softens his edge to guide the blindsided, sweet Cherie Chung, we can’t help but root for them.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Brenda Lo, Cherie Chung, Chow Yun-fat, Danny Bak-Keung Chan, Danny Chan Bak-Keung, George Gerard, Gigi Suk Yee Wong, Gigi Wong, Huang Man, Wu Fu-Sheng, Yun-Fat Chow

Director: Mabel Cheung

Rating: N/A

There are a few instances that prove the merit of one’s friendship, and one of those instances is a roadtrip. Withnail and I is considered one of the greatest British comedies of all time, but there’s a certain melancholy to it, as two unemployed actors have gone on holiday due to an offer from one of their uncles, though this offer doesn’t come without strings, which the titular “I”, Marwood, whose name is never mentioned, has only found out on the trip. As the holiday goes wrong, with the two making the worst of every new situation, the two share somewhat of a dysfunctional, slightly homoerotic relationship, as Withnail deals with everything in the most drunken, unserious manner, and Marwood anxiously realizes how much he’s outgrown their friendship. The film’s humor may be a tad too dry for those outside the country, but cult favorite Withnail and I still resonates with its endlessly quotable lines, memorable scenes, and its bitter understanding of how life can diverge.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anthony Wise, Daragh O'Malley, Eddie Tagoe, Irene Sutcliffe, Llewellyn Rees, Michael Elphick, Michael Wardle, Noel Johnson, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths, Robert Oates, Una Brandon-Jones

Director: Bruce Robinson

Rating: R