5 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1988

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1988. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

This tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story about a working class family in post-war Liverpool is Terence Davies’ masterpiece—evoking memories through a series of loosely connected scenes that highlight the joys and woes of growing up. It is comprised of two films shot two years apart. The first details the tribulations of a young family surviving an abusive father in the ‘40s. The second part follows the kids grown up and finding their way in the ‘50s, and the influence of music and cinema on their lives. Davies uses a series of beautifully composed tableaux to tell the tale, which bring the setting and the characters intimately to life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is regarded as one of the greatest British films of all-time.

Perhaps the most depressing but vital movie produced by animation giant Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is a searing and sweeping drama that covers the horrors of World War II through the eyes of teenager Seita and his young sister Setsuko. Between the violence of war and the tragedy of loss, the siblings struggle to preserve not just their lives but their humanity. In typical Ghibli fashion, there are moments of gentle beauty to be found, but instead of conflicting with the overall stark tone of the film, they successfully underscore war's futility and brutality, making Grave of the Fireflies one of the most important anti-war narratives ever told. 

Mike Leigh’s films have always touched on class politics, but seldom as directly as in this lowkey portrait of Thatcher-era London. Cyril and Shirley are a sweet working-class couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Their lifestyle is contrasted with Cyril’s sister and her husband who exist in a more comfortable middle-class setting, and then paralleled again with an upper-class couple living next door from Cyril’s mother. 

Even at this early stage of his career Leigh gracefully entwines these stories to create a moving and coherent narrative. ‘High Hopes’ as a title might be largely sarcastic, but the film is full-hearted and occasionally even optimistic as it strides its snarky way through the grim facades of 80s London.

Running on Empty is a movie that covers many timely themes including capitalism, education, and social class. It tells the story of a family who have to go on the run and hide their true identity for the rest of their lives. Director Sidney Lumet’s light touch on heavy topics gives the movie a tender and intimate atmosphere throughout. Aside from the great script, River Phoenix's performance is definitely one of the biggest highlights of this movie, where he successfully delivers a restrained yet fascinating performance. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch also give a top-notch performance that adds to the movie’s thrill. In short, Running on Empty is the kind of movie that shows there is courage in running away when it's the right thing to do.

Without focusing on just one team, career, or fateful game, Bull Durham avoids every sports movie cliche—using Minor League baseball as a way into the complicated relationships between a rookie, a veteran, and a longtime fan. By stripping away our expectations of there needing to be a winner and a loser, writer-director Ron Shelton allows these characters to blossom in their own unique ways, allowing us to observe how each of them views life from their stubborn, little boxes. Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon are sex appeal personified, while never smoothing over the thorniest parts of their characters. And Tim Robbins takes what could have been a two-dimensional caricature and gives him real depth.