One of the best things about watching a movie is escaping reality for a few hours. The rest of the world fades away, and you find yourself immersed in the world of the film. As you watch, the characters come alive, and you’re glued to the screen until the very end. This feeling can be pure magic. However, after the film ends, you find yourself back in the real world and wondering what’s next. Unless, of course, the film has a sequel, and you can start the process all over again. Hollywood loves making movie franchises. That’s because they are almost a surefire way to ensure a return on investment and make a profit. After all, if the first movie did well, who wouldn’t love to see a sequel with all their favorite characters and elements?
While there have been many memorable decades to achieve cinematic success in the realm of film franchises, none were quite like the ’80s. During this decade of dance party music, explosive curly hair, and bold ’80s fashion like colorful spandex and leotards, we got many of the best cult classics, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Goonies, and The Breakfast Club. In addition to these stand-alone masterpieces, the ’80s also gave us an array of film franchises that have continued to this day, four decades later. These are some of the best ones.
Updated on September 30th, 2023, by Federico Furzan: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
12 Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
There are many things that spouses dread hearing; “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids“ is certainly among those dreaded phrases. Inventor Wayne Szalinski is a bit eccentric. He invents an experimental shrinking ray that accidentally affects his two kids and their neighbors after they sneak into his lab to retrieve a baseball.
Believing his device to be useless, he destroys it, throwing out the shrunken children in the process. Now, the 1/4-inch-tall children must take the trip back to the house by surviving lawn sprinklers, puddles, giant ants, and other treacherous obstacles. In addition to two sequels: Honey, I Blew Up The Kid and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, the series was also turned into a television show that ran for three seasons. There’s even a reboot sequel in the works.
11 Lethal Weapon
It’s no secret that opposites attract and bring out the best in each other, especially when it comes to comedic duos. Lethal Weapon is the perfect example of polar opposites coming together to make comedic magic. After the death of his wife, police detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) has a death wish and goes to extreme lengths to do his job.
Meanwhile, Detective Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is calm and collected. He is close to retirement and counting down the days. Put these two characters together, and you have a recipe for success that’s sure to bring in the laughs and has for decades. This one spawned four sequels and a TV series.
10 The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid is probably the most successful American martial arts franchise of all time, and it will most likely stay like that given the revival that Netflix produced in the form of the Cobra Kai series.
But the show started in 1984 when Daniel LaRusso suffered continuous bullying and he resorted to karate to fight back. Since then, the franchise has become an iconic piece of sports drama that’s still alive. The sixth film, part of the remake series, is scheduled for a 2024 release.
9 The Terminator
When the Terminator, a cyborg assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), she must fight for her life to live and bear the son that will later save mankind from extinction.
Six films (and a TV spin-off) later,The Terminatoris still among the more popular film franchises in its genre. That’s because when it comes to sci-fi action films, The Terminator has it all: action sequences, a fast-paced plot, a likable hero to root for, and a slick villain. You can be sure that it “will be back”, although we’re not certain if it’s actually a good idea.
8 Friday the 13th
Friday The 13th is among the most well-known and beloved horror film franchises. The movie series introduced the world to Camp Crystal Lake and Jason Voorhees, who remains one of the top horror icons and popular Halloween costumes.
The original film delivers on jump scares and has a slew of bloody surprises in-store. To date, Friday the 13th has been popular enough for 12 movies, so it seems the world can’t get enough of Jason’s murderous madness and vengeance. Now, thanks to the franchise, there is even more fear and panic associated with Fridays falling on the 13th of a month.
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? That’s right, Ghostbusters. In addition to giving us one of the best-known ’80s party songs, Ghostbusters gave us one of the most popular fantasy sci-fi film franchises that changed the way we viewed ghosts.
Before the Ivan Reitman classic, most ghost movies were scary and haunting, heavily relying on jump scares. However, Ghostbusters made ghosts funny and laughable. In the films, we witnessed slimy apparitions pigging out on food, spirits getting shocked in electric chairs, and even one giant and cute but deadly Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. After Ghostbusters: Afterlife brought life to the party again in 2021, it’s clear the franchise will haunt the world for some time.
6 Back to the Future
No movies made time traveling look as cool or as fun as the Back to The Future trilogy. A movie sequel is rarely just as entertaining as the first installment, but the rest of the trilogy lived up to the expectations set by the original classic.
However, 2015 came and went, and we didn’t get size-adjustable, self-drying jackets, or self-tying shoes, or flying cars. Sadly, hoverboards are still a thing of the future. Of the franchises in the list, this is the one whose theoretical return would be frowned upon.
5 Raiders of The Lost Ark
Indiana Jones is the series that made history and archeology fun. It inspired us to want to explore temples and risk our lives to find hidden treasures. As an action hero and one of the most iconic movie characters, Indiana Jones checks all the boxes, as he is charismatic, brave, witty, and funny, not to mention handsome.
Indiana Jones was initially a trilogy, with the first three movies premiering within years of each other in 1981, 1984, and 1989. Also, a TV show was released in the ’90s. However, in 2008, Indy supposedly returned to pass out his hat. He didn’t. And in 2023, we got to root for Jones once more in what appears to be the franchise’s end.
4 A Nightmare on Elm Street
As a cultural icon, Freddy Krueger was born in the ’80s when Wes Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street. The character and storyline were so successful that only one year had to pass for Krueger to be on the big screen again.
Only the following films weren’t as successful, with the 2010 reboot being hailed as one of the worst remakes ever attempted. Regardless, the series is a fan favorite, with some coming back to the franchise every year during Halloween to binge all nine films.
3 Die Hard
All John McClane had to do was be at the right place at the right time in 1988. A franchise was born when he fought off armed thieves at his wife’s Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza, and a star was made in Bruce Willis.
Die Hard compiles the adventures of the New York City police detective who happens to face countless terrorists and threats and seems to have the worst luck in the world. The character would be revisited over and over with four pretty decent sequels.
Yes, horror was huge back in the ’80s, when loads of new filmmakers were allowed to express themselves with decent budgets. Hungry audiences digested just about everything. Hellraiser started its run in 1987, and it immediately put the franchise on the map because of its potential to respawn with various plots and characters.
At the center, the landlord of another dimension that closely resembles Hell who became known as Pinhead. He shows up in every film (except the 2022 reboot) and has managed to scare audiences for decades.
1 The Evil Dead
It’s safe to say that when Sam Raimi made The Evil Dead in 1981, he didn’t expect it to be as massively successful as it still is more than four decades later. The generic plot of friends getting haunted to death in a remote cabin inspired many copycats.
However, they all lacked the humor, tone, and gore balance that made Raimi’s film an instant classic. Five films and a TV series later, and it seems fans are still hungry for more from The Evil Dead.