Not many decades stand out quite like the 1980s when it comes to cinematic style. It's hard to even put into words, but there's a certain quality to '80s movies that's immediately recognizable. They lacked subtlety but made up for it with pure entertainment, characters' senses of style were unmistakably in line with the times, and there was just a touch of campiness that is a lot of fun to look back on. But '80s movies were also packed with flawlessly chosen soundtracks that have become as emblematic of the decade as anything else.
These are some of the films that stand out as being particularly memorable with regard to their soundtracks.
It stands to reason that one of the most iconic soundtracks of the '80s comes from a film that was largely about music and dancing (and, you know, romance). From Eric Carmen's "Hungry Eyes" to Jennifer Warnes and Phil Medley's "I've Had The Time Of My Life," this soundtrack was overflowing with music that became irreversibly linked with one of the decade's most iconic films. In particular, "I've Had The Time Of My Life" and the accompanying dance scene between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey became famous all on its own, inspiring countless imitations, including this one from the popular romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid Love.
This 1986 action drama is packed with recognizable tunes that made its soundtrack one of the most popular of all time. Tom Cruise, fighter jets, and beach volleyball are all terrific, but wouldn't have been nearly as effective without the musical components behind them — which is why the soundtrack is still so easy to associate with the film. An online slot machine hosted at this site and based on the film employs the music as its most recognizable element, opening with "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin (which won an Academy Award for best original song after Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock wrote it for the film) and transitioning to Kenny Loggins's "Highway To The Danger Zone" during a bonus game unlocked with a certain combination of slot reel icons. Few films are as easily pinpointed by the songs they included and Top Gun takes the cake for recognizable theme songs.
A film that became the defining coming of age story of the '80s and remains on a lot of people's lists of favorite movies, The Breakfast Club had a terrific soundtrack. According to this article from the 25th anniversary of the movie's 1985 release that soundtrack actually reached number 17 on the Billboard 200, which isn't the highest we've seen for a film but is still pretty impressive. Wang Chung's "Fire In The Twilight" and Elizabeth Daily's "Waiting" stand out as memorable tracks, but it's "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds, released the same year as the film, that has become its defining song. Like some other songs discussed on this list, it's still used in imitations and in new films today — perhaps most notably Pitch Perfect.
Purple Rain gained new appreciation earlier this year after the tragic and unexpected death of Prince, one of history's most beloved entertainers. But the film has always been regarded by a lot of music fans as something of a masterwork. Developed as a sort of showcase for the artist, it's basically a rock/pop musical that became a legendary album as well. To single out any one or two tracks feels almost inappropriate, but this ranking of '80s soundtracks — which put Purple Rain at the top — probably said it best. It was "a pioneering blend of funk, R&B, pop, medal, and psychedelia" that meant there was something for everybody on it.
The '80s were such a strong decade for movie soundtracks that many more could have made this list! But 26 years after the end of the decade, these are some of the ones that stand out most.