Here’s the thing about streaming services. Every service has something unique and enticing to offer its viewers. If you’re a fan of horror movies, then Shudder’s got you covered. Like Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars stuff? Then Disney+ is the place to go. But when it comes to original programming and various movies, the three biggies are Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. And right now, Hulu has a pretty great selection of ‘80s movies like Say Anything that you can stream right now.
What makes Hulu’s '80s selection so special though and what separates it from other services is its wide variety of choices. Now, since you have the option of having bundles of Starz, Cinemax, and HBO, with your Hulu account, I decided to only stick with the movies that you can stream directly from a basic Hulu account. So, with that said, let’s hop in a DeLorean and head on back to the ‘80s with these excellent movies.
Do you know what you should be currently doing with your eyes right now? Watching Say Anything… since it’s currently streaming on Hulu. This teen romantic comedy/drama is about a smart girl named Diane, played by Ione Skye, and a not so smart boy named Lloyd, played by John Cusack, who fall in love after graduation even though Lloyd has no real plans for the future and Diane is going places.
It’s a sweet story (that also strangely involves embezzlement) and it’s also Cameron Crowe’s debut movie. What most people remember about the movie though is the courtship between Lloyd and Diane, and of course John Cusack hoisting up a boombox and playing some choice Peter Gabriel. Nice.
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Everybody loves the John Hughes movies of the ‘80s. Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club? All fun films with an interesting cast of teenage characters. But do you want to know the anti-John Hughes movie? Heathers. In fact, the writer of Heathers originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct this dark comedy about a girl named Veronica (Winona Ryder) who wants to get out of her social group to be herself again. So she sides with a sociopath named J.D. (Christian Slater) who kills people, but covers the deaths up as suicides. And the “suicides” make the dead teens even more popular.
Heathers didn’t do well when it first came out, but how could it, given that plot line? Instead, it became a sort of cult classic and has since been the ‘80s go-to movie when it comes to edgy, anti-sweet teen flicks. To this day, I’m still shocked this movie was even made.
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Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)
Heathers too dark for you? Well, then (come on) shout! Because here comes a frivolous (but fun) dance movie. Girls Just Want to Have Fun never takes itself seriously, and that’s why it’s such a joy to watch. It’s about two girls named Janey and Lynne (Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt, respectively) who love to dance. They want to go on their favorite show Dance TV, but Janey’s father doesn’t want her wasting her time on some stupid dance show. Drama (and dancing!) ensues.
There are a lot of cheesy dance numbers, but it’s just nice to stop worrying about life sometimes and watch a whole bunch of people get their troubles out through dance.
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The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
The ‘80s weren’t just about teen comedies. There were also some pretty boss action-adventure movies as well (uh, hello. The ‘80s was the decade that brought us Indiana Jones) And one really fun action-adventure movie was The Jewel of the Nile, which was a sequel to the also enjoyable, Romancing the Stone.
Do you have to see Romancing the Stone to enjoy The Jewel of the Nile? Well, no, but it really helps. Joan (Kathleen Turner) Jack (Michael Douglas) and Ralph (Danny DeVito) all return from their previous adventure, and this time, Jack and Ralph need to save Joan (who’s a romance writer, which the film plays with) and get the “jewel of the Nile” that’s referenced in the title. But like the first movie, things aren’t quite what they seem. The Jewel of the Nile is fast, fun, and to a certain extent satirizing but also lovingly portraying all the best aspects of a romance novel, which is the connection between the characters. Watch both movies if you can. They’re great fun.
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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
There were also some pretty cerebral sci-fi movies back in the ‘80s as well. The Thing, The Fly, They Live. All classics. But if there’s one sci-fi film that truly still stands out (mostly since all the sequels were judged against it), it’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the second (and best) Star Trek movie, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) must face off against the physically impressive, but cruel, Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who has a score to settle with the head of the USS Enterprise.
What makes The Wrath of Khan so special though is that it’s not the way most big, dumb action movies would handle a revenge tale. It’s a very talky film, with Khan talking smack to Kirk across space, quoting stuff like Moby Dick. It also has one of the saddest endings with a key death that often gets mentioned. It's a great film, and definitely one of the best that the ‘80s has to offer. Khaaaaan!
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My favorite film on this list, Akira is a landmark work in animation. It’s a post-apocalyptic nightmare set in the far-off, distant future of… 2019. The story concerns the leader of a motorcycle gang named Kaneda whose friend, Tetsuo, gets psychic powers after an accident. But does Tetsuo use these newly acquired powers for good? Well, what kind of interesting story would that be if he did?
While watching Akira, you might notice some things and think that Akira stole it from other films, but the truth is, those films likely borrowed it from Akira. And the animation is both jaw-dropping and sickening, especially for Tetsuo’s final transformation, which, to this day, still makes me sick to my stomach to watch. It’s a very gritty, very mature anime, and one that's not for the faint of heart.
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Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Another anime, Grave of the Fireflies is, no joke, one of the saddest movies you’ll ever watch. It’s about two Japanese children trying to survive at the tail end of World War II. But here’s the thing, there is no hope in this movie. Every bad thing that could happen does, and you really get no reprieve from the terrible things that these children have to go through. I won’t spoil it for you, but you will not be smiling through any part of this movie. It’s as heartbreaking as you can get.
But it’s also a very important film. It was done by Studio Ghibli, but it’s absent of all the whimsical flourishes and unique animation that the company is often known for, instead sticking to a more direct form of animation. Watch it if you want a good cry.
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Risky Business (1983)
If you’d rather not want to drown in tears after watching a movie like Grave of the Fireflies, then might I suggest another teen comedy? This one’s the film that made Tom Cruise a star, so you know you’re in for a good time. Risky Business tells the story of one Joel Goodson who does everything a parent could want a child to do. But when said parents go away and leave him with the house all to himself, Joel decides to have a little fun. But a “little” fun soon escalates into some huge problems, and Joel has to fix it all before his parents return.
Risky Business is fun and a definitive movie of the ‘80s. Plus, it’s great to watch Tom Cruise sweat as a teenager who is in way over his head.
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National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
I mentioned John Hughes earlier on this list, and one of the best movies he ever wrote was National Lampoon’s Vacation, in which a family called the Griswolds (Led by Chevy Chase) are on a cross-country trip to the fictional theme park, Walley World. But everything that could go wrong, does go wrong, until it gets to the point that you’re laughing at just how absurdly wrong a simple trip could turn out to be. Should have just listened to your wife and taken that plane, Clark.
The idea of having “the perfect family vacation” is a good set-up for disaster, and humorous disaster is what you get. If you haven’t seen the original Vacation yet (or any of the Vacation movies for that matter), then definitely check the original out. It still holds up today.
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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The third (and best, in my opinion) Vacation movie, Christmas Vacation is about a man named Clark (Chevy Chase again) who just wants to have a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” like he had as a kid (or, at least like he remembers having as a kid), only for everything to go wrong again just like it did in Vacation.
It may not be Christmas, but Christmas Vacation is enjoyable at any time of the year. It’s also somehow heartwarming by the end (SWAT team, and all), so it’s a nice film to watch when you’re stuck inside and you just want to unwind.
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As I mentioned earlier, there are a slew of other ‘80s movies on Hulu that you can watch right now, but you would have to have a Starz, HBO, or Cinemax account as well. But these ten you can watch right now just with your Hulu account. Enjoy!
Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.