Skip to content

40 Movies Turning 40 This Year

From Caddyshack to The Shining, these beloved 1980 movies are hitting the big 4-0.

It's hard to have a solid grasp on time these days, and that goes for remembering when some of your favorite movies were released. It may feel like just yesterday you were emulating the moves of the students at the High School of Performing Arts in Fame or shocked by lineage of Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, but it's actually been a staggering four decades since those movies hit theaters. That's right, we're saying happy birthday to these 40 movies turning 40 in 2020. Whether you remember seeing these award-winning classics and campy disasters when they were released or you grew up watching them on VHS or DVD, take a trip down memory lane with these beloved films hitting the big 4-0 this year. And for more nostalgia, check out these 30 Movie Quotes Every '80s Kid Knows by Heart.

The Empire Strikes Back


It's hard to imagine a time when we didn't know Luke Skywalker's parentage, but yes, it's been 40 years since Darth Vader dropped that bombshell in one of the most shocking twist endings of all time. Since the second Star Wars installment was released in 1980, there have been 10 other Star Wars films in theaters. And for trivia from a galaxy far, far away, here are 20 Amazing Star Wars Facts Even Fans Don't Know.

Coal Miner's Daughter

sissy spacek in coal miner's daughter
Universal Pictures

Sissy Spacek stars as Loretta Lynn in this biopic about the country singer's early years. It won her the Oscar for Best Actress, thanks to a committed performance for which she sang several of the songs that Lynn had made famous, including the title number. And for more movie music to remember, revisit these 17 Movie Soundtracks Every Kid from the '80s Loved.

Ordinary People

mary tyler moore in ordinary people
Paramount Pictures

Fans who knew Mary Tyler Moore from her defining roles on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show were shocked by her turn in Ordinary People as an emotionally distant mother coping with the death of one son and the attempted suicide of another. Moore's performance earned her an Oscar nomination, and helped the film win the Academy Award for Best Picture.


bill murray in caddyshack
Warner Bros.

Widely considered one of the funniest movies of all time—or at least the funniest sports movie, according to ESPN—Caddyshack features an ensemble cast including Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, and an elusive gopher. The film spawned an ill-fated 1988 sequel that most people would rather forget. And for the follow-ups that do deserve your time, here are 17 Movie Sequels Better Than the Original.


still of fame movie
United Artists

Decades before Glee and High School Musical, there was Fame, a grittier-than-Grease teen musical about the students at New York's High School of Performing Arts. The film is probably best remembered for its killer dance sequences, and its hit soundtrack, which includes "Out Here on My Own," "I Sing the Body Electric," and the Oscar-nominated title song.


cast of airplane
Paramount Pictures

A spoof of disaster movies—particularly those from the airplane-centric Airport series—Airplane! is a goofy, joke-a-minute satire that has been making people laugh for the past 40 years. If you were a kid when you first saw it, a lot of the jokes probably went over your head, but that's all the more reason to revisit it as an adult.

Friday the 13th

cast of friday the 13th
Paramount Pictures

Yes, it's been 40 years since the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake were terrorized by—spoiler alert—Pamela Voorhees. That's right, it's not Jason but rather his vengeful mother doing the slicing and dicing in this formative horror film, which helped pave the way for the slasher genre's domination of the '80s.

The Blues Brothers

john belushi and dan aykroyd in the blues brothers
Universal Pictures

The Blues Brothers was the first film based on characters created on Saturday Night Live, a genre that would really pick up steam in the '90s. Here, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd reprise their titular roles as Jake and Elwood Blues, who embark on a mission to save the Catholic orphanage where they were brought up.


olivia newton-john in xanadu
Universal Pictures

A place where nobody dared to go, a film that got notoriously bad reviews. And yet, Xanadu has developed a cult following in the four decades since its release, thanks in large part to those very catchy songs. Along with another movie on this list, Xanadu's failure inspired the Golden Raspberry Awards (AKA the Razzies), which award the worst in cinema every year. And if you love a good hate-watch, check out These Are the Movies on Rotten Tomatoes With 0 Percent Ratings.

The Shining

jack nicholson in the shining
Warner Bros.

Stanley Kubrick took some creative liberties in his adaptation of Stephen King's novel, but it was those bold choices—along with a terrifying performance by Jack Nicholson—that made The Shining an instant classic. The film is as scary now as it was in 1980.

The Elephant Man

the elephant man movie
Paramount Pictures

Based on the real-life story of Joseph Merrick, a 19-century English man who became famous for his facial deformities, The Elephant Man was director David Lynch's introduction to the mainstream—and what an introduction it was! Though more restrained than much of his subsequent work, Lynch's film earned eight Oscar nods, including Best Picture.

Stir Crazy

richard pryor and gene wilder in stir crazy
Columbia Pictures

Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder first teamed up in 1977's Silver Streak and became an instantly beloved comedic pairing. Their 1980 follow-up, Stir Crazy, was an even bigger box-office hit, making director Sidney Poitier the first black filmmaker to direct a film that grossed over $100 million.

Dressed to Kill

dressed to kill movie

Brian De Palma's neo-noir Dressed to Kill was controversial upon its release for its graphic violence and explicit sexual content. It hasn't aged particularly well in the 40 years since then, thanks to a twist that is now widely considered to be transphobic. Nevertheless, it helped establish De Palma as a force to be reckoned with.

The Ninth Configuration

cast of the ninth configuration
Warner Bros.

William Peter Blatty was famous for writing the novel The Exorcist on which that 1973 film was based. Then, he made his directorial debut in 1980 with The Ninth Configuration, based on another of his books. The movie is largely a dark psychological drama, but it was also praised for its sense of humor.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

the cast of the gods must be crazy
20th Century Fox

Writer-director Jamie Uys made his mark with The Gods Must Be Crazy, which became a major international hit. The South African film didn't initially get all that much attention when it was first released in its native country in 1980, but in subsequent years, the farcical comedy found an audience around the world.

Raging Bull

robert de niro in raging bull

Robert De Niro stars as troubled real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, whose memoir provided the source material for this Martin Scorsese film. With eight Oscar nominationsRaging Bull ended up tying with The Elephant Man at the 53rd Annual Academy Awards for the most nominations—a funny coincidence given that both 1980 films were shot in black and white.

Prom Night

jamie lee curtis in prom night
Synapse Films

Jamie Lee Curtis first earned her Scream Queen status when she starred in 1978's Halloween, which laid the groundwork for the countless slasher films that followed. But Curtis became a true horror legend in 1980 when she appeared in three separate slasher movies, including Prom Night, which may be the best remembered.

The Blue Lagoon

christopher atkins and brooke shields in the blue lagoon
Columbia Pictures

Brooke Shields was only 14 when she starred alongside 18-year-old Christopher Atkins as her island lover in The Blue Lagoon, which accounts for the film's decades of controversy—though she did use a body double for nude scenes. Ethical issues aside, the movie was a smash hit at the box office and a complete failure among critics.


shelley duvall and robin williams in popeye
Paramount Pictures

Fans of Popeye the Sailor Man may not have fully appreciated director Robert Altman's take on the character. Even with great actors like Robin Williams in the title role and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, this off-kilter musical fantasy proved too muddled and uneven for most.

Superman II

superman II
Warner Bros.

It's tough to remember a time when superhero movies weren't a constant at the box office, but that was the case in 1980 when Superman II came out, sufficiently ahead of its time. The sequel to 1978's Superman brought back Christopher ReeveMargot Kidder, and Gene Hackman, among others, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Man of Steel movies.

Private Benjamin

goldie hawn in private benjamin
Warner Bros.

While comedies tend to get neglected by the Academy Awards, Private Benjamin earned enough widespread acclaim to receive nominations for Goldie HawnEileen Brennan, and its screenplay (co-written by Nancy Meyers). Hawn, in particular, was singled out in rave reviews for her performance as a sheltered young woman who decides to join the U.S. Army.

9 to 5

lily tomlin dolly parton and jane fonda in 9 to 5
20th Century Fox

The feminist revenge fantasy of 9 to 5—in which Jane FondaLily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton play three woman who team up to fight back against their sexist, harassing boss—has only grown more appealing in the 40 years since its release. The film inspired a TV series, which ran for five seasons in the '80s, and a Broadway musical, with new songs by Parton.

The Changeling

still from the changeling
Severin Films

When it comes to the horror films of the '80s, The Changeling is too often overlooked. Perhaps that's because it was a haunted house movie in a decade dominated by slashers. Nevertheless, this Canadian import, which stars George C. Scott, is as spooky and unsettling now as it was when it first hit theaters.

Any Which Way You Can

clint eastwood in any which way you can
Warner Bros.

It's hard to argue with the winning combination of Clint Eastwood and an ape, which is probably why we got this sequel to the 1978 action comedy Every Which Way But Loose. In Any Which Way You Can, Eastwood returns as Philo Beddoe, with an expanded role for his orangutan sidekick, Clyde.

Terror Train

jamie lee curtis in terror train
20th Century Fox

Because executive producer Daniel Grodnik wanted to "make Halloween on a train," it made sense to cast Jamie Lee Curtis, who makes her second appearance in a slasher on this list. Even with Curtis on board, however, Terror Train failed to make much of an impression. It's very much a relic of the era, but without the cultural impact (or critical respect) of Halloween.

Flash Gordon

flash gordon movie
NBC Universal

The real reason people remember Flash Gordon is its soundtrack, which was composed by Queen, although the film itself has developed a modest cult following over the years. Based on the classic comic strip and serial films of the same name, Flash Gordon was intentionally campy and dated, but that doesn't mean Max von Sydow's portrayal of Ming the Merciless has aged well.

Urban Cowboy

debra winger and john travolta in urban cowboy
Paramount Pictures

As disco was dying down, country music was picking up—and John Travolta was on hand to capitalize on both trends. The star of Saturday Night Fever played titular urban cowboy Bud Davis in this country western romance, co-starring Debra Winger as his love interest, Sissy.

The Watcher in the Woods

kyle richards in the watcher in the woods
Buena Vista Distribution

The '80s were an odd, transitional time for Disney, and The Watcher in the Woods is a good reflection of that. It's fitting that the studio started off the decade with this bizarre supernatural horror film geared toward a young adult audience. The movie was initially a complete disaster, though the presence of Bette Davis and future Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards have helped it earn a cult following.

The Jazz Singer

the cast of the jazz singer

The oft-adapted story of The Jazz Singer was retooled for this 1980 iteration, designed as a star vehicle for Neil Diamond. The "Sweet Caroline" crooner made his acting debut as a singer torn between his traditional Jewish faith and his desire for pop stardom. Aside from a few subsequent cameos as himself, Diamond never acted in another film, which is probably for the best.

Little Darlings

little darlings movie still
Paramount Pictures

Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol star in this coming-of-age dramedy about two teenage girls at camp trying to lose their virginity. If you grew up watching this movie on TV, you might be shocked by the actual content: The highly sanitized TV edit nixed all the sexual content and turned Little Darlings into something almost wholesome.

Altered States

william hurt in altered states
Warner Bros.

William Hurt and Drew Barrymore made their film debuts 40 years ago—though Hurt's role in Altered States was considerably larger than Barrymore's. Critics praised the movie's psychedelic visuals and experimental sound, which are as trippy now as they were then.

One-Trick Pony

blair brown and paul simon in one trick pony
Warner Bros.

One-Trick Pony was very much a Paul Simon production. He wrote and starred in the film, playing a folk-rock musician—not a huge stretch, but given that this was his first major acting role, it's hard to fault him. At this point, the movie is probably best remembered for its soundtrack: Simon wrote all the songs, including "Late in the Evening," which hit No. 6 on the Billboard charts.

Melvin and Howard

cast of melvin and howard
Universal Pictures

Before he became an Academy Award-winning director for 1991's The Silence of the LambsJonathan Demme set his sights on the real-life story of Utah service station owner Melvin Dummar, who was allegedly left $156 million dollars by Howard Hughes in a highly contested will. Paul Le Mat took on the role, but Dummar himself had a cameo in the movie.

Smokey and the Bandit II

still from smokey and the bandit II
Universal Pictures

The success of 1977's Smokey and the Bandit made a sequel inevitable. Enter Smokey and the Bandit II, which brought back Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, and became one of the highest-grossing films of 1980. Of course, that doesn't have anything to do with its quality—for the most part, critics were not impressed.


gena rowlands in gloria
Columbia Pictures

John Cassavetes wrote and directed this neo-noir about a gangster's girlfriend protecting a child from the mob, with Cassavetes' wife, Gena Rowlands, playing the titular woman on the run. Rowlands got an Oscar nod for her performance, and the movie proved hugely influential, inspiring several other films, including Julia, Léon: The Professional, and a 1999 remake, also called Gloria, starring Sharon Stone.


still from inferno
20th Century Fox

Not to be confused with the 2016 sequel to The Da Vinci Code, the 1980 Inferno is itself a sequel—well, kind of—to the much more well-known SuspiriaDario Argento's follow-up, the second part of his Three Mothers trilogy, is another highly stylized, stunningly colorful horror film about a powerful witch.


still from the movie foxes
United Artists

Adrian Lyne made his mark in the '80s with classics like Flashdance and Fatal Attraction, but his feature debut was Foxes, which hit theaters 40 years ago. The coming-of-age film, which stars a teenage Jodie Foster, is also notable for being the acting debut of the Runaways' singer Cherie Currie.

Heaven's Gate

still from heaven's gate

You'd be hard pressed to find a list of the greatest cinematic disasters of all time that doesn't include Heaven's Gate, a notorious box-office flop and one of the worst reviewed films of its day. But over the decades—and several re-edits—since its release, Heaven's Gate has earned a slightly better reputation. The epic western certainly isn't for everyone, but it now has its fair share of defenders.

The Fog

still from the fog
Shout Factory

Another 1980 slasher film starring—you guessed it—Jamie Lee Curtis, The Fog reunited her with her Halloween director John Carpenter, which might explain why it did much better at the box office than Terror Train. The horror film about vengeful ghosts wreaking havoc on a small town also featured Curtis' mother, Janet Leigh, a Scream Queen in her own right, thanks to the iconic shower scene in 1960's Psycho.

Can't Stop the Music

cast of can't stop the music

Did disco die of natural causes or did Can't Stop the Music kill it? Well, that's not really fair: This musical "biography" of the Village People, starring the group themselves, was released after disco's popularity had greatly dwindled, which was part of the problem. But the movie, which has since become a camp classic, was truly reviled. Along with the aforementioned cult favorite Xanadu, it inspired the creation of the Razzies.

Filed Under