There weren't a ton of animated films coming out in the 80s when compared to the decades that preceded and followed, but what audiences did get were some rare, one-of-a-kind gems that cannot be duplicated even to this day. The magic of these particular movies is timeless and unique, each one offering something completely different for audiences to enjoy.
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We've decided to tackle the unenviable task of ranking the best 1980s animated films. There are many others to check out, but these are the cream of the crop, and if you haven't seen some of them, it's best not to wait for a second more!
Heavy MetalMagazine was a major underground hit when it first dropped in 1977, giving a platform to many science fiction and fantasy artists who would otherwise have been ignored by mainstream media outlets. An animated film was inevitable, and in 1981 it hit screens courtesy of producer Ivan Reitman.
The film is an anthology series of stories adapted from the magazine, as well as original tales made specifically for the film. The adult nature of the magazine was ported over to the animated film, which meant this one was definitely not for the kiddies! It's one of the most iconic animated films of the 1980s, kicking off a decade chock-full of imaginative stories.
WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986)
During an age when the threat of nuclear exchange was still on the table, director Jimmy Murakami made this tale about a rural Sussex couple who keep abreast of escalating tensions during the Soviet-Afghan war. Relatively naive and very traditional, they mistakenly believe themselves ready for a possible nuclear war involving Britain.
When the worst does come to pass, the couple clings to the false belief that government relief will come in a few days. During that time, they are lashed with radioactive fallout which causes their health to deteriorate beyond hope of recovery. It's a melancholy, yet important tale about the dark dangers of nuclear warfare.
THE BLACK CAULDRON (1985)
Disney took a stab at an animated retelling of Lloyd Alexander's 1965 novel The Black Cauldron, and its signature style is widely regarded as the go-to standard beyond its original source material. The story focuses on a young pig keeper named Taran and his friends who set out to destroy a mythical cauldron with enormous powers before it can be abused by the evil Horned King.
Disney's animated craft was in peak form, with lush hand-drawn animation and detailed backgrounds that are as warm and timeless today as they were back in 1985.
AN AMERICAN TAIL (1986)
In the 1980s, Don Bluth seemed to be on top of the world, rivaling even Disney when it came to the strength of his animated films. An American Tail is no exception. The film is remarkably unapologetic in how it tackles the vicious antisemitism prominent inEastern Europeduring the 1880s.
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Fievel and his family of Jewish mice decide to make for America onboard a tramper steamer, but he's quickly separated after a chaotic storm throws him overboard. The rest is an adventure focusing on Fievel's quest to reunite with his family, making it a timeless, warm-hearted family film for the ages.
THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988)
This classic animated film ended up spawning 13 sequels right up to 2016, proving how timeless a story it is. The original is by far the best; a tale of multiple dinosaur species forced to migrate to the legendary Great Valley after a famine strikes their land.
The film is beloved for its adorable child dinosaur designs, an excellent story (even if it's a little over 60 minutes), and Don Bluth's masterful directorial style. It continues to entertain new generations of kids fascinated by the prehistoric world of dinosaurs.
TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (1986)
At a time when Transformers hype was at an all-time high, Hasbro decided to release a full length animated feature film that would serve as the bridge between seasons 2 and 3 of the cartoon TV series. It ended up becoming a colossal hit with fans, not to mention notorious for its killing off of several major characters such as Optimus Prime.
By the time the dust had settled, audiences had a true animated epic that would stand the test of time for its mix of high energy action, a rocking 1980s hair metal soundtrack, and one of the first instances of curse-words in a children's animated movie, which was unheard of at the time!
THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)
Disney would adapt yet another property into animated form in 1989 with Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. It would close out the 1980s and pave the way for Disney's hot-streak of 1990s animated hits that were soon to follow.
The original movie is a timeless classic centered around a young mermaid named Ariel who is keen to explore the human world. To do so, she strikes a bargain with a wicked villainous who plans to trick her in order to gain power over the seas. To date, it remains one of Disney's most beloved romantic animated classics.
This Japanese anime film is perhaps the most popular entry in the entire genre, standing the test of time as the defacto standard for manga-inspired epics. Akira is a psychological thriller that takes place in a turbulent, commercialized future focusing on Tetsuo, a member of a bike gang who suddenly develops terrifying telekinetic abilities.
As his powers grow, so too does the risk of a cataclysm. Only his childhood friend Kaneda stands a chance of stopping him, but first, he must wade through years of Tetsuo's built-up rage and sadness, which has been amplified hundreds of times over by his powers. The story is extremely intelligent, and the visuals are astonishing. There's nothing quite like Akira.
THE LAST UNICORN (1982)
Peter S. Beagle's beloved novel got the Rankin/Bass animated treatment in this timeless 1982 classic film about a lone unicorn who sets out from the safety of her forest to find out what has become of her kind. She soon learns that the outside world is full of danger, none more so than the villainous King Haggard and his terrifying Red Bull.
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The film is widely praised for being one of the few animated stories that dealt with adult issues including sorrow and regret. It ends with its characters irrevocably changed by their experiences, which was heavy stuff for children to digest. Nevertheless, it refused to insult their intelligence, solidifying The Last Unicorn as a story of humanism that children everywhere would take with them into adulthood.
THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982)
Few animated films can match the wonder, splendor, and imagination of Don Bluth's signature 1980s classic The Secret Of Nimh. A far cry from the happy-go-lucky Disney films that preceded it, Nimh centered around a much darker tale involving a mother mouse named Mrs. Brisby trying desperately to move her family's home away from a dangerous farmer's plow. There's just one problem - one of her children has severe pneumonia and cannot be taken outside.
Brisby seeks out the intelligent rats of Nimh who are the only hope for her family, but their existence is threatened when a human research team is scheduled to trap and destroy them to cover up a terrible secret involving animal experimentation. Soon, Brisby, her family, and the rats of Nimh face the ultimate test for survival.
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