5 '80s Sci-Fi Movies You Really Must Watch With Your Kids

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 

I am a realist when it comes to my favorite books and movies. I don’t want dragons, made up creatures, or vampires tromping through the pages of my books. I would rather not have dystopian societies, planets from other solar systems, or vehicles I haven’t seen next to me on the highway in my movies, thank you very much. Give me a good old-fashioned love story with believable, real-world characters or a historically accurate thriller any day. I am firmly Team Vampires Don’t Exist So Stay Out Of My Movies, although I will give Harry Potter and his wizarding cronies a free pass. That J.K. Rowling is a genius.

All of the above makes it that much more ironic that my kids are obsessed with all things science fiction and magic. Both of my children are captivated by everything I hate in movies. When they ask me to watch movies with superheroes, I roll my eyes so hard that I almost have a brain hemorrhage. If the movie has space travel, robots, or creatures that don’t actually exist in reality, my kids want a front-row seat for the action. For me, Family Movie Night is basically hell.

When I realized that my kids were going down this path of movie ridiculousness, I knew what I had to do. I had to gain the upper hand if I were going to survive this Dark Side of parenting. Naturally, I turned to the greatest decade in moviemaking history, the ’80s, for help in guiding my kids down the right science fiction path. If I were going to be stuck watching giant furry creatures wielding light swords in nauseating flight sequences, at least it would be the cheesy ’80s science fiction I loved as a kid. Now who’s the genius, J.K.?

And these are my must-see picks:

Back To The Future. All Three.


This sci-fi ’80s classic satisfies my need for historically accurate fiction. Well, okay, not so much historically accurate as historically close enough with a side of hard core ’80s fashions — but at least it’s a movie with a flying car I can tolerate, so that’s a huge win. Marty McFly, played by the inimitably adorable Michael J. Fox, goes back in time to save his family from demise and eternal dorkdom. With help from his absent-minded professor friend Doc Brown and dog sidekick Einstein, Marty traverses up and down the space-time continuum as he single-handedly saves his parents from being, in his words, assholes. It’s good sci-fi fun, though I would argue that the director’s version of “the future” isn’t quite right: I’m still waiting for the pizza hydrator to come to my kitchen.

Space Camp

When I saw this movie at the drive-in theater in 1986, I officially decided that I wanted to work for NASA. Or, at the very least, attend one of their summer camps. Four teens, including ’80s movie darlings Kelly Preston and Leah Thompson, manage to accidentally launch themselves into space on a real shuttle. To my twelve-year-old self, the plot line seemed totally legit, though, admittedly, watching as a parent, I did have to wonder about how NASA vetted the camp counselors in charge of that joint. This movie has everything a sci-fi junkie could want: space exploration, high-stakes drama, and even a robot named Jinx. Added bonus: Space Camp features a fresh-faced Joaquin Phoenix back when he was a cutie pie and not the bearded hot mess he is today.



Now, listen, I know I said that science fiction is not my space jam but even my cold-as-the-Dark-Side-of-the-moon heart can’t resist E.T. and his bright red finger of healing. I recently watched this classic with my kids and I found myself rooting for Elliot as he outruns the police with E.T. in a basket on his bike. I even teared up at the end when E.T. goes home though, I was a little curious how Elliot’s mom was able to justify leaving her kids alone with a possibly radioactive alien while she ran off to work. (No judgment, just curious.) E.T. warmed the hearts of millions of Americans in the ’80s, and it’s our duty to make sure our kids understand that before smart homes, E.T. had the ultimate way to “phone home.”

The Last Starfighter


If you have a kid obsessed with video games, The Last Starfighter will be a direct hit. Teenager Alex Rogan spends his days playing an arcade game called Starfighter as he ignores the misery of trailer park life. When he beats the game late one night, he comes to find out that the game’s designer created the game to find talented pilots needed for a never-really-defined yet very real space war. Naturally, Alex steps up for duty and saves all of humanity as the video game community rejoices in their biggest nerd hero’s success. When I watched this movie with my son, he spent a week obsessively gaming, hoping that he too would get called up for active space duty. Sorry, kid, that shit only happens in the ’80s.

Honey, I Shrunk The Kids


This movie is perhaps my favorite ’80s sci-fi flick, mostly because Rick Moranis is the best absent-minded dork dad ever. And, frankly, the “Sorry, Honey, I totally screwed up with the kids” is pretty damned believable, given all the stupid shit my husband does on a regular basis. Rick’s character, Wayne Szalinski, manages to accidentally shrink the kids with a homemade shrink ray machine in his attic. The move takes viewers on an epic journey as his kids survive the wilds of their backyard while Wayne tries to fix his mistake. If this had happened in my house, the movie would have been entitled “Mommy Lost Her Shit Because Daddy Was An Idiot” but Disney’s movie is a much nicer, family-friendly tale.

Yes, my kids and I may differ on what constitutes a good movie, but going back to the ’80s is always a fun adventure. And if I’m being totally honest, while I still have a hard time being on Team Stormtrooper, you don’t have to use the Force to get me to watch Harrison Ford for a few hours.

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