What to Watch Next If You Like ’80s Sci-Fi Film & TV
There’s just something special about ’80s sci-fi, isn’t there? The era was resplendent with action heroes, vast visions of the 21st century and beyond, and a million different takes on the concept of life outside planet Earth. Sometimes these movies and shows were serious. Sometimes they were silly. The best were a combination of both. They leaned into their own cheesiness while exploring themes and concepts that still touch us to this day.
The 1980s were surely a golden era for science fiction media. Therefore the question is — is there anything modern that possibly comes close to that kind of quality? We’re glad you asked. Below, explore a list of new sci-fi film and TV that are essential for ’80s sci-fi fans. Plus, each section includes careful attention to the similarities and differences between these pieces of media and your classic faves.
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial / Stranger Things
Similarities: A bunch of odd kids adopt a misfit friend with special powers in the 1980s, people are the biggest monsters
Differences: No aliens, television series, horror
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) follows a young boy on Earth who befriends an accidentally abandoned alien. Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016-) follows a young boy who befriends an escaped child prisoner with psychic powers. Government agents are trying to track and subdue both E.T. and Eleven. Are you picking up what we’re putting down? Additionally, Stranger Things is set in the ’80s, evoking all of your nostalgia with long bicycle rides and homemade communication devices.
While E.T. is a contained and finished story, Stranger Things is an ongoing television series. Its characters bounce around the Midwest and West Coast, picking up myriad allies and antagonists along the way. Additionally, the creatures in Stranger Things, namely Demogorgons, are irredeemable and impossible to reason with like E.T. is. So while the influence is undeniable, Stranger Things is a clear departure from a peaceful and quirky ’80s movie.
Aliens / Dune
Similarities: Slower paced thriller, outer space setting, hero’s journey
Differences: Political stakes, type of villain
Of course, we could have said that if you like Dune (1984), watch its modern iteration. And based on book-related adaption content alone, that would be accurate. However, Aliens (1986) is more tonally similar. Both it and Dune (2021) engage their audiences with simmering tension, fascinating lore, and intense action sequences. There are militaristic factions in both films, as well as only one hero who can truly defeat the evil antagonists.
Naturally, Dune does stray from Aliens in many aspects. Where Aliens is action-adventure, Dune has the look and feel of a period drama. It’s less graphically violent than Aliens, and places far more importance on family relationships and romance than Ellen Ripley ever has to deal with. Still, it’s a great follow-up once you’ve had your fill of Xenomorphs.
Howard the Duck / Guardians of the Galaxy
Similarities: Marvel, comedy, super hero characters
Differences: New MCU continuity, different type of humor
Let’s be honest. Howard the Duck (1986) has such a cult following because it’s not really good. It has that “so bad it is fiercely beloved” thing going on, which we totally get. So if you love it, we respect your taste. But you can get a bit of an upgrade in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volumes 1, 2, and 3. This MCU trilogy even features multiple cameos by Duckworld’s finest!
Guardians is irrefutably funny. The cast give their all in every movie, reflecting real-life relationships and struggles even when more than half of them are either green, blue, a talking animal, or a talking tree. Each installment features Gunn’s unique, irreverent comedy writing/directing style. And if you loved Howard the Duck simply for its stunning effects and soundtrack, you’re in luck. After all, Guardians isn’t known for its iconic Awesome Mix for nothing.
Star Wars / Pacific Rim
Similarities: Lifeforms share a special connection and understanding, awesome action sequences, found family
Differences: Jaeger and kaiju, not set in outer space, apocalypse
Think about the sweepingly romantic scenes between Han Solo™ and Leia Organa™ throughout Star Wars™ — especially in The Empire Strikes Back™ (1980). Add the world-ending threat of the Death Star™. Then mix in the tragic father-and-son story of Darth Vader™ and Luke Skywalker™, as well as the inherently emotional concept of the Force™. Plus, throw in some cool monster designs and sci-fi weapons. Now you know a little bit of what to expect with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013).
In this apocalyptic future, humans fight against giant kaiju which emerged from below the ocean. In order to battle them, pilots must connect to massive mech suits — and to each other. We don’t want to spoil too much about “drift compatibility,” but trust us when we say it’s one of the coolest and most heart-wrenching sci-fi concepts ever. Don’t believe us? Watch it and decide for yourself.
Blade Runner / Tenet
Similarities: Cerebral, emotional, major plot twist at the end
Differences: Takes place in actual modern day, no androids/artificial intelligence
Blade Runner (1982) is one of the original mind-benders. Officer Rick Deckard must unravel a rebellious Replicant plot in a slick, grimy, futuristic, noir-detective style cinematic experience. Most characters speak like they’re in a play, competing for most intelligent quip or most eloquently performed sci-fi jargon. Still, the world pulls you in. The mystery and intrigue chew on you as much as you try to break them down yourself.
Likewise, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020) requires focus and concentration. This film is otherwise, admittedly, very different. Rather than bioengineered humanoids, time — and the madmen seeking to play god within it — are the problem. Finally, there’s one other major similarity. While we don’t want to give too much away regarding Blade Runner or Tenet, suffice it to say there’s a lot you don’t know about these protagonists. But your mouth will be agape once you’ve found out.
Will you be adding any of these to your to-watch list? Get even more recommendations from other TV and film fans at side.show/geekgroup or in the Sideshow Social Network, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!