Science fiction and fantasy films of the 1980s were filled with a ton of memorable, iconic, and patently ridiculous music. Here are 30+ of the decade's finest (and most painful) movie tunes for your listening pleasure.
NOTE: I tried to focus on singles from films or songs that scored memorable scenes. There are a ton of great movie scores from the 1980s, so I concentrated on only a few. If I were to be completely selfish, this list would be every film soundtrack by John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream plus Basil Poledouris' score to Conan The Barbarian.
Queen — "Flash Gordon" (1980)
Let's kick things off with an old favorite. If you don't like this song, you're Ming the Merciless.
Goblin — The Contamination Soundtrack (1980)
Contamination (also known as Alien Contamination) was by no means the most memorable film, but Italian prog rockers Goblin (Dawn of the Dead) did a bang-up job with this soundtrack.
Don Felder — "Heavy Metal" (1981)
If you were stoned in 1981, there's a strong possibility you were listening to the soundtrack to Heavy Metal, which incidentally contained almost no heavy metal.
George Harrison — Dream Away from Time Bandits (1981)
The perfect mood music for time-traveling with a gang of rowdy dwarves.
Vangelis — The Whole Damn Blade Runner soundtrack (1982)
I know this stretches my "no instrumentals" rule, but I'd be remiss if I didn't tip my hat to the C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
Wendy Carlos — The Whole Damn Tron soundtrack (1982)
Electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos' soundtracks to The Shining and Clockwork Orange are iconic, so it's easy to forget she also composed the bleep-bloop soundtrack to the original Grid.
David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder — "Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)" from Cat People (1982)
If you ever find yourself turning into a leopard, this is your theme song.
Tahnee Cain & Tryanglz — "Burnin' in the Third Degree" (1983)
I like how this jangling dance floor tune played in the wrong-side-of-tracks nightclub in Terminator.
Bauhaus — Bela Lugosi's Dead from The Hunger (1983)
This goth staple famously opened up the cult favorite vampire flick starring David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and nudity.
Max Rebo Band — "Lapti Nek" (1983)
This was replaced with that godawful "Jedi Rocks" in the 1997 Return of the Jedi Special Edition. Forget Greedo shooting first, "Lapti Nek" was the greatest victim of those lamentable recuts. Fact: The Max Rebo Band plays a style of music known as "Jizz" and are classified as "Jizz-Wailers" (I am not making this up).
Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder — "Together in Electric Dreams" (1984)
This song is from Electric Dreams, a movie that taught us the important lesson that if you pour champagne on your computer, it will come to life.
Eurythmics — "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)" (1984)
Apparently the Eurythmics' soundtrack to 1984 was foisted upon the film against the director's wishes. C'mon everyone, there's a rager in Room 101!
Buckaroo Banzai — "Since I Don't Have You" (1984)
Peter Weller covering the Skyliners. Smooth.
Limahl — "The Never-Ending Story" (1984)
Writing this article took 10 hours because I watched this video for 9 of them.
Iggy Pop — "Repo Man" (1984)
Stooges frontman Iggy Pop delivers the theme to this cult classic about a punk Emilio Estevez getting mixed up in extraterrestrial imbroglios.
Mark Safan — "Win in the End" from Teen Wolf (1985)
Seeing this just bums me out about MTV's upcoming Hot Topic Teen Wolf remake.
Tina Turner — "We Don't Need Another Hero" from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
When the post-apocalypse hits, this song will play at every prom.
Bryan Ferry — "Is Your Love Strong Enough" from Legend (1985)
Every day, once a day, Tom Cruise stares in the mirror while blasting this song to recharge his batteries.
Oingo Boingo — "Weird Science" (1985)
An anthem for an era when computers could do any damn thing screenwriters wanted.
Stan Bush — "The Touch" from Transformers: The Movie (1986)
This is the ultimate training montage song. Avoid the noxious rap-rock remake.
David Bowie — Magic Dance (1986)
I'm 99% sure David Bowie thought Labyrinth was a documentary he had been hired to narrate. The role of Jareth is just the Thin White Duke "doing his thing."
John Carpenter and Alan Howarth — "Porkchop Express" from Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
This song sounds like the world's best bar band. I say this as high praise.
Huey Lewis and the News — "Back in Time" (1986)
I prefer "The Power of Love", but this song wins points for being a smidge more iconic.
AC/DC — "Who Made Who" (1986)
Stephen King has directed only one film, Maximum Overdrive, which was an adaptation of his short story "Trucks." King recruited his favorite band AC/DC to produce an entire album based on his film about sentient machines. Unfortunately, King was coked out of his skull for most of the production, and the movie was a critical and commercial flop.
Cherry Bomb — "Howard the Duck" (1986)
After I mocked this song in a previous article, I received an email from (someone who claimed to be) songwriter Thomas Dolby. He lamented that I didn't make fun of this track more.
El DeBarge — "Who's Johnny" (1986)
In this hit single from Short Circuit, everyone's confused about the identity of an adorable lil' robot.
"Feed Me" from Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Even if you hate musicals, it's hard to dislike Rick Moranis crooning with a giant carnivorous plant.
Fastway — "Trick or Treat" (1987)
I always loved how Ozzy Osbourne played a televangelist in this horror gem.
Starship — "Nothing's Going To Stop Us Now" from Mannequin (1987)
Starship gives me hope that someday I too will be nominated for an Academy Award for no particular reason.
Gerard McMann — "Cry Little Sister" from The Lost Boys (1987)
This song reminds of the good old days. Y'know, when Jack Bauer was a vampire.
That McDonalds scene from Mac and Me (1988)
If you ever want to have a spontaneous dance-off with aliens while shamelessly shilling Shamrock Shakes, this is your jam.
Harry Belafonte — "Jump in Line" from Beetlejuice (1988)
Good job on your test, Winona Ryder. Here is some paranormal activity as a reward.
Run DMC — "Ghostbusters" (1989)
It's not as good as "Christmas in Hollis," but at least Run DMC wasn't accused of ripping anyone off.
Prince — "Batdance" (1989)
I won't share with you my pointlessly detailed theory that Purple Rain is a science fiction, so here's the next best thing.
Bill & Ted's School Report (1989)
"God Gave Rock and Roll To You" was 1991, so here's some Wyld Stallyns spoken word from the closing days of the 80s.
Queen — "Princes of the Universe" from Highlander (1989)
This article begins with Queen and ends with Queen. As every article should.