10 Great 1980s Crime Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

The 1980s was another decade full of great crime films. Sergio Leone’s epic “Once Upon a Time in America” came out in this decade. Michael Mann made his first theatrical crime drama release with the amazing “Thief.” Brian De Palma shifted from thriller/mystery films to actual crime dramas and made two of the most iconic films of the decade: “Scarface” and “The Untouchables.”

Not without disappointments, of course; Sidney Lumet made great crime films in the decade but also had underwhelming “Family Business.” Alongside all the iconic successes (and failures), there are many other great crime dramas from the ‘80s that we just don’t talk enough about, even though some of them even were nominated for Academy Awards. Here are 10 of those crime dramas that deserve to get mentioned more often.


10. Made in Britain (1982)

Made in Britain (1982)

Trevor is an inflexible and unteachable young man. He has fallen out with his family and overall is becoming alienated from society. Despite the efforts of social workers and authorities, he remains trapped in his self-destructive situation of frustration, provocation, and violence. After throwing a brick through some poor Pakistani’s shop window, he is sent to an assessment center. He has also been charged with shoplifting from Harrods. And that’s where the film begins. When officials try to show him the error of his ways, he shows no interest while you continue to get intrigued by this character and his state of psychology.

Tim Roth gives a tour-de-force performance in his debut role and as in many of Alan Clarke’s films, the film depicts the English working-class life realistically. Gritty cinematography and interesting central characters are some of the things that make this film so compelling. Nowadays it doesn’t get mentioned as much as other films about skinhead culture like “American History X” or “This is England,” but “Made in Britain” is worth watching, especially if you like British social realism and Tim Roth’s talent.


9. The Cotton Club (1984)


Obviously, Francis Ford Coppola topped the genre with the first two installments of the Godfather trilogy. While his post-’70s career didn’t reach up to the heights of his previous works, he still made a lot of great films that went overlooked. A new cut of Coppola’s 1984 crime drama “The Cotton Club” is set to hit theaters this fall, which hopefully will bring attention to one of his great overlooked films. The film had an all-star cast and was set in 1930s Harlem at the legendary jazz venue from which it takes its name.

The Cotton Club in Harlem is set during Prohibition and the economic crisis in the 1920s and 1930s, and the scene is full of rousing jazz music, fantastic equipment and dance, and relentless rivalries among gangsters. The narrative has strength via the observations of a major part of America in great transition.

The combination of the two of the finest sides of the genres – musical and gangster/crime drama film – creates an outstanding entertainment film thanks to the great work of the actors and it brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the era. While the film works perfectly fine as a crime drama, if you love jazz then this movie is particularly for you. The whole cast manages to deliver, though one has to give a shout out to Bob Hoskins and a very young Diane Lane.


8. Bad Boys (1983)

Bad Boys

Sean Penn was considered to be one of the best actors of the ‘80s generation, up there with Mickey Rourke. And probably what made him more distinctive than other stars of the era is him starring in films like this. “Bad Boys” is a crime drama film set in a juvenile detention center.

Directed by Rick Rosenthal who unfortunately has never made a film as strong as this one since, the movie is about an Irish-American Chicago crime kid, Mick O’Brien (Penn) who accidentally kills rival’s kid brother. Mick is sent to the Rainford Juvenile Correctional Facility rather than a state prison for adults. This is a place where most of the wardens and counselors seem to have lowered themselves to the role of zookeepers.

“Bad Boys” is a brutal, sometimes disturbing, often effective film. It’s never unengaging. While the film doesn’t go deep enough into the complex reasons of our character’s behavior and the underlying social and ethnic problems, the film still has something to say, and what’s more, it’s a very gut-wrenching film. Not an easy watch but one that’s definitely worth watching, “Bad Boys” is unfortunately never the first movie that comes to mind when someone mentions the title.


7. The Boys Next Door (1985)

This is probably one of the most violent teen flicks to ever be released. After graduating from high school in a small American town, the graduates look forward to the usual college parties and a thriving future – but not Roy Alston (Maxwell Caulfield) and Bo Richards (Charlie Sheen). The two outcasts decide to go on a road trip and their attack on a gas station will be the beginning of a series of attacks that will make them wanted criminals.

Who knows why “The Boys Next Door” didn’t get the attention it deserved; maybe it was just too violent for mainstream audiences at the time. The film only ran in selected cinemas for two weeks before disappearing. Even though director Penelope Spheeris has some known titles in her filmography, “The Boys Next Door” never actually received any kind of cult following.

The movie “Thelma and Louise” gives their characters a moral dimension and “Natural Born Killers” is some sort of social satire, but “The Boys Next Door” follows a more purist approach. We get to see violence in its disturbingly real form. That doesn’t mean the movie is pointless torture porn. It has more of an observational point and while it has a consistently interesting duo as the lead characters, “The Boys Next Door” never stops being interesting and disturbing.


6. Cop (1988)

A young woman is killed in Los Angeles in the most horrible way. The case is charged with police officer Lloyd Hopkins (James Woods). However, the murder literally captivates him and Hopkins forgets too well how everything around him, both privately and professionally, devotes all his attention to the case.

There was a time when James Woods was on a hot streak – “Videodrome,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “Best Seller,” “The Onion Field,” “Salvadore” – the man was consistently amazing and was always bringing something unique and intense to the screen. He gives one of his finest performances as hardboiled, obsessive detective and is seriously great to watch together

. It’s a film that can be funny at times, but it’s mostly dark and bleak work with a very memorable ending thanks to Woods’ line delivery. Tightly written and directed by James B. Harris, with a jazzy score, cool cinematography, interesting characters, and memorable dialogue, “Cop” is everything you want from an ‘80s crime drama/neo-noir. And if you love Woods’ intense performances in that time period, then it’s an absolute must-see.