Top 80s Movies Where Arcade Games Were Crucial to the Plot

Movies about custom arcade machines that are actually recruiting tools for intergalactic space battles, and situations where the digital and real worlds become blurred – these are just some of the examples of fantastic movies of the 1980s where arcade games are crucial to the plot.

Here are four of the best from that era.

The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter, which came out in 1984, is arguably one of the greatest arcade game-related movies of all time. The main character is Alex Rogan, a good-natured teenager fed up with his life living in a trailer park. One of his outlets is playing the arcade game at the trailer park, something which he is very good at. So good, in fact, that he becomes the highest scoring player ever. This wasn't a normal arcade game, however, as it was actually being used by good forces beyond Earth as a recruiting tool to find pilots for an impending space battle against the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada.


Tron was released in 1982 and was ground-breaking in more ways than one. From a technical point a view, it was unlike anything anyone had seen before. It was also one of the first films to explore topics that are still relevant today – whether we control technology, or it controls us. The story is about a programmer played by Jeff Bridges who ends up inside a mainframe computer where he must do battle to survive and escape.


The movie Wargames, released in 1983, explored topics of cyber security that the world is still grappling with today. The film is about David Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick. He is a high school student developing his hacking skills in his spare time. Those skills lead him to accidentally hack into the US military's War Operation Plan Response system. Young David thinks it is a war simulation game, but the computer is actually connected to the country's real-life weapons control system.

The Wizard

The Wizard came out in 1989 and stars Fred Savage, the child star of the television series The Wonder Years. Savage plays the younger brother of the character Jimmy, a troubled boy who has been admitted to a mental institution. Savage's character helps Jimmy escape, and, on the road, they discover a Super Mario Bros. tournament. As Jimmy is a great video game player, he enters and wins, helping him deal with his issues.

If this trip down memory lane has sparked your interest in 80s arcade games again, check out our selection of arcade machines now.