The 27 Best Pinball Machines from the 1980s: A Great Era for Pinball

The 27 Best Pinball Machines from the 1980s: A Great Era for Pinball
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The 27 Best Pinball Machines from the 1980s: A Great Era for Pinball
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The 27 Best Pinball Machines from the 1980s: A Great Era for Pinball
Published on
July 25, 2022
Updated on
February 18, 2023
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The 1980s were a great time for pinball. Manufacturers continued the switch from electromechanical (EM) style machines to computerized solid state machines, and as a result, some of the best pinball machines ever made or played were produced during that decade. In this blog post, we will take a look at some of the best pinball machines from the 1980s.

This list isn't ranked in any particular order, as frankly all of the games are fun to play and are worth seeking out either in a home collection or at the local arcade. We'll explain in more detail below each listed game, but we wanted to include games that were both fun to play or just plain unique for the era.

Note, if you're new the world of pinball, you may be expecting to find such classic tables as Addams Family or Twilight Zone on this list, but alas, those will come in the next decade! Will be a topic for a future post, for sure.

(Like list posts? Be sure to check out our roundup of the Best 1970s Bally Pinball Machines)

Now that is out of the way, here you have it!

The 27 Greatest Popular 80s Pinball Machines

Fathom (1981)

popular 80s pinball machines bally fathom

Ahhhh, yes.

Fathom is one of the all time popular 80s pinball machines ever made by Bally. Produced in 1981, Fathom is part of a legendary trio of 80s pinball machines, all produced by Bally in the same year which includes Centaur and Medusa (coincidentally both on this list). For an early 1980s game, this table is packed with features including inline drops and a multiball.

The sound effects and callouts were also pretty immersive and innovative for its time. Not hard to learn, but plays fast and can be difficult to master. One of the great art packages of all time, which helps make Fathom one of the greatest 80s pinball machines.

Centaur (1981)

bally centaur pinball

Another all-time classic from Bally and one of the most popular 80s pinball machines even today, produced in the same year as Fathom and Medusa. Centaur has one of the most striking art packages of all time, with a mostly black and white motif, with red, orange, and green accents for the playfield lights and plastics. Rewards skilled, accurate play.

Very impressive sounds and music, and an extremely satisfying bonus countdown sound up draining. Fairly wide shot variation for the time, which helps with replay value. Can be a bit polarizing as most pinheads either love it or they hate it!

Elvira and the Party Monsters (1989)

best 80s pinball elvira and the party monsters bally

Elvira and the Party Monsters is the first game of what would become a trilogy of games for the Elvira franchise over the next 30+ years. This Bally game is a lot of fun to shoot, and has some very unique, humorous theming that fits perfectly with the overall Elvira vibe and aesthetic. Speech, sound, and lights all stand out on this particular machine, which helps make it one of the most popular 80s pinball machines.

Rules can be a little shallow for extended home play, but the game's other features more than make up for that. Very approachable for new players. It's one of those 80s pinball machines that will make you want to hit the start button over and over and over again.

Eight Ball Deluxe (1981)

most popular 80s pinball bally eight ball deluxe

Eight Ball Deluxe is an all-time Bally classic, selling well over 8,000 machines upon its release in 1981, which definitely makes it one of the most popular 80s pinball machines ever sold. You're very likely to find this or its LE version in arcades and home collections. It's a simple, pool themed game, but can be hard to master is it rewards accurate shooting and completing shots in a certain order for maximum point values. Rarely gets old even with repeated play.

Has some exceptionally satisfying shots - the left orbit, eight ball shot, and any of the in-line drops that give you bonus x. Great theme integration, and extremely approachable for new players. Really a classic example of 80s pinball machines.

High Speed (1986)

best 80s pinball williams high speed game

Although High Speed would eventually be dwarfed in just about every respect by its successor, 1992's The Getaway: High Speed II, the first High Speed is still quite a notable entry for 80s pinball machines. Its simple, approachable rules and satisfying shooting is enhanced by one of the best pinball soundtracks of the time.

Plays fast as most Steve Ritchie games do, and features a lot of top notch sound and callout work alongside the music. Helped revitalize the pinball industry in the mid 1980s as they faced steep competition from video games.

Ali (1980)

80s pinball machine ali stern electronics

Ali probably doesn't get as much love as it should as one of the greatest 80s pinball machines, as outside of the tournament scene, it can be hard to find out in the wild. Not only is it a lot of fun to shoot, with a strong focus on flow and a diversity of satisfying shots, but it's notable as one of the few major pinball releases of that era (or any other time, frankly) to celebrate an African American hero like Ali.

Artwork is hokey and certainly dated but nevertheless extremely enjoyable to look at.

Quicksilver (1980)

1980s pinball stern electronics quicksilver

Quicksilver is one of the many Stern Electronics games that grew in popularity and appreciation over time. Currently seen as one of the best classic Stern games ever made and certainly one of the greatest 80s pinball machines. Original, creative theme and artwork with well done sounds and some kinetically pleasing shots to hit.

Fast gameplay, two spinners, sweepable drop target banks, and simple rules with a ton of replayability. Can be hard to find, so it's pricing on the used market tends to reflect that.

Banzai Run (1988)

best 1980s pinball banzai run williams

Banzai Run is an extremely innovative game from the legendary designer Pat Lawlor. Essentially includes a whole secondary pinball game built into the backbox of the game, that's accessible by hitting a certain shot after qualifying the mode on the regular playfield.

Not a ton of depth and may not hold up as well today, but it's one of those games you need to play at least a handful of times in your life. Music and callouts are both well done, and the shots are all fun to hit.

Medusa (1981)

best 1980s pinball machine bally medusa

Medusa is part of the 1981 Bally trio alongside Fathom and Centaur. Probably the lesser known table of the three, but arguably the most innovative, particularly for 80s pinball machines. Includes an upper playfield with zipper flippers, digital displays in the playfield, red translucent lit flippers, and a player controlled rubber post between the flippers to keep the ball in play.

So much in this game to shoot for, but can be a drain monster so rewards accurate, controlled play. One of those games that keeps you coming back for more and more and more.

Seawitch (1980)

80s pinball machines stern seawitch

Seawitch is another early Stern Electronics classic. Would later be rebooted by George Gomez in 2018 as The Beatles with only minor playfield changes and a whole new set of rules. Plays super fast and requires a mix of precision and flow play between shooting for drop targets and orbits and loops. The game's 4 flippers introduce a wide variety of shots and play strategies into the mix.

Rare to see, but can experience the gameplay in the aforementioned Beatles from Stern, or, some people are able to build a fresh game from scratch, using donor parts from other similar era games. Without a doubt one of the greatest 80s pinball machines ever made.

Black Knight (1980)

1980s pinball machines williams black knight

Black Knight is a historically notable game for being the first to introduce the Magna-Save feature into pinball games (where a player can press a secondary button on the cabinet to activate a magnet that can help save a ball from an outlane drain). Would also kickstart another pinball franchise being followed by Black Knight 2000 in 1989 and Black Knight Sword of Rage in 2019.

Plays fast with a really fun multiball feature. Has a 2nd level playfield, and some of the best callouts (voiced by the designer, Steve Ritchie) of the era.

Xenon (1980)

80s pinball machine bally xenon

Xenon is an iconic game from Bally for the art package and voice callouts, and was also the first "talking" game to be produced by Bally, and one of the first with voice acting generally. The tube shot is really fun to hit repeatedly, and the game has an achievable multiball and a great spinner shot that's important for scoring.

Not the deepest game on this list from a rules perspective, but the artwork and callouts make up for that. Fun to own in a larger collection.

Cyclone (1988)

popular 80s pinball cyclone williams

Cyclone is notable mostly for its callouts, toys, and general theme immersion. Part of a trio of carnival themed games for Williams (the other two being Comet and Hurricane). No multiball, which is somewhat rare even for this time period, but the other gameplay elements make up for it.

For a lot of players who grew up with this game, there's a high nostalgia factor at play with Cyclone. Bonus for Cyclone is that today, it can be a mostly affordable game to purchase on the secondary market.

TX-Sector (1988)

popular 80s pinball machines tx-sector gottlieb

TX-Sector has excellent sci-fi theming and soundtrack, two spinner shots that when lit for points can make for some of the most satisfying shots of any game from this era. Interesting layout, but can feel like chopping wood at times.

Three flippers, so there's decent shot variety. Compared to other games on this list, may feel tired faster in a smaller home collection.

F-14 Tomcat (1987)

popular 1980s pinball f-14 tomcat pinball

F-14 Tomcat gets a bit of a mixed reputation among serious pinball players due to this game's comparative lack of depth and complexity. Known for extremely fast gameplay that's also brutally unforgiving on a well tuned machine. Ball times are often short because of this, which means it also has that "one more game" feeling in spades.

Sounds and light show are typically top notch for a Ritchie game of this era. One of those games that can help make you a better pinball player if you play it enough.

Embryon (1981)

best 80s pinball games bally embryon

Embryon is a typically underrated widebody pin from Bally that gets lost among some of its contemporaries like Future Spa and Paragon. Embryon also has the pleasure of being the last widebody pinball machine that Bally would produce before they were acquired by Williams.

Kind of oddball sci-fi theming if we're being completely honest, but we see that as part of it's appeal. Tons of variety in the shots, with 4 flippers on the game (technically, one flipper is just used as a unique outlane ball saver, but we'll still count it). Has a multiball that can be a little difficult to achieve.

Torpedo Alley (1988)

80s pinball machines data east torpedo alley

Torpedo Alley is not a classically great game by any measure, yet there's just something about this game that keeps people coming back. The rules are pretty straightforward and it can be both challenging and unforgiving to play as it needs accurate shooting and doesn't have a ton of flow.

But it's such an oddball example of pure 80s cheese that it makes this particular "best of the 80s pinball machines" list. I mean just look at the backglass! Who are those people? What are they wearing? Sound and callouts are just entertaining enough to keep you coming back. Not as expensive as others on this list, so can be a great example of a good bang for your buck game.

Big Game (1980)

top 1980s pinball machines stern big game

Big Game is a classic Stern Electronics game that's really just a lot of fun to play with some good artwork for its time. Plays faster than a widebody should, and it's unique bingo card scoring system makes it stand out from others in a collection.

Lots of fun drop target and spinner shots to hit. Designed by Harry Williams, often known as the "Father of Pinball" for founding Williams Manufacturing Co. in 1944.

Frontier (1980)

bally frontier 80s pinball machine

Frontier is an extremely classic game and typical example of an early 1980s Bally solid state pin. Inline drops, sweeping orbits, three pops at the top of the playfield and lots of dangerous target shots.

Big time bonus and lit spinner game for scoring large point values. Known in pinball circles for the sound, particularly the crickets, which may or may not be grating to players who play during certain 24-hour marathon tournaments.

Alien Star (1984)

gottlieb alien star pinball 1908s pinball game

Alien Star is in the running for one of the best spinner focused games of all time. If you catch it just right when it's been built up to 50k per spin, look out!

Extremely simple rules and a pretty bare layout compared to other games in this period, but it just works. Very addictive, and can be difficult to master if you're going for max points each time.

Silverball Mania (1980)

bally silverball mania 80s pinball machine

Silverball Mania has an impressive art package for this period, and some really unique and notable playfield features, like a mid-playfield horseshoe shot that lights a center drain kickback that helps keep your ball in play. Otherwise it's a pretty simple ruleset that relies on accurate shooting, control, and ability to maximize those horseshoe shots for drain protection.

A bit underrated for this period, but there are a lot of great games on this list!

Heavy Metal Meltdown (1987)

80s pinball machine bally heavy metal meltdown

Heavy Metal Meltdown is an extremely rare, underrated pinball from Bally, produced in 1987. It's themed after 1980s hair metal bands. Cheesy fun with a very fun to achieve multiball, and a challenging lock stealing mechanic that's fun when playing with a group of friends.

Night Moves (1989)

best 80s pinball night moves international concepts

The only cocktail pinball machine to make this list, Night Moves is a 1989 pin produced by International Concepts, though in practice and parts it's basically a Gottlieb machine. Not a particularly deep game and known for being mechanically troublesome. But it makes the list for its art package and sounds, which are both uniquely 80s - sorta like Miami Vice in a pin.

Also has multiball, which for a cocktail pin is a nice surprise. Definitely a conversation piece in any medium or large sized collection.

Time Fantasy (1983)

popular 1980s pinball machines time fantasy williams

AKA - The LSD Snail Game! Time Fantasy is another pretty rare 80s pin (only about 600 were produced). Unique for its colors and art package, which seem to be straight out of a strong psychedelics trip. Has a good mix of flow and precision play components. Snail Time - a timed mode with unlimited ballsave is a particularly fun part of the game.

The Amazing Spiderman (1980)

80s pinball machine gottlieb the amazing spiderman

Spider-Man is a timeless theme on a widebody that can play faster then it should. Lots to shoot for on the playfield even though it can feel a bit open. Simple game but usually a joy to play. Sounds can be on the charming if slightly repetitive side. Great game to have in a family environment, but can be problematic to maintain, as many Gottlieb's from this time period are.

Hardbody (1987)

popular 80s pinball machines bally hardbody game

Hardbody is another game that sort of makes the list for its extreme 1980s cheese artwork package, though admittedly the gameplay can be pretty fun. Features an upper playfield and two player controlled "flex lanes" that the player must trigger at the right time in order to close inlane ramps and prevent a quick drain. Super fast player that requires quick reflexes and timing.

BMX (1982)

top 80s pinball machines bally bmx

After putting Hardbody on this list, I felt compelled to also list its sister game, BMX from a few years prior. Both games have remarkably similar layouts, down to the same flex lane gimmick and upper playfield focused design. But you're much less likely to find this one in almost any collection as only about 400 were ever produced.

Notable Omissions

Notable games left off this list for various reasons (I reserve the right to change my mind at a later date)!