The 1980s will be remembered for bad retro pop music and unforgettably cheesy fashion trends. However, there’s one popular culture trend that will be remembered more fondly– the 1980s teen movie.
Teen films from the 1980s portrayed life in the suburbs as alienating and superficial. Although Ronald Reagan was espousing a nostalgic return to a mythical version of the 1950s, teen films weren’t buying it. Another feature of the 1980s teen film: adults were clueless. The decade began with ET the Extraterrestrial (1981), where the mother doesn’t know that there’s an alien living in her house. Ferris Bueller’s parents were fooled into believing their son was sick, and Samantha’s Baker’s parents in Sixteen Candles (1984) forgot her sixteenth birthday. Teachers fared even worse than parents. They were either cruel, like the principal in The Breakfast Club (1985), or mind-numbingly dull, like the monotonous teacher played by Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).
Here s a list of ten memorable flicks from the 1980s that captured the suburban angst of the era.
The Breakfast Club (1985). Directed by John Hughes, king of the 1980s teen flick, this film takes place in Saturday high school detention, where five kids from different social groups meet and slowly become friends. This film mostly takes place in one room and has strangely little action for an MTV-era flick, but it resonated with teens everywhere.
Back to the Future (1985). Michael J. Fox plays Marty McFly, whose parents are so pathetic that he has to go back in time to teach his father to stand up to the class bully. Product placement in movies was new, and the unsublte attempts to advertise Tab and other products are a hoot.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Another John Hughes flick that starred Matthew Broderick. Ferris Bueller manipulates the system constantly to get days off from school. He’s a good kid, though, who tries to help his uptight friend Cameron loosen up and stand up to his abusive father. This film has lots of great tag lines, such as, “Bueller? Bueller?”
Heathers (1989). Here’s the dark satirical side of 1980s teen flicks! Winona Ryder plays Veronica, an unhappy popular girl who’s sick of her snooty friends who are all named Heather. She hooks up with J.D., a mysterious newcomer, and she suddenly finds herself killing off the popular kids. Anyone who survived high school in the 1980s needs to see Heathers.
Dirty Dancing (1987). Teenage girls gathered around VCRs to watch this repeatedly. Jennifer Grey plays Baby, the rich girl whose life is transformed by a “wrong side of the tracks” resort worker who teaches her how to dance dirty.
The Karate Kid (1984). Getting even with the popular kids was a big theme in 1980s teen films. Ralph Macchio plays the geeky new kid who clashes with the popular guys, but learns to stand up to them by mastering karate with the help of the Japanese handyman.
Say Anything (1989). One of the most romantic love stories ever. John Cusack plays Lloyd Dobler, who woos smart but silent girl Diane with a little help from Peter Gabriel and a boom box.
Risky Business (1983). This strange Tom Cruise film encapsulates the greed of the 1980s. When Joel Goodsen’s parents leave him home alone, he hires a prostitute and then finds his entrepreneurial spirit by starting a neighborhood brothel.
War Games (1983). Matthew Broderick is an amateur computer hack who accidentally almost starts a nuclear war. This flick seemed deep at the time, but has become outdated due to archaic computer systems and the nuclear war theme. Perhaps a remake is due with supercomputers and terrorists?