Coming up with a list of the top 10 teen movies of the 80s was like taking a trip down memory lane. I was in high school through the mid to late 80s, and still retain very strong memories of the movies and music that was relevant during that time. I remember going to the drive-in movie theater in town, sitting on the hood of my parent’s car watching many of these films. Others that I missed on the big screen would get rented at the local video store (VHS tapes, not DVD or Blu-ray). Friends would come over for movie and pizza night, and we would stay up until the wee hours watching stars like Ralph Macchio, Matthew Broderick and Michael J. Fox go through many of the same (okay, not exactly the same) troubles we were experiencing in our own lives. Many of these teen movies continue to live on in pop culture references to this date, and some of the teen actors featured in them have gone on to become major Hollywood stars. Were you a teen growing up in the 80s? Want to see if your favorite movies made the cut? Read on for my picks of the top 10 teen movies of the 80s:
10 – The Outsiders – This movie, adapted from writer S.E. Hinton’s book, does not have much in common with the other 80s movies on this list. While most teen films from the 80s were light-hearted and fun, The Outsiders had a decidedly darker story, and it was definitely a sobering film for its time. This film featured a gaggle of future stars including Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and Ralph Macchio. The story follows a group of young greasers, punks from the wrong side of the tracks and their ongoing battle with the popular socs, rich kids who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. The violence continues to escalate, and not everyone makes it to the end credits alive. Audiences enjoyed the film so much that director Francis Ford Coppola signed on to bring another S.E. Hinton novel to the big screen with Rumble Fish. If you are looking for a good double feature to watch one night, give these two movies a try.
9 – Say Anything – This film will probably be a lot higher on women’s lists of the top 10 teen movies of the 80s, but even for the guys it was a pretty good flick, and manages to squeak onto my list. John Cusack plays the male lead as the quirky Lloyd Dobler, a kickboxing high school senior who tries to win the love of beautiful class valedictorian Diane Court. Many obstacles stand in Lloyd’s way, most notably her father, played by John Mahoney of Frasier fame. Ultimately Lloyd gets what he wants, pulling the old ghetto blaster on the lawn trick to get her heart to melt. Sappy as hell, but as teen romances go it is actually a pretty cool flick. Give it a rent the next time your girlfriend declares it is chick flick night.
8 – The Karate Kid – Though this movie (and Ralph Macchio’s career) haven’t stood the test of time well, this movie about a poor kid from Reseda named Daniel Laruso was a huge hit when it was released in 1984. All the skinny, awkward high school guys wanted to become the next Karate Kid, and all the girls just like to see Ralph Macchio on the big screen. The late Pat Morita played the role of Daniel’s karate mentor, Mr. Myagi, and he helps Daniel overcome the odds to defeat the bullies from the local Black Cobra karate club. A young Elisabeth Shue also stars as Daniel’s love interest in the film. The Karate Kid would go on to spawn several sequels, but none came close to the original.
7 – The Lost Boys – Few teen actors were hotter (at least to the girls) in the 80s than the two Coreys. I speak of course about Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Well, The Lost Boys featured both of these teen heart throbs who made the cover of Tiger Beat magazine every other week. However, The Lost Boys also has some appeal for the guys. Haim’s character Sam Emerson becomes increasingly convinced that the new town his family has moved to is home to vampires. His suspicions are fueled by Feldman’s character Edgar Frog and his brother Alan Frog, two comic book store junkies with more than their fair share of paranoia. It turns out their paranoia is justified, and matters get further complicated when it turns out those same vampires have conscripted Sam’s older brother Michael, played by Jason Patric, into their gang. Kiefer Sutherland does a fantastic job as vampire gang leader David, showing, much like he did with his character Ace Merrill in Stand By Me, that he has the chops to play the bad guy as well as the hero character. The Lost Boys also featured a phenomenal soundtrack, including a cover of the Door’s hit People Are Strange by Echo and the Bunnymen. If you are looking for a good vampire flick then dust this one off and give it a try.
6 – Risky Business – Though Risky Business was not Tom Cruise’s first movie role, it was his first turn as a male lead, and was definitely the film that can be credited with launching his incredible career. There have been dozens of movies about the trouble teens get into when their parents go away for the weekend, but Risky Business takes that particular plot line to new heights. When he puts his dad’s Porsche into Lake Michigan he is forced to become a weekend entrepreneur (or pimp if you will), teaming up with call girl Lana, played by the stunning Rebecca De Mornay to turn a quick profit and get the Porsche back on the road before daddy can find out. The movie also features one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history where Cruise air bands in his underwear to the Bob Seger classic Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll. Guys will want to cover their eyes during this scene, but the girls definitely seem to like it.
5 – Back to the Future – Hello? McFly? This one is a no-brainer for a spot on the list of the top 10 teen movies of the 80s, and it was the DeLorean that took Michael J. Fox from a TV sitcom actor to major motion picture star. Yes, the youth who played Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties hit the jackpot with this franchise, and the name Marty McFly is easily recognized even by today’s teenagers who weren’t even alive when this movie was released in 1985. The versatile Christopher Lloyd was a perfect casting choice as the borderline crazy inventor Doc Brown, and the two of them keep the laughs coming throughout this sci-fi comedy. Back to the Future went on to spawn a pair of sequels, and though they didn’t quite reach the gold standard set by the original movie, they were much better than many sequels pumped out by Hollywood over the years.
4 – Better Off Dead – John Cusack makes another appearance on this list of the top 10 high school movies of the 80s. This quirky comedy flick is a cult favorite among many who grew up in that decade, and references to hijacking a school bus full of penguins, and crazy paperboys trying to collect their two dollars are still made today. Cusack’s character Lane Meyers has a vivid imagination to say the least, and has a hard time differentiating between fantasy and reality. It can be pretty confusing for the viewer at times, but certainly doesn’t take away from the comedic charm of this film. Better Off Dead is one of those rare movies that you can watch again and again and it never seems to get old. The girls might prefer Say Anything, but in my mind Better Off Dead was Cusack’s best work from the 80s.
3 – Fast Times At Ridgemont High – Before Sean Penn started collecting Oscars for Mystic River and Milk he was a surfer dude slacker Jeff Spicoli in the 80s cult high school hit Fast Times At Ridgemont High. This high school movie has plenty of comedic elements to go along with dark drama that make it difficult to slot into a specific drama. Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh also star in the film, and Ray Walston is particularly funny as disciplinarian teacher and Jeff Spicoli nemesis Mr. Hand.
2 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – If you think you’re having a busy day, check out how much Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick, packs into a single day in Ferris Bueller’s day off. Bueller uses every trick in the book to get away with skipping school, and he takes full advantage of the time off in this clever comedy that is recognized as one of the defining films of the 80s. Broderick became every high school student’s hero with his creative chicanery, and he lives on as one of the truly iconic characters in cinematic history.
1 – The Breakfast Club – There really couldn’t be any other choice for the number one film on the list of the top 10 teen high school movies of the 80s. No film before or since has been as adept at summing up the angst of teenagers, and many teens who watched the film could at least partially identify with the exaggerated stereotypical characters in the film. Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Molly Ringwald are all convincing as teens from all walks of life who have one thing in common: they’ve been sent for detention and must spend the day together under the watchful eye of Mr. Vernon, played to perfection by character actor Paul Gleason. During that single day each of the teens learns to see what life is like through the eyes of one another, and each experiences enormous personal growth. For those thinking that The Breakfast Club is just a bit heavy on the dramatic side don’t worry, there are plenty of laughs to go along with the thought-provoking stuff. This is one of those movies that I never get tired of watching, and even if you’ve seen it several times it is still worth dusting off for another viewing.
There you have it, my choices for the top 10 teen movies of the 80s. Feeling nostalgic about your high school years? Give one (or more) of these a rent and take a trip down memory lane.
Honorable mention: Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Can’t Buy Me Love, Pretty In Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire