Our tribute to the teen movies that tickled, maddened, and saddened us continues with classics from the 80s (if you haven’t seen part 1, click here). This was the golden age of the “Brat Pack,” a group of young actors who often appeared in coming-of-age films together. These include Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and John Cusack. Though the hair and clothes might seem off-the-wall to today’s teens, the characters and lessons have aged well.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
This is the first John Hughes movie on the list, but it won’t be the last. The premise of Ferris Bueller is simple; good-natured slacker Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) skips school to spend a day in downtown Chicago. He ropes in his pessimistic best friend, Cameron, and his girlfriend Sloane. Meanwhile, the school’s dean and Ferris’ sister Jeanie are both trying to prove that Ferris is faking his illness.
When I first saw Ferris Bueller as a teenager, I didn’t think it had much of a plot. But the older I get, the more replay value Ferris Bueller has. The sheer joy and freedom that the three protagonists experience while moving through the city – first a fine dining restaurant, then a Chicago Cubs game, the Sears Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago, etc. – is infectious.
It leads to an epiphany not for the main character, but for his best friend, who decides to finally confront his overbearing father and start living.
Memorable scenes: Ferris crashing a parade and lip-synching on top of a float, Ferris and Jeanie racing home before their parents get back from work, Cameron accidentally sending his dad’s Ferrari crashing into a ditch
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Also directed by John Hughes, The Breakfast Club breaks apart teen movie conventions by bringing together five high school stereotypes – the rebel, the jock, the nerd, the weirdo, and the popular girl – and exploring what happens when they relate to each other as people.
The movie starts out in detention, where the five high school students are told not to speak, move, or sleep. The evil principal assigns a 1,000-word essay in which each person must write about who they are. Over the next eight hours, they find they have more in common than they thought but worry that they’ll simply fall back into their respective cliques after detention.
Andrew (the jock) says, “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.” For me, this became apparent in university; formerly popular girls mellowed out, nerds became hipsters, jocks became weirdos – and it was OK.
Memorable scenes: The students sharing their deepest secrets, Brian (the nerd) writing an essay accusing the principal of already having judged who the students “are,” John and Claire (the rebel and the popular girl) kissing at the end
Pretty in Pink (1986)
At its core, Pretty in Pink is a Romeo and Juliet story. Alternative, working-class Andie (Molly Ringwald) and rich, preppy Blane (Andrew McCarthy) fall in love, drawing the ire of their respective group of friends. When Blane gets cold feet and backs out of taking Andie to the prom, she must decide whether to give up or go alone.
The movie may be formulaic, but there are some truly memorable characters, including Andie’s best friends Duckie (Jon Cryer) and Iona (Annie Potts, aka the snarky secretary from Ghostbusters).
Andie herself is a pretty good role model as far as teen movies go. She has a loving relationship with her dad, is loyal to her friends, gets good grades at school, isn’t afraid to question authority, and doesn’t care for artificial social boundaries. Plus she makes kickass clothes, including the titular pink dress for the prom.
Even now, I get a pang when Blane tells Andie at the prom that he was wrong: “You said you couldn’t be with someone who didn’t believe in you. Well I believed in you. I just didn’t believe in me. I love you… always.” Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Memorable scenes: Duckie lipsyching Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” at Iona’s record store, Andie confronting Blane about backing out of prom, Blane telling Andie he was wrong
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
What is there to say about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure that hasn’t already been said? This “excellent” time travel slacker comedy has become a cult classic, propelling one of its protagonists into stardom (a young Keanu Reeves).
The movie follows Bill (Keanu Reeves) and Ted (Reeves), two idiot metalhead high school students, as they travel through time to complete a history assignment for school. Their future selves, who have created a utopian society through music, have sent back a guide named Rufus (the late comedian George Carlin) to make sure they pass their course.
Though the premise is kinda dumb, Reeves and Winter carry off the movie with so much goofy charm that it remains funny to this day. It’s also a teen movie where the focus isn’t on girls and relationships, instead featuring a procession of entertaining historical figures: Socrates (which the guys pronounce “so-craytz”), Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, Beethoven, Joan of Arc, and more.
The movie introduced me to a bunch of ridiculously catchy terms like “most excellent,” “bodacious,” “triumphant,” and “bogus,” which I will forever think of in Keanu Reeves’ stoner voice. And how can you argue with their dictum to "be excellent to each other?"
Memorable scenes: Bill and Ted being rescued from medieval England by Billy the Kid and Socrates, Bill and Ted’s final history presentation featuring live historical figures
Say Anything (1989)
Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, Say Anything, was ranked “the greatest modern movie romance” by Entertainment Weekly in 2002. The film follows “noble underachiever” Lloyd (John Cusack) and valedictorian Diane (Ione Sky) as they fall in love after graduating from the same high school. However, Diane has a scholarship to study in England and will leave by the end of the summer. Diane’s father disapproves of the relationship but is himself under investigation by the IRA for tax fraud.
As an 18-year-old, I was particularly struck by Lloyd’s vulnerability. Most teen movies feed off stereotypes like the rebellious outcast or the confident jock, but Say Anything featured a male lead who wasn’t emotionally stunted. In the famous car scene, Diane asks Lloyd why he’s shaking. “I don’t know,” he says. “I think I’m happy.”
Relationships are depicted as complicated and messy things; people change their minds and waffle over their decisions. After 25 years, it’s the depth of the characters and their interactions that continue to make Say Anything so good.
Memorable scene: Lloyd’s boombox serenade featuring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” a bunch of nogoodniks offering Lloyd advice in the parking lot of a diner
Other 80s teen movies to check out: Dazed and Confused, Weird Science, Better Off Dead, Sixteen Candles