Totally Tubular Teen Movies

I have officially given up on the Boy's generation coming up with good teen dramedies.

It really must suck to be a teenager now. To watch a movie with teenage protagonists, they basically have the choice of fantastical worlds like The Hunger Games (good times, but whoa depressing) or they can go to "old" movies like Harry Potter (just let that sink in for a minute). Or they can go to movies like The Fault in Our Stars or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, nicely tragic. Boy is all excited about Paper Towns, because it actually is about teenagers.

My new mission is to find good teen movies for Boy. The movie-teens of the Eighties might have been a little light on parental supervision and plenty heavy on sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, but they were awesome in all the bright-neon gaudiness I remember so fondly. The top themes were breaking through socioeconomic barriers: poor vs. rich was a constant theme, as well as busting through the caste system of the modern American high school.

Of course, I was a teenager then. So my memory might be a little... flawed. But here's how I remember the Awesome Eighties. Here be spoilers! (C'mon, people, it's been thirty years.)

The Breakfast Club. Pretty much the standard, taking the stereotypes by which we all lived high school and showing the layers beneath, as five kids who couldn't be more different find out they have a lot more in common. Required viewing.

Some Kind of Wonderful. I am hesitant on this one because it also pushes another common Eighties theme that bothers the hell out of me: rejecting college, do your own thing and fight the parental plans for higher education. Granted, the Baby Boomer parents leaped into college because it was often an alternative to being drafted into Vietnam, but higher education in the 21st century is going to be absolutely essential for just about every job, so seeing the main character ditch his college fund to buy diamond earrings for a girl he barely knows horrifies me (and it horrified me as a teenager, too). Still, Eric Stolz, Lea Thompson and Mary Stuart Masterson do an amazing job with what could've been another dumb love triangle. And you have to love a movie where a girl says, "Remember when I said I'd rather be with someone for the wrong reasons than alone for the right ones? I think I'd rather be right."

• I am probably the only child of the '80s who hated Say Anything. Another one about ditching the expectations of boring parents who don't get it, we have John Cusack in his last teen role as king of the slackers, doing his best to derail the future of a brilliant and motivated girl. Yeah yeah boombox, but as one who experienced something similar once, it's more "creepy" than "romantic" in real life.

• Can't Buy Me Love is another economic story, where the nebbishy kid has the cash to bail out the pretty girl and thus becomes cool by association - only it changes his life in ways he didn't expect. Early Patrick Dempsey is charming enough to overcome a wooden Amanda Peterson as the object of his affections, and also has some sly things to say about the high school caste system.

• Wargames. Not really a teen movie, but it has a teenage protagonist and the things it tried to say about the arms race and hope vs. defeatism were almost as fascinating as the acting from Matthew Broderick and John Wood.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off. No detail required. It was playing for free at the Wildey last week and we caught the show, which is what started this line of thought. Boy remarked that it was not only absolutely hilarious, but also had some serious things to say about facing uncertain futures and problematic relationships with parents (Ferris' parents are beyond clueless, Sloan's parents are nonexistent and we could write volumes about Cameron's unseen father.)

• Do not even discuss Heathers with me.

Sixteen Candles. Deeply problematic because of the offensive Asian stereotype, casual attitudes toward date rape of an unconscious girl, and the whole panties thing. I get that everyone loves this movie, and Molly Ringwald was fun in everything she was in, but I give this one a pass.

• Just One of the Guys is one I never actually saw, but I heard plenty about it. A pretty girl decides to dress as a boy in her new high school because she's tired of not being taken seriously as a writer. Supposedly it has some sharp things to say about gender stereotypes, homophobia, sexism and sexual identity, which is pretty advanced stuff for 1985. I may watch that one for myself.

Goonies never say die.

Pretty in Pink. Yes, Molly Ringwald was in everything. Another rich-vs.-poor triangle, with Andrew McCarthy as the rich guy and the eternal "Duckie" best friend. Everyone screams about the ending (and if you yell spoilers, I will assume you are Rip Van Winkle because the movie came out 29 years ago, folks), but I am just fine and dandy with the nerdy best friend not getting the girl. The "nice guy" who hangs out with a girl in the hopes of eventually "getting" her is not a trope I care for, though Blane was kind of a loser as well. Bonus points: a parent who was actually present and had conversations with his daughter!

Back to the Future. Where we're going, we don't need roads.

Stand By Me. Not exactly a teen movie, it was more a coming-of-age story and one of Stephen King's best. I hardly need to recap it for you, though I will say that the novella is darker, more nuanced and goes into greater depth for the characters than the movie. Again we have rich (or middle-class) kids and poor kids, as you can see a stark difference in the unhappy home lives of Gordie and Chris. There's an extra stab to the heart at the end, as we all know what became of the supremely talented River Phoenix, and Wil Wheaton proved he is so much more than Wesley Crusher.

That's the list that comes to mind without extensive Google. While Boy has, of course, seen the classics like Goonies and Back to the Future, I do believe some of these gems need to be on our summer viewing list. I know there are dozens more I haven't thought of, so if you have any recommendations, put them in the comments!


  1. Was it you who commented on my Fb post about Some kind of wonderful some time ago (not sure when it was. Could be 6 months or so). I was saying pretty much the same thing about him using the college money for that when most of the things they did at the date was free anyway.
    I think I actually got free tickets to Can't buy me love from a local radio station (I also got free tickets to Big and License to drive. License to drive was forgettable, but it was nice to get free tickets to a movie in the days before high speed Internet and being able to stream and download movies. And it had Corey Feldman in it, and I've always liked him. I wish he could get more work).
    Have you read that fan theory about Ferris Bueller's Day Off that says it's actually a Fight Club story about Cameron?

  2. Pump up the Volume?

  3. Now I feel old! I graduated in 79 so I was a poor college kid in the early 80s and raising kids in the latter part so I missed most of these. But you did forget Dirty Dancing "Noone puts Baby in the corner!", or Flashdance (I"m sure boy would love the water scene!), or how about Footloose - I'm detecting a theme here! LOL
    I was a child of the 70's so I grew up with Animal House, The Blues Brothers, American Grafitti, and Grease!


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