Saturday, November 8, 2014

80s teen movies ranked

Last night I caught the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is, undeniably the best of the 80s teen movie flicks.  However, most of my students have never seen it, although they've almost all seen most of the John Hughes films, including Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.  Some of this has to do with what gets played in heavy rotation on cable.  The Hughes films are easy to watch, kind of funny, and very flattering towards teenagers.  Their whiteness and casual racism are selling points not distractions.  Fast Times, however, is a far more complicated film.  It's central relationships are flawed and end badly.  One of them culminates in an abortion (and the parents aren't told).  This is a warts and all view of (a still pretty white) teenage world.

Below please find my favorite 80s teenager films.  With a tasty quote from each.  Feel free to discuss in comments.

1.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High - An exceptional film, regardless of genre.  Human and heartbreaking. 

2.  The Sure Thing - Everybody remembers John Cusack, but this is as much Daphne Zuniga's film.  "I have a credit card."

3.  Heathers - A dark satire.  In a post-school shooting era, it would hit too close to home.  "I love my dead gay son."

4.  Say Anything - I'm a huge John Cusack fan.  (As will become even more apparent).  This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  "By choice".    "I gave her heart and she gave me a pen."

5.  Valley Girl - I love this movie as much for the soundtrack as for the plot, which is warmed over Romeo and Juliet.  Still, there is a lot more going on in this movie.   "If they attack the car save the radio."

Other films that I considered that didn't make the top five.

Risky Business - The movie that made Tom Cruise a star.  "I have a trig exam tomorrow and I'm being chased by Guido the Killer Pimp."

Footloose - Kevin Bacon dancing.  Lori Singer dancing.  Chris Penn dancing, eventually.

Movies that aren't so good that I am irrationally fond of in this genre.

Adventures in Babysitting.- "Nobody gets out of here without singing the blues."

Better off Dead - Another John Cusack vehicle.  More notable for individual scenes of surreal brilliance:  the Asian guys who learned to speak English by listening to Howard Cosell, Ricky's mom, a French person who is good at auto repair but most importantly a paper boy who is obsessed with his "twooooooo dollars."

The Patrick Dempsey Trilogy - Can't Buy My Love, Loverboy, and Happy Together.  Patrick Dempsey ought to dance in all his movies.  His extended dance sequence in Happy Together is terrific.  Can't Buy Me Love is a bit overrated.  My father was enamored of Loverboy and would watch it every time it was on.  "Extra anchovies."

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - "So-crates"  And the whole mall sequence.

The Science Movies:

Weird Science - This was the one with Anthony Michael Hall.  A lad fantasy.  "The family jewels?  The family jewels."

Real Genius - Actually put a geeky looking kid in the lead.  And tried to make political points at SDI.  It didn't really work.  No memorable quotes.

UPDATE:  Commentators on Facebook mentioned two movies I missed.  Wargames, which I loved when it came out, but has not held up well.  I find the antiquated technology distracting.  The other movie is Vision Quest.  Nice little flick.  Good Madonna song.  

UPDATE 2:  How can I forget Gregory's Girl!  "That's not how you spell Caracas anyway."  "Do you know when you sneeze it comes out your nose 1,000 miles an hour." 


  1. I find myself flummoxed that the young uns' know so much of the pop culture we grew up with; how did so much of it survive? Everything's Digital, yeah, yeah--but aside from my own ignorance of everything, wasn't there some sort of wall that shut off everything before the mid-1960s from our pop culture? That is, I can't remember, or imagine, quoting a teen movie from the 1950s back in the 1980s, but they seem to do 1980s movies in the 2010s. Is this a return to normal after the cultural chasm of the 1960s? Something new? Anyway, always peculiar when someone who wasn't alive when I first saw a movie quotes it to me.

    I saw some but not all of these, partly because I'm a few years younger than you, partly because the genre wasn't entirely my thing (snob alert), partly because I was staying home and reading comix and SF a lot. (Surprise ...) My favorite of these was Heathers, partly because I saw it while preparing to apply to colleges, partly because Winona Ryder was the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world, and partly because it was a really good fun, dark, movie.

  2. As usual, Withy, you raise some good points. Many of the movies the kids these days know are in heavy rotation on cable. That's why the kids know them. Think about Planet of the Apes week on the 4:30 movie or Star Trek, Brady Bunch, and Three Stooges re-runs. But with the explosion of cable, the kids these days get all that stuff. What I think is interesting is that it is the rare kid who knows Fast Times and Valley Girl and they all know the John Hughes movies (Breakfast Club especially these days because of the shout-out in Pitch Perfect).

  3. You mentioned cable rotation in your original post--sorry I blipped over that the first time around. Interesting that cable still matters so much.

  4. I do think it will be different for my kids. My daughter who is 11, watched a lot of 90s Disney movies (Parent Trap, etc.) on cable. My boys (9 and 6) watch Netflix exclusively. So they've seen the whole run of the 90s animated Pacman tv series, and the Sonic tv series. My daughter does a lot of stuff on youtube too with 90s tv series (Clarissa, Lizzie McGuire, That's so Rayven).