Although teen movies are targeted at the younger generation, they are movies that are enjoyed by people of all age groups. It typically gives kids/teens an idea of what the next phase of their lives would look like and for the adults, it brings a nostalgic feeling reminding them of the good old days. Many actors today have teen and high school movies to thank for their breakthrough in the movie industry. Though stories about teens and high school tend to always follow the same trajectory, there is no denying that teen films have over the years evolved in some ways. One of the major factors that have influenced the lives of teens has been the advent of technology and social media. For Millenials and Gen Z who wonder what being a teenager in the 80s could have been like, here are some of the best 80s teen and high school movies to take you back in time.
1. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club would always remain a classic because even generations yet unborn would come to enjoy it. It is the movie that is talked about in other movies. Like every teen movie, The Breakfast Club has for its theme the constant struggles faced by American teenagers to be understood by people. It follows a group of 5 high school teenagers each belonging to a different clique in their high school who spend a Saturday in detention with their mean assistant principal who is portrayed by Paul Gleason.
These 5 teenagers are portrayed by Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson. The film was both a critical and box office hit making over $55 million from just $1 million budget. It has since been described as the best of John Hughes‘ works (He served as the writer and producer of the film). The Library of Congress in 2016 selected The Breakfast Club for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
2. The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid has been dubbed one of the best sports films ever. The fact that karate is popular in America today is thanks in part to this martial arts movie which was the brainchild of the genius mind of Robert Mark Kamen who drew inspiration from his real-life experiences to write the film.
A teenage kid Daniel LaRusso played by Ralph Macchio relocates with his mother from Newark, New Jersey, to Reseda, Los Angeles, California. In his new high school in LA, he attracts the attention of bullies after he becomes friends with a high school cheerleader. Daniel would come to seek the help of martial artist professional Mr. Miyagi (portrayed by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita,) to train him so he can defend himself against his bullies. The movie was released to both critical and commercial success and earned Morita an Oscar nod for the best-supporting actor.
3. Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future was so successful that it spurned a franchise and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2007. The science-fiction film tells the intriguing story of a teenage boy Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) who by accident travels back in time (1955) and becomes the love interest of his mother. Thankfully with the help of a time-traveling DeLorean invented by eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown, McFly is able to return to 1985 after he repairs history. Back to the Future made $381 million at the global box office, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year. It won an Oscar from 3 nominations as well as a Saturn and Hugo awards making it indeed one of the best 80s teen and high school movies.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
If a list of teen and high school movies that have made the most stars should be made, then Fast Times at Ridgemont High would feature high up the list. The film featured an ensemble cast as well as then-upcoming acts like Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards who would later become established Hollywood stars. The coming-of-age comedy film is based on filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s experience while working undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego. He had already written a book about his experiences in 1981 and based the movie on it. It tells the story of a group of high school sophomores and their older friends in school. It is one of the films selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
5. WarGames (1983)
A high school teenage hacker David Lightman (portrayed by Matthew Broderick) finds himself entangled with the US military’s supercomputer WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) originally designed to detect the possible outcomes of a nuclear war after he initially uses his IMSAI 8080 to hack into his school’s computer system to change his grades and that of his friends. The film which also starred Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and Ally Sheedy was both a critical and commercial success, receiving three Oscar nods.
6. 16 Candles (1984)
16 Candles shares a number of things in common with The Breakfast Club; they are both the brainchild of John Hughes as well as both among the best 80s teen and high school movies. The coming-of-age film was praised for being more mature than the regular teen raunch comedies that were prevalent at the time.
It follows Samantha (played by Molly Ringwald) who is having a difficult 16th birthday as her family is more concerned about her older sister’s wedding which is taking place the next day. At school, Samantha has a crush on an older student Jake who, still on her birthday, accidentally comes in contact with her “sex quiz” where she details her fantasies for him but luckily for her, she did not include her name and Jake is bent on finding out who owns the quiz.
7. Heathers (1988)
Heathers follows a group of girls in a popular clique in a high school in Ohio, three of them are named Heather and one is named Veronica. When the three other girls begin to show cruel behavior, Veronica disapproves, however, she is not all righteous herself as she and her new boyfriend J.D. accidentally poison the clique leader Heather Chandler and later stage it as a suicide. The dark comedy stars Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Kim Walker, and Shannen Doherty. Though it received huge critical praise upon release, the box office numbers were not so impressive, however, Heathers would later develop a cult following and has now been made into a TV show as well as a musical. Entertainment Weekly in 2015 rated it at 5 on its list of “50 Best High School Movies.”
8. Pretty In Pink (1986)
In addition to its storyline, this Brat Pack film was also praised for its soundtrack which has been rated as one of the best in modern cinema. Its screenplay was done by John Huges. It stars in its lead role as Andie, Molly Ringwald, an outcast at her high school in Chicago who hangs out only with two people – her quirky classmate Duckie who is crushing on her and her boss Annie Potts who owns the record store where she works. Andie would later experience the difficulties of dating someone from a different social background when she falls for Blane, one of the school’s most popular guys. Pretty In Pink has long attained cult classic status.
9. Risky Business (1983)
Wanna see a teenage Tom Cruise? Then you should watch this 80s teen and high school movie where he stars in the lead role as Joel Goodsen who when his parents travel for vacation becomes highly excited and upon the suggestion of his best friend Miles decides to make the best of his newfound freedom. Miles starts by ordering himself a call girl but it doesn’t take long before Joel gets into trouble which compounds when he crashes his father’s Porsche. Both a critical and commercial hit, Risky Business announced Tom Cruise in Hollywood and is regarded as his breakout film.
10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
At this point, we can comfortably call John Hughes the King of 80s teen and high school movies as this teen comedy film is also one of his works. Hughes took less than 7 days to pen this one and would later call it his love letter to Chicago as the film features many landmarks in the city. The titular character Ferris Bueller has the habit of skipping classes. He calls his school to complain about his ill health after which he launches out to explore the streets of Chicago in a borrowed Ferrari, unfortunately, his plan goes awry after he encounters his high school principal on his way. The film was a huge success becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year. It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2014. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is available on Netflix.
11. Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
This comedy film was released with the title A Night on the Town in other countries. It follows a high school senior Chris Parker who after her date with her boyfriend could not hold, finds herself babysitting two kids. However, the night soon involves more than just babysitting.
12. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
In this time travel movie, two friends in high school are about to start a music band, however, as they are both failing their final history class, it means one of them would be sent to military school. To help them ace their history presentation, they make use of a time machine owned by a certain Rufus. When they go back in time, they return with important figures who help them with their history class. The movie was both a critical and commercial success and starred Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin. It later spurned two sequels with the last one slated for August 2020.