Every decade has its moments in terms of cinematic greatness, but we can probably all agree the ‘80s had more than most. Whether you were born in that decade or simply grew up watching the fantastic films it produced, you were undoubtedly influenced in some way by the iconic ’80s teen movies of the time.
The significance of these movies wasn’t just a proverbial flash in the pan. They’ve endured because all these movies changed our lives. They made us more self-aware. They helped us through our awkward adolescence. They made us, well, us.
And while that may sound hyperbolic, anyone who grew up watching the following iconic ‘80s teen movies will surely agree.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Just because it wasn’t a tearjerker doesn’t mean it wasn’t profound. This story of brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) moving to a small Northern California town taught us several important lessons. No. 1, appreciate your mother. No. 2, guys in comic stores can be a wealth of knowledge. And No. 3, be nice to your grandparents — you never know when they’ll plow into the house in an old pickup truck to save you from a bloodthirsty vampire trying to make your mom the queen of the undead.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Sing it with us: “Don’t you forget about me… don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t!” Few scenes from the ‘80s are as memorable as Judd Nelson thrusting his fist in the air as he walks across the football field of Shermer High School. But that certainly isn’t the only thing about The Breakfast Club that makes it memorable. Watching this group of disparate teens (Nelson along with Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy) come together in spite of their differences colored the way ‘80s kids looked at friendships and what it meant to grow up from that point on.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
OK, so this movie was mostly funny. Hilarious, even. What made it a game-changer was the way Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) and Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) made the most of every single second they spent together. Basically, it can best be summed up by Bueller himself: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
The Outsiders (1983)
We didn’t just watch this movie roughly 1 million times because it was based on the S. E. Hinton book we had to read in high school. Or because it was a veritable who’s who of the hottest young entertainers of the time: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane. Those reasons were solid, true. The real reason this movie resonates so much, though, is because it taught us that fighting never really solves anything. That, and it made us want to “stay golden.” (Still crying for Johnny, TBH.)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
It was a motif we saw repeated more than once in the ‘80s — a teen from “the wrong side of the tracks” catches the eye of a rich popular kid. Pretty in Pink proved especially effective in teaching us life lessons because it’s two main characters, Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer), were so authentic to who they were. Did other people think they were weird? You betcha. Did they rock their unique style anyway? Yep, and they were cool as hell for it.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Nobody puts Baby in a corner. That rule still stands — we don’t care if it’s been more than three decades since Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze waltzed (sambaed?) into our lives via Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills. There’s a lot about this movie that still plays on our emotions, but most of it has to do with the fearless way Baby (Grey) and Johnny (Swayze) lived, loved and, naturally, danced.
Remember how cute and sweet Corey Haim was in Lucas? Watching him play the 14-year-old title character in this cult classic was a study in adolescent heartbreak. We felt the distinct sting when his one ally in the school, Cappie (Charlie Sheen) and his crush, Maggie (Kerri Green), fall for each other. You suffer through each mortifying moment he is tormented by the football team. And when he gets hurt in the big game, your breath catches in your throat. It’s the kind of movie that helped you be a better person, whether you were the nerd, the jock or anything in between.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Who didn’t learn some of their most seminal life lessons in the ‘80s from The Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita)? There was certainly plenty to learn. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) had to learn to adapt to a dramatically new environment when his mom’s job took them from New Jersey to California. He started learning karate from Mr. Miyagi, which required hard work and discipline. And most important, Daniel taught us all the power of empathy.
The Goonies (1985)
There’s something so magical about the friends you grow up with — the ones you ride your bikes around the neighborhood with or, in the case of Mikey (Sean Astin) and his buddies, go in search of a pirate’s hidden treasure with in order to save your family homes. You know, the norm. In all seriousness, Mikey’s blind faith and the loyalty of his friends to both him and his beliefs just made you appreciate your BFFs even more.
The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
Is there a more important lesson teens could have learned in the ‘80s than “No means no,” the message central to The Legend of Billie Jean? Having experienced something truly traumatic, Billie Jean (Helen Slater) became a symbol of empowerment and resistance that inspired her peers on-screen and in real life too.
How could we possibly omit the movie that first made us fall in love with Kevin Bacon? His Ren McCormack inspired us to fight for what we believe in — and that sometimes, rules are meant to be broken. And let’s be real; we all wanted to be more like Ariel: bold, brave and one heck of a dancer.