A-List: '80s Teen Classics
By Jim Van Nest
May 25, 2005
Greetings and salutations. It's time to break out the sequined gloves and parachute pants, kiddies, 'cause The A-List is going back to the '80s this week. Back to a time where Judd Nelson was a God and Molly Ringwald was ALWAYS the Prom Queen.
When I started to put together a list of the 80s Teen Classics, I had no idea I would have such a hard time whittling the list down. I mean, looking back, I could have made this list just for 1985 alone. '85 saw Michael J Fox hit it big with Back to the Future and Teen Wolf. It saw the Brat Pack take over with The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo's Fire, Weird Science and Heaven Help Us. Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Better Off Dead, Just One of the Guys and the Jim Carrey vampire flick Once Bitten were also part of 1985. So I sat down with my list of dozens of movies and tried to knock it down to 5. Well, I couldn't do it. I only got down to 10. With all due respect to Better Off Dead, Some Kind of Wonderful, Weird Science, St. Elmo's Fire and Pretty in Pink, here are the 10 films (in order of their theatrical release) that helped define a decade as well as a generation.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
The first of 2 Cameron Crowe penned films was hardly seen in the theater. But with cable television sweeping the nation, it wasn't long before Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli became the icon of my generation. With a stellar cast featuring Penn, Nic Cage, Anthony Edwards, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forrest Whitaker and Ray Walston, Crowe's script was brought to life so that every high school kid watching could match up a kid in their school with a kid in the movie. But come on, let's be honest. The cast, the script, the soundtrack...none of this has anything to do with why Fast Times makes my list. It makes the list because it has one of the best topless scenes in the history of film. There wasn't a teenage boy alive that didn't record Fast Times, just so they could rewind Phoebe Cates coming out of the pool and removing her bikini top over and over and over again. And if you're paying attention, you should see Mrs. Cameron Crowe, Heart's Nancy Wilson, in a tiny cameo. Looking back, the scariest thing about Fast Times is that Cameron Crowe was just getting started and his best work was yet to come.
What Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling seemed to start with Fast Times, Bob Clark took over the edge with 1982's Porky's. When you look back and wonder exactly when teen comedies got so raunchy, you need look no further than the story of the 6 Florida high-schoolers who wanted to get into the wildest bar/strip joint/brothel in the county. Their lives exist to see nekkid chicks. Porky's is also home to what may well be the birth of the glory hole, when Tommy Turner introduced the girl's shower room to Polly the Penis. To this day, I still don't think there's been a better teenage sex comedy. Also, keep an eye out for a VERY young Kim Catrall playing Lassie. Don't remember why she was called Lassie? Then get thee to the video store and reacquaint yourself with a teen classic.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
"What's a-happenin', Hot Stuff?" Next on the list is John Hughes' hilarious Sixteen Candles. In what could be considered the prequel to all of The Brat Pack flicks, Molly Ringwald shines as the sweet 16 year old that can't get anything she wants for her birthday. Not even "Happy Birthday" from her family. Stealing the movie, however, was that ocean of hormones, Anthony Michael Hall in what, sadly, may have been his defining role as the uber-geek who talks Molly out of her panties. Once again, you watched this film and you could identify every character in it. Also, if you pay attention, you can see the very early work of both John and Joan Cusack.
Revenge Of The Nerds (1984)
My next film was for all the kids who'd been made fun of and called names all through high school and college. Revenge of the Nerds followed the misadventures of a merry band of losers as they try to make their way in a world full of the beautiful people. After losing their dorm to the dumb jocks, a small group of geeks, dorks and nerds set out to start their own fraternity. Led by a Carradine and a very young Anthony Edwards (of ER fame), the boys finally find a fraternity that will charter them, and then the hijinks and hilarity ensue. Chock full of burp and fart jokes and plenty of nudity, Revenge of the Nerds is a must see for anyone trying to get a good grip on what teen comedies are all about.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The pinnacle of teen flicks. The Breakfast Club is what every other teen flick is trying to be. I doubt there's an '80s teenager anywhere that can't quote this movie almost line for line. Judd Nelson as the troubled bad-boy, Molly Ringwald, once again, the prom queen, Emilio Estevez as the jock, Ally Sheedy as an early generation goth chick and Anthony Michael Hall doing what he does best. Everyone, I mean everyone could find one of these characters to relate to. And I guarantee if you ask any child of the 80s about "the hot beef injection" they'll know exactly what you're talking about. With the Breakfast Club, John Hughes reached his peak, but that certainly didn't stop him as we'll see in just a bit.
Back To The Future (1985)
Many folks may have forgotten about this one. In 1985, there was no movie bigger than Back To The Future. Michael J. Fox leapt from the small screen to the big screen and quickly became one of the biggest stars of the '80s and '90s. I know I still remember the chills I got watching that DeLorean's speedometer hit 88 MPH. I also remember thinking, along with Marty McFly, "What the hell is a jigawatt?" Even though I know the film by heart (especially after the DVD release), I still get a kick out of watching it. And it must hold up ok, because my kids can't stop watching it either.
Ferris Beuller's Day Off (1986)
They all loved him. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adored him. They thought he was a righteous dude. Of course, I'm talking about Matthew Broderick's fast-talking alter ego, Ferris Bueller. The 3rd John Hughes flick to make my list centers around a sneaky high school kid who decides to ditch school and take his girlfriend and best friend on the best day ever. Along the way, he weasels into fancy restaurants, performs Danke Schoen on a parade float and helps destroy a 1961 Ferrari 250GT California (there was less than 100 of them made, ya know). The only thing that could foil this perfect day is if he gets caught by principal Rooney, played by Jeffrey Jones. Jones' legal troubles from a couple years ago certainly give new meaning to the line, "Your ass is mine." Also along for the ride was Ben Stein in one of his most recognizable roles. Bueller, Bueller, Bueller. You'll also find a pre-nose job, pre-Dirty Dancing Jennifer Grey as well as a hilarious cameo by Charlie Sheen. All in all, one of the most universally loved films in this genre.
Three O'clock High (1987)
One of my favorite films on the list is Three O'clock High. I was one of about 23 people who actually saw this is a theater. It's the story of Jerry Mitchell, another high school geek, who accidentally touches the tough-guy new kid, Buddy Revell. Jerry finds himself in every dork's worst nightmare, a pre-arranged beating scheduled for (what else) three o'clock. The majority of the film takes place in the hours between the touching and the inevitable clash, as Jerry does anything and everything to try to get out of this fight. It's a darker brand of comedy, but I loved it. If you haven't seen this one, I'd suggest you check it out sometime. And when you do, be sure to look for a young Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson, duh) as one of the school cheerleaders.
An even darker comedy, Heathers may as well not have been released in theaters. I haven't been able to confirm, but BOP's own JD may have been the only actual paying customer. But boy did Heathers make a splash once it hit video. It's the story of the popular girls, who all happen to be named Heather (except for Winona Ryder's character, Veronica.) Veronica has a chance to be part of the most powerful clique in school and who wouldn't want that right? She was doing quite well until the mysterious Jason Dean (played by Christian Slater doing his best Jack Nicholson impression). Not only does JD convince Veronica that the in-crowd isn't for her, he convinces her to start killing them off and making it seem like a series of suicides. With some of the best one-liners ever, Heathers ranks as my very favorite film on this list. A couple notes about Heathers...it is the film that put bad-girl Shannon Doherty on the map. Also, one of the Heathers, Heather Chandler to be exact, had a great line where she asks Shannon Doherty's Heather, "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?" In a bizarre twist of fate, the actress that played Heather Chandler, Kim Walker, died in 2001 of a brain tumor.
Say Anything (1989)
And I'll close the list the way I began the list...with a film penned by Cameron Crowe. This time, Crowe also directed. Say Anything is quite possibly the best of the teen comedies. While I personally like Heathers more, I can admit that Say Anything is the best film of the bunch. John Cusack plays the lovable Lloyd Dobbler. Lloyd's an average kid who just graduated high school and has no idea what he wants to do with the rest of his life. That is until the beautiful and brilliant Diane Court (Ione Skye in her best role) agrees to go out with him. He then sets his mind on being with her forever. Circumstances beyond their control eventually cause a breakup and that sets up one of the classic scenes ever in a movie, in my opinion. Everyone's seen it. Lloyd, as pathetic as he can possibly be, standing in the driveway holding a boombox playing Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes. I don't even want to think about how many women between the ages of 16 and 30 fell in love with John Cusack the moment they saw that scene. The cast sported 2 of the Heathers (Kim Walker and Lisanne Falk), Joan Cusack, a young Jeremy Piven, Chynna Phillips, a cameo by Don "the Dragon" Wilson and Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson, duh.) If you've never seen any of the films on this list, I would call this one the must see film of the 10.
I could go on for pages and pages with other quality films from this genre, but alas, my space is up. I hope you had fun running down memory lane with me. Until next time, aloha, Mr. Hand.