1985 was a big year for cinema: Out of Africa, The Color Purple, Jagged Edge, Witness and Back to the Future were Oscar nominees, but many other low-key releases from that same year remain as much a part of the cultural landscape.
I know, because I am the girl who wore the prestigious “Assistant Manager” name tag at the local movie theater. I also ran the projection booth and screened every single one of these movies before you saw them, usually on Saturday nights (who wanted to be invited to your parties, anyway?).
Here are five of my favorites, and what we learned from them:
1. The Breakfast Club
John Bender. And those other four characters, who were they? Oh, right: a brain, an athlete, a basket case and a princess. Arguably the best creation of director John Hughes, this film’s message of acceptance and the universal struggle to be understood was shrewdly cloaked in some of the sharpest, most sarcastic dialogue ever to be quoted on social media 30 years later.
What we learned: When you grow up, your heart dies.
Also: Impossible, sir. It’s in Johnson’s underwear.
2. Better Off Dead
1985 was the year that people began to take notice of a young actor named John Cusack. He also appeared in Rob Reiner’s The Sure Thing, thus establishing his career as an oddball hero. Four years later, he forever won the hearts of all women as Lloyd Dobler—but it began here, with Lane Myer. Recently dumped and ineptly suicidal, Lane tries to win his girlfriend back with…that’s right, a ski race down the most dangerous ski slope in California. There are too many Gen-X triggers and quips to mention, including a psychotic paperboy (“I want my two dollars!”), neighbors with boundary issues (“Gee, I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.”) and the weird friend with a major drug problem (“This is pure snow! It’s everywhere! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?”).
What we learned: Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.
3. Real Genius
This film follows that dark-haired kid who we never saw again as he fails to steal his movie back from Val Kilmer. Thank goodness for IMDB! Featuring Gabe Jarret as Mitch, a young genius accepted into a college program to develop a laser that will—surprise!—be secretly sold to the government as a weapon. Mitch, his way-more-interesting-roommate Chris (Kilmer), and the other genius misfits decide to sabotage the plan—but on the way, they build lots of really cool stuff with dry ice, breathing Volkswagens and pool parties.
What we learned: See this? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold. This? This is Kent. This is what happens to people when they get too sexually frustrated.
This film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing. I believe it lost because they failed to edit out the entire weird ’80s techno soundtrack. Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer are star-crossed lovers Navarre and Isabeau, forever cursed by a jealous Bishop, so that Navarre is a wolf by night and Isabeau a hawk by day. I still get misty over the scene where the two see each other briefly at one sunrise. Matthew Broderick is the quirky little thief who makes snarky remarks to God and tries to help break the spell.
What we learned: Even Broderick can have a moment of badass: “If you lay one hand on her, you will find it on the ground next to your head. Now ride on!”
5. St. Elmo’s Fire
In a nutshell: Judd Nelson is hotter as Bender, Rob Lowe is hot even when he looks like a douchebag, Mare Winningham needs to grow a set, and Demi Moore tries to commit suicide by sitting in one place so long that the she is crushed by the weight of her own angst, while Nelson and Andrew McCarthy fight over Ally Sheedy and try to figure out how to break down a door. Oh, and Emilio Estevez gets cock-blocked by Andie MacDowell’s boyfriend. Also, something about St. Elmo and a fire. The theme song still makes me car dance. “Wanna be a man in motion, all I need is a pair of wheels.”
What we learned: It ain’t a party ’til something gets broken.
And how else would I learn that, all alone in that theater on a Saturday night, unless it’s from Douchebag Rob Lowe?
This article was originally published on