Growing up is hard. The teen years are filled with angst—you break out, break up, and sometimes break down. When you want to be understood, you turn to the things you identify with most. For those of us who grew up in the ’80s, that often meant movies. Here are just a few unforgettable ’80s films that totally understood our fears, our dreams, and our teen angst.
This 1987 dark comedy not only had some of the greatest one-liners (“Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”), but it also adeptly portrayed what an unimaginably cruel place high school could be. The movie brought to light the topic that most perplexed us during our teen years: popularity. We watched what life was like for the popular kids and discovered that it wasn’t as easy or as fun as we imagined it to be. Heathers revealed the ugly side of the “in” crowd and made us realize that being on the outside of it wasn’t so bad.
The Breakfast Club
John Hughes’s classic tale of high school stereotypes brought together a group of kids who otherwise would have never sat within 5 feet of one another. We watched as they fought, opened up, shut down, and eventually came to form a bond that went above and beyond high school hierarchy. We, along with several members of the Brat Pack, realized we were all so much more than the sum of our parts, the labels we’d been given. We finally understood what it was like to be all the people we weren’t—the athlete, the brain, the princess, the criminal, and the basket case, and this made it easier for us to be the people we were.
This movie paired two dissimilar and oddly matched people—slacker Lloyd Dobler and overachiever Diane Court. The two had just graduated, and while we loved the romance, what we really identified with was the uncertainty of life that follows high school graduation. Lloyd’s response to Diane’s father’s question regarding plans for the future was exactly what we all wanted to say—but didn’t have the guts to—when our own parents asked what we wanted to do with our life. We didn’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. We didn’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. Enough said.
Pretty in Pink
This tale of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks meets rich golden boy was undeniably heartbreaking. When Andie asked, “What about prom?” we understood how tragic teen love could be. After all, many of us were living it. Andie taught us that no one could break us—not people’s misguided perceptions or expectations and certainly not a rich boy who wouldn’t commit to prom. We, too, could turn that prom dress into whatever we wanted it to be—a proud symbol of who we were and who we would continue to be. With or without the boy of our dreams, we were pretty in pink.
This movie represented that rare weekend when the stars aligned and your parents trusted you enough to leave you home alone—we’ve all been there and thrown the occasional wild party or been friends with a kid who did. We remember the rite of passage as we pulled away from parents, made our own decisions, and bailed ourselves out of situations we’d created. The angst of waiting to find out if we would get into our dream school, the pressure from school and parents to meet expectations—it was heavy and palpable and all-consuming. When Joel cut loose in his underwear, dancing to Seger in the middle of his living room, we could relate, because we wanted nothing more than to cut loose too.
For many of us, being a teenager was unbearably awkward. With parents who were out of touch and wrapped up in their own lives, siblings who drove us crazy, well-intentioned grandparents who interfered, and a crush we adored who didn’t seem to notice we were alive, we all felt like Samantha Baker at one time or another during our teen years. Whether it was a forgotten birthday or a room we had to turn over when relatives came to visit, we often felt invisible. Of course, sometimes things worked out our way. Sometimes we got the boy or bonded with the parents, and sometimes we felt grateful just to reclaim our bedroom after extended family finally went home.
Our teen years were filled with angst. We wanted to fit in. We wanted to survive. But our favorite ’80s teen movies showed us that we weren’t alone, that we would make it through. And we have made it through. We’re now at a point where we can look back on those awkward years and see that they weren’t as bad as we thought they were. Watching these ’80s movies, we even sort of miss them.