If you're anything like me, born in the '80s, raised in the '90s, and calling shots in the aughts, then the teen movies of the 1980s were likely where you cut your movie-watching teeth. I'll never forget the first time my dad brought home 16 Candles from Blockbuster. My sister had loved all things Molly Ringwald and now it was my turn. My sleepover guests and I sat mesmerized in front of the TV as teen glory unfolded before our eyes. To us, it was some insight on the years that lied ahead, a glimpse into the intimidating world of high school. We all silently took notes: clothes matter, class matters, homework doesn't really ever matter, and if you just be yourself you might get what you want in the end.
After my encounter with 16 Candles, I too consumed all things “Brat Pack.” Ferris Bueller became my #1 crush and I would do just about anything to mimic Molly Ringwald’s vocabulary. After all, I had to get prepped for the mean streets of high school. When real-life high school turned out to not be as formulaic as a John Hughes film, I escaped to my basement with my VCR and kept on watching. '80s movies made sense and they were just fun to watch.
As time charged ahead and those Dawson’s Creek characters began representing our generation, I felt a tiny hole in my heart. The '80s teen movie archetypes were so accessible and their motivation was easy to understand. When the '90s attempted to copy that with films like She’s All That, it just came off as kind of forced and trite. '90s kids lacked the innocence and candor of their '80s counterparts. Nothing beats the '80s.
And so it was back to the drawing board. I decided to figure out just what made '80s teen movies so glorious. Now, after years of diligent movie-viewing and dissecting, I think I’ve cracked the code.
It’s not only about the characters; an '80s teen movie needs to feel authentic. The film must capture the nitty gritty of teendom; the alienation, the pressure, the constant struggle for status and acceptance and, of course, the general absurdity of day-to-day high school life. Bonus points for including a generation-defining soundtrack.