Growing up in the 80s, movies always made a big impression on me. I had three siblings and we were a one-income family so the day my father came home with a VCR was huge.
We hardly went to the movies. We’d stay in and my mom would pop popcorn, or heat up a Salisbury steak TV dinner and pop in a movie.
Oh, and how exciting it was if a good one came on television — we made sure to hit the record button after inserting a blank tape. Over the years our collection of kick-butt movies grew and now that my kids are teenagers, I love sharing all my favorites with them.
They can make remarks about how these 80s movies were “made in the 1900s” all they want. Their mama comes from “the best teen movies were made in the ‘1980s” camp and here is the all-star list you must watch with your teens. After all, it’s a cultural milestone all kids need to experience.
Best 80s teen movies
1. Say Anything (1989)
John Cusack, lifting a stereo over his head, under a window will forever be etched in our brains. An optimist, Lloyd (Cusack) seeks out popular, beautiful and brainy Diane (Ione Skye) who he wants as his girlfriend. Will love triumph over parental (John Mahoney) disapproval? Directed by Cameron Crow.
2. Back to the Future – Part I, II, and III (1985, 1989, 1990)
These movies were so intriguing and 2015 seemed like light years away when we were growing up. And yet, here we are six years past the date Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) time-traveled to and we don’t feel that much older. Memorable performances by the most lovable mad scientist ever, Christopher Lloyd as Emmett “Doc” Brown and Lea Thompson who plays Lorraine Baines-McFly, the 1955 teenage who plays Marty’s unhappy mom. Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
3. Top Gun (1986)
Tom Cruise’s superstardom was already certain after Risky Business came out in (1983) so I couldn’t wait for Top Gun to come out to see Cruise again.
That volleyball scene with a shirtless Tom Cruise turned me into a woman. That soundtrack still gives me the chills. Almost every line in that movie became epic (talk to me, Goose), and I’m totally taking my kids to see the Top Gun: Maverick sequel coming out in November 2021 but they must watch the first before that because I’m sure the new one will not compare. Directed by Tony Scott.
4. The Goonies (1985)
The adventure, the friendship, the quest to help their parents and save their homes. We love this film for its innocence and the booby traps, dusty maps and who could forget The Truffle Shuffle? Directed by Richard Donner with a story by Steven Spielberg.
5. The Outsiders (1983)
The amazing cast including Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez and other heartthrob actors was the reason my friends and I had to see this movie. My kids are reading this book by S. E. Hinton for school (which of course is better), but they are excited about seeing the movie. The nicknames, the cliques, the struggle to fit in, the bond between brothers and how it touches on the social structure in the ’60s are all reasons to see this classic. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
6. Footloose (1984)
We loved it for the dancing and how vulnerable Kevin Bacon (Ren McCormack) was being the new kid, liking the popular girl, and standing up for something. He has to overcome objections to dancing and rock music by the powerful Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) who also happens to be the father of rebellious Ariel (Lori /singer.) The last scene where everyone is dancing at high school senior prom to title song by Kenny Loggins makes the movie. Directed by Herbert Ross.
7. The Karate Kid (1984)
Ralph Macchio was the first crush for many. This movie showed us all that being labeled as an underdog doesn’t mean you are one. Directed by John G. Avidsen.
8. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Part fairy tale, part Sci-fi, ET pulls at our heartstrings. This strange creature was abandoned and left alone and who should find him but Elliott (Henry Thomas) a sweet boy whose parents have separated. Any how many times have you said, “Phone home” in your life? With a memorable performance by a very young and adorable Drew Barrymore who plays Gertie, Elliott’s little sister. Directed by Steven Spielberg.
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
This movie is the reason why many of us are now afraid of snakes and spiders but with all the adventure, we just couldn’t stop watching. Handsome professor Indiana Jones is played by Harrison Ford who made studying architecture in college seem like a very thrilling major! The music was composed by John Williams and the director was Steven Spielberg.
10. Ghostbusters (1984)
Mr. Stay Puft, The Marshmallow Man, made me afraid to put marshmallows in my hot cocoa for a spell but I got over it. All that slime, when Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) floating above the bed after being possessed by Zuul, and who could forget the librarian ghost? Dream team comedic actors, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray portray a team of discredited scientists who must save New York City from total destruction. Ghostbusters was part horror and part comedy which is probably why it never gave me a nightmare. Directed by Ivan Reitman.
11. The Breakfast Club (1985)
A movie about a group of different kids sitting in Saturday detention that touches on so many universal issues for our teens. It was said that the director of this film, John Hughes, wrote the screenplay in just a few days based on some of his own high school experiences. The students are played by actors Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, and Emilio Estevez.
12. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
My sisters and I still use famous lines for from this movie. It was the one we’d watch while skipping school ourselves since we didn’t have access to a fancy sports car or hundreds of dollars to go out to lunch in the city. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) continues to inspire us with his famous line, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Directed by John Hughes.
13. National Lampoon Vacation Movies (1983 – 2015)
All 0f the National Lampoon still make me roll off the sofa with laughter. Watching the Griswold family with patriarch, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) never fails to delight as they make one awful decision after another. The movies never get old. Our favorite is “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.” We love cousin Randy (Randy Quaid) and the scene where he captured Clark’s boss. Although there have been many directors, the first was directed by John Hughes.
14. Harry and the Hendersons (1985)
My kids have watched this movie over a dozen times and still laugh just as hard as they did the first time they saw it. A sweet, mushy movie about forgiveness never gets old. It stars John Lithgow who plays dad George Henderson and was directed by William Dear.
15. Mannequin (1987)
Yes, it’s a film about a man who makes a mannequin and falls in love with it, but we can’t get enough. Romance, comedy, fantasy — this movie has it all. Watch now to see very young Sex in the City star, Kim Cattrall portray the mannequin who springs to life, introducing her self as “Emmy.” Directed by Michael Gottlieb.
16. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
This was the one we used to watch with friends on Friday nights. A memorable coming-of-age comedy-drama about two siblings, Brad (judge Reinhold) and Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on a book written by Cameron Crowe. Directed by Amy Heckerling.
17. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) didn’t just teach me how to fake the “Big O,” she taught me how to do it right. While eating pie. She is the only hero I’ll ever need and the reaction by her college best friend across the table, Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) is priceless, too. Directed by Rob Reiner with a screenplay by Nora Ephron.
18. Dirty Dancing (1987)
Although I’ve never been to a family resort like the one depicted in Dirty Dancing, watching this movie transported me to the Catskills to of the 1960s. With a storyline of a girl falls for a guy from the other side of the tracks, the movie transcends cliches of this genre with the incredible pairing of Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze.) You will be mesmerized watching the dance finale. Directed by Emile Ardolino.
19. The Princess Bride (1987)
This movie’s timeless appeal may have something to do with the once-upon-a-time opening with The Grandfather (Peter Falk) reading a bedtime story to adorable The Grandson (Fred Savage). But it is also the brilliant comedic writing and acting by an incredible cast that make this one of my very favorite 80s teen movies to watch with my teens. Notable stars include gorgeous Robin Wright (The Princess Bride), unforgettable Mandy Patinkin (Iñigo Montoya), and Billy Chrystal (Miracle Max.) Directed by Rob Reiner with Executive Producer Normal Lear.
20. Mystic Pizza (1988)
One main real reason to watch Mystic Pizza with your teens is to show them Julia Roberts in what is considered her breakout role. Playing working-class waitress, Daisy Araújo, she lives and works in Mystic, Connecticut where she meets Charles (Adam Storke) from the wealthy side of the tracks. A classic coming-of-age story also stars Matt Dillon in his film debut. Directed by Donald Petrie.
More favorite 80s teen movies
Stand By Me
Some Kind of Wonderful
Less Than Zero
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Pretty in Pink
The Flamingo Kid
Adventures in Babysitting
Better Off Dead
Field of Dreams
Officer and a Gentleman
So now, the only thing you need to do is grab some snacks and take a walk back to nostalgia town with your kiddos. They may say that these movies are “old-fashioned” but we guarantee they will love them.
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