The 25 Best Coming-of-Age Movies of The 1980s
9. Footloose (1984)
What a crazy movie this is – a town outlaws dancing because it could lead to sex, accidents, and well, fun. A preposterous idea, of course teenagers are going to rebel – mainly the daughter of the town’s staunch religious leader.
Believably played by John Lithgow, he blocks teens at every turn; shutting down dances and bashing them in his sermons. He meets his match when swift new kid Ren moves into town and challenges the rule. Kevin Bacon at his very best, we fall in love with this brave and confident hero as he dances his way to a revolution.
Over the top thanks to the memorable tractor race, its rebellious cheese ball efforts have landed its way into many people’s hearts. All in good fun, the music by Kenny Loggins is memorable and catchy. Skip the remake and re-watch this silly classic – it’s a fun watch for groups of teens even today.
10. Sixteen Candles (1984)
A Midwest writer slogged his way through advertisements, the National Lampoon Magazine, and wrote two hit films of 1983: Mr. Mom and Vacation.
Here, he made his directorial debut by tapping into what he did best; John Hughes made High School movies. He searched through pictures upon pictures until finding Molly Ringwald – quickly rewriting the script to match her essence.
In this loveable classic, we follow a teenage girl on her sixteenth birthday – everyone has forgotten amidst the chaos of her older sister’s wedding. On top of that, a geek won’t leave her alone and the boy of her dreams doesn’t even know she exists.
Of course Ringwald’s character gets her way but would we want the film to go in any other direction? It’ sweet because of her down to earth performance; Ringwald’s memorable annoyed look resonated with millions of other teen girls. She still was one and brought her experiences to set along with her talented co-stars.
11. The Karate Kid (1984)
Mr. Miyagi has entered the lexicon as one of cinema’s most enduring mentors. Alongside Yoda and Dumbledore, his wax on wax off wisdom has inspired others learn to fight and stand up for themselves.
That’s just what weak little Ralph Macchio needed when some school bullies decided to show him who’s boss. Urged by his Mother, he enrolls in karate classes where he meets the famed teacher.
Household chores quickly become lessons in fighting and the kid evolves into a champ. He enters in competitions but learns that just because you can fight doesn’t mean you should.
A great lesson in defense, violence, and after school sports, this athletic classic tapped into America’s love for tough contenders like Rocky. As per usual, a parade of sequels and remakes hit theaters but ultimately there is one classic fly catching tale.
12. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Possibly the seminal golden teen film – we simply enjoy five very different students spending detention together in a library on a Saturday.
Under the watchful eye of soulless Principal Vernon, we meet Molly Ringwald the popular princess, Anthony Michael Hall the geeky brain, Emilio Estevez the jock, Ally Sheedy as the quirky basket case, and the shining star Judd Nelson as the rebel. Watching each character interact is a treat.
What their conversations do are break down stereotypes while showcase other school problems like peer pressure and popularity. There’s talk of drugs and sex and grades but it never feels to pushy or forced.
Each character is so well defined and interesting, you pick your favorites and possibly hate them for mistakes made later on. As they debate adult world and how your heart dies – we can’t all help but put our first in the air along with Bender after watching this emotional John Hughes ride.
13. The Goonies (1985)
If Indiana Jones were made with children – this is about the closest you’d get. Helmed by Steven Spielberg and Christopher Columbus, the film’s director was actually Superman’s Richard Donner. But all three eclectic tastes come through with young heart, heart thumping action, and an all together well rounded story.
We follow a group of kids (another group of soon to be famous young stars like Sean Astin and Josh Brolin) trying to save their home from demolition by searching for a pirates lost treasure.
A wild ride filled with perilous threats and strange characters like poor disfigured Sloth, the adventure is grand by the companionship is even greater.
Each kid shows off talents and bravery (none more memorable than the Truffle Shuffle) in order to stick together and help one another as their imagination and determination get the best of them. A true eighties kid classic filled with wonder and a lot of laughs.
14. My Life as A Dog (1985)
Until this point, Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom was best known for directing Abba music videos. This is the film that launched his career and also shed a light on foreign cinema during the decade.
A young boy is separated from his family in the fifties because of his Mother’s illness and his constant trouble making with his brother. Now forced to live in a small town, he meets new friends and tries his best to fit in but embarrassments, scoldings, and setbacks only continue to hurt the small boy. So he begins to bark like a dog and act just like a canine in protest.
A peculiar and often dark tale – My Life as A Dog is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Traditional in its construction – the little boy steals the show with his bold and emotional performance. Childhood innocence has never quite been shown in a deep and original story like this.
15. Back to the Future (1985)
Here’s a movie where the hero doesn’t learn a lesson – he instead gets everything he ever wanted (most of it superficial) simply because he hung out with a strange old man.
Marty McFly doesn’t grow from his time traveling experience but this one often tops the list of best high school movies. You really can’t argue with that because you have rebellion, detention, love, bullies, and all of that again, just thirty years prior.
For those who haven’t witnessed the landmark movie, a teenager is sent back in time via decked out DeLorean and is forced to introduce his own parents to each other when the poor guys own Mother falls in love with him.
The film is a classic, undeniably revered for its screenplay and mix of comedy, sci-fi, and loveable characters. What lands it here are the small details Marty learns like how his parents were a bit more rebellious than they let on. No other film compares then and now and how growing up changes each decade quite like this movie.
16. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
No teen ever was as crafty as Ferris Bueller and lucky for us he takes some time to show us a few tips and tricks for getting out of school. After faking the flu, he gets to stay at home but he does everything but rest.
The classic character takes in museums, fancy restaurants, and even lands center stage in a parade. What we get from John Hughes deepest outing is a lesson in parental relations.
We know Hughes was against growing up and often painted adults as senseless business oriented robots. The root of Ferris Bueller is his best buddy Cameron who must learn to enjoy himself and stand up to his father in the process. There are subplots like first loves, sibling rivalry, and a great parody of popularity – the film is a lot more complex than it lets on.
While we love Ferris, we route and sympathize for dear sheepish Cameron. In the end, it reasoning for the day off is clear; life goes fast and you could miss it if you don’t stop to take a look around.
17. Pretty in Pink (1986)
John Hughes and Molly Ringwald’s last outing (Hughes only wrote this one as well), we see a lower class girl struggle to fit in. By working hard at a mall job and taking care of her well oriented Father (Harry Dean Stanton in his best role), Ringwald nears a breaking point but is grounded by her best friend Ducky and the pursuance of handsome Andrew McCarthy.
Hughes often received flack for his portrayal or upper middle class white life but here he seems to try and take a stab at a different world; the relations between those who can afford a pretty prom dress and those who have to make them.
Ringwald is at her most compelling while the supporting gang of guys around her represents more interesting and complex stereotypes. Certainly not as laugh out loud as other Hughes films – this was reportedly Ringwald’s favorite – and it’s easy to see why. It’s a juicy look at more realistic high school drama.