The 18 Best Teen Angst Movies of the 1980s

9. The Karate Kid (1984) Dir. John G. Avildsen

The Karate Kid (1984)

“You trust the quality of what you know, not the quantity.”

Daniel Larusso is a young man who has to deal with getting bullied after moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles. He manages to talk his way out of a few fights, but he is eventually cornered and attacked by students from Cobra Kai, the local karate school; who are far superior at martial arts than Daniel.

Luckily, Mr. Miyagi, the handyman at Daniel’s apartment complex, saves him and fights off his attackers. Miyagi offers to help train Daniel and enters him in a martial arts duel that’s due to take place a few months away. However, the training seems less like karate and more like household chores.

Karate Kid is considered by some to be one of the best incorporations of martial arts into mainstream American film. It’s a classic eighties film that has truly stood the test of time. Surprisingly, Ralph Macchio was twenty-two when he played the role of Daniel, who is supposed to be around seventeen. This film is nostalgic to everyone who grew up being told to “Wax on, wax off.”


8. Better Off Dead (1985) Dir. Savage Steve Holland

Better Off Dead (1985)

“‘I Cannot Do It’ is your middle name.”

In this eighties classic, Lane Meyer, a geeky teenaged boy, is dumped by his girlfriend Beth for the captain of the ski team, Roy. Lane attempts suicide but fails, which leaves him feeling even more pathetic. He becomes obsessed with Beth and with the help of the new French foreign exchange student, Monique, he decides to try to win back her heart and his honor by preparing to challenge Roy to a skiing race. This prompts the question: is he able to win back Beth’s heart or is he better off dead?

Better Off Dead is a fun, campy movie rife with witty dialogue and quirky characters. Director Savage Steve Holland said that the majority of this film was based on his teenaged years. He was dumped by his girlfriend for the captain of the ski team and even attempted suicide in the same manner as Lane in the film. John Cusack, who starred as Lane, loathed the movie and said that it made him look like an idiot. After the film’s release, he told the director to never speak to him again.


7. Rumble Fish (1983) Dir. by Francis Ford Coppola

Rumble Fish

“Blind terror in a fight can easily pass as courage.”

Rusty James is the new leader of a depleting gang in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He lives in the shadow of his older brother and former gang leader Motorcycle Boy, who vanished two months prior. Before Motorcycle Boy’s disappearance, he issued a truce and forbid all gang wars. But when Rusty James breaks the treaty and gets into a rumble with Biff, his brother turns up out of the blue.

Another film by Francis Ford Coppola adapted from an S.E. Hinton novel, Rumble Fish’s screenplay was written by both Coppola and Hinton during the filming of The Outsiders. Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke are fantastic in this film as Rusty James and Motorcycle Boy.

The black and white cinematography is breathtaking and has elements of film noir and German Expressionism, which was meant to convey Motorcycle Boy’s color blindness. The drummer of the Police, Steven Copeland, wrote the soundtrack for the film giving it an experimental vibe. This is an extraordinary film by Francis Ford Coppola that has been repeatedly overlooked.


6. Pretty in Pink (1986) Dir. Howard Deutch


“I just want them to know that they didn’t break me”

In this quintessential ‘Brat Pack’ film, Molly Ringwald stars as Andie, an unpopular girl from a poor household, who spends her time working at a record store, hanging out with her best friend Duckie who has been in love with her since childhood and taking care of her father who is still devastated by her mother walking out on them years before.

She is bullied relentlessly by the rich kids for her clothes, which she makes herself. But when Blaine, one of the popular kids, shows interest in Andie despite the social pressure from their peers, she must choose whether or not to take a risk and go on a date with him.

Another classic film by John Hughes, Pretty in Pink deals with the differences between social classes. It’s superbly acted, has a terrific soundtrack, and like every Hughes movie, has a great musical number (Jon Cryer lip synching to Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness nonetheless). James Spader does a brilliant job making Steff, the rich douchebag, a three dimensional antagonist. This is a must see for all Brat Pack enthusiasts.


5. My Bodyguard (1980) Dir. Tony Bill

My Bodyguard (1980)

“Hey, Moody! You owe me a years worth of lunch money.”

The new kid at Lake View High School, Clifford Peache, lands in hot water after insulting Moody, the leader of the bullies who extort money from their peers. They insist they are collecting their money as a form of payment for protecting them from Ricky Linderman, an outcast who allegedly killed his younger brother a year prior. Clifford attempts to befriend Ricky and try to hire him to be his bodyguard.

My Bodyguard does a great job at portraying bullying in high school. The teenaged characters are relatable and even the adults are quirky and likeable. Ruth Gordon does a splendid job playing Clifford’s loving grandmother and Matt Dillon truly delivers as the antagonist of the film. Thirty-five years later and this film still holds up today.


4. Lucas (1986) Dir. David Seltzer

LUCAS, Kerri Green, Corey Haim, Charlie Sheen, 1986. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved..

“If you’re so depressed, how come you’re eating pizza?”

Lucas is a geeky fourteen year old boy who is constantly picked on for his size and must deal with living with cruel nicknames. Thankfully he gets taken under the wing of Cappie, the captain of the football team. But when Lucas and Cappie both fall for the pretty new girl, their brotherhood soon turns into a rivalry.

This film was overlooked at the time of its release due to the success of John Hughes movies and that it didn’t cast big named actors. Many of the cast members of Lucas were relatively unknown at the time such as Corey Haim, Charlie Sheen and Winona Ryder (this was her film debut). Lucas is a very underrated teen classic. It gives new dimensions to the young teen characters with a level of maturity. It’s a must see for those who love teen comedy/dramas.


3. Bad Boys (1983) Dir. Rick Rosenthal

Bad Boys

“I lost my brother. All you lost was some skin.”

Juvenile delinquent, Mick O’Brien, is sent to the Rainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility after accidentally running over and killing an eight year old boy. Mick has to adapt to the rough prison lifestyle and handle the abrasive guards and violent inmates. Meanwhile, Paco, the deceased boy’s older brother, enacts revenge on Mick by sexually assaulting and beating Mick’s girlfriend. Tension rises after Paco is sentenced to the same section of Rainford as Mick.

This gritty and dramatic film is a dark portrayal of juvenile delinquency and the American judicial system. It stars Sean Penn in his first leading role as Mick, who does a fantastic job portraying a troubled youth. Bad Boys is an emotional and captivating film from start to finish.


2. Heathers (1988) Dir. Michael Lehmann


“If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being. You’d be a game show host.”

Winona Ryder stars as Veronica Sawyer, a normal teenage girl who is tired of being popular. She is part of the most popular clique in school, “The Heathers”, which is comprised of Heather Duke, Heather McNamara and lead by Heather Chandler. Veronica despises Chandler’s tyranny and desperately wishes for her to drop dead. When she falls for Jason Dean, the new boy at her school who happens to be a charming sociopath, he turns her dream into reality.

This dark comedy is a brilliant satire about the social politics of teenage girls. Heathers has remained known as one of the best teen films of the eighties. Winona Ryder is very relatable as Veronica, as almost everyone knew girls like the Heathers when they were in high school.

JD, Veronica’s love interest, was played by one of the biggest heartthrobs of the eighties, Christian Slater. This film is full of witty one-liners that make you bust a gut while dealing with delicate subjects such as suicide, mental illness and murder.


1. The Breakfast Club (1985) Dir. John Hughes

The Breakfast Club (1985)

“Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

Five high school students from different social groups are sentenced to spend an entire day with each other in detention. There’s Brian, the brainiac, who comes from a strict household where he is under extreme pressure to get good grades. Allison, the basket case, who is neglected in her home and dreams of running away.

Andrew, the jock, who is told that winning is the only option. Claire, the popular girl, who pressured by her friends and parents to conform. Finally there is Bender, the juvenile delinquent, who is physically abused by his father. Over time, they begin to open up to each other and discuss their issues and they realize that they all have something in common.

This film is the holy grail of teen angst films. It discusses the issues surrounding high school stereotypes and does so with well-rounded, three dimensional characters and is filled with emotional scenes and witty one liners. It’s easy to identify with the characters because every teenager has felt like at least one of them at one point or another. The famous ending of the film is what solidified it as a classic.