John Hughes was the undisputed king of the ‘80s teen movie.
So, along with our news tribute , we thought we’d bring back this Classic Feature we wrote way back in March.
It’s a personal journey through the world of ‘80s teen movies, which, unsurprisingly, refers to a lot of Hughes’ amazing back catalogue.
There’s also a direct reference to John in this feature. We mean the sentiment expressed now more than ever.
Fast Times At Ridgmont High (1982)
Why It’s Defining: It’s a cool kid giving advice to a geek.
That’s an event that occurs in every single ‘80s teen movie ever, whether it’s Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) getting Cameron (Alan Ruck) out of bed, or John Bender (Judd Nelson) bullying a bit of backbone into Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall).
We’ve gone for this particular example, because a) Debbie Harry’s involved and b) it’s actually pretty useful advice (you know, except the bit about Led Zeppelin IV. Don’t do that).
In a film filled with puberty inducing events (Phoebe Cates getting out of the pool) and career creating performances (Sean Penn’s stoned surfer Spicoli) Damone’s brilliant advice is a stand-out highlight.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: That whole bit about making girls think that wherever you are is the place to be? We still do that today. And we're not teenagers anymore.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Why It’s Defining: It epitomises how much ‘80s geeks worshipped girls.
When Samantha (immortal thrift-icon Molly Ringwald) hands Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) her pants, little does she know that’s she’s about to set in motion a sequence of events that define ‘80s teen movies, encapsulating an element that sets them apart from their ‘90s and ‘00s counterparts.
In ‘80s movies, girls are goddesses – strange creatures that are best appreciated from afar.
In the world of Sixteen Candles, girls’ pants are mysterious and magical enough to cause a gang of geeks to gather in gasping worship – a far cry from American Pie’s pussy pipe, or The Girl Next Door’s porn star seduction.
Every teen flick of the ‘80s contains at least one scene featuring a bunch of nerds gawping in wonder at something a girl once touched, or said, or did. This is one of the very best.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: It was the first time one of us saw a girl’s pants. That’s the kind of thing you remember.
Back To The Future (1985)
The Moment :
Why It’s Defining : It’s bottled rebellion.
All great ‘80s teen movies are rebellious.
Every single one of them has a moment where a lead character kicks off against the generation that spawned him or her; even Ferris’ doting dad and mum get effed over by their slick son, several times.
But Back To The Future contains the cleverest twist on this essential element.
The scene features Marty McFly accidentally showing his parents’ generation that they’ll never understand the sheer youthful power of rock ‘n’ roll whilst they’re still teenagers themselves .
It’s a moment of genius in a film packed with them. All together now: “I guess you guys aren't ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”
Why It’ll Stay With Us Foreve r: This scene was the reason one totalfilm.com team member decided to pick up a guitar to try to learn to play it. That was Sam, by the way.
But then he also played ‘The Power Of Love’ by Huey Lewis And The News down the phone to a girl he had a crush on in primary school.
She wasn’t impressed with the fact that you don't need no credit card to ride this train, and didn’t accept his calls again.
Weird Science (1985)
Why It’s Defining: It demonstrates exactly why ‘80s geeks worshipped girls so much.
We picked that clip above but really, we could’ve taken any moment featuring Kelly LeBrock.
If Molly’s pants sum up how geeks can attribute mythical status to the most ordinary objects; Weird Science explains why.
Kelly LeBrock is how ‘80s nerdlingers see all women – she’s their fantasies made flesh.
This is what Duckie (Jon Cryer) sees when he stares at Andie (Molly Ringwald) from afar, the push that sends Cameron (Alan Ruck) into Sloane’s (Mia Sara) swimming pool, the reason Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) hits the slow-mo button when he sees Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates).
‘80s ladies are more mystical than the gals on Mount Olympus – and far more powerful.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: The only reason we work with computers is the hope that we’ll be amongst the first people to discover how to use them to make Kelly LeBrock.
Why It's Defining: It’s skidding and singing.
Yes, this is Tom Cruise’s charismatic appeal epitomised, but much more important than that, it’s a moment in an ‘80s teen movie in which a lead character skids and pretends to sing a pop song in the same scene .
That’s the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie having five girls in bikinis standing in front of twenty-three explosions in today’s cinematic parlance.
We’re not sure why ‘80s teen movies like skidding (Breakfast Club, Back To The Future) and singing (Ferris Bueller, Pretty In Pink) so damn much, but this is the ultimate example, mainly because it combines them both.
It’s a moment that turns Tom into a slippery mime. Who knew that description could be so complimentary?
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: Because every time modern Tom does something a bit creepy, we have this moment to fall back on, so we can remember the good old days.
: Heathers (1989)
The Moment :
Why It’s Defining: It’s stupidly, impossibly cool.
‘80s did geek better than any other decade in cinema history, but they also had a pretty good handle on cool.
Here, they mixed James Dean ‘50s swagger with Travis Bickle’s ‘70s outsider edge to create Jason Dean, Christian Slater’s second hippest character ever (sorry, True Romance’s Clarence Worley still wins) and the greatest character introduction in ‘80s teen flick history.
Okay, except perhaps Ferris Bueller’s.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: In 1989 one of us was 10. That didn’t stop him from getting his mum to buy him a trenchcoat whilst he tried to talk like Jack Nicholson. Yup, Sam again.
: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Why It’s Defining : It’s weird. And profound.
To be an ‘80s teen movie, you have to contain at least one surreal WTF moment that wouldn’t make it past a test-audience today. This one’s our favourite.
We’re not sure why we love it so much, perhaps because it’s soundtracked by a super-rare instrumental of The Smiths’ Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Dream Academy, perhaps because it’s a moment of pause during Ferris’ breathless narrative, or perhaps because it’s so damned beautiful.
Whatever, it’s defining. After all, it’s a visual celebration of how almost every teen flick from 1980 to 1989 managed to sneak at least one genuinely profound moment past producers probably too busy sniffing coke to notice.
This scene is a pop culture artefact making as insightful a comment about the relationship between artwork and the observer as we’ve ever gawped at. Oh, and it also serves as a metaphor for the entire film - it's the little details that matter.
BBC 2 could air a 9 hour episode of The Culture Show and, not only would Mark Kermode’s quiff start to wilt eventually, they wouldn’t come close to the depth of analysis this moment offers in its 41 second duration.
And this, in a film that plays the theme from Star Wars when a Ferrari flies through the air. John Hughes, you are God, sir.
Why It'll Stay With Us Forever: It's the reason whenever we take a day off from work, we have a nagging compulsion to head for our local art gallery.
Pretty In Pink (1986)
Why It’s Defining : It’s the ultimate likeable geek getting rejected by the girl.
We’ve already established that geeks adore girls in ‘80s teen flicks, and we know why. But what we don’t know is why the girls don’t like the geeks in return.
After all, they’re always far more interesting than their jock counterparts, more sensitive, caring, and far more fashion forward. But for some reason, no matter how impossibly chic the geek, ‘80s heroines couldn’t see them for the dreamboats they so clearly were.
This scene depicts that dismal dichotomy better than most. Duckie (Jon Cryer) steps onto the set and dances his way through the coolest scene in teen-flick history. In one passionate counter punch, Duckie encapsulates the frustrations beating within the heart of every loser outsider.
And yet everything about him screams marriage material, from his hair, to his outfit, to the way he taps his trainers, to the smooth way he nods his head down those stairs.
Sadly, Andie (Molly Ringwald) ignores his obvious perfection and goes off with the bland Blane (Andrew McCarthy). And a generation tosses angry legwarmers at the screen in disgust.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever : Fact: One of the totalfilm.com team once learnt elements of this dance in a misguided attempt to impress a girl at a school disco, clearly not learning anything from the film’s message that, no matter how well he moves, the teenage geek will never, ever get the object of his affection. Still Sam.
: The Wizard (1989)
The Moment :
Why It’s Defining : It’s the ultimate product placement.
The Wizard is to the ‘80s what Easy Rider was to the ‘60s; a flick that served as a metaphor for the gurgling death of one decade, foreshadowing the ugly birth of a new one.
Which is a pretty bold statement to make about a flick starring Super Mario III, but bear with us.
Easy Rider signalled the end of the ‘60s peace dream, readying audiences for a new, dark, experimental era full of brutality and youthful arrogance.
The Wizard closed the ‘80s with a feature-length product placement, taking E.T’s earlier Reeces Pieces moment, and Back To The Future II’s Nike and Pizza Hut gags to their logical extreme, adding a deep cynicism to the teen template.
The whole film was created to be a child-mesmerising advert for Nintendo, with the Power Glove the most corporate addition of all – a sign of what would await teen audiences in ‘90s flicks like Mac & Me (which is the longest and most sinister advert for McDonalds we’ve ever seen).
The Glove was the cleverest piece of false advertising ever – we were expecting a magical hand wand that we could wave around in front of our NES to make Alex Kidd judder and jump. In reality, it was a joypad on a shit glove.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: We wrote a complaint letter to Nintendo every day of our lives complaining about the Power Glove, right up until they invented the Wii to appease us.
The Movie: The Breakfast Club (1985)
Why It’s Defining: It’s the ultimate happy ending.
All ‘80s teen flicks have happy endings, no matter how unlikely they seem in the first act.
Whether they’re convoluted (Ferris Bueller, Back To The Future), implied in the title (The Sure Thing) or dependent on dance routines (Can’t Buy Me Love, Teen Wolf), you can be sure that by the time an ‘80s teen flick starts getting ready for the credits, your heroes will have big goofy grins on their faces.
And The Breakfast Club is the greatest example, because it has a record five happy endings, with a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal all gaining the kind of closure that makes you want to punch the sky and listen to Simple Minds.
Why It’ll Stay With Us Forever: It’s the only reason we’ve got Simple Minds on our iPod. Also, whenever something bad happens, we don’t mind so much, because there’s a happy ending around the corner. Right? Right?
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