’80s Teen Movies

Life moves pretty fast. Sage advice of a hallowed teen from the mid-1980’s, when Reaganomics’s voodoo charmed ideologies, a generation of kids were being raised at the shopping mall, and Huey told us to get back in time.

Hollywood noticed these changes and, like John Bender piercing his ear in triumph, transformed pop-culture into the fast times of Valley girls, lost boys, and top guns doing a risky business while taking the day off. Movies were cheap, stupid, and sexy. Except for those that weren’t. The Ultimate History of the 80’s Teen Movie is, ironically, a deep read about what Hollywood got right in its tutelage of Generation X.

Author James King goes deep in this exhaustive, definitive, look at teen films from the 1980s. This is not a top 10 list. Nor is it a superficial revisit of nostalgia. Instead, The Ultimate History of the 80’s Teen Movie is an historical accounting of that decade, an indexed telling of those artists who had tales to tell, and the audience they found. How Coppola and Scorsese broke ground for Heckerling and Crowe, Hughes and Schumacher. About DeNiro and Pacino’s unlikely inspiration for the Brat Pack. The elevation of Bueller, McFly, and two lovable jokers from San Dimas into cinematic icons. The Ultimate History… is filled with so much teen angst you need Clearasil on stand-by. This is more than nostalgia. This is a Gen X love letter, blasting from a raised boom box, romancing us all.

Most importantly, King promotes the modern teen movie into a viable genre. For every Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds there is an Outsiders and Karate Kid. From Flashdance and Footloose to Red Dawn and Lost Boys, King breaks down the definition of a teen film and explores the relations of such to the average teenager. How Dirty Dancing’s Patrick Swayze and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s Alan Ruck were in (or close to) their thirties yet embodied the youthful desires of want and acceptance. How a John Hughes production simultaneously raised and destroyed the cliquish life of Chicago Suburbia.

There are, naturally, omittances, particularly of other genres. The rise of teen-oriented horror escapes with the merest of glancing blows; perhaps due to the stay-away Restricted MPAA rating. Sci-fi and fantasy are also mostly ignored as are, surprisingly, films that had massive crossover appeal such as horror-comedies and action-comedies that were specifically targeted at that beautifully-ambiguous PG-13 market.

King’s tome successfully breaks down each year counting the hits, questioning the misses, ultimately concluding the treatise by analyzing the decade’s progressive end. He examines the cultural impact – and the surprising similarities – between the melancholy Say Anything, the brutal sarcasm of Heathers, the joyful comedy of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and the hopeful yearning of Dead Poet’s Society. For a generation that was shown life conjoined within the known classroom, those final films explore that unknown next step. Life continues. And as we were once told, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.


Thanks to NetGalley and Diversion Books for this truly fantastic read. And hey, while I understand that I received an un-proofed copy, I am astonished at the amount of spelling and grammatical errors presented throughout the entire book. I wonder what John Keating would have thought, carpe diem notwithstanding.

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