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Best '80s Movies to Watch With Your Teens

Classic '80s films with great stories and discussable, relatable scenarios

Tina Cha
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Published on: December 10, 2020

father and teen son under a blanket on the couch watching a movie

While not in the exact same way, today’s kids are dealing with a lot of the same issues Gen Xers were grappling with decades ago. Peer pressure, drugs, suicide, unrequited love, cliques, broken families, and the process of simply coming to terms with who you are and the life that has been handed to you have been the focus of artistic expression for decades. Particularly in the 1980s, thanks to movies like “The Breakfast Club,” many teenagers were finally seeing themselves onscreen in relatable ways.
 
Re-watching ‘80s favorites as a parent can hit us on an entirely different level, one that calls for a check on how our parenting can help or hurt our children’s growth and development into capable human beings.
 
Should you take your kids down memory lane for an ‘80s-themed movies night? Due to the drugs, sex and alcohol references, the younger crew might want to sit this one out. But if you can stand the cringe-worthy clothes and awkward situations, here are a few worthy of reconsideration. While the fashion may not hold up, the storytelling does.
 
As a reminder, ‘80s films are filled with references and dialogue that can be offensive or problematic to viewers today. Everyone’s comfort level with this is different, and each family should decide what is best for them. For additional information and context on these titles and more, read age-appropriate movie reviews for kids and parents written by the experts at Common Sense Media.

Fame’ (1980)

Fame
"Fame"

Rated R
 
These days, one goes viral on YouTube and suddenly is a guest on “Ellen.” What the cast of “Fame” might have been, had TikTok been a thing in the ‘80s.
 
“Fame” follows several students through four years at New York City’s High School of Performing Arts. The students come from all walks of life and have every conceivable hurdle to clear, including unstable home lives, drugs, abortion, finding love, confronting adults and discovering one’s homosexuality, all while facing the pressure of performing at their highest level. An ensemble of eight main characters makes it difficult to dive deep into everyone’s life, but you’ll cheer when you see the quiet and unassuming freshman Doris (Maureen Teefy) flourish into a strong, self-confident senior, and you’ll cry along with Coco (Irene Cara) when she is tricked by a “director” into filming something she obviously doesn’t want to do.
 
Gritty and filled with drama, “Fame” helped launch a new genre of teen films that stood apart from raunchier comedies coming out at the same time. Try not to sing along to the theme song and remind your family that there will be failures on the way to success and it is worthwhile to believe in yourself.
 
In addition to dated stereotypes, the film includes crude language, references to sex and brief nudity.
 
Also consider:Flashdance,” “Footloose

Hoosiers’ (1986)

Rated PG

In this beloved sports movie, Gene Hackman stars as Norman Dale, the new coach of Hickory, Indiana. Despite the odds — the townspeople disagree with his coaching style, the best player decides to sit out the season, the town drunk (Dennis Hopper) is hired to be an assistant coach — Coach Dale manages to get the team to the state championship. With this tried-and-true inspirational sports film formula, you’ll get your fill of second chances, redemption, teamwork and discipline. The idyllic 1950s Midwestern setting is as traditional as the Chuck Taylor sneakers the boys wear when playing. If your family loves to root for the underdog, then “Hoosiers” will leave you cheering.
 
The film takes place in the ‘50s, so the language and actions will reflect that.

Also consider:Field of Dreams,” “Eight Men Out

Heathers’ (1989)

Rated R

Heathers
"Heathers"

In “Heathers,” two teens (Winona Ryder and Christian Slater) accidentally murder the most popular girl in school, who also happens to be a terrible person, then make it look like a suicide. A pattern emerges where an unstable J.D. (Slater) believes this to be the answer to getting rid of the bullies and mean girls, and Veronica (Ryder) tries to stop J.D. from his ultimate quest, which is to bomb the school during a pep rally.
 
Loaded with witty one-liners, the film uses exaggerated archetypes of jocks, bullies, oblivious parents and unhelpful school administrators to send its message. The dark comedy satirizes an issue that seemed abstract at the time but has tragically become a recurring headline in today’s news. It would be understandable to give “Heathers” a pass.
 
Ultimately parents will need to decide if this is right for their family, but the cult classic provides a campy look at how mean girls, cliques and friendships helped define a generation.
 
In addition to the gun violence, the film also includes a lot of crude language, dated references to gay stereotypes, underage drinking, smoking and sex.
 
Also consider:Edward Scissorhands

Footloose’ (1984)

Rated PG
 
Chicago teen Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) moves to Bomont, Iowa, and is shocked to learn the town has a law against dancing. He takes it upon himself to convince the town council to lift the ban so the kids can have a senior prom.
 
Is “Footloose” cheesy? Yes, pure Cheez Whiz. Is the dancing a bit dated? You bet. Is the story far-fetched? Probably not as much as it should be.
 
As cheesy as it is, the threads of this film — kids rebelling against oppressive rules and having the guts to fight for what you believe in — are still going to ring true all these years later.
 
Bacon may not have “Fame”-style dance skills, but “Footloose” is worth a re-watch for his iconic angry-dance sequence in the empty warehouse. We could all use an angry dance sequence every now and again.
 
The film includes crude language, a violent fight between the female lead and her ex-boyfriend, plus underage drinking and smoking.
 
Also consider:Dirty Dancing

Dead Poets Society’ (1989)

Dead Poets Society
"Dead Poets Society"

Rated PG
 
An unorthodox English teacher (Robin Williams) joins the faculty at an all-boys prep school and has the audacity to encourage his students to think for themselves, to enjoy art and beauty, to “seize the day.” A beloved student’s suicide and the investigation that follows result in only a scapegoat, and not a solution. 
 
This is a film about privileged, white boys in 1959 (the cast includes Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Robert Sean Leonard and others), but teens of different ages and backgrounds may still relate to the emotional outbursts and themes of falling in love, failing to live up to parental expectations or coming out of one’s shell.
 
Both heartbreaking and uplifting, your kids will be jumping on the coffee table to yell “O Captain, My Captain!” at the end. Let them!
 
The film includes some crude language, immature boys drawing breasts and an off-screen suicide.
 
Also consider:Stand by Me,” “Pump Up the Volume

The Breakfast Club’ (1985)

Rated R
 
Five students from different walks of life spend their Saturday in the school library serving detention. At first, they see each other as stereotypes (a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal), but eventually, they bond as they realize that everyone is simply trying to survive high school.
 
Writer/director John Hughes is credited with providing an authentic voice for suburban teenagers across America through his films (he also wrote “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Home Alone” and countless other comedies during this time). Back in 1985, “The Breakfast Club” was considered a breath of fresh air, something different from the teen movies that relied on sex or violence to entice audiences. It can still connect with teens dealing with peer pressure, high expectations or simply a desire to be seen.
 
The movie contains crude language and an infamous pot-smoking scene.
 
Also consider:Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Say Anything

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