We’ve gone through the most campy college flicks and the coolest school house comedies. Now it’s time to kick it old school. Well, semi-old school. As we wrap up Back to School week here at Cinefilles, we invite you to check out high school dramas from 1980s*. Whether it’s your first time, or your 50th, these totally rad high school sagas will make definitely make the grade.
5) Dead Poets Society
In middle school, almost every teacher I had made me watch this movie, claiming that it was a necessary part of our pre-high school education. They were absolutely right. There are plenty of inspirational boarding school movies out there, but this one, made in 1989, is by far the best.
Dead Poets Society follows a group of buttoned-up teenage boys and the English teacher who opened their eyes to great prose, standing on desks and the fine art of seizing the day. The cast is immaculate (Robin Williams – in his prime!, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles) and their characters’ stories are beyond compelling. Especially Leonard’s, which will crush anyone who has had a parent-disapproved dream. And don’t even try to tell me the phrase “O Captain! My Captain!” doesn’t make you tear up a little.
Remember when Winona Ryder was still uber-famous and making the coolest movies ever? I sure do, and to quote the late great Rich Cronin (He may have stolen your honey like he stole your bike and or admitted to liking girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch), I bug – cause I miss it. One of her best from way-back-when has to be Heathers (1989).
This deadly dark teen movie deals with sex, booze and suicide but in a deliciously subversive, snarky and shamelessly self-aware way. Ryder plays Veronica, one fourth of the Heathers, a group of popular, shoulder-pad loving, same-named girls, who just love to make their peers lives a living hell. When V meets James Dean wannabee JD (the sexiest Christian Slater ever, next to True Romance) and realizes how totally terrible her really frenemies are, she turns into an amateur homicidal maniac, using Drano and strategically styled suicide notes to end their friendship once and for all. If you don’t like the sounds of that summary, I’ve just got one question for you. What’s your damage?!
3) Fast Times at Ridgemont High
When it comes to mid-80s movies, all I need are some tasty buds, a cool wave, and a cameo by a bleach-blonde Sean Penn and I’m beyond fine. And Fast Times at Ridgemont High has all that and more. It’s the quintessential high school sex comedy, taking such then-taboo teen issues like masturbation, cherry popping and oral sex uh, head on. With a legendary soundtrack (Tom Petty! Stevie Nicks! The Cars!) and awesome performances by Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and of course, Penn, this Cameron Crowe-penned, Amy Heckerling-directed flick is a teenage dream and a half.
Next time you want to watch Superbad, pop in this classroom classic and say aloha to the awesomeness that is Mr. Hand, Mike Damone and Spicoli. Learn it. Know it. LOVE it.
2) Fame (1980)
In the Glee generation, where public schools are clamoring to keep up with the zeitgeist and get creative with their extracurriculars, art school movies seem sort of indulgent. That’s why last year’s remake of the 1980 classic, Fame failed so epically. But that doesn’t mean you should count out the original, which is almost too good to be deemed a high school movie.
Fame lives up to it’s Oscar-winning theme song. It’ll make you remember (Remember. Remember!) it’s name. The gritty, semi-musical drama takes us through a four-year stint at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. Over the course of the two-hour film, we get to watch a selected slew of artistic hopefuls – including beautiful belter, Coco, cheeky comedian, Ralph, overachieving actrice, Doris, and shy stage man, Montgomery – attempt to find their star power. But unlike the kids in the remake, their stories aren’t cheesy or overly hopeful. They’re painfully real, full of freak-outs, slip-ups and flat-out failures.And yes, occasionally they like to dance on cabs.
1) The Breakfast Club
Are you a brain, a basketcase, a princess, an athelete or a criminal? Or are you all of them at once?
These are just two of the questions posed by the detention room rats in the John Hughes teen angst opus, The Breakfast Club. But they`re enough to take us back to the days when the talking back to adults was badass and the worst thing in the world was getting a B. Hughes may have done just as well with his two other Molly Ringwald high school flicks (Who doesn`t love Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles? ), but this is the one that still really matters. Because it appeals to the neo max zoom dweebie in all of us who, above all, just wants to be remembered.
*Yes, yes are plenty more teen-themed 80s movies that could have made the cut. But they didn’t take place in an actual classroom, so they were disqualified.*