The teen movie is as quintessential to adolescence as growth spurts are. Without them, we can't crack the code on maturation. There's so much about our post-formative/pre-adult years that the grownups aren't willing to tell us directly, yet through the films they make about teenagers, we have an idea of what's expected.
Movies of all genres — including adventure, fantasy, and horror — were prevalent throughout the 1980s. And the period is renowned for being a cradle of seminal teen-aimed films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. But what about the coming-of-age films that aren't as celebrated? The ones that didn't get their dues back then? With '80s nostalgia being so big, now is definitely the time to bring up these ten underrated teen movies from the decade.
10 Teen Witch (1989)
Although ghouls and monsters of all kind were present and accounted for in 1980s cinema, witches weren't nearly as popular despite the success of films like The Witches of Eastwick. So, when Teen Witch — originally pitched as a female Teen Wolf — came out in 1989, hardly anyone saw it in theaters. In fact, it accrued a mere $27,843 against a $2 million budget. And, it's safe to assume this put a standstill on witchy activity in teen movies until The Craft in 1996.
Teen Witch concerns a high school student, Louise (played by Blake Lively's sister Robyn), who taps into her magical powers after learning she's the modern reincarnation of a witch. Upon using said magic, she stirs up trouble for both herself and the boy she has a crush on.
The affable Teen Witch might not have fared well at the box office, but it's gained a following since then. It's also found a regular spot in Freeform's Halloween itinerary.
9 Just One of the Guys (1985)
Readers will notice the plot of this film bears a strong resemblance to that of the 2006 hit She's the Man. You've likely heard or seen this 1985 comedy, but it's rarely brought up when waxing poetic about retro teen cinema. In Just One of the Guys, young journalist Terri poses as a male student at a different high school so that she can be taken more seriously as a writer. As Terri (now Terry) plays two different roles, she falls in love with her new best friend.
Just One of the Guys admittedly lacks the finesse of its contemporaries, but this fairly lighthearted romp about seeking equality features a highly charismatic performance from its lead, Joyce Hyser.
8 Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
John Hughes was in high demand in the 1980s, but not every one of his films was a runaway hit. To be fair, though, Some Kind of Wonderful was only written by Hughes, not directed. Nevertheless, this tale of two teens from across the tracks is as formidable as Pretty in Pink. Not to mention, it features three underrated, young actors from the era.
Eric Stoltz favorably plays the winsome Keith, a blue-collared mechanic looking for love in all the wrong places. Opposite him are Mary Stuart Masterson (The Stepford Wives) as his best friend, and Lea Thompson (the Back to the Future trilogy) as the immediate love interest.
7 For Keeps (1988)
Molly Ringwald was always on the cusp of love in her iconic 1980s roles, but For Keeps shows us what happens to the characters after the credits roll. In the movie, Molly plays Darcy, a teenage lovebird who puts her aspirations on hold when she and her high school sweetheart, Stan, learn that they're now expecting. This development creates a whole new set of challenges that neither Darcy nor Stan are prepared for.
For Keeps isn't the hard-edged drama about teen pregnancy that you've come to see nowadays. In truth, it merely scratches the surface. But for a movie that's targeted at Molly's built-in audience — one accustomed to seeing her play comparatively less emotionally complicated characters — For Keeps is a lionhearted effort that shouldn't be overlooked.
6 The New Kids (1985)
There was an understandable amount of pressure on Sean S. Cunningham's shoulders after his low-cost 1980 slasher Friday the 13th yielded a lucrative amount of dough. However, what was slated to be a horror movie ended up being more dramatic than horrific. That is not to say there aren't thrills in The New Kids, but two-thirds of the film are less about maiming and more about escalating bullying.
In The New Kids, Lori Loughlin plays one half of a pair of orphaned siblings sent to live with relatives in Florida. There, they become targets of a local group of miscreants.
5 Little Darlings (1980)
There appears to be a shortage of female-fronted teen movies these days. But, for those who simply wait for a much needed resurgence, seek out the vastly overlooked Little Darlings. This 1980 movie may be set at a summer camp and about two teen girls betting on who can lose their virginity first, but the film winds up being more heartfelt than ever expected.
Oscar-winning Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol playfully compete in this surprisingly profound story about growing up too soon. The movie challenges the notion that the teen comedy sub-genre has to be all crude and nude to be memorable. There's some earnest performances from the leads as well as a young Matt Dillon.
4 My Bodyguard (1980)
Adults looking the other way is the explanation behind the events of My Bodyguard. Adam Baldwin (Firefly) incidentally becomes a savior to Chris Makepeace's Clifford, a young, rich kid who is being picked on by Matt Dillon's Melvin. As Clifford befriends his new defender, he comes to learn of the secret pain behind his eyes.
Latchkey kids were common around this movie's release so the story capitalizes on that. The characters in My Bodyguard might not have been enlisting in the armed forces or going on faraway adventures, but there's an undeniable torment to be found in this melancholic drama set at home.
3 The Boy Who Could Fly (1986)
We didn't get a lot of fanciful teen movies in the 1980s. Most were quite grounded in regards to plot and situations. For the most part, the same can be said for The Boy Who Could Fly, a 1986 picture about a 14-year-old girl, Milly, who befriends her neighbor, Eric, after she suffers a tragic loss. Together, she and Eric find news way to escape their pain and cope with their respective hardships.
The Boy Who Could Fly sounds like a bummer, but don't be put off by the basic synopsis. There is more than a faint glimmer of hope in this whimsical drama. And for Halloween buffs, the film was written and directed by the original Michael Myers actor himself, Nick Castle.
2 Running on Empty (1988)
First of all, Running on Empty is not marketed as a teen movie. It's very much a drama with crime elements. No, it's not The Godfather, but it is about a family on the run.
Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti respectively play the father and mother, both fugitives, in the movie. They're guilty of anti-war crimes they committed in 1960s, but with two kids in tow, evading the consequences of their actions is getting harder and harder to do. Now in a new town, the Pope family find themselves at the mercy of their oldest boy, who desires a normal life.
Running on Empty boasts some sterling performances all around; River Phoenix even got an Oscar nod for his part. This is one movie that will definitely pull at heartstrings.
1 Scenes from the Goldmine (1987)
There seems to be an unspoken rule about musicals from the 1980s being cheerful. That idea does not factor into the obscure diamond in the rough Scenes from the Goldmine, a 1987 flick about the perils of becoming a musician. Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter) plays Debi, a budding singer-songwriter who is invited to join a rising rock band. Little does she know, her getting romantically involved with the lead will put her career in danger.
Scenes from the Goldmine went down a different route than other music-oriented movies like Fame or Grease 2. It's downright sad and solemn at times. If you're prepared for a more ruminative teen movie, then you have to hunt this one down.