10 Best Teen Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

The 1980s was a golden era for teen entertainment. After the media’s success with young musicians, it was only natural that they head into one of the biggest money-making industries in the world – Hollywood. Thus, packaging relatable comedy-dramas with relatable characters and high school plotlines and archetypes became the norm.

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This cemented the teen movie genre as one of the most popular of the decade. From simple adolescent romances and dark satire to time-traveling adventures, the coming-of-age films of the 1980s offer iconic stories that perfectly encapsulate fans’ teen spirit.

10 Dirty Dancing Centers On A Summer Fling Between A Young Woman And Her Dance Instructor

Dirty Dancing

In 1987, Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze starred in Dirty Dancinga story about a young woman who falls in love with the dance instructor who works at the resort she’s staying in with her family. Dirty Dancing was helmed by Sister Act director Emile Ardolino and was praised for its choreography and soundtrack.

After premiering in Cannes, Dirty Dancing went on to gross over $200 million at the box office, far surpassing its small budget of under $5 million. As one of the best musical dramas of the year, Dirty Dancing won Best Original Song for The Time Of My Life at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Grammys.

9 Say Anything’s Boombox Scene Is One Of The Best Scenes In Teen Movie History

Say Anything

After his success with Fast Times At Ridgemont Highwriter-director Cameron Crowe penned the 1989 teen rom-com, Say Anything. Say Anything starred John Cusack and Ione Skye as two high school graduates who fall in love despite their different social groups and aspirations.

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Say Anything was a critical success, being regarded as one of the best movies of the year and receiving praise for its heartwarming comedy and romance. Say Anything also earned a 98% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. Its most famous scene, in which Cusack holds up a boombox outside Skye’s bedroom, remains one of the most recognizable teen movie scenes of all time.

8 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Launched Keanu Reeves Into Stardom

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure follows Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as two high schoolers who travel in time looking for historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Billy the Kid, and Joan of Arc. Originally written as a comedy stand-up routine, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was lauded for its comedy and satire on other popular time travel stories of the time.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure served as Reeves’ breakthrough role and was both commercially and critically successful. Bill & Ted’s Popularity led to the production of an entire franchise, which includes two sequels (one in 1991 and one in 2020), two TV series, a tie-in comic by DC, and even a couple of video games.

7 Heathers Was A Cult Film Before Reaching The Mainstream With Multiple Adaptations


When Winona Ryder starred as Veronica Sawyer in 1989’s heathers, she became a cultural icon for generations to come. The black comedy follows a group of popular girls as they deal with a murderous new student, JD (Christian Slater). heathers was a box office failure, barely managing to earn one-third of its $3 million budget.

It was hailed as the anti-John Hughes film for its dark and pessimistic tone and received praise for its satirical portrayal of high school and teenagers. Years after its release, heathers gained enough popularity to be considered a cult film and is currently one of the most iconic teen movies of the 1980s. heathers was adapted into a 2010 stage musical and a critically-panned 2016 TV series.

6 Footloose Follows A Teen Set On Breaking His Town’s Dancing Ban


In 1984, Kevin Bacon taught an entire town how to dance in footloose. Written by fame lyricist Dean Pitchford, footloose centers on Ren, a Chicago native who moves to a small community where dancing has been banned by its local council. As he defies this restriction, he falls in love with the minister’s rebellious daughter, Ariel (Lori Singer).

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Despite receiving mostly mixed reviews, footloose managed to earn ten times its $8 million budget at the box office and became one of the most well-known musical films of the late twentieth century. Two of its songs, including Kenny Loggins’ number one hit Footloose, were nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.

5 Karate Kid Follows A Teen’s Journey With Martial Arts

karate Kid

Almost ten years after making history with Rockydirector John G. Avildsen returned to the realm of sports films with karate Kid. In karate KidRalph Macchio plays Daniel, a teenager who begins taking karate lessons to be able to defend himself from his bullies. Japanese-American actor, Pat Morita, starred as his sensei, the now-iconic Mr. Miyagi.

Like Rocky, karate Kid was a sleeper hit. It was able to spawn a large franchise made up of three sequels, a 2010 remake starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, and the 2018 Netflix comedy-drama, cobra kai. Morita’s performance, a major stand-out in Karate Kid, was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

4 Sixteen Candles Marked John Hughes’ Debut As A Director

Sixteen Candles

John Hughes began his reign over the coming-of-age genre in 1984 with Sixteen Candleshis directorial debut. Sixteen Candles starred Molly Ringwald as Sam Baker, a sophomore whose sixteenth birthday doesn’t go according to plan. She must deal with a forgetful family, a huge crush on a popular senior, and a student who won’t take a hint.

Ringwald’s performance was largely considered the highlight of Sixteen Candles and earned her a Young Artist Award. Sixteen Candles was also lauded for its realistic and relatable characters, which would become a John Hughes staple from then on. A sequel was briefly in the works but was shelved after Hughes’ passing of it in 2009.

3 Back To The Future Spawned A Franchise That Remains Popular Decades After Its Original Release

Back to the Future

Since its release in 1985, Robert Zemeckis’ Back To The Future has become one of the most beloved time travel stories in film history, cementing many of its characters and lore into 1980s pop culture. Back To The Future follows Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, a Californian teen who finds himself back in the past after boarding a time-traveling DeLorean. Christopher Lloyd plays Marty’s ‘crazy scientist’ friend, Emmett Brown, the owner and creator of the DeLorean.

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Not only was Back To The Future the highest-grossing film of the year, but it also kickstarted a highly profitable franchise that includes sequels, various theme park attractions, and even a 2020 stage musical.

two Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Follows A Slacker On An Illuminating Trip Around Chicago

Ferris Bueller

Set in suburban Chicago, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off tells the story of a high school senior, played by Matthew Broderick, who decides to commit truancy to embark on a day trip around Chicago. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was written, directed, and produced by John Hughes and received a Golden Globes nomination for Broderick’s acting.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was praised for its warm-hearted comedy and storytelling techniques, which included the main character breaking the fourth wall multiple times to explain his thoughts and feelings. In 1990, a TV series based on Ferries Bueller’s Day Off starring Charlie Schlatter and Jennifer Aniston premiered on NBC and ran for a single season before being canceled.

1 The Breakfast Club Is The Quintessential 1980s Teen Drama

The Breakfast Club

Widely considered as the signature 1980s teen movie, The Breakfast Club centers on five teenagers, each from a different clique. They bond over their similar struggles while serving detention together one Saturday. The main ensemble cast became well-known members of the “Brat Pack,” a group of teen idols who starred in the coming-of-age movies of the time.

In contrast to its relatively low budget of $1 million, The Breakfast Club managed to earn over $50 million in the worldwide box office. Like other Hughes movies, it was beloved for its characters and its take on adolescence. While The Breakfast Club‘s soundtrack received generally negative reviews, the movie’s theme song, Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) was a smash hit on both local and international charts.

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