These movies stand the test of time. However, things were sketchy regarding what was appropriate for movies in the 80s. What we might remember as a great movie could have some incredible outcomes when watching with our teens. Here’s a rundown of the best movies from the 80s your teens will actually enjoy.
Ah, 80s movies. The cursing, inappropriate scenes, heavy topics mixed with comedic relief, and most likely one female in a skimpy outfit. But that was normal then. Even as a mom of three teenage boys, I’m not ready to cancel these movies because they are considered inappropriate, or worse “poor film quality” compared to today’s movies (according to my son). The truth is, movies in the 80s were not made with kids or tweens in mind like they are today. Movies were still very much made for young adults and up. I mean, yes, there were animations (The Little Mermaid came out in 1989) that were family-friendly, but anything outside of that was entertainment for an older crowd. Sure, loads of kids were going to see movies, but parents weren’t monitoring films or gauging their level of appropriate content like today. I am going to venture that no writer meetings uttered the words “Do you think this is appropriate for the younger audience?” or “Do you think this traumatic storyline is too dark for kids?” or “Do you think this woman needs to be half naked to express the meaning in this scene?”. No way.
How are 80s movies different than movies today?
Were our 80s movies any different from the movies our teens watch today, though? I think the main difference would have to be the characters portrayed by women. While there are plenty of movies still being made with women in less-than-nothing outfits, and characters that seem ditzy and dumb on purpose since they are “pretty” (male or female), movies are taking on a different tone when it comes to strength, smarts, and body image of women. I think it’s important to know this information going into most 80s movies with your teens, so you can have real conversations about how women are portrayed then and now. Another difference you will see in shockingly casual conversations is racism. Being politically correct and respectful of all people was non-existent in the 80s. Your teen will be the first to notice it, so it’s good to talk about it with them.
We’ve all heard it before: sex sells. This was evident in 80s movies, more than ever before. For this reason, I omitted some movies that I may have watched and even enjoyed, but looking at them now, I realized they were just not inappropriate for teens and honestly, not of value as a movie to watch again. A lot of movies with teens in them covered sex in ways that devalue women. For this reason, those movies are out. Even at that, though, I would highly recommend getting a quick look at the CommonSenseMedia.org review of the movie you plan on watching together. You know your child better than anyone, so reading an honest review on the film and the level of violence, sex, and swearing is a good idea.
The message in the movie
My sons are the perfect viewing age because they all 80s movies deal with more mature content. However, being 80s movies, many have cursing and ‘colourful’ ways of offending people that they never heard of. But let’s face it, parents, our teens are having gross and rude conversations with their friends right now. It’s part of growing up. I think showing them some of these movies can actually bring them closer to understanding you as a teen in the 80s and 90s. What we watched then, how teens were shown to us in movies, and why certain songs pull at our heartstrings, all come from these movies. I’ve found it to be a great experience so far, sharing these classics with my boys.
Chance are, while watching Stranger Things with your teens, you remembered some of your favourite movies because of the references in the series. But not all movies are going to live up to the hype we gave them in conversation with your teens. The fact is, we saw these movies as teens in the 80s. So the stories, the characters, and the songs are all meaningful to us because they were our first representations of more mature content. We hold on to these movies with nostalgia and altered memories of just how great they were. Like all memories, we hold on to the good stuff and make it even better in our minds. So, when you watch these movies with your teens, chances are they might say things like “People don’t talk like that” or “why is this such a good movie to you?!” If you can push through the insults and they can push through the annoyance of poorer film quality, you will find some gems for the whole family.
So here, my friends, are the movies (in no particular order) of my childhood that I have almost completely gone through with my boys and enjoyed re-watching with them. I hope you enjoy them with your teens. I have not included scary movies – something my boys are into now – that’s a whole other list! I’ve also placed an asterisk on the movies I think younger children and tweens could watch as well, but again, you are the best judge of what your child will like.
Ultimate 80s Movie List for Teens
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 1986 – Ditching school for the ultimate day, this is an all-time classic movie.
- Back to the Future 1985 – the trilogy is gold, but the first is a classic with massive fandom, that catapulted Michael J. Fox’s career.
- Stand By Me 1986 – A Steven King movie based on his story, The Body. Not scary, more “coming of age”.
- Goonies 1985 – “Goonies Never Say Die” – a bunch of kids in search of pirate treasure, what could go wrong?
- Gremlins 1984 – hilarious today because the effects are nothing compared to movies now, but still a classic. Plus a Stranger Things sounds came straight for there – can you find it?
- Clue 1985 – Long before Sandler’s Murder Mystery movies, this was the classic whodunit movie your teens will enjoy.
- *Willow 1988 – Now an incredible series, this is the movie that has a huge fanbase.
- *Legend 1985 – Before Tom Cruise was a Maverick, he was a teen that loved unicorns.
- *The Neverending Story 1984 – Stranger Things made this theme song popular again, and the movie will stand the test of time. Spoiler alert – Atreyu’s horse, Artax, dying scarred us all.
- *Princess Bride 1987 – It’s got it all! “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” and Columbo.
- *Honey, I Shrunk the Kids 1989 – A perfect family movie for all ages, this is just good fun.
- ET 1982 – there is a dark side to this movie that often gets overlooked, but still a classic. Little Drew Barrymore is the cutest.
- Cocoon 1985 – this movie is hard to find even to rent, so we haven’t seen it together yet, but it’s one of my favourites.
- Three Men and a Baby 1987 – three single guys have to take care of a baby, which at the time was hilarious.
- Look Who’s Talking 1989 – for some reason, this was so funny to watch. Bruce Willis voices the baby. I guess that’s why Boss Baby is funny for kids now.
- *Harry and the Hendersons 1987 – goofy and fun
- Big 1988 – Tom Hanks plays a kid trapped in an adults body. You have to see it for the piano scene in FAO Schwartz in NY alone. Classic!
- Like Father Like Son 1987 – Freaky Friday, but with 80s teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore
- Teen Wolf 1985 – Michael J. Fox as a werewolf, classic.
- *Karate Kid 1984 – a great movie for standing up for yourself.
- *Labyrinth 1986 – a Jim Henson treasure, with David Bowie singing and acting.
- *Adventures in Babysitting 1987 – yes, they made a new one, but it’s worth seeing the original.
- Footloose 1984 – another movie we haven’t seen together yet, surely to spark interesting conversations.
- Ghostbusters 1984 – the movie that started it all. And all the ones that came after are great too.
- The Outsiders 1983 – often read in school, one son read the book and watched it in school.
- Riders of the Lost Arc 1981 the first of the series of treasured Indiana Jones movies, and the final chapter is coming out soon!
- The Breakfast Club 1985 – watching this again, it wasn’t as bad as I remember. But still has its moments. First thing our of my boys’ mouth was “Allison is emo”.
- The Empire Strikes Back 1980 – what can I say? I’m a big Star Wars fan, my boys just like it. But the original three are worth watching.
- Legend 1985 – before Tom Cruise was a Maverick, he was a boy that loved unicorns.
- Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure 1989 – I mean, this is just dumb fun, something teens can appreciate. Plus Keanu Reeves.
- The Terminator 1984 – so many after this, and the effects will be so-so for teens now, but still worth watching.
- *Batman 1989 – In my eyes, Michael Keaton will forever be THE Batman. And coming soon, he will be reprising his role – can’t wait!
- Beverley Hills Cop 1984 – Eddie Murphy shines in this movie, and so many movies were made after in this genre.
- Little Shop of Horrors 1986 – arguably the weirdest musical your will ever watch, but weird can be fun.
- Dead Poets Society 1989 – Robin Williams plays the inspiring teacher in a snobby private school for boys. Very heavy subjects (trigger warning, suicide is a big theme).
- *Dark Crystal 1982 – another Jim Henson movie, now a series. I loved the fantasy of it all, one of my three boys loved it. The bad characters are pretty creepy for young kids.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit 1988 – You would think this was a perfect kid movie, but watch it again. One of the first films made with animation and actors on screen.
- The Blues Brothers 1980 – based on the recuring Saturday Night Live characters, this movie was perfect.
- Die Hard 1988 – It’s not a Christmas movie. I said what I said.
- *Annie 1980 – the musical that has it all. Worth seeing the original with Tim Curry and Carole Burnett and Bernadette Peters.
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles 1987 – John Candy and Steve Martin are hilarious together.
- Uncle Buck 1989 – the movie that came before Macaulay Culkin’s fame in Home Alone.
- Rainman 1980 – on our list to watch this summer, Dustin Huffman shines in this emotional movie.
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 1989 – the others in the series are more inappropriate, this one is stupid-hilarious.
OK, that’s it! I had to stop somewhere! But I know there are so many more. Is your favourite 80s movie on my list? What movie did you see here that you completely forgot about? Did I miss one of your favourites? I hope you find some gems to share with your teens this summer and enjoy them all over again in their eyes.