Thursday 10 April 2014

My Magnificent Seven: 80s YA Movies

Back at the end of January I posted the first piece in what I wanted to become an occasional feature. Unfortunately, because of work and a certain secret project time has been tighter than ever, and I had to prioritise reviews over other stuff. However, the secret project is now complete and it's the school holidays, so I've finally got around to typing up my scrappy handwritten notes, and I thought I would choose a topic that isn't strictly book related, although if the current popularity of YA reads had been around in the 80s then many of these films may have started off as brilliant YA books. They are in no particular order, apart from the first two which in my mind are the best YA films ever.

The Breakfast Club

Saturday morning detention! How cruel a punishment is that? When I was a teen my school ran a Saturday morning detention, but although I was no angel it was a punishment I never had to experience. However, if I had even the slightest hint at the time that it would be anything like that on The Breakfast Club I would have been breaking rules left, right and centre (everything I have heard about it suggests that it was NOTHING like TBC, and was in fact the most boring punishment in the world ever).

The Breakfast Club is the ultimate misfit-teen-bonding story. Before this particular Saturday each one lived in their own little world, with their own circle of friends (or not), and with their own personal problems. Like most teens they are far too quick to judge others for their appearance or the way they act when in their various 'tribes', but over the course of the film they begin to realise that they are not alone in having problems. I'm not a fan at all of many of the other brat pack style teen movies of the time (Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful) as I prefer more comedy than these offered, but for me this film is perfect in every way - even the ending, leaving the viewer wondering whether the changes they have gone through are long term, or whether they will revert back to the previous ways as soon as they are back in school on Monday.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Yes, another film written and directed by John Hughes and I can never decide which one I prefer more. Both of them are perfect teen movies, but where The Breakfast Club was all about a group of disparate teens bonding, this one is about three close friends who just want to have the best day off school ever. I can't believe that anyone has ever watched this and NOT wanted to be Ferris Bueller, hacking into the school computer to change his attendance record, fooling his parents whilst getting one over on the desperate Ed Rooney, and having that ultimate bunk off school. Seriously - Ferris performing Danke Schoen and Twist and Shout must be one of the biggest feel good scenes in teen movie history. And then there's THAT quote:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."


Yes, I firmly believe that this is a YA film, albeit wrapped neatly in a wonderful children's film package. Jim Henson was a master of creating work that could be enjoyed on many different levels (there's a reason that The Muppets are enjoyed as much by adults as by children, and it isn't just nostalgia), and Labyrinth is just as good an example of this. On the face of it, it is a story of a girl trying to rescue her little brother from the clutches of an evil Goblin King, in a world populated by many weird and wonderful creatures. But strip away that layer and there is a theme that is seen in many modern YA books - that of coming of age and sexual awakening (yes, it does make Bowie's Jareth character seem more than a little disturbing when you look at it this way).

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

(Note to pedants: I appreciate that Bill & Ted's wasn't released in the UK until April 1990, but as it was released in the USA a whole twelve months earlier I'm still classifying it as 80s YA.

Hmm, as I start to write about this film a huge grin is already forming on my face, and I'm wondering whether I should be putting it at the top of this post. I seriously loved this film when I first saw it, and I love it just as much today. It is also, to my enduring shame, an example of me judging a book film by its cover. I ignored its cinema release as I was pretty sure by its title and poster that I wouldn't like it. When I started at university a friend tied to persuade me that it was, like, totally excellent, but I resisted watching it on VHS for some time. However, I eventually gave it and it cost me numerous drinks (I had even bet him that I would not like it). The magic for me was its originality, the clever time-travel plotting, its sheer audacity (Abe Lincoln, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc... in a time-travelling phone booth?!), and, of course, the performances of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. Every now and again you hear rumours of a third film, but I keep my fingers crossed that this never happens. Both Bill & Ted films were a thing of their time, and really should be left alone (and while I'm at it, so should The Goonies - please don't make a sequel!)

Stand By Me

OK, so the four boys who set out on their journey of discovery are all twelve in the film, which is younger than the majority of protagonists in YA books. However, the themes that the book explores and the language used by the characters are most definitely YA territory. Yes, it is based on a brilliant short story by Stephen King, but if it wasn't it would make a brilliant YA novel. Its truly timeless quality make it a great film for teens today, rather than just a great piece of nostalgia for those of us who saw it the first time around.

The Lost Boys

Made before popular teen culture became oversaturated with vampires, this is still one of my favourite vampire films of all time. It is just such a cool film - great cast,  sexy vampires who are vicious bloodsuckers (who don't sparkle), fab 80s soundtrack, great splatter-ful special effects and brilliant humour (this film would just not have been the same if it had been a straight vampire horror movie). And of course, Corey Feldman at his best.

Back to the Future

Is this a YA story? I think so, because of Marty McFly's age and because of the romance aspects of the story. I still remember seeing it at the cinema back in 1985, and I went straight out and bought the novelization (I bought a lot of movie novelizations back in the mid 1980s - and it's still a great way to get boys reading). Every single member of the cast puts in a flawless performance, and Dr Emmett Brown, as played by Christopher Lloyd, is still one of my all time favourite movie characters. In fact, there are so many great things about it that you pretty much forget some of the implausible issues related to the time travelling. Also, if I ever win the lottery, I am so going to buy a Deloran.


  1. You've picked some amazing films! I love Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller. The Lost Boys is a film that I loved when I was younger but I've not seen it again in decades so I wasn't sure if it was a film that held up for me over time.

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  2. The Lost Boys does feel very 80s in some ways, but I think the story and the humour have lasted the test of time.

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