Top 10 Must See 1980s High School Comedy Movies

American teen movies of the 1980s struck a chord with a generation trying to find its own identity. Neal Damiano talks about his faves and why these films continue to resonate today.

10. Mischief (Damski, 1985)

kelly-preston_mischief_1985_teen-moviesSet in the mid-50s in Nelsonville Ohio, Doug McKeon stars as a nerdy teen who takes the advice of a slick new kid in town to impress and win the heart of the ultra desirable local sweetheart, played by Kelly Preston. In the tradition of obsessed over-sexed teen romps Mischief hits it dead center.

9. Just One Of The Guys (Gottlieb, 1985)

just-one-of-the-guys_teen-movies-1980sHilarity ensues when a smart high school girl disguises herself as a boy to prove herself a top notch journalist. But it’s one funny twist after another when she falls head over heels for a sensitive classmate. She has to decide between exposing her cover or finding true teen love. I like the lighthearted aspect of this film, not too heavy on teen issues.

8. Teen Wolf (Daniel, 1985)

teen-wolf-michael-j-fox_teen-movies-1980sMichael J. Fox plays a nerd in high school that can’t seem to get with it. He’s the worst player on the basketball team, can’t make a basket or score with the girls. Things change once he discovers his family’s strange secret – that they’re all werewolves. He’s soon howling at the moon and miraculously becomes the talk of the town. But not everyone is on the teen wolf train, as friends see the monster he’s really become. Teen Wolf is certainly not the greatest teen film made but it has plenty of funny moments, a tongue in cheek flare, and there is a lesson to be learned in the end. A huge hit at the box office and helped Michael J Fox become a star.

7. Can’t Buy Me Love (Rash, 1987)

cant-buy-me-love_teen-movies-1980sPatrick Dempsey’s first leading role. He plays Ronald Miller, a high school nerd who tries to buy his way into the popular crowd. He comes up with a crazy plan, hiring a popular cheerleader to front as his girlfriend. A funny, charming tale of teen angst. Ronald achieves superstar status, creating the Ronald Miller Express, but ultimately pays the price for his popularity. There are definitely moments here we can all relate to and Dempsey’s vulnerability is so genuine.

6. License To Drive (Beeman, 1988)

license-to-drive-corey-haimThe second film among many to star the dynamic duo Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. License to Drive is full of wonderfully zany characters and situations and is yet another fresh and light movie that defines the era. The movie is very heavy on exaggeration but done in such a hilarious way you can’t help but overlook it. Haim’s character has two missions in life, getting his driver’s license and dating Mercedes (Heather Graham), the hottest girl in high school. The chemistry between the two Corey’s is undeniable.

5. Dream A Little Dream (Rocco, 1989)

corey_feldman_dream-a-little-dreamCorey Feldman and Corey Haim starred in a string of films together in the 1980s and affectionately were referred to as The Two Corey’s. Dream A Little Dream is my favorite because of the surreal dream like atmosphere. Dinger and Bobby are best friends. Bobby falls for Lainie, the hottest girl in school and has to convince her that she loves him before the night is over. Bobby switches his body with his neighbor, old man Coleman, living life through his eyes and vice versus. The same thing with Lainie and Coleman’s wife. So it’s a romantic comedy with a twist. I really enjoyed this movie because of the complex structure and story line, very unique and different than most teen angst films. You really have to pay attention to the characters and their bond. A great film about friendship and relationships in high school.

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Hughes, 1987)

Ferris Bueller, Top 10 Films,One of the most iconic films of the 1980s, Ferris Bueller became a template for every teenager who wanted to be cool. Liked by all social group burn outs, dweebs, jocks, and preps because Ferris showed them how it could be done. He knew how to outwit the adults and possessed an undeniable charm. Ferris was not going to let a school day ruin his adventure in downtown Chicago.

3. The Goonies (Donner, 1985)

The Goonies, Film, Richard Donner, Hey You GuysElectrifying, fun filled adventure ride produced by Steven Spielberg and director Richard Donner. A group of teenagers go on an epic search for pirate treasure. Plenty of non-stop action involving death traps, clumsy crooks, and a lovable giant. The Goonies is a movie that makes you smile; every kid wanted to be a Goonie growing up.

2. Sixteen Candles (Hughes, 1984)

Sixteen-candles_molly-ringwald_teen-movies-1980sThe first in the Molly Ringwald trilogy from the master of teen comedies John Hughes, Sixteen Candles creates unforgettable characters like Farmer Ted, Jake Ryan, and The Donger. Ringwald stars as a young girl whose 16th birthday is forgotten by her family, she’s crushing on a high school senior, and her only male friend is king of the geeks. Plenty of laughs and one-liners in this teen comedy.

1. The Breakfast Club (Hughes, 1985)

The Breakfast Club, John Hughes, Brat Pack, High School Films, Teenage RebellionA timeless film by John Hughes. Five very different students from different places in the high school social system, spend a Saturday detention together, only to learn they have more in common than they thought. But the movie is much more than this, becoming one of the most endearing and beloved films of all generations. The film speaks volumes of what it is to be a teenager. All the insecurities and vulnerabilities displayed on the table, open wide for the audience to feel and believe. As we watch the characters develop, we can relate to their fears and desires and how they connect with each other emotionally. The movie broke down barriers in social groups in a very genuine, heart felt way.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

Many talented people have contributed to the success of these, and many other, 1980s teen movies. Neal would like to pay tribute to two of those who we lost in 2009 and 2010 respectively – John Hughes and Corey Haim. One was a star behind the camera, the other, a star in front of it. Their legacy is forever recorded in the films that have become long-time favorites of so many.

If you enjoyed this top 10 check out Neal Damiano’s other lists on Top 10 Films including the best of actors James Gandolfini, Christian Slater & Gary Oldman as well as the greatest slashers, drug-themed movies, and American Indie.

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. Jaina Reply

    The 1980s had some FANTASTIC teen films! Adore The Breakfast Club. I think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is probably my top one. 😀 Great list!

    • Dan Reply

      …John Hughes was the master at this. Love Ferris, Sixteen Candles and of course The Breakfast Club.

  2. Dan Grant Reply

    While I can’t argue with most of the list, Neal, I have to say first of all that I am most impressed that you have Mischief on your list. Kelly Preston was ridiculously sexy in this film and it’s also one of my favourites.

    Having said that, my list would be drastically different than yours.

    The Wild Life, Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin, Secret Admirer, Porky’s, Sixteen Candles, Mischief, Ferris Bueller and maybe Revenge of the Nerds would all make my list.

    • Dan Reply

      …and Kelly Preston is just as gorgeous today! 🙂

  3. Dan Grant Reply

    Another thing I liked about Mischief is that Jamie Gertz plays a nerd. Now that takes some good acting. Keep in mind Lost Boys (where she exudes sexuality) and Mischief were two years apart.

    As for Can’t Buy Me Love, it had a good supporting cast as well. To this day, even though I don’t know his name, I still remember the “You shit on my house” guy and of course Ronald’s best friend, who appeared in films like Back to the Future and Secret Admirer.

  4. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan, I appreciate the feedback as always and you mention some really good films for your teen film list, however let me explain why I didn’t chose some you mention here. First off Revenge Of The Nerds is not a teen film they were college students in a college setting. Second Fast Times At Ridgement High I consider much more than an 80s teen movie, which is why I didn’t include Valley Girl as well. Porkys was just not a good film funny and raunchy yes but weak script clichéd and better suited for a Top 10 raunchy sex obsessed teens film list perhaps. The Last American Virgin is one of my favorite 80 films but I think it lays to dark and heavy in the second half of the movie to make this particular list. Again the title of my lists are tricky because sometimes it diesnt fully explain my intentions in my mind when creating it. The Wild a Life I do not remember too well?

    The theme here was light hearted funny teen films of the 1980s with a lesson learned in the end. I know Breakfast Club is deep but you can’t have an 80s teen list without it let alone not be number 1.
    Good mention on Secret Admirer as for that just simply escaped me.

    Thanks for reading and feedback!

  5. Neal Damiano Reply

    One I feel I missed on is Footloose, (original 1984) completely escaped me.
    Can’t get more of a teen film than that, such a huge hit!

  6. Mark Reply

    Could Risky Business be called a teen film? Regardless, not quite sure it’s top 10 material, though ….

    • Dan Reply

      Aha…Risky Business would make a number of top 10 lists I can think of. In fact, I think it already has! Love that movie.

  7. Dan Reply

    Terrific list, Neal. I really enjoyed reading it, especially because it included many of my favourites (I love 1980s American cinema!).

    It is incredible that John Hughes is responsible for so many teen classics – Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles and Ferris and Pretty In Pink and Weird Science and the rest… If any one filmmaker acknowledged the pain, fears, desires etc., of a great slice of society in the 1980s it was him. And he always, always, always gave us great soundtracks!

    Personally, I’m also a big fan of Savage Steve Holland (if only for one film) – I love Better Off Dead (starring John Cusack). He also did One Crazy Summer (not as big a fan) and the less successful How I Got Into College in the 1980s.

    Others that I love include The Sure Thing and Class. I also have to mention Say Anything – arguably Cameron Crowe’s greatest achievement even though he’s produced some fabulous work since.

  8. Rory Fish Reply

    Can’t argue with numbers one through four – John Hughes and a bit of Richard Donner thrown in for good measure!

    …Blimey, wasn’t Kelly Preston hot in Mischief! 🙂

  9. ruth Reply

    Awesome list!! Just One of the Guys and the last 2 picks are my fave from the 80s, gosh I miss John Hughes!

  10. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Mark, yes Risky business is considered a teen film from the 80s just not a good fit for this list
    and yes Dan Stephens, it’s in my Top 10 Quintessential 1980s films list.

  11. Neal Damiano Reply

    Kelly Preston is a very beautiful woman always has been!!

  12. Evan Crean Reply

    I’ve always thought of myself as well-versed in 80s films, which why I was surprised that you pulled out some movies here I’ve never seen/heard of Neal. Definitely need to add Mischief and Dream a Little Dream to my Netflix queue. I’m a big John Cusack fan, so I’m a bit disappointed none of his films made your cut. If I had to select just one to make a list I’d go with Better off Dead, although if I had my way Say Anything and One Crazy Summer would be on my must-see 80s teen movies.

  13. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Evan,

    I agree with Better Off Dead an absolutely hilarious movie which I considered, but it only focused on one teen maybe two considering Diane Franklin.

    But I cannot agree with One Crazy Summer, I did not like that film found nothing amusing about it few funny lines but just a dumb script and really bad acting. Worst John Cusack film ever made in that genre considering others IE …..Say Anything, Better off dead and The Sure Thing.

    I can agree Say Anything probably should be on this list.

  14. Neal Damiano Reply

    Oh and Evan you definitely should check out some Corey Feldman & Corey Haim together films in that era really funny teen films and well made!

    • Dan Reply

      Although it only features Corey Haim, I’d recommend Lucas for anyone interested in the 1980s teen movie genre.

  15. Paul Brighton Reply

    Great list Neal! Ferris and Breakfast Club are classics. I also loved Say Anything, Pretty In Pink, St.Elmos Fire, The Outsiders…. so many to choose from!

  16. Dan Grant Reply

    Neal: Yes, you’re right about Revenge of the Nerds. My bad. It is college. I’ll stick up for Porky’s though. I think it has a wonderful script and even though it is incredibly raunchy, I can honestly say it is funnier than almost every teen film from the 80’s, including ones that I would rank higher.

    @Dan: Savage Steve Holland did one legendary film and one not to bad film. One Crazy Summer was not too bad. However, Better Off Dead (which had Porky in a supporting role) is the only film I’d say is funnier than Porky’s. Stalin, the K12, Beth, his brother getting women, his dad screwing up teens vernacular and of course Charles LeMar. Such a great movie.

    @Neal I understand what you mean about Last American Virgin, it really kicks you in the gut at the end. But it is a truly wonderful film and I’m glad you sing it’s praises as well.

    As for Wild Life, it’s one of Chris Penn’s earliest roles. Lea Thompson and Eric Stoltz are also in it.

    As I said, great list, I’d just differ a little.

  17. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan, ok as I look back I’ll give you Porkys it was a funny movie but I think it’s much more suited for a Top 10 raunchy over- sexed 1980s teen movies list. Perhaps you should write up one!!

    As for Last American Virgin fell in love with the movie first time I saw it as a kid, will always dig it and the soundtrack is near perfection. But as we know it takes a very dark turn towards the second act. A very hard kick in the nuts so to speak!!!

    I’ll have to check out The Wild Life once again, love Lea Thompson had such a crush on her!

  18. Neal Damiano Reply

    But I stand by One Crazy Summer as just bad, it just wasn’t amusing to me compared to Cusacks other stellar work in the teen genre – Say Anything, The a Sure Thing etc…

    Better Off Dead is a teen classic with so many one-liners very funny film, if ever a part 2 1980s teen list it’s definitely going up!

  19. Neal Damiano Reply

    Brakes at 22 huh…..thought for sure this one would bring in big response?. I know people love 80s teen films!

  20. Adam Lumb Reply

    Nice selection of 1980s teen movies Neal but I can’t see any sign of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (surely one of the greatest teen movies of the era?).

    Alternate choices: Some Kind of Wonderful, Three O’Clock High, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Lost Boys, Back To The Future, Pretty In Pink, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Lucas, The Outsiders, Gregory’s Girl, Private Lessons.

  21. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Adam,

    Thanks for reading Stand By Me is in my top 50 films list and arguably one of the greatest films made, however I did not put it on my list because they were preteens ( not teenagers) going on an adventure in the summer before “high school”. Some Kind of Wonderful an absolutely fantastic under the radar John Hughes film. I simply didn’t want to inundate the list with several Hughes films. Lucas centered too much one character although a great film and performance by Haim. The Outsiders could of made the list for sure, although a little on the heavy side. The Lost Boys I really don’t consider a teen film not suitable for the idea of this list anyway. Compared to License To Drive. I had to narrow down to ten.

    You got me on Three O’Clock High I simply forgot this hilarious teen movie while making the list. As for Girls Just Want to Have Fun ah funny little movie but doesn’t surpass the films here (IMO).

    On side note- I actually like Pretty In Pink better , always have…..but Sixteen Candles is a classic and universal favorite the characters Hughes created in this comedy are timeless. Sixteen Candles just works better for this list

  22. Adam Lumb Reply

    Ah…fair enough. Great list regardless. I’d include many of these on my own. 3 O’Clock High just jumped out at me when I thought – 1980s high school movie.

  23. Dan Grant Reply

    Just to re-itterate the Stand By Me thing, great movie and probably on many people’s lists of top 50 films in history, but they were 12, not 13. The last line of the film is so genuine and so poignant that it has stuck with me over the years.

    “I’ve never had friends again like I did when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”

  24. Neal Damiano Reply

    Thanks Dan Grant,

    Yes Stand By Me is a classic film loved by many including me! Think it’s best suited for a coming of age 1980s films list along with The Outsiders.

    @Adam, Three O’ Clock High and Pretty in Pink will go on a part 2 for sure. My obsession with Duckie”s character is still going on today. (laughing)

  25. Dan Grant Reply

    Inspired by this list, I watched Secret Admirer (Kelly Preston again lol) last night. It was certainly one of my faves growing up.

  26. Neal Damiano Reply

    Glad It inspired you, Dan!

    I haven’t seen that in a long time …….I do remember Class more vividly a very young McCarthy and Lowe …….a very sexy older Jaqueline Bassett.

  27. Neal Damiano Reply

    BTW, this month Sixteen Candles 30th Anniversary, wow I’m getting old!

  28. Dan Grant Reply

    I have to admit, I giggled my butt off when I watched Secret Admirer. It’s the kind of film that is really not made anymore. It’s a little sexist, there’s female nudity and some of the film is pretty much impossible…BUT…it’s still gut bustingly funny, even 30 years later. I laughed from start to finish. I really recommend it to anyone who has not seen it.

  29. Neal Damiano Reply

    Dan, I have to revisit Secret Admirer now……..look for a copy.

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