High School Halls: Movies that Define Our Generation

I’m back again with Deep-Fried Friday and serving up a series on High School Halls.  Today I’m thrilled to welcome Coleen Patrick, contemporary young adult author, whose blog I love and whose burgeoning friendship I treasure. (Follow this gal! She’s awesome.) Coleen and I are talking about the influence of movies on high schoolers.

That Was Then

Movies have the capacity to both express youth culture and impact it. If anyone asks me what the quintessential 80s high school movie is, I answer The Breakfast Club (1985). It was right in the middle of the decade and had all the features that made it so perfectly high school and so perfectly the 80s—actors from the “Brat Pack” (Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy); dealing with standing out and fitting in in high school; and made by John Hughes (my generation’s Joss Whedon). But it was by no means the only movie that defined Generation X.

J: Coleen, you were born a couple of years after me, so we grew up around the same time. Which movie(s) would get your vote for most representative of our era?

C: The Breakfast Club would be my first thought too, although Karate Kid stands out for me a lot.  I’m always inspired by a great underdog story!  Oh and romance, gotta have that too.

J: I liked that movie too–especially Elizabeth Shue’s character.

There are several movies from my generation that I never saw. Among them are Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), The Goonies (1985), and Heathers (1988). What defining movies did you miss that you wish you had seen? Why?

C: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Fast Times or Heathers either.  Both seem to get referenced a lot to this day and whenever they do I think, I need to watch them! Vacation is hysterical.  I saw it dozens of times one summer when it was repeating on cable. I still quote it.  Goonies was a favorite too.

Rob Lowe in Class

J: Some of the high school hunks at the time included Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Charlie Sheen, Matthew Broderick, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, and Matt Dillon. Did you have a picture up of any movie star from that era? Who did you have a crush on? I’ll admit to having a photo of Jason Patric, who starred in The Lost Boys (1987).

C: I loved the Lost Boys! I did have a lot of pictures and posters up in my room—Rob Lowe was one of my favorites.  I remember waiting for everyone (read: my parents) to go to sleep so I could watch Class. 🙂

J: You know, Rob still looks pretty good these days.

Slasher movies became popular in the 1980s with the continuation of the Halloween (1978) films, Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Child’s Play (1988). Were you ever a fan of Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy Kruger, or Chucky? Which, if any, was a favorite?

C: I saw Friday the 13th for the first time at a friend’s house when I was 13 and I imagined Jason hiding under my bed for weeks after.  Freddy however, was the most fascinating and terrifying to me. A monster who can infiltrate your dreams? *shivers*

J: In case you’re wondering, my level of scary were movies like Poltergeist (1982) and The Gremlins (1984). Speaking of which, can you name the three rules for keeping a gremlin?

C: Poltergeist is probably in my top 5 for movies I still quote.  “Don’t go into the light . . .” As for Gremlin rules, let’s see . . . no water, no feeding after midnight and no bright lights? Are those right? 🙂

Before the rules are broken

J: Those are exactly right. Proving that you are a Child of the 80’s!

Musicals also made a comeback in the 1980s. The era was likely kicked off by the success of Grease in 1978, but the 80s also saw the release of Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984), Purple Rain (1984), and Dirty Dancing (1987). Do you remember any others? Do you have a favorite musical or scene from one of these?

C: I’ve never seen Flashdance or Purple Rain (had the soundtrack though!), and I just saw Footloose a couple of years ago, but Dirty Dancing was a fave—gotta love the water lift scene!

Jennifer Grey & Patrick Swayze

J: I had forgotten that scene! It’s really great, though.

Blitz quiz here at the end! See if you can fill in the following movies with a quick hint:

  • 1.21 gigawatts of power in the flux capacitor? Back to the Future
  • Tom Cruise in a dress shirt and socks lip-syncing Bob Seger? Risky Business
  • Duckie has a serious crush on Molly Ringwald’s character? Pretty in Pink
  • Two geeks, two bras on their heads, one awesome computer, and Kelly Brock? Weird Science
  • Wax on, wax off, and you’ll learn martial arts? Karate Kid
  • Singing The Beatles “Twist and Shout” from a parade float? Ferris Buehler

Coleen, you are awesome! An A+.

This Is Now

Now onto to today’s movies for teens!

J: Harry Potter and Twilight seem to have gotten the most teen audiences in the last decade, but do you think these movies define the current generation?

C: I think so.  Neither of my kids are big movie goers (shocking to me), but between the two of them they’ve seen all of these.

J: My tween/teen are not big movie watchers, and right now they are into James Bond films, so I don’t have anything to add on that count!

What other movies or franchises have you seen teens excited about?

C: For my daughter that would be the horror ones like Final Destination or Saw. Too gory for me!  But she also can watch Mean Girls again and again.

J:I guess slasher movies never go out of style.

What topics do you see being addressed by movies today that appeal to teens?

C: Romance comes to mind first.

J: From Romeo and Juliet to Edward and Bella to Gale and Katniss and on and on.

Who are the movers and shakers among today’s teen actors? Do you think these are good or bad role models for high schoolers?

Jennifer Lawrence in
The Hunger Games

C: Maybe the actors of Twilight like Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner or the ones from The Hunger Games?  As far as role models, that’s a good question.  For my own teenagers, I know I get concerned depending on the “product” that celebrity is selling.  So for movie stars it would be the message in the film more than their personal life, because that’s
what the kids are buying into.  

J: I’m partial to Emma Watson from Harry Potter myself. From what I’ve seen, she’s terrific on and off screen.

What topics are timeless for teens? What kind of movies would teens of almost any era like to see?

C: I think bullying is a topic that is timeless and movies that get you rooting for the underdog. 

J: I agree. One of my favorites that I didn’t mention was Lucas (1986), starring Corey Haim, Kerry Green, and Charlie Sheen, about a socially inept high school kid. It’s definitely an underdog story.

Thanks for coming by, Coleen! It’s been a pleasure to chat about movies that define our generation.

Now what movies do you recall from your high school years? What young actor or actress was your teenage crush? What movies or film franchises appeal to teens today? What topics do you think movies for teens should address?

From Coleen: I write contemporary YA.  I have two projects I’m working on—one is closer to the finish line than the other, but you can check out both of my storyboards on Pinterest.

I live in Virginia with my husband, our two kids and three two fish. My secret power is well secret, but I have no problem quoting my old diary on my blog.  You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@coleenpatrick).  Come say HI!