Teenage, high school angst has always been great fodder for movies. Over the years, many of the classics of this genre have served as launching pads for actors who are now household names.
This article features four, teenager-driven, high school movies. It’s by no means the best of the list, just meant to give a representation of how these kinds of movies launch careers. See how many names you recognize.
The Breakfast Club (1985). Look for a lot of super Hollywood names here: Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson. Director John Hughes even makes a fast cameo appearance at the end as Anthony Michael Hall’s dad. Blink and you’ll miss it, however.
This mismatched group of teens meets for Saturday detention at Shermer High School, and the fun begins. While all sorts of teenage insecurities are revealed, much of the movie revolves around which guy will end up with which girl, a common theme in the teenage angst genre.
Will the jock Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) end up with cool girl Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald, queen of several coming-of-age movies during this time)? Will the outcast bad boy John Bender (Judd Nelson) end up with the dark oddball girl who fits in with no one Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy)? Does the nerdy guy Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) ever end up with anyone? Will they all drive the teacher who sneaks off as soon as the class begins crazy? Despite the bonds they forge, will they still speak on Monday after detention is over?
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) follows the same sort of character analysis as The Breakfast Club. More than the general plot, it’s the characters and their individual stories and statuses in life that drive Fast Times, a Cameron Crowe classic.
Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates a/k/a Mrs. Kevin Klein) get summer jobs at the mall and talk about boys. Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) works at a burger joint and looks to run corporate America after graduation. He spends his off time polishing his classic car.
Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is the guy we all saw in the school hallway and most of us avoided. This surfer dude poses a particular bane for teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston of My Favorite Martian).
Robert Romanus appears as Mike Damone who comes off as male ingénue Mark Ratner’s (Brian Backer) only friend. Damone is the school player, scalping tickets and giving instructions on how to look cool. Mark “Rat” Ratner is the hapless freshman who finds himself at the bottom of the dating pecking order in high school.
Look for other faces you have seen over the years in movies and in the news. Forest Whitaker (Charles Jefferson) offers up a great menacing football hero. One of Spicoli’s stoner friends is Eric Stoltz who went on to star with Cher in Mask. The science teacher’s hot wife played by Lana Clarkson is the woman Phil Spector ended up doing 19 years to life for killing. Spector still maintains his innocence.
Watch the movie once just to be star struck, then watch it again to see where you fit in among the cliques. (There were three Pat Benatars running around the campus.) THEN, watch it again and see where you would end up if you could do it all again. You may surprise yourself.
Sixteen Candles (1984). Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) approaches her 16th birthday, and it seems the entire family has forgotten. Samantha has her sights on the elusive Jake Ryan (Andrew McCarthy), a Porsche-driving god among teenage boys. Samantha’s sure he doesn’t know she exists.
Randy (Anthony Michael Hall) worships her from afar but serves as her best friend. In essence, Hall is playing the geek role he continued on with in The Breakfast Club.
We can’t give away the ending, but you can probably guess it. If it seems too cute to believe, consider that Andrew McCarthy (the object of Molly Ringwald’s affection in the movie) married his high school sweetheart-20 years AFTER their first date!
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). We’ve all been there. School can be a drag and we all looked for ways to get out of it for at least a day. Ferris (Matthew Broderick) snubs the school hierarchy to play hooky for the day. Ferris is not the bad boy in the classic sense. All he wants to do is spend the day exploring Chicago with is girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), so he fakes an illness.
Along the way he drives the school establishment nuts. Like Spicoli in Fast Times, Ferris is completely unapologetic. He explains to the powers that be that he saw all sorts of great things on his day off.
Among the powers that be in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). He’s one of those guys you know you’ve seen in lots of movies and on television but you can’t quite place him. That’s what makes him a great character actor.
You’ll also recognize Jennifer (Dirty Dancing) Grey as Jeanie Bueller. Cindy Pickett (St. Elsewhere, Cold Case) who played Ferris’s mother, fell in love with Ferris’s onscreen dad played by Lyman Ward during the movie. The two married after filming.
When you go to the movie theatre to watch the latest teenage angst movie, pay close attention to the cast of credits. Odds are you’ll be seeing many of those faces on the big screen in the future.