Why you should care
Some things never go out of fashion, provided you ignore the hair.
Every generation has its cinematic touchstones: the moments, the lines and the music that stick in your head long after the credits have rolled. And while the current generation of young people is debating which Iron Man or Hunger Games film is the best, those of us of a certain age can turn to three films from the 1980s that molded us while also somehow breaking the mold.
Don’t You Forget About ‘The Breakfast Club’
The Breakfast Club (1985), like the other John Hughes’ movies that followed it — Weird Science, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — defined how millions of kids looked, thought and walked for the rest of the decade. While ’70s teen films like Grease and American Graffiti looked back in time, in the ’80s it was all about the moment. And combined with their talent and the license Hughes gave them to improvise, the remarkable cast—and the range of characters they played, from rebel to geek to prom queen—was believable, the dialog razor sharp and funny.
Hughes used music extensively to reflect his teen characters’ emotions, blending it with the action. And some of the songs became synonymous with the movies, with entire scenes seemingly built around a song. None more than this iconic, wordless scene…
Nobody Puts ‘Dirty Dancing’ in a Corner
Another film centered on good music and characters from mismatched backgrounds was Dirty Dancing (1987). Despite having a low budget, no stars and producers who feared a flop that would go straight to video, the film became a box office sensation, largely thanks to word of mouth. Teenage girls watched it over and over, at first for Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and his gyrating hips, but ultimately for Frances “Baby” Houseman’s (Jennifer Grey) gutsy character and coming-of-age story. Screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein intentionally wove an abortion into the film, making it so integral to the story that it could not be removed, even when it cost the film a major sponsor (Clearasil) prior to release.
Bergstein’s script, which delights on so many levels, has managed to enthrall everyone from feminists, who still greet her with raucous applause, to Australian truckers who tell her they still watch the film. And the one line that everyone knows, the linchpin that holds the film’s many layers together, is the unforgettable command that Johnny issues in the closing moments…
The Princess Bride’s Killer Meme
If there’s a line from a 1987 film even more memorable than Johnny’s edict, then it’s the vigilante Inigo’s mantra in The Princess Bride. Anyone named Montoya who has ever had to introduce themselves to a group knows that there is no avoiding it. No chance that — once you begin with “Hello, my name is Pam Montoya” — anyone will respond with anything other than “You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
The line, written by William Goldman and delivered by Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin, is the meme equivalent of the Ebola virus. Yet this virus seems only to leave its victims hemorrhaging laughter. But the epic trope is more than the mantra of a young swordsman confronting his father’s killer after 20 years of hunting him. It is the very power of words to fortify resolve and channel action. It is the word becoming flesh…and then penetrating it.