Movies for my senior.
We are not a movie family. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because two of us have Attention Deficit Disorder, but we just don’t sit down and watch movies very often. Sure, during COVID shutdowns, I forced our daughter to watch a few movies with me (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Clueless and Sliding Doors, all of which received two thumbs up from her), but generally speaking, we don’t watch movies.
However, we are nearing her high school graduation, and I feel like we are under the gun. I feel like there are movies she needs to see. This occurred to me tonight as I was making our daughter one of my famous grilled cheese sandwiches (yes, they are famous among the teenage set in Charlotte)…and singing the theme song from the 70s movie, Car Wash…because that’s what I do…I sing while I work. But while I worked and sang tonight, I realized I’ve been remiss! I should have shared more of my favorite movies with her! She leaves for college in four months, and I need to squeeze in some classics from my youth (and a few others) before she goes! We talked about it tonight, and she agreed to watch some of them with me over the next few months.
So I sat down and made a list, but as I made the list, one movie would lead to another! The list is now at more than 35 must-see movies. There is no way we will watch 35 movies in the next few months, so I will start with some of my personal favorites.
- Sense and Sensibility. I know this one is unexpected, but this is one of my all-time favorites…the one starring Emma Thompson. I am a firm believer that every woman on earth should read Jane Austen’s novels, and the best way to get started is by watching this film adaptation. The scenery is beautiful. The people are gorgeous (Mr. Darcy!), and the story is one of the best ever. If you think I’m crazy for having this one at the top of the list, you haven’t seen it. Watch it. And after you watch it, read the book. You’ll understand the language and characters better after seeing the movie. And when you finish reading Sense and Sensibility, move on to her other novels… Pride and Prejudice while the rhythm of the language is fresh in your brain…then Mansfield Park, Emma (also a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the modern-day Clueless is loosely based on it), Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey.
- Risky Business. Anyone who was a teenager in the 80s knows this is an essential film. Tom Cruise became really famous after making this bit of cinematic history. Other great teenage movies from the 80s were, of course, the John Hughes films: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club. Come on…Mr Hughes directed the stories of our lives! He introduced us to relatable characters! We knew those people! Another great? Fast Times at Ridgemont High, for sure…didn’t we all know some version of Spicoli?
I dug a little deeper and came up with lots of other favorites. Some have cultural significance, and some don’t. Anyone who was a teen in the 80s knows St Elmo’s Fire, with its Brat Pack cast, had a huge influence on our lives. Throw in About Last Night for more Brat Pack action.
But there are other favorite movies that are not based on the 80s. Muriel’s Wedding, starring Toni Collette, is a less-known film that I think offers a great story and some wisdom to go with it. And every time I see my friend, Kristi, we have to watch Brooke Shields in Endless Love…what a teenage love story that is!
I’m sure everyone has their own favorites. Please feel free to share! Here is my list of essentials. I’m sure I have forgotten some…
- Airplane!-slapstick comedy circa 1980. It’s stupid. It’s funny. It’s iconic.
- American Graffiti-a coming-of-age film set in the early 1960s in California. It’s all about cruising in Modesto in one night. Released in 1973, the cast is stellar. It was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by George Lucas. It’s a must-see film for every American.
- Animal House-An American classic. No one should go to college without seeing this film. John Belushi and great music…need I say more?
- Back to the Future-released when I was a teenager, this film is a classic. The sci-fi concept takes the lead character (played by Michael J Fox) back in time, via a Delorean car turned time machine, to the 1950s, where he meets his parents as teenagers. It’s funny and thought-provoking.
- The Bad News Bears-I think this movie gives kids a glimpse into life in the 1970s, when people smoked everywhere and a drunk might just be your little league coach. Not one kid on that team had a helicopter parent!
- Breakfast Club-John Hughes…no need to say more. Teenagers today are very familiar with the film, and Nickelodeon’s Victorious even did a parody of it a few years ago.
- Caddyshack-How many times did I watch Caddyshack as a teenager? It was on HBO all the time, and if nothing else was on, I could always settle in and watch Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray. And everyone remembers the poop in the pool scene. It’s a funny movie, and people make references to it all the time, so everyone needs to be familiar with it.
- Dirty Dancing-I had friends in college who saw this film on the big screen multiple times. The music is great. The setting…a resort in the Catskills…is fun. And the characters are well-defined. I think this movie wasn’t supposed to be a hit, but it was a sleeper! Women fell in love with Patrick Swayze, and the music from the 60s will keep you dancing in your seat. Again…lots of references come from this movie. “I carried a watermelon.” “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” You knew it before I said it.
- Endless Love-I will be the first to admit it’s not the greatest movie. But the story is intriguing, and don’t all teenage girls love a good love story? This one has lots of twists and turns. Must-see. ***For another Brooke Shields movie, I would say Blue Lagoon, but I’m not sure I can sit through it again.
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High-Another coming-of-age film, this one is set in California. The screenplay was written by Cameron Crowe, who went undercover at a high school in San Diego. Anyone who grew up in the 80s knew someone like each of the characters. Some sheltered teenagers of 2022 will be shocked by some of the storylines and candor, but others will likely shrug. And didn’t all boys fall in love with Phoebe Cates when they saw this movie?
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner-This film is an American classic. I took my daughter to see it on the big screen several years ago, but she fell asleep. She needs to see it again, as it addresses racism and the struggle for equality.
- The Goonies-I’m almost embarrassed to say this: I have never seen The Goonies. I’m not sure how this one got past me, since it was released right after I graduated from high school. I have friends who think this is one of the greatest movies of all time. This one might be one of the first ones we need to watch.
- Groundhog Day-So this movie is not from my teen years or even college years, but it is one of those movies everyone needs to see once, in my opinion. Bill Murray (again!) stars as a weatherman who is reporting on Groundhog Day from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but he keeps living the same day over and over. He hates the town and the people who live there, but wakes up there repeatedly. After reliving the day many times, he finds a way to make it work for him as he seeks a relationship with Andie McDowell’s character and ends up falling in love with the town in the process.
- Imitation of Life-Based on a novel by Fannie Hurst (one of my favorite books, by the way) that was a bestseller in 1933. Mrs. Hurst was a celebrity in the first half of the 20th century as a bestselling female author and activist. The film was released in 1959 and stars Lana Turner. It doesn’t cover all the intricacies of the book, but the story is good, nonetheless. It’s a story of the difficulties of motherhood, living a lie, the harsh realities of life, and friendship.
- Jaws-I saw this film shortly after my 8th birthday. My parents dropped off me and my 6-yr-old brother at the theatre (Eastern Shore Cinema in Daphne, Alabama) on a Saturday for our weekly double feature…which meant four hours of free date time for them. So yes, we saw Jaws unaccompanied, because back in the 1970s, parents didn’t hover over every move their kids made. And my mother hovered more than a lot of moms, but the movie theater was our babysitter. I’m sure my daughter will think the special effects of this one are funny, but this movie is a classic. She has to see it. Lots of life references come from this move, like, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
- Karate Kid-Wax on, wax off. Another classic, she simply needs to see this David and Goliath film. There are so many great things about it: love, mentorship, discipline…
- Mean Girls-Another one I’m embarrassed to admit I have not seen. My daughter has seen it and simply cannot believe this one got past me. She has proposed we watch it together. Deal!
- Moonstruck-This is one of my favorite films of all time. So many great lines came out of this film. The characters are well-defined, and the plot has twists and turns everywhere. Cher, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, and Nic Cage are all great in this movie. “Do you love him, Loretta?” “Yes, Ma, I love him awful.” “Oh God, that’s too bad.”
- Porky’s-Not exactly a classic, but every teenager in the 1980s saw the original Porky’s movie and the sequels. We can all name the characters: Meat, Peewee, Mrs Ballbricker, Honeywell, Cherry Forever…the list goes on and on. It’s raunchy. It’s stupid. But teenagers found it hilarious in the 1980s. The original was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1982 behind ET, Tootsie, An Officer and a Gentleman, Rocky III…and ahead of Star Trek II, 48 Hrs, Poltergeist, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas! All those movies were great, but Porky’s hung in there! (And even though I’m not mentioning any of those movies in my list, they could all be added at any time!)\
- Pretty in Pink– iconic 80s teen film. My daughter has seen it, but we might need to see it one more time before she goes to college.
- Private Benjamin-Goldie Hawn stars as a spoiled widow who joins the US Army. Eileen Brennan is her wicked drill sergeant who fully expects her to fail, but of course, she beats the odds. It’s a movie about female empowerment. Near the top of the list.
- Rear Window-Obviously, not a 1980s teenage movie, but a Hitchcock film that’s thought-provoking. Also, The Birds, another Hitchcock. Oooh…and Vertigo! Maybe we should just do a Hitchcock home film festival.
- Risky Business-I mentioned this one already, but it’s just so good!
- Say Anything and Some Kind of Wonderful-two great 80s movies about teenage love. Must see.
- Sixteen Candles-a personal fave, even though this film could never be made today.
- Smokey and the Bandit-It’s silly. It’s politically incorrect. But it’s a young Burt Reynolds looking like a mustachioed porn star in his black Pontiac Trans Am. Sally Field is adorable. Jerry Reed is funny. And who can forget the late, great Jackie Gleason?! “let me have a Diablo Sandwich, a Dr Pepper, and make it fast! I’m in a xxxxxxx hurry!” Must see. (This one will be on the big screen at my local theater in May!)
- St Elmo’s Fire-New college graduates who are friends face the world. The Brat Pack.
- Top Gun-80s, Tom Cruise, fighter jets, motorcycle, love, bar scene, volleyball scene. If you know, you know.
- The Way We Were-This one was released in 1973. Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. This film follows Streisand’s character, Katie, as she changes from activist to conventional wife back to activist…through her relationship with Hubble Gardner, a man for whom life is easy. One of my all-time faves.
- There’s Something About Mary-a fun cast and hilariously immature plot line make this movie one of my favorites. It’s just stupid humor that you can’t unsee. And for the rest of my life, every time I hear Build Me Up, Buttercup, I will think of this movie.
I’m sure I have forgotten some of my favorites. Please feel free to submit your own recommendations. Of course, there is no way we will be able to watch all these before she leaves for college, but we can watch some of them!
I always loved The Outsiders, Beetlejuice, Beaches, Steel Magnolias, Big, and Stand by Me. You are right, there are just too many to name. I think sometimes we watch too many movies when my kids are home. I guess I feel like that is the best way to get them all together in one room and off of their phones (if it is a good movie). Enjoy these next few months, it will never be the same.
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Yes! All great suggestions! She has seen The Outsiders and loved it!
Footloose, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters for the list though yours is pretty comprehensive! Oh and Girls Just Want to Have Fun – young SJP before Sex and the City. And Grease of course!
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Yes to all of the above! She has seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off several times…that movie stands the test of time, for sure! Thank you for reading, and thanks for the suggestions! –K
actually i love old movies and thank you for this huge list it’s amazing.
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