Teen movies that mattered after 'The Breakfast Club'

Adam Graham and Tom Long
The Detroit News

Thirty years ago a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal walked into Saturday detention, and teen movies haven't been the same since.

Sure, there were movies about teenagers long before "The Breakfast Club." But none were able to capture the uncertainty and the anguish of the teenage experience with quite the same grace as John Hughes' classic film, which returns to theaters Thursday and Tuesday as part of its 30th anniversary celebration.

"The Breakfast Club" took those above-listed high school stereotypes — embodied by Brat Packers Anthony Michael Hall, Emilo Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson — and peeled back their layers to show that beneath their labels they were all dealing with the same day-to-day struggles. It humanized teens and talked directly to them, not down to them, which is one of the reasons it retains a timeless quality and is still relevant today.

And its legacy lives on. The film that Courtney Love once called the defining film of her generation (she claims to have watched it every day, twice a day for two weeks straight, while touring with Lollapalooza in 1995) was honored with a legacy award at the MTV Movie Awards in 2005, and in the last month alone both the high school comedy "The DUFF" and the Netflix sitcom "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" have made overt references to it.

If "The Breakfast Club" made it possible to take movies about teens seriously, these are 30 Teen Movies That Mattered that are in the same company.

"Back to the Future" (1985) "The Breakfast Club" came out in February and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) arrived in July, kicking off one of the first teen movie franchises and taking then-modern attitudes (skateboarding!) back to the '50s. The young Crispin Glover as Marty's teenage dad — heaven.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) Matthew Broderick is the essence of cheeky middle-class cool, skipping out on school so he can twist and shout his way through downtown Chicago. Like "The Breakfast Club," written and directed by John Hughes at his peak. Cameo: Charlie Sheen!

"River's Edge" (1986) A group of wayward, aimless teens discover the killer among them in this dark tale of innocence long past lost, featuring a starring turn by a young Keanu Reeves and an absolutely boffo performance (again) by Crispin Glover. Afterward, director Tim Hunter mostly graduated to TV work.

"The Lost Boys" (1987) Long before the days of vampire overexposure Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz and the Coreys (Haim and Feldman) starred in this flick about hip young vamps living (or, not living) in a California coastal town. The adults? Dianne Wiest and Edward Herrmann.

"Can't Buy Me Love" (1987) Patrick Dempsey is Ronald "McDonald" Miller, a nerd who buys his way into popularity with the help of the hottest girl in school (Amanda Peterson). Things fall apart on New Year's Eve, and to this day many Gen-Xers associate "Auld Lang Syne" with rejection and pain.

"Heathers" (1988) The original Mean Girls. A scathing critique of the high school hierarchy, this pitch black comedy shows what happens when teen angst amasses a body count. Its depiction of high school violence — the script centers on a plan to blow up a school — renders it a relic of a bygone era.

"Say Anything…" (1989) John Cusack gained immortality as the boom-box holding aspiring teen kickboxer who falls in love with a lovely high school valedictorian (Ione Sky) just before graduation in Cameron Crowe's ode to young love.

"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989) Dude! Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, two apparently empty-headed dreamers, travel through time to gather historical figures for a history project. Don't forget the name of the band they want to start: Wyld Stallyns. Dude!

"Pump Up the Volume" (1990) Post-"Heathers," coolest-guy-alive Christian Slater starred as an outsider who broadcasts his teen angst via pirate radio (which today would be a lame podcast). Fun fact: Writer/director Allan Moyle went on to 1995's "Breakfast Club"-in-a-record-store, "Empire Records."

"House Party" (1990) Hip-hop duo Kid 'n Play crossed over to film with this good time romp that launched two sequels, helped kickstart the careers of Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell and marked one of the last screen appearances of Robin Harris, who died the week after the film was released.

"Dazed & Confused" (1993) Writer-director Richard Linklater and a cast of about-to-be-stars (including Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and Matthew McConaughey) live out the last day of class at a Texas high school in 1976. You get older, but this enduring throwback stays the same age.

"Clueless" (1995) Leave this off our list? As if! Writer/director Amy Heckerling, whose high school cred was already canonized with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," updates Jane Austen's "Emma" and casts it-girl Alicia Silverstone in the ultimate ode to 1990s style and slang. Also: Paul Rudd!

"Kids" (1995) This controversial New York-set film, about a group of teens who spend their days drinking, doing drugs and having casual sex, was worlds away from "Clueless." Though branded with an NC-17 rating, it launched the careers of Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson and writer Harmony Korine.

"Scream" (1996) The slasher genre — itself a teen specialty — had grown pretty tired, but then director Wes Craven put together this high concept self-conscious parody/mystery/thriller built around Neve Campbell and a murderer wearing one of the most popular Halloween masks ever.

"William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" (1996) Madman Baz Luhrmann unleashes the crazy with this frantic modern-day retelling of the Bard's doomed love story. Too bad about the casting, though: Stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes would go on to never be heard from again.

"Election" (1999) A high school movie that takes on the entirety of high school, from the students to the faculty to the administration. Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick is at the center of the storm as an annoying over-achiever running for student body president in director Alexander Payne's sharp satire.

"American Pie" (1999) Teen raunch hit a whole new level with this coming-of-age comedy about high-schoolers' overly active hormones. It set off a string of sequels and launched Jason Biggs, Natasha Lyonne, Seann William Scott and Alyson Hannigan. Remember Band Camp.

"Donnie Darko" (2001) Teenage alienation gets a supernatural twist in writer/director Richard Kelly's sci-fi stunner about a troubled teen (Jake Gyllenhaal) who communicates with a Doomsday-prophesizing creature in a nightmare rabbit costume. Features the best use of Tears for Fears in any movie, ever!

"Thirteen" (2003) Evan Rachel Wood stars in this intense drama as a 13-year-old bonding with a popular girl (Nikki Reed, who co-wrote the script) over sex, drugs and all sorts of bad decisions. Oscar-winner Holly Hunter plays her distraught single mother. No laughs here, but plenty of teen pain.

"Mean Girls" (2004) Admit it, you loved Lindsay Lohan back then; everyone did. Here she was the decent transfer student trying to fit in with the catty popular kids (who included Amanda Seyfried and Rachel McAdams). Written by an up-and-comer named Tina Fey.

"Friday Night Lights" (2004) Before the TV show there was the equally strong movie, focusing on a high school football team in Texas, where football means everything in a small town. The pressure on the players — Derek Luke, Garrett Hedlund, Lucas Black, Jay Hernandez — to succeed is palpable. Bonus: Connie Britton plays the coach's wife, same as on TV.

"Superbad" (2007) Two awkward teens (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) promise to provide the booze for a party; since it was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, raunch, chaos and some surprising sincerity follows. Hill's eventual love interest? An unknown Emma Stone.

"Juno" (2007) Ellen Page broke through as the quippy teen who gets pregnant after her first and only time (with Michael Cera) and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Funny, touching, edgy and even a bit controversial, Diablo Cody's tart screenplay won an Oscar.

"Twilight" (2008) Yes they were terrible movies, no matter how hard Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson worked, mostly because they were terrible books to start with. Still the franchise about human-vampire love was a gargantuan pop culture phenom.

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" (2008) Michael Cera again, this time as an awkward bass player enlisted as a boyfriend for five minutes by Kat Dennings. The two spend the rest of the movie chasing after a mystery concert and falling in like, if not love. Ari Graynor sparkles as a friend.

"Easy A" (2010) Emma Stone became a full-fledged movie star playing a girl who pretends to sleep around indiscriminately so people will stop bugging her about her virginity. Amanda Bynes is her nemesis, Patricia Clarkson is hilarious as her mother and Stanley Tucci plays Dad.

"The Myth of the American Sleepover" (2010) Easily the least-seen movie on this list but one of the best. David Robert Mitchell uses the background of suburban Detroit to follow four young people looking for love, adventure and... something... on the last night of summer.

"The Hunger Games" (2012) Likely on track to become the biggest per-film teen franchise ever, Jennifer Lawrence stars as a rural young woman pitted against fellow teens for the amusement of the masses. Having Lawrence certainly helped; the original books being good helped even more.

"Spring Breakers" (2013) Writer/director Harmony Korine composes the movie as a fever dream, letting colors and repeated phrases ("Spraang Breaak!") wash over viewers like a neon hallucination. James Franco is mesmerizing as Alien, a drug-dealing rapper with a soft spot for Britney Spears ballads helping a group of high school girls in all the wrong ways.

"The Fault in Our Stars" (2014) Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort play young cancer survivors who fall for one another in this wildly successful adaptation of the popular novel. Young love, like a good teen movie, is eternal.

'The Breakfast Club'

Rated R for language, drug use and thematic material

Running time: 97 minutes

7:30 p.m. Thursday and Tuesday

At select theaters