! Top 5 underrated 1980s teen movies

The Internet's Oldest Drive-In Movie Resource

Top 5 underrated 1980s teen movies

by Released : 2023-07-19

The Idolmaker (1980) 

Set in 1959 and loosely based on the career of music producer Bob Marcucci the film follows two 16 year old rising music stars (based on Fabian and Frankie Avalon). The film is full of great performances. Ray Sharkay won the golden globe for his performance as the producer/ songwriter. The film also includes the debut performances of Joe Pantoliano, Peter Gallagher, and Paul Land. Both Land and Sharkay would tragically die young without having the film careers they deserved. This film has it all: it’s a musical biopic, teen drama, and mob film all wrapped into one. The musical sequences are extravagant, full of countless extras with detailed production design. Sadly the film never found an audience and only made roughly 2 million at the box office against a larger budget. 

Baby It’s You (1983)

One of the early films of Indie king John Sayles, who was nominated for two oscars for best original screenplay. Set in the early 1960s the film follows a highschool romance between an Italian Boy( nicknamed the Sheik) and a Jewish girl (Jill). Vicent Spano provides an exuberant amount of energy to this role, but also has an innocence to his performance that makes his character more than a dumb jock. Rosanna arquette gives a star-making  performance right before she would do Desperately Seeking Susan, which would alter her career trajectory. Funny and poignant Baby It’s You is ripe for rediscovery. One of the most realistic teen movies ever, not like typical 1980s films. Although a critical darling the film failed to make an impact at the box office making barely a million dollars against a 3 million dollar budget. 

Mischief (1985)

During the 1980s the teen genre was all the craze. Year after year teen films continued to do strong box office numbers in the 80s. The genre was popularized and forever changed after the release of American Graffiti. Teen films after that would either be set pre-1970s and by the 1980s had shifted back to the present, but with a glossier, more artificial view of the world. In the 1980s there was also an increased love for 1950s culture and thus a  subgenre of films in the 80s were made set in the 1950s. One of the most popular of these films was Porky’s 1981. A 1980s raunchy teen sex comedy that happend to take place in the 1950s. The film was a huge box office smash making 160 million to only a 4 million dollar budget and spawned countless sequels. Hoping to cash in on the 50s craze and emulate the success of Porky’s led to the production of  Mischief. Unfortunately the film failed to find the same success as Porky’s and  only did modest box office numbers of around 8 million, against a large budget. Mischief (1985) has some of the best production design of any film of the entire 1980s. Bright beautiful colors, classic cars, and period accurate costumes. The film transports you to the small town of Nelsonville, Ohio in 1956. The film also includes a killer 50’s soundtrack, which adds to the accuracy of the time period and also causes the budget to balloon. Besides Kelly Preston no one else involved had much of a career, but the entire cast looks like they are having enormous amounts of fun. The film also includes a fun drivein theater sequence as an ode to Rebel Without a Cause. If you're in the need for a breezy cheezy fun 1980s teen movie check out this hidden gem. 

Birdy (1984)

An early Nic Cage film that showed his promise he lost 15 pounds and pulled out two teeth for this part. Mathew Modine, before he would get jacked for Vision Quest, played the skinny timid Birdy. Both leads have great chemistry and give haunting performances. One of the best anti-war films of the 80s that also happens to be a teens film. Alan Parker who also directed another unique 80s teen movie with Fame brings a level of gravitas to this film. Parker employs his signature fluid style as a director by using quick shots and cuts in order to string together different time periods into fluid scenes without feeling jarring. Parker would also do this in Angelheart and this style was later popularized by Chrstpher Nolan's Memento. Long before Cage was a box office draw and leading man he did this poignant film, which he still considers one of his best movies. Only made 2 million at the box office against a 12 million dollar budget. 

The Emerald Forest (1985)

John Boorman the legendary British Director who directed 70s classics like Deliverance and epics like Exacuillber loved to make films larger than life. In the 1980s he made one of the best adventure movies of all time, The Emerald Forest (1985). The film starred Boorman’s son and was one of Powers Boothe's only leading roles. The film tells the story of an American boy who is kidnaped and raised by an indigenous tribe in the Amazon jungle. The film claims to be based on a true story, but that has been disputed by historians.  Although the film closed the Cannes film festival (without being eligible for competition) it flopped at the UK box office (much to the director’s surprise). During a time where adventure films like Romance and the Stone and Indina Jones were crushing at the box office one would think Emerald Forest could have done better in the United States. But the film barely made 24 million to a 15 million dollar budget without marketing. The film is more known for the promotion surrounding it than the actual film. Boorman created the 1st Oscar Screeners for this film in order to try to spread word of mouth. However, the film failed to receive any Academy Award Nominations.