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7 80s Movie Lessons We Should All Live By

While these movies may be 30 years old, their messages are timeless.

You can’t think of the 80s without thinking of three specific things: crazy yet amazing fashion, killer music, and the classic 80s movies. These movies had such a magic about them. They were so iconic and simple, yet it was so easy to relate to the complexities our favourite characters were experiencing. I may have been born in 97, but the decade’s music and movies raised me just as much as my parents did. My first day of fifth grade, I came to school dressed as Marty McFly—orange puffy vest and all. All through high school, I did my hair and dressed like I was Bon Jovi’s less talented cousin, Ron Bon Jovi. I mean, be serious, what girl in the 2010s can resist a guy with teased bangs? I loved so many of the movies and bands of the decade, I literally wore them on my sleeve. What helps me not feel like a COMPLETE nerd, though, is that many people of this generation still do share my love for the flicks; they make us laugh, they make us cry, but they also teach us so much. While the 80s may seem like a long time ago, the common denominator is that the people in these movies were experiencing a lot of the same things we go through today. While I love so many films and learned a lot from all of them, I’ve narrowed it down to these seven lessons that the films of the 80s could teach this generation.

You thought I was kidding about the hair, didn't you? 

Don’t act in your own self interest if it hurts someone you care about.

Movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on the novel of the same name written by Cameron Crowe, who went undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego and wrote of his experiences. The film follows three coexisting storylines, but this lesson comes from the tale involving buddies Mark Ratner (the nice guy) and Mike Damone (the self-assured, not so nice guy). Ratner is tangled in a deep infatuation with the sweet but curious Stacy Hamilton, taking her on a date and even sharing some deep and sentimental moments with her. When Ratner isn’t ready to go all the way after their first date, Stacy loses interest in him (as she thinks he isn’t interested in her that way) and turns to Damone as her new target. Damone and Stacy do the nasty, and since he’s the not-so-nice guy, Damone predictably leaves immediately after and pretends she doesn’t exist. As you would expect, Ratner is devastated when he finds out, and it fractures the relationship between him and Damone. What stands out in the confrontation scene is when Ratner says to Damone, “There are a lot of girls out there, and you have to mess around with Stacy?” Ratner also talks about how he would always stick up for Damone when people would bad mouth him, showing Damone how he isn’t loyal to Ratner the same way.

Yes, Stacy was never Ratner’s girl. Yes, Stacy came on to Damone, but those reasons should not be an excuse for his actions. Damone knew that Ratner was enthralled by Stacy, and Damone also knew that he could find any girl if he were just looking for sex. With that knowledge, Damone proved to Ratner that their friendship is not worth anything more than a lustful hookup. Was the literal 30 seconds of sex worth hurting Ratner and destroying the friendship? After years of loyalty from Ratner, what are you saying to him by hurting his feelings for your own selfish satisfaction? The lesson here: don’t act in your own self interest if it’s going to hurt someone you care about. Sometimes you need to do this, like, for example, leaving a toxic relationship, but the defining factor is that you must consider if it is WORTH hurting the other person for what you will get. This generation is so accustomed to “doing what’s right for me” and “getting what I want, when I want it,” but honestly, if we were all more considerate of one another’s feelings, we could avoid so much drama and conflict. 

“Sometimes you just gotta say…what the f*ck!”

Movie: Risky Business

We’ve all seen that scene of Tom Cruise wearing only a button up shirt and tube socks sailing across the floor to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock N’ Roll.” Or, you’ve at least seen that video on YouTube from 9,000 years ago of that girl falling brutally in her re-enactment. This 1983 comedy follows Joel, a business student who is left home alone while his parents travel. He decides it’s time for him to become a man, but gets more than he bargained for from a hurricane-of-trouble prostitute, Lana. When his father’s prized Porsche goes for a swim, Joel decides to raise the repair funds by hosting a pay-at-the-door party….where Lana’s coworkers are the entertainment, if you catch my drift. While Joel spent the film trying so hard to keep his house safe, keep the car flawless, protecting Lana from an angry pimp, all while preparing for an admissions interview with Princeton University, he eventually realizes that he can’t control everything all the time. And hence, he utters that famous phrase that marks our lesson today: “sometimes you just gotta say…what the f*ck!”

Being a university student, I see stress around me every day. I also work at a liquor store and can definitely sense why some customers are picking up that 40 of vodka on their way home from work. People all have so much stress, and I understand that sometimes it’s a good thing; it helps achieve, improve, and inspire, but in the right doses. Some people stress themselves out so much, and a lot of it is even stress they’ve created themselves. I have classmates who are stressing over the midterm when it’s only the first day of class. I also have classmates that are freaking out about that essay that is due in a month and a half. What we need to learn in this fast-paced world is to take things in stride. Focus on what needs to be done today, and be prepared to handle what needs to be done tomorrow when it comes. We also need to realize that we can’t control everything. I know I sound like Captain Obvious, but hear me out. We live in a generation where we can order food from our phones while booking a flight and using the calculator. We are able to buy jeans that form to our body shape, we have cars that can regulate the perfect temperature and play songs by voice command. We’re very accustomed to having full immediate control over everything, and it has led many of us to have trouble handling the times we aren’t in control. The key is to come to terms with that lack of total control and be able to make the best of the situation, no matter how it turns out. 

You have power over your fears, they don't have power over you.

Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street

I bet you were probably slightly surprised to see a slasher flick on this list, but why wouldn’t there be one? Slasher films were part of what defined the decade, and no other decade juiced them quite like the 80s did. Amongst the thousands released back then, there were bound to be a few with a good tip or two, when you wash away all the blood. This 1984 classic follows the story of serial killer Freddy Kruger, who comes to teens in their nightmares and kills them in the dream world. When you die in your dreams, you die for real (Same with when you pee in your dreams, but that’s more of a me problem…). The thing that was cool about this movie was that there was no escape, because you had to sleep, eventually, basically showing the metaphor that you can’t always hide from your fears. The heroine, Nancy, discovered the blade-fingered maniac fed off your fear, so if you didn’t fear him, he had no power. This is where the lesson comes in: you have power over your fears, they don’t have power over you.

Okay, before you come at me in the comments, I understand some of our fears would beat us. A meteor hitting the earth and causing the slow, painful decay of humanity? Not much you can do about that. Dwayne Johnson kidnapping you and burying you alive? That’s a fight most of us won’t win. What I’m more touching on are the things that burden lots of us on a daily basis. Loads of my friends, coworkers, and family have very bad anxiety. I’ve seen it break them down before, and it’s heartbreaking. But I know some of them have been able to take control and overcome a lot of it by getting the proper help. I know lots of individuals who have contemplated taking their own lives due to the fear that nobody loves them and that they are only a burden to the ones they care about. I’m happy to say that those people are alive today because they were able to take control and get that help that they needed. Asking for help takes a lot, and is a huge step, and it’s often easier said than done, but when you do it, nothing feels more freeing from the stranglehold of those things that scare and hinder you. I know it’s hard to recognize this lesson sometimes. I’ve been there before, but if you can recognize it, you wouldn’t believe the sprightly impact it has on your mental health and your life.

“If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Movie: Back to the Future

One of the most iconic movies of all time, 1985’s Back to the Future follows the valiantly cool Marty McFly as he accidentally travels back to 1955 at the hand of his washed up scientist BFF “Doc” Emmett Brown. As if not having enough plutonium (which essentially powers the time machine) to get home isn’t a quagmire on its own, the stress level intensifies when Marty interrupts his parents’ famous “how we met” story…and shifting his mother’s infatuation to himself! GAHHH! So I bet you’re wondering where the lesson comes from…let me fill you in.

Doc is quoted many times in the movie with the words: “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” This applies to many characters in this movie. I mentioned Doc was a washed up scientist because all of his inventions before this time machine had been failures. Doc spent 30 years slaving over the time travel formula, and finally found triumphant success with it. Marty’s awkward, neurotic father, George McFly, wholeheartedly believed that a girl like the gorgeous and popular Lorraine (Marty’s mom) would NEVER take an interest in him. And not only that, but he never believed he could stand up to the bully antagonist, Biff Tannen. If you couldn’t have guessed, due to a whacky succession of mishaps and shenanigans, George saves Lorraine from being raped by Biff (laying him out in one punch), and earns the love of the girl he spent his youth admiring.

Millennials are a generation of dreamers, which is awesome. This quote probably isn’t even news to most of us, because that’s a value we’ve all held close our entire lives. The thing that is vital to this quote, though, is “if you put your mind to it.” I’ve heard many millennials say “if you want it bad enough, it’ll happen.” I would only agree with that if one’s “wanting” of it translated into a pursuit of unrelenting hard work. We all know that nobody rides for free, and whether you want to be a CEO, a rock star, or land the partner of your dreams, it all takes LOTS OF WORK. But nothing is impossible, and if you work extremely hard and stick to your guns, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. 

The right people will love you for who you are.

Movie: Teen Wolf

Michael J. Fox wasn’t always a time traveler. Before that, he had very humble beginnings of being a teenaged werewolf. This 1985 film (not the MTV teen show, you uncultured millennials) follows the “tail” (geddit? cause he a wolf?) of the geeky and insecure Scott Howard as he discovers the werewolf gene runs in his family. Scott tries really hard on the unsuccessful school basketball team, he tries really hard to win the admiration of prom queen Pamela Wells, but is left feeling like he’s not good enough the way he is due to the lack of success with these goals. When Scott discovers the strength and agility of the wolf, he quickly becomes the unstoppable star of the school basketball team and the most popular guy in school. Now Pamela Wells is paying attention to him, the team is on a winning streak, and everyone loves him…because of the wolf. When Scott learns that people only like him when he’s the wolf, he learns that it’s only worth having people love you when they love you for who you are.

This decade has become one of pure status. We feel the need to post to Instagram or Snapchat that we are enjoying our lives and having a good time, and that we lead exciting adventures on the daily (but who are you really fooling with that TBT post of a picture from three months ago…). I noticed when I graduated high school that everyone’s true colors began to show. The preppy cool girls were spending their weekends at local punk shows, the cool guys were painting wall murals and pursuing skateboarding dreams, and I’ll be honest….it was wonderful to see. Some of them are definitely just trying force uniqueness since they realized it’s no longer cool to fit in after graduation, but I know some of these people finally felt free to express who they were all along. And they felt they could do this without the constrictions of high school’s social hierarchy. The thing I wish these kids knew back then was that, if the only way a group of people would like them is if they dressed and acted a certain way, those aren’t the people you want to be friends with. And most of them didn’t remain friends after graduation. Like Scott learned, the right friends and partners are the ones who dig you for exactly what you are. 

You never know what a stranger is going thorugh, and we aren't all the different.

Movie: The Breakfast Club

1985 was a “banner f*ckin’ year” for life lessons. Since someone in your social media feed has probably posted about their affinity for this movie, and how they “belong in the 80s” as they hold a $7 Starbucks listening to a shallow trap song while getting that perfectly mundane shot with the selfie stick, we’ll skip most of the plot (even though there isn’t really one). This 1985 John Hughes landmark  shows five high school stereotypes who are spending all Saturday in detention together. After much shade throwing and kush smoking, the climax of the movie sees them all sharing about their deep issues. The star athlete feels like he will be nothing if he isn’t a winner, reinforced by the unhealthy winner attitude of his father. The nerd feels so much pressure to be successful and academically flawless that he contemplated taking his own life. The bad boy goes home to an abusive family every night, and just wants anything so he can feel like he isn’t the trash everyone says he is.

Lesson 1: You never know what a stranger is going through. When you see these characters in the beginning of the movie, you wouldn’t guess any of that is going on with them. Even the first three quarters of the movie you wouldn’t guess that, as the way they talk to one another never suggests any personal issues, aside from few small fragments and one major exchange between the athlete and the bad boy. These kids had no idea one another were going through these things, just like we never have any idea what that face in the hall or that driver in traffic is going through, either. What can we do? We can treat one another with respect and love, because you never know how bad someone may need it.

Lesson 2: We aren’t all that different. Each one of these people were going through issues, but each one of these people could laugh together. Each one of these people could cry together. Each one of these people could dance together (cause 80s movie). Some of these people were even able to fall in love. We get caught up in this façade that one person is this, the other is that; I have this status, they have that. At the end of the day, we all bleed red. What we should be taking away from this film is that we should be focused more on what makes us the same rather than what makes us different. We all end up dying someday, so what’s the good in spending this gift of life being against one another instead of supporting one another?  

Did you learn any important life lessons from an 80s movie? Let Me know!

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