The Most Underrated Teen Movies Of The 1980s

Over 300 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Most Underrated Teen Movies Of The 1980s
Voting Rules
Vote up the '80s teen movies that are low-key classics.

All these years after the decade came to a close, everyone has their own take on the best '80s teen movies. But what about the underrated flicks from that time period? Sure, sure… we all love The Breakfast Club, Risky Business, and Sixteen Candles. But those movies and others of their ilk have had plenty of time to shine.

No, we're talking about the underseen gems that have become cult classics over the years. Movies that feature pre-fame stars just starting out, like Val Kilmer in Real Genius or Jim Carrey in Once Bitten. Movies that riff on Shakespeare plays for a modern audience, like Valley Girl and Just One of the Guys. Movies that were derided by critics at the time, like Grease 2 and For Keeps. For whatever reason, these films and plenty of others all came and went without much fanfare. That's why we are here to give them a second chance to find some love. Get your voting fingers ready - we're running through the most underrated teen movies of the 1980s.

  • 1
    246 VOTES

    Before Top Gun came along and made him a household name, Val Kilmer starred in a mere two films: 1984's Top Secret! and 1985's Real Genius. Though Top Secret! is a delightful little parody film from the team behind Airplane!, it is Real Genius that has continued to accrue cult-hit status over the years. And why not? It was helmed by underrated director Martha Coolidge, features the great William Atherton in the antagonist role, and its final scene sees a bunch of people leaping into a massive pile of popcorn set to Tears for Fears' “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” What's not to like?

    Of course, it is Kilmer's performance as the affable, brilliant Chris Knight that carries the entire movie. Knight is billed in the film as “one of the top 10 minds in America,” and he spends the majority of the film clearly rebelling against the expectations that come with that kind of title. Kilmer is magnetic, believable, and altogether fantastic in a role that could've been butchered by a lesser actor.

    • Actors: Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, William Atherton, Michelle Meyrink, Jon Gries
    • Released: 1985
    • Directed by: Martha Coolidge
    246 votes

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  • 2
    212 VOTES

    Much like 1985's other John Cusack-starring, Savage Steve Holland-directed movie The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead came and went without much fanfare from moviegoers. It grossed a respectable $10 million against a budget of less than half that and everyone moved on with their lives. Then the advent of home video took off and new generations began to appreciate Better Off Dead for what it was: an off-kilter black comedy. 

    It's not that shocking to learn Better Off Dead was mostly ignored by your average American in the mid-'80s. Black comedies are a hard sell to a wide audience, and the surrealist vibes around this one, in particular, make it even harder to recommend to someone without a love for the genre. Still, any movie lover with a soft spot for lovable outsiders will get a kick out of Better Off Dead

    • Actors: John Cusack, Diane Franklin, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Demian Slade
    • Released: 1985
    • Directed by: Savage Steve Holland
    212 votes

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  • 1987's Can't Buy Me Love is a film so nice, they made it twice. 2003's Love Don't Cost a Thing, starring Christina Milian and Nick Cannon, isn't a shot-for-shot remake of the original, but it comes pretty close. They were made a mere 16 years apart, and Hollywood has kind of always made the same high school movies regardless of generational shifts in culture and/or technology. Though the 2003 remake has its fans, the 1987 version actually fared better with critics (albeit, not fantastically) and did okay at the box office, as well, even if it flies mostly under the radar nowadays.

    Dr. McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey, features in the starring role as a nerdy high schooler who pays a popular cheerleader $1,000 to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month. Of course, he's just about the most handsome nerd this side of Val Kilmer in Real Genius, but that's beside the point. Can't Buy Me Love continues to be a favorite of '80s comedy diehards, and its ending - where the main characters ride off on a lawn mower - was even referenced in 2010’s Easy A

    • Actors: Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, Courtney Gains, Tina Caspary, Seth Green
    • Released: 1987
    • Directed by: Steve Rash
    220 votes

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  • 4
    202 VOTES

    In many ways, Jim Carrey can rival Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Tom Cruise for the title of “biggest movie star” around the turn of the century. The man's star power may have faltered a bit after a lackluster 2010s, but his appearances as Dr. Robotnik in the Sonic the Hedgehog movies reminded a lot of people how much they love the guy. Of course, every actor has to start somewhere, and even before In Living Color gave the young Carrey a chance to shine, he was showing up in various films and television shows throughout the 1980s.

    Though he made appearances in movies like Peggy Sue Got Married and fellow cult hit Earth Girls Are Easy, it is 1985's Once Bitten that put him in a starring role and has become a fan favorite all these years later. Carrey appears as Mark Kendall, the victim of a temptress vampire played by Lauren Hutton. It's a tame sex comedy with a solid sense of humor despite its low budget. And it features what has to be the most subdued performance Carrey has ever given in a comedic film.

    • Actors: Lauren Hutton, Cleavon Little, Karen Kopins, Jim Carrey, Thomas Ballatore
    • Released: 1985
    • Directed by: Howard Storm
    202 votes

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  • Twelfth Night might lack the name power and legacy of other Shakespeare works like Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, but that doesn't mean the comedy is a lesser work in the Bard's extensive catalog. Doesn't everybody love a romantic comedy of errors? It never gets old! Besides, if Twelfth Night wasn't great, would it have been adapted so many times? The original play itself has been directly adapted to film and television numerous times over the years, while modern updates like She's the Man and Motocrossed also delighted audiences around the turn of the century.

    Back in 1985, though, there was another Twelfth Night-inspired film that hit theaters: Just One of the Guys. It stars Joyce Hyser as an aspiring high school journalist who isn't respected in her journalism classes due to her gender. To highlight the sexism as well as her own talent, she enrolls in a different local high school, pretending to be a guy. As you'd expect, conflict and hilarity ensue in equal measure, and an underrated teen comedy was born. 

    • Actors: Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner, Billy Jayne, Toni Hudson, William Zabka
    • Released: 1985
    • Directed by: Lisa Gottlieb
    226 votes

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  • After starring together in 1987's The Lost Boys, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman went into production on 1988's License to Drive. Haim and Feldman were best friends at the time and were undoubtedly two of the most popular young actors working in Hollywood. Given that License to Drive is little more than an inoffensive teen comedy about a joyride gone wrong, you'd think the star power of those two plus then up-and-comer Heather Graham would've been enough to make it a box-office smash, which ended up not being the case.

    Is License to Drive the best '80s teen comedy around? No, but you could do a lot worse. It’s merely some turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy entertainment. Besides, Carol Kane and James Avery are in it. Don't you like Carol Kane and James Avery? 

    • Actors: Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Carol Kane, Richard Masur, Heather Graham
    • Released: 1988
    • Directed by: Greg Beeman
    147 votes

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