Essential life lessons we learned from ’80s movies

One of the few movies that actually kinda makes us miss high school. Photo from Captains Dead,

One of the few movies that actually kinda makes us miss high school. Photo from Captains Dead,

Note: Staff writer Brendon Embry also contributed.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It may be a bit of a stretch to say everyone in the English speaking world knows what movie that quote is from, but it’s not that long of one. Since its 1986 release  “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has become an American classic, and its late director John Hughes became a king in the teen movie genre.

Hughes wrote countless classic ’80s films, such as “Pretty in Pink,” the first two “Home Alone films, “Christmas Vacation” and “Flubber.”  The man penned some classic one-liners and also wrote quite a few life lessons into his films.  That spurs the question — what other films from the 1980s include valuable life lessons?

Yes, the ’80s are the butt of all decade jokes, but where would America be without those crucial 10 years of big ugly hair, heavy eye makeup and leg warmers? No matter the fashion, people were still people in the ’80s, and there’s always something to be gleaned from the past. We’ll examine life lessons taught to us by several films from the ’80s; “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Back to the Future,” “Heathers” and (how could we not?) “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”


You never know what kind of friends you’ll make in detention. Photo from IMDb.

“The Breakfast Club:” One of the most important lessons in “The Breakfast Club” is to not judge someone based on first impressions. Did anyone honestly expect a beauty queen and a rebel to fall for each other? How about a jock and a basket case? “The Breakfast Club” does a great job of showing how a group of kids with completely different personalities would not only speak and relate to one another, but also come to respect each other. Everyone is guilty of passing judgment every now and then, and it prevents us from meeting people that could become our best friends.

This still applies today — before you call that guy in a cutoff a douche, remind yourself that you don’t know him. (Unless you do know him and he is a douche, then he’s definitely a douche in a cutoff). Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to write others off before getting to know them, and this is enormously harmful to the development of relationships.

Another lesson taught by “The Breakfast Club” revolves around labels — they should be used on things like food wrappers or biochemical weapons, but never people. It’s unfair to suspect a jock is a brainless meathead, and it’s unfair to assume students in the Honors Tutorial College spend their whole weekends studying. And how many Ohio University students have been labeled as an alcoholic, solely for attending OU? The golden rule applies—if you wouldn’t want it done to you, don’t do it to someone else.

Perhaps “The Breakfast Club’s” most important lesson is to know who you are and to own it! Don’t be afraid of what others think of you. It takes some confidence, but since when is that a bad thing? Be happy with your experiences and interests and you’ll find some cool cats who dig you for you.

Why waste money on a prom dress when you're already this fabulous? Photo from ONTD.

Why waste money on a designer prom dress when you’re already this fabulous? Photo from ONTD.

“Pretty in Pink:” The most overwhelming lesson taught by this movie is that Molly Ringwald was adorable. Even her car was stylish. Seriously, that girl was cute as hell in 1986.

But in all seriousness, “Pretty in Pink” may be one of John Hughes’s best works. So many things to be learned! First of all, it is incredibly lame and dumb to hate on the fashion or style of others. Who gives a shit what other people wear? If it’s not on your body, it’s not your problem, even if you think it’s a crime to wear something so heinous. Don’t be a hater, and don’t tolerate haters.

Stand up for yourself. Andie Walsh is a relatively poor high school student, and many of her classmates are wealthy and display their wealth. The rich kids think high socioeconomic status justifies a superior elitist attitude, but Andie absolutely refuses to let these people victimize her.  Her friend Duckie warns her that her upper-class boytoy is going to treat her like shit, and she tells him “I’m not going to let anybody shit on me!” That’s right, girl! All girls! All people! Be proud of yourself and respect yourself!

Duckie, bless his soul, has a habit for embarrassing himself repeatedly throughout the film. Getting tossed in the girl’s bathroom, making himself incredibly emotionally vulnerable at several points in the film… and he just rolls with it. Rather than let others laugh at him, he plays it cool and acts as if everything is going according to plan. This takes guts, but it results in a strong, invaluable sense of self.

Maybe one of the most comforting themes of the film is this: A lot of super great people fly under the social radar, but this has absolutely no impact on the quality of their personality. Popularity is not important, socioeconomic status is not important — all that matters is how you treat others, how you treat yourself, and the kind of impact you leave on this world.


The wisdom in “Back to the Future” is so strong, it’ll blow your hair back. Photo from IMDb.

“Back to the Future:” This classic film directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd has taught us lessons that will last a lifetime. Now these lessons are not silly, like “own a Delorean and you can travel through time!” No, “Back to the Future” teaches us lessons about courage and success that you may not realize you learned.

Think about George McFly’s struggles in 1955, Marty McFly’s struggles in 1985 and Doc Brown’s words of wisdom. The movie left us with many great one-liners, but one not often quoted actually possesses great advice. Doc Brown tells Marty, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” The viewer can also hear these same words told to Marty by his father near the end of the film. Zemeckis sprinkled in this lesson of perseverance among one of the funniest and most quotable films of all time.

“Back to the Future” also encourages viewers to be proud of their interests and loves, no matter the social stigma.  Marty struggles with the acceptance of his music, but with courage and self-support he pursues his interest. Now since we never saw how his music career ended up (presumably pretty well if it wasn’t for that car accident… thanks “BTTF Part II”) it’s never revealed how his courage pays off.  But let’s just leave it to our imaginations and give old Marty the benefit of the doubt!

Mean girls are fabulous... but they'll also get what's coming to 'em. Photo from Drafthouse.

Mean girls are fabulous… but they’ll also get what’s coming to ’em. Photo from Drafthouse.

“Heathers:” Directed by Michael Lehmann and starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater (who was a total babe before becoming an alcoholic abusive ass), “Heathers” is a monumental film of the ’80s. The central plot is the desire to be popular in high school, and how committing suicide only increases popularity. A pretty twisted black comedy, it contains strong moral lessons.

Letting your friends think for you is a bad idea. Dressing a certain way because your friends say so? Behaving a certain way because your friends say so? Dumb. Flat out dumb. Originality and individuality are crucial personality traits, and this movie focuses on how being popular often means sacrificing these traits.

At one point Veronica asks her “friend” Heather, “Why are you such a mega bitch?” Heather smirks and says, “Because I can be.” That is an example of what kind of person not to be.  Everyone has bitch moments, it’s true, and they can be excusable (late to class, out of Flex Points, spilled your coffee), but to make that your MO is an unwise move. Just be nice. Most of the time it’s easier, and it’ll save you a whole lot of trouble in the long run.

Ferris Bueller also taught us that there's always room for a spontaneous musical number. Photo from The L Magazine.

Ferris Bueller also taught us that there’s always room for a spontaneous musical number. Photo from The L Magazine.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:” First and foremost, “Ferris Bueller” is a movie about the importance of friendships and loyalty. Who is Ferris Bueller without Cameron Frye and Sloane Peterson? Ferris would be unable to pull of a majority of his shenanigans without Cameron, and this does occasionally create tension between the two.

Second lesson: Don’t take your friends for granted. Be appreciative of the people in your life, and let them know this. Especially if you have a buddy like Cameron, who suffers from depression and needs a reminder that not everything is as rotten as it appears to be.

Life is about having fun. Yes, there are some responsibilities sprinkled throughout, but what’s the point in being here if you hate it? Sometimes it is necessary to create fun; it won’t always be waiting at your feet. Happiness requires effort and taking risks, and ditching school is representative of how responsibilities sometimes hold us back. Ferris realizes this, in his sassy cynical teenage way, and he refuses to play by the book and allow the mundane, everyday school-routine affect his happiness. After all, life moves pretty fast.

Another great lesson taught by “Ferris Bueller” is this: If you have an unnerving amount of confidence, you might be able to pull it off. Pretending to be the Sausage King of Chicago requires some daring, and luckily Ferris possesses enough to get away with his little game. Don’t be afraid to be a little risky and go too far.

This idea takes form in Cameron Frye’s mouth after he trashes his materialistic father’s Ferrari: “I am not gonna sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life.” Yes, Cameron, yes! Finally the words are said — he cuts the apathetic crap and decides to care. Apathy is easy, but apathy sucks.

Hughes was telling the viewer to think for themselves, to make their own decisions and choose their own life path. Don’t believe in “isms.” Believe in yourself.

What life lessons have you learned from your favorite ’80s movies? (We learned that dandruff makes a great accent to any art piece, but that’s just us). Leave us a comment or tweet us @SpeakeasyMag and let us know what you think!

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