1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark
Yes, Emmeline*, there was a real Indiana Jones, not like the one you saw when forced to go with your parents this past summer—they claimed you'd love it didn't they? No, he was a real adventurer, and it explains why your mom and dad will venture into almost any cave, anywhere, without any visible sign of fear. Likewise, it shows why your dad cannot stop laughing any time they re-do the famous Indiana Jones scene in movies, tv shows, and comedy sketches where a little guy hops up to attack another guy with his fancy moves, and the big guy just pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. Ah, such a defining moment for this generation. If you don't have style and flair, just have the bigger weapon.
*Named after Brooke Shield's character in Blue Lagoon (1980).
Ever wondered why your parents don't think the horror movies you want to see with all this blood and gore are worth the price of admission? Well, for one thing, they're not really scary. Actually, you haven't been scared until a puppet clown disappears off the side chair in your bedroom in the middle of a thunderstorm where the lightning strikes keep getting closer and closer, and when you look under your bed for him, he grabs and pulls you under. Now, that's scary. Here's a movie that touches on every single basal fear human beings have from those frightening circus clowns to the tree branches that cast creepy shadows on our bedroom walls to the omnipresent dark closets in our bedrooms that obviously serve as the gateway to hell. I'm getting scared just writing this, and it explains why your parents always, always, always keep the closet doors shut and pay outrageous monthly fees for cable tv so there are NEVER any channels of tv-snow—you may not have ever even seen tv-snow for exactly that reason. No 40-something parent wants to return home from work and find their kid sitting there mesmerized by the white noise and indicating, "They're here."
1983 Risky Business
Every single teenager of the 1980s saw Risky Business repeatedly. This is where all 40-something parents, and I do mean all, fell in love with Tom Cruise—whom, to this day, no matter what the tabloids say and any such incidents of jumping on the couch on "Oprah", will always be the defining actor of their generation. He was the absolute coolest teenager…ever! My gosh, come on, who among them didn't wear those Ray-Ban® Wayfarer sunglasses 10 years past their prime—oh, by the way, they're back in fashion gents so pull them out of the back of your bureau sock drawer and don't pretend like you didn't save them. But, if you didn't, you can get a new pair at Ray-Ban.com. Kids, this is why you may have caught your dad dancing down the stairs in his unmentionables wearing nothing else but his unbuttoned dress shirt, white tube socks, and those Wayfarers while serenading apparently an empty living room. Yeah, he didn't make that up. It also explains their irrational allegiance to Tom Cruise (who is not crazy just because he follows a religion conceived by a science fiction writer), their love for funky old sunglasses, and their carved in stone rule that teenagers must never, ever be left in charge of the house when they are away on a trip.
1984 The Karate Kid
It's unclear whether is was the crane move, the expression of "wax on wax off", or just the fresh faces of Ralph Macchio and Elisabeth Shue that caught them off guard on this one. More than likely, The Karate Kid was the first coming of age film of the 1980s that sort of made sense in that it drew in a generation of teenagers to the stern but loving father figure of Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi when their own sadly often absent fathers were hard at work trying to make a living off a menial salary that barely supported their two-car garage, tri-level ranch in the burbs and then only with tremendous sacrifice on their family budget. This was a defining film in giving them a belief that they could do anything despite their station in life. And, I just gave away one of the great mysteries of your life. You now know why either one of your parents or guardians might just crack up silly when assigning you chores and demonstrating the circular technique of polishing or waxing or scrubbing anything in a circular fashion with a customary line "wax on wax off" hee hee hee. You still don't get what's so funny? Well, wait until you're 40-something and you will.
1985 Back to the Future
Hello, McFly. Gosh how they loved Back to the Future. You teens have no idea how surreal it was when your younger sister forced your parents to listen to the Jonas Bros. and they understood not a single word of it save the mention of the "flux capacitor" in "The Year 3000"? No way you could get this reference unless you've been forced properly to watch Back to the Future. This is the movie that made Nikes and Calvin Klein jeans the mainstay of a hip dude. For girls it was the long curly hair. This was Huey Lewis and the News baby and "Hip to be Square". 40-something parents have to face it, you really were the nerd generation, and this movie brought many mantras you still utter to this day. 1985 was also the year of The Breakfast Club—the runner-up choice for this year. It's also a must-see if you want to understand why your parents are so cool about you being assigned to Saturday detention.
1986 Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Does anything have to be said about Ferris Bueller's Day Off? No film of the 1980s probably defines this 40-something generation better. Every one of you who's got a 40-something teacher has had to endure the inexplicable "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller?" line, right? But, what made this movie so defining was its theme of thumbing your nose at parental expectations and just living life in the moment. Of course, don't you expect to get to follow this example. They learned the hard way, as a philosophy of life, it doesn't exactly work too well. While your grandparents saved and scrimped to put them through college, they must instead explain to you, "Kid, I barely have $20K in my 401K, let's find you need something that can get you a scholarship!" See it and you'll no longer wonder why your father will walk four miles in a blizzard rather than surrender his car keys to a valet—it's not that he's too cheap to tip. This was also the year of Top Gun. Yeah more Tom Cruise, and it taught them the tragedy of losing a best friend.
1987 Dirty Dancing
Truthfully, there have been some other dancing films, like Flashdance that were pretty instrumental to the generation. But Dirty Dancing kind of has it all doesn't it? Come on Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey? This explains why "Dancing with the Stars" was destined to be a sure-fire hit. They like to deny it, but they love to watch people dance. They don't like to dance themselves, at least the men, but they sure do like to watch—especially if there's some really dirty dancing going on.
1988 Coming to America
When it comes to comedy, their superstar comedian Eddie Murphy defined the decade. His Beverly Hills Cop films were a riot--all the foul language, the daring stunts, the in your face comedy that was so raw. They'd never seen anything like him before. They didn't have Comedy Central. There was no "South Park". My gosh, there wasn't even "The Simpsons"—they didn't start until 1989. Yeah, 40-somethings, hard to believe, huh? Anyway, Eddie Murphy was the first comedian of the decade to really test the limits of comedy and define for a generation what was to become acceptable humor. It most definitely was not acceptable to their parents. So, Coming to America gets the nod here. Not only was it one of his funniest and best comedies and the first one where he played multiple characters, but it was also a great film where the all-black cast didn't occur to anyone. It signaled a change in the culture espoused by the generation that didn't think of Black people so much as Black people as much as they just thought of them as being cool people. History had finally afforded conditions whereby young people could grow up in the United States without acceptable racism. And it showed in not only this film but in many others of the decade as Black entertainers became mainstream and eventually, a Black man could acceptably run for president as this generation rose to power. This is not to say that racism is entirely in the past, unfortunately, still there are those who cling to their disgusting and antiquated views. However, thanks to films like Coming to America and the genius of Eddie Murphy and many others, great talents like Tyler Perry and Spike Lee can thrive today.
In conclusion, I leave a list of films that were close, but didn't quite make the list. Add them to your rental queue, though as each will give you one more slice of insights into your 40-something parents.
• Home Alone
• Adventures in Babysitting
• St. Elmo's Fire
• Pretty in Pink
• Terminator 2
• Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
• Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
• Superman II