To judge by my niece, my friends' kids, and my wife's former wards from her nannying days, today's teenagers are far more innocent and childlike than those from my generation (except me). To wit: in junior high, when I was 12-13, I routinely heard classmates boast about smoking, drinking, having sex, and of course sneaking into R-rated movies. Take a trip with me to 1982-1983, and the must-see movies for that era's adolescents.
- Porky's. The king of the teen sex comedies that proliferated in the early '80s, Porky's (technically a 1981 film, but released widely in March 1982) was all the rage at Hyde Jr. High, and it seemed that I alone had missed its most celebrated scene, in which a boy sticks his penis in a hole in the girls' locker room, only to have a teacher angrily pull at it. For 12-year-olds, this was the holy grail of movie scenes.
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Today, this film is appreciated as a funny and honest look at high school life in the early '80s, and it launched the careers of bajillions of actors, not to mention screenwriter Cameron Crowe. But for 1982 pubescents, Fast Times was only about two things: Sean Penn being a funny stoner and Phoebe Cates's breasts.
- Excalibur. The Game of Thrones of its day, Excalibur blended Arthurian myth with nudity and violence, and boys with an interest in any of the above tried like crazy to see this film. Although my mom and stepdad did take me to the occasional R-rated movie, this one was not on their radar, so I had to make do with PG substitutes like Dragonslayer and The Dark Crystal.
- The Sword and the Sorcerer. More or less a Frank Frazetta painting come to life. Absolutely no one talks about this cheesy boobs-and-swords fantasy now, or perhaps at any time over the last 30 years. But it finished in the top 20 at the 1982 box office, way ahead of Blade Runner and The Road Warrior. I remember kids calling it "Sornasorcer". "You see Sornasorcer yet?"
- Scanners. A guy's head explodes! Everybody had to see that! And apparently everybody did – save for me. In fact, I did not see any film on this list until I was an adult, and I still have not seen most of them.
- The Toy. The sole PG-rated film on this list, the success of this silly comedy is a testament to how big Richard Pryor was in 1982, even when he was phoning it in. It's not that kids in my school discussed The Toy at length. They just loved quoting the bit where the little boy is introduced as "Master Bates" and Pryor mugs and giggles.
- History of the World, Part I. Mel Brooks parodies are the literal definition of the law of diminishing returns, from 1970s megahits like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein to 1990s flops like Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. This 1981 historical spoof landed squarely in the middle; its rampant crude humor was a natural hit with adolescents.
- Escape from New York. You might well be asking, "If you were in junior high from 1982 to 1984, then why are you listing so many films from 1981?" Because 1982-83 was when these films showed up on video, where kids could watch them more easily and more frequently. Also, before the Internet, word of mouth took a while to get around. Anyway, you'd think there would have been more junior high love for gory thrillers like The Thing and Creepshow or raunchy comedies like Zapped! and Risky Business. But not as I recall. Escape from New York, however, held a cult following amongst my classmates. I am not sure why this, of all films, stood out for them.
- Animal House. You have to reach all the way back to 1978 for this one, but Animal House was such a legend – John Belushi sees a woman's boobs and his ladder falls down! John Belushi spits mashed potatoes at everyone and says, "I'm a zit, get it?"! John Belushi starts a food fight! – that kids still cherished it five years later (and indeed, 39 years later). Personally, I never found Belushi funny, merely loud and obvious. I know that's sacrilege in some camps. Come at me.