11 Moments From '80s Movies That Taught Me Invaluable Life Lessons

by Randi Mazzella

Image via 20th Century Fox

Image via 20th Century Fox

While working out with my trainer, there was an exercise for my arm jiggle that I just couldn't get. She explained how she wanted me to move my arm but I was having a tough time grasping the move until she said, "Pump your arm in the air like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club." Bingo – I knew exactly what she meant and I proceeded to do 20 reps. 

Many days I can't remember to drop off the dry cleaning or whether I need to buy laundry detergent. Yet I had no problem conjuring up a 30-year old memory of Nelson in his large overcoat, wearing Molly Ringwald's diamond earring as he walked away from a memorable day of detention. 

There are so many incredible '80s movie moments like this one that are embedded in my mind. More than memorable, these movie moments that I saw for the first time in my 20s taught me life lessons that I still remember in my today. 

In The Breakfast Club, Nelson's iconic fist pump is the culmination of a long day spent with people he might otherwise have dismissed because he thought he knew them and didn't like them. 

Lesson learned: Don’t pre-judge people because if you get to know them, you actually might like them. 

Here are 10 other movie moments, and the life lessons they taught me:

Top Gun (1986)

Even though Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis star in this movie, it was his sidekick that stole my heart. The most memorable scene for me is in the bar where Goose (Anthony Edwards) is playing piano and his adorable wife (played by the adorable Meg Ryan) shouts, "Hey Goose you big stud... Take me to bed or lose me forever." As a teen and even now, that one scene symbolizes what you would want in a marriage — fun, laughter, and mutual adoration. Of course, it is made all the more poignant when later Goose is killed in a flight training accident...  

Lesson learned: Appreciate life’s little moments because life can change in an instant. 

Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

As a smart, capable, independent woman, I shouldn't love it but I do. When new officer Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) walks into the factory to carry out his girlfriend Paula (Debra Winger), I still want to stand up and cheer for true love.

Lesson learned: A relationship can’t work if you are dishonest (just ask Paula’s best friend Lynette).

Pretty Woman (1990) 

Having an unlimited budget to shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills? Amazing! But even better? The look on the haughty saleslady's face when Vivian (Julia Roberts) returns to the store carrying lots of shopping bags and utters, "You work on commission, right? Big mistake. Big. Huge!" It's priceless.

Lesson learned: Never be rude to anyone. 

About Last Night (1986)

As evidenced by the fact that I will not miss an episode of the new show, The Grinder, I super heart love Rob Lowe and I especially loved him in this movie where he played Danny. Danny fell in love with Debbie (Demi Moore), moved in with her, fell out of love with her, and then realized that really he did love her after all. The scene that resonates with me is the New Year's Eve breakup — it feels so real and so raw. That is exactly what having your heart broken looks like. I do root for them to get back together (which they do at the park in the final scene) but I am not convinced it will work out. 

Lesson learned: Falling in love is amazing, but breaking up hurts like hell

Dirty Dancing (1987) 

This movie I could watch over and over again. Great love story, honest portrait of family, and fabulous dancing too. No question though that the most memorable line is when Johnny (Patrick Swayze) tells Baby's dad (Jerry Orbach) that, "Nobody puts baby in the corner."

Lesson learned: Little girls (and boys) grow up, and as parents we need to be able to see them for the adults they are. 

Read more: What I Learned About Life, Love, and Money From Watching '80s TV Mysteries

Mystic Pizza (1988) 

So many great scenes in this coming-of-age story of three young woman who work in a pizza parlor and dream of finding a life with more than just marinara sauce. Favorite moment is when Daisy (Julia Roberts) dumps pounds of fish in boyfriend Charles's Porsche to get even with him for cheating on her. Only problem is, the girl he was out with is his sister. Oops!

Lesson learned: Don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t leave the top down on a convertible. 

When Harry Met Sally (1989) 

Most remembered scene in this movie takes place in the diner with Sally (Meg Ryan) telling Harry (Billy Crystal) how all women "fake it" and then doing a demonstration while she downs a corned beef on rye. But it is a scene extra that utters the iconic phrase, "I'll have what she's having."

Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want — at a restaurant or in the bedroom. 

Say Anything (1989) 

Who can forget Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) standing on the street below his girlfriend Diane's (Ione Skye) bedroom with a boom box over his head playing the song, "In Your Eyes," proclaiming his love to her? (Thank goodness this happened in the '80s — it just would not have had the same impact with an iPod.)

Lesson learned: Sometimes it is the simplest of gestures that convey the strongest of feelings. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) 

What sticks with me is the economics teacher (Ben Stein) saying, "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller..." Yep, he was not there. He was having a crazy day off. As Bueller says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Lesson learned: Every so often you just have to be play hooky and hang out with your BFF. 

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) 

You go Kirby! I just can't help but smile when I picture Kirby (Emilio Estevez) planting one on his lady love Dale (Andie McDowell), and then taking a selfie of the two of them (before there was such as thing as selfies!).

Lesson learned: YOLO! Sometimes you just have to go for it!


Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three. She has written extensively about pop culture, parenting, family life, and teen issues. Her work has been appeared online and in print publications including Teen Life, Your Teen, Raising Teens, About.com, and SheKnows. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @rmazz90210