Back-to-School Movie List: Underrated Movies Released in 1985 & Include a New Student as Part of the Plot

Whether you are a student starting back to school, a parent happy to get back to a "normal" schedule, or person who loves the 1980s High School Movie genre - this list is for you.  There are a lot of "Back-to-School" movie lists out there. Unfortunately, many of those include films that have nothing to do with starting back to school. For example - the majority of those lists include Dazed and Confused (1993), which is a great film and one of my favorites, but you see the problem, right? Dazed and Confused takes place on the last day of school. It even includes the song School's Out by Alice Cooper. 

In making a back-to-school film list, I realized  a good chunk of the films were released in 1985. Who knew almost 30 years ago the trend would be high school films with new students, but it happened.  Please note, this is not a list with the branding "Best" or "Top" - but simply a list... one of which does include movies I happily watch on an annual basis. So enjoy, judge, or even be inspired to steal a few hours and take a trip back to 1985 from the comfort of your home

Real Genius

Real Genius is the one movie I require popcorn. Those who have seen this film know what I mean and, hopefully, for those who have not are now intrigued to track it down. 

The Plot: High school student Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret) transfers to Pacific Tech, where his roomie is none other than Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), a physics genius with a quirky shell (one of the many reasons I crushed on Val Kilmer). The pair are assigned to a laser research project (many distractions get in the way - mostly because of Knight), but the truth is their work is being orchestrated by Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) for the CIA. Classic 80s, right? Throw in the adorable nerdy girl down the hair, the random guy who lives in their closet, and comfy bunny slippers and you can quickly see why Real Genius is worth your time. 

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

This one goes out to the military kids! Janey (Sarah Jessica Parker) is an "army brat" who moves around a lot. The recent move brought her to Chicago and... catholic school, Luckily there she finds her new best friend Lynne (Helen Hunt), who convinces Janey to try out for a place on her favorite showDance TV. Oh, yes, its a dance movie. There's the blue collar love interest (Lee Montgomery), spoiled rich girl nemesis, an over bearing father, more faithful companions (Jonathan SilvermanShannen Dohertya punk rock practical joke, and of course dancing, dancing, and more dancing. But seriously -  what I am thinking when I watch this film: Can I please be Helen Hunt in this film?

Just One of The Guys


No, not the recent Jenny Lewis song, but the film starring Joyce Hyser as Terry Griffith, a teen who thinks her journalism work is not taken seriously because she is a girl. Her solution, take advantage of her parents being out of town and transfer to a rival school under the disguise as a guy. Yes, it is Shakespeare's Twelfth Night 80s style. She gets help from her brother Buddy (Billy Jayne) and her best friend Denise (Toni Hudson) - and decides against telling her older boyfriend Kevin (Leigh McCloskey). Terry "Dresses like Elvis Costello, looks like the Karate Kid" befriends Rick (Clayton Rohner) a guy who geeks out over James Brown, gets hit on by Sandy (Sherilyn Fenn - practice for Agent Dale Cooper?), and, of course, annoys the school bully Greg Tolan (William Zabka). Balancing two lives, two genders, (three if you count Buddy out to sabotage the Kevin situation) and you can imagine the 80s ridiculousness that ensues, especially when you throw in the locker room situation gag. Oh and, last but not least, an odd, yet enduring, character who always has reptiles on his person.

Better Off Dead

Yes, John Cusack regretted playing Lane Meyer, but I for one am glad he did, along with a French foreign-exchange student named Monique (Diane Franklin). Lane, after being dumped by his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) feels he would be "Better Off Dead" and there you have the title of the film. A bunch of half-hearted attempts ensue - both of the suicide persuasion and to win back his own girlfriend, now dating the ski captain (doesn't that always happen). Luckily this is a dark comedy. In the mix are Lane's best friend Charles de Mar (Curtis Armstrong), an oddball family, Japanese drag racing brothers who talk like Howard Cosell, and an 80s style climactic race - but on skis, a paperboy owed two dollars, and as mentioned before, an adorable French exchange student who is constantly trying to escape her host family. 

And honorable mention goes to: 

Tuff Turf staring James SpaderRobert Downey Jr., and Kim Richards. I, have actually not seen this film, therefore, it's going on my to-watch list. According to Amazon Instant "Morgan Hiller, recently transplanted from an East Coast prep school where he was a known troublemaker, hopes to make a fresh start at his new school in Los Angeles."