There are three quintessential movies that came out in the 1980s featuring groups of young friends on adventures. These movies span a range of genres, making them a perfect triptych of entertainment and subsequently causing me to not only start thinking of them as a trilogy, but also grouping them together in marathons. To be clear, there are no connecting plots, characters, or even directors. What makes these movies part of a singular trilogy (at least in my warped mind) are the following standards:
As if this particular requirement weren’t already obvious, they were all released in the 1980s.
The movie must feature a group of friends who are younger than 18-years-old. This narrows down the potential candidates substantially. It eliminates fan-favorite options like The Lost Boys, Flight of the Navigator, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial because those movies (although they do have moments of kids banding together) are largely about solitary protagonists rather than groups of friends. Still, there are plenty of other movies (arguably more popular choices) that fit. Take Stand by Me for instance. That’s a classic ‘80s movies featuring a group of friends under the age of 18. However, the next requirement rules this one out as well.
The movie must not only be released in the 1980s, it must take place in the 1980s. Stand by Me takes place in the 1960s and is thus disqualified from this trilogy list. The same is true for a number of other potential candidates.
Each movie in the trilogy must be representative of a specific genre distinct from the other two movies. In this case, we have an action/adventure, science fiction, and horror/comedy.
Based on this list of specific requirements, my Unofficial ‘80s-Kid Film Trilogy is as follows.
The Goonies (1985) / Action Adventure
The movie that started me on this weird and obsessive quest, The Goonies is a classic ‘80s movie that captures the spirit of being a kid. Even as terrible things are going on in the adult world, the goonies keep hope alive and set off on the kind of adventure I always used to dream about when I was younger. What kid doesn’t want to find a map that leads to an underground maze serpentining its way to a long-lost pirate ship filled with treasure? All in a day’s work for the goonies. It's a classic for a reason and an absolutely perfect fit for this trilogy.
Explorers (1985) / Science Fiction
Arguably not as popular as The Goonies, Explorers still ranks high on my list of favorite movies of the ‘80s. I’ll admit the first three quarters of the movie is miles better than the last part. And sure, I often wish the movie didn’t take such a comedic direction once the kids arrive at their destination. Still, even with these goofball elements (I’m being purposefully vague here for anyone who hasn’t seen the film), I still love this movie to death. The setup all the way through to the onset of kids’ final journey is breathtakingly nostalgic and exciting. I can’t quite explain the emotions this movie elicits for me. There’s something about the characters’ hope, imagination, and curiosity that drives the narrative forward and makes me feel like we really can do anything if we try.
One scene in particular always hits me as being a perfect example of the previously mentioned emotional impact. When the trio is sitting in their newly created spacecraft getting ready for the inaugural voyage, Ben Crandall (Ethan Hawke) dumps out two huge paper bags of junk food, including granola bars, chips, and foil-wrapped sandwiches. I may have never built and flown in my own spaceship, but this moment feels like every experience I’ve ever had with movie theaters, drive-ins, road trips, and even at-home movie marathons. Just a bunch of friends piled together with snacks cascading over our laps as we get ready for something epic.
The Monster Squad (1987) / Horror
I recently wrote about The Monster Squad for one of my Halloween week marathons, and I revealed being a relative newcomer to the movie. While it’s true I didn’t see this one as a kid, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I had, it would have become one of the defining movies of my childhood. The Monster Squad checks off all the requirements for our trilogy. Even so, I’ve often waffled on this choice, thinking there were better examples of horror movies for kids from the 1980s. The Gate for instance has come very close to knocking The Monster Squad off the list, but at the end of the day The Gate just doesn’t have that “group of friends” element working for it. Like The Lost Boys before it, The Gate will have to wait for another marathon.
This probably seems like a lot of work to artificially group three movies together. I’ll admit, my reason for wandering down this overgrown and winding road is lost even to me. The notion simply came to me one day that the three films fit together so well that there had to be someone guiding the hands of the disparate writers and directors. I imagine a mysterious figure behind a curtain, like the Wizard of Oz, cackling to himself as he ensures the creation of kids' movies in all the major genres throughout the 80s.
This idea has also raised another question. If you were to expand this trilogy to encompass other genres (while adhering to my previously outlined rules), what movies would you add?
Perhaps a question for another day. Until then, breathe deep of the night.