Who Is the Most Compelling Teenaged Film Character of the 1980s?

The otherworldly Netflix series Stranger Things returns on May 27. As a result, my wife Nell and I are watching the entire series straight through – all 25 episodes – for the third time. Some episodes, like the latter two of Season Two, we are watching for a fourth or fifth time. I first wrote about my adoration of this series at the end of 2019, so watching it now feels a bit like returning to what I call “the before time” – the months just prior to COVID-19 shutting down much of the country.

This repeat viewing is a form of meta-nostalgia, in fact: not only am I remembering when we first watched it, Stranger Things is itself an homage to 1980s films. Moreover, I turned 13 in September 1979, and 20 in September 1986, so I was a teenager the referenced films were playing in the suburban Philadelphia movie theaters my friends and I frequented.

This is why Morgan Richter’s terrific YouTube series “When Gen X Ruled the Multiplex” speaks to me so strongly. While I have not seen all 100 films she dissects – though I did watch the surprisingly-entertaining Tuff Turf recently – I have seen most of them 100. I even recently rewatched Repo Man, one of the first films Richter reviewed.

One film Richter presents is WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a suburban computer whiz who nearly starts World War III after inadvertently hacking into a Department of Defense supercomputer. There are similarities between this character – rebellious and technologically savvy – and what may be Broderick’s most iconic role: the titular character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, another film reviewed by Richter.

This led me to think about the extraordinary variety of teenaged characters in 80s films – the true golden age of such films – and another character tournament began to form itself in my head. Well, the idea of a tournament did: beyond vague words and phrases like “most iconic,” “favorite,” and “engaging,” how one judges these characters in head-to-head matchups is not at all clear. Maybe the best word is “compelling,” which nicely combines both structural (how well-written is the character?) and descriptive (how memorable or interesting is the character?). And I will let anyone who reads this and/or votes on Twitter to judge what “compelling” means.


To create the initial field of 64, I first compiled a list of characters from 113 films: those Richter discusses and/or are in the list of films I have seen multiple times. I then brainstormed a handful of other films like The Beniker Gang and Just One of the Guys. Finally, I devised four ground rules to make the selection process easier; every character had to:

  1. Appear in a film released between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1989, using the date of release listed in the Internet Movie Database (“IMDb”).
  2. Be an Earth-born human
  3. Be purely fictional (i.e., not based on a real-life character)
  4. An actual teenager – defined for this tournament as at least 14 and not yet in college.[1]

Moreover, I limited every performer and film to two roles – with the exception of the iconic Back to the Future, from which I selected Lorraine Baines (Lea Thompson), George McFly (Crispin Glover) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). And I also tried to include an equal number of female and male characters.

From these criteria, I compiled a list of 86 characters – 41 female, 45 male – from 55 different films; there were 73 unique actors/actresses. I then discerned four very loose character categories (i.e., quadrants)

  • Sheltered girl/boy to whom “nothing ever happens” (n=20, 65% female)
  • Genius/artist/dreamer (18, 50%)
  • Rebel/outsider (29, 48%)
  • Innate hero (19, 26%)

The next step was to pare each quadrant to 16 characters, including at least four of each gender.

Sheltered Kid: The four characters cut were Frannie and John Berry from The Hotel New Hampshire, Lloyd Muldaur from The Legend of Billie Jean and Patrick Morenski from Hiding Out. The Berry siblings are only in high school for the first part of the film, Muldaur is interesting mostly because his father plays a key law-enforcement role, and Morenski is more sidekick than fleshed-out character.

This leaves 12 female and four male characters in this quadrant.

Genius/Artist/Dreamer: The two Annabeth Gish characters (Hiding Out, Mystic Pizza) and two Anthony Michael-Hall characters (Sixteen Candles, Weird Science) overlap considerably. I kept Katherine “Kat” Araujo from Mystic Pizza and The Geek from Sixteen Candles.

This leaves eight female and eight male characters in this quadrant.

Rebel/Outsider: First, I moved Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) from Say Anything and Billie Jean Davy (Helen Slater) from The Legend of Billie Jean to the Innate Hero quadrant, leaving 27 characters. I then cut six female characters[2] and five male characters.[3]

That leaves seven female and nine male characters in this quadrant.

Innate Hero: To make every film American (solely for convenience, I admit), I cut both Dorothy (no last name) and Gregory Underwood from Gregory’s Girl. I then cut Lance Stargrove from Never Too Young to Die, Arthur Beniker from The Beniker Gang and Lane Meyer from Better Off Dead. Never Too Young is epically awful (IMDb score=4.8), Andrew McCarthy is essentially playing a parent to his younger siblings in Beniker, and Dobler is a far more interesting Cusack character than Meyer in Better Off Dead.[4]

That leaves five female and 11 male characters in this quadrant – and a perfect 50-50 split between female and male characters in the initial field of 64, as seen in Figure 1. Seedings are based, admittedly arbitrarily, on the IMDb score of the film in which the character appears.

Figure 1: Initial Field of 64


To produce a Twitter-friendly Sweet 16, I analyzed 32 first-round and 16 second-round matchups. As with my previous film noir character tournaments, the outcomes of these 48 matchups are transparently subjective; I welcome respectful arguments for alternate outcomes in the Comments.


Sheltered Kid

1 vs. 16: I admit I have not seen Girls Just Want to Have Fun, although Nell has. Still, as fun as Sarah Jessica Parker’s Janey Glenn is, she never tries to sleep with her own son, like Lea Thompson’s Lorraine Baines does in Back to the Future. This is not close.

Winner: Lorraine Baines, Back to the Future

8 vs. 9: Jean Louisa Kelly’s Tia Russell – the older niece to the late beloved John Candy’s Uncle Buck – is one of the brattiest upper-middle-class white teen girls of the 1980s. But to know this, you have to watch the film – whereas even those who have never seen Dirty Dancing know not to put Baby in the corner. For all that, this was somewhat close.

Winner: Frances “Baby” Houseman, Dirty Dancing

5 vs. 12: I have had a cinematic crush on Jennifer Jason Leigh for 40 years, and it began with her turn as Stacey Hamilton, the closest thing the greatest high school movie ever madeFast Times At Ridgemont High – comes to a “main character.” And while Lori Singer’s Ariel Moore brings great energy to her role as the daughter of the minister who refuses to let the young kids dance in Footloose, the character of Stacey is far more fleshed out. This was not really close.

Winner: Stacey Hamilton, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

4 vs. 13: This is a genuinely bizarre matchup between two daughters of famous actors: the Sandra-Dee-esque daughter of the police chief in Blue Velvet versus the spoiled rich girl – one of two Little Darlings – vying to lose her virginity first in summer camp. Neither character is especially deep – but Laura Dern’s Sandy Williams has the tiniest edge over Tatum O’Neal’s Ferris Whitney because of the light she brings to the darkness of Lumberton.

Winner: Sandy Williams, Blue Velvet

6 vs. 11: This is the battle of the great young adult novels. And I confess to being at a bit of a loss here. I have not seen The Outsiders in years, and I have never seen The Chocolate War. Neither Diane Lane’s Cherry Valance nor Ilan Mitchell-Smith’s Jerry Renault change or grow much over the course of the film. They are more the hubs around which the actions of the film take place. In what amounts to a mental coin flip, I choose the teen star from the Francis Ford Coppola film.

Winner: Cherry Valance, The Outsiders

3 vs. 14: The Valley Girl has loving and supportive parents, but not much personality. The wealthy son of not-so-Ordinary People has fairly awful parents – well, one monstrous parent – and a well-defined personality. With all respect to Deborah Foreman and her charming Julie Richman, Timothy Hutton’s Conrad Jarrett is a revelation. This is not close – despite Valley Girl being one of my 25 or so favorite films, while I hated Ordinary People the one time I saw it.

Winner: Conrad Jarrett, Ordinary People

7 vs. 10: If there is one name synonymous with 1980s films about – well, upper-middle-class white teenagers – it is John Hughes. And the name most associated with Hughes is Molly Ringwald, who became a star with Samantha Baker’s forgotten 16th birthday in Sixteen Candles. But just one year earlier, in 1983, another young actor named Tom Cruise rocketed to stardom as alienated preppy Joel Goodson – who becomes a most unusual entrepreneur in Risky Business. There are surface similarities – the white suburban setting, the neglectful parents – but we learn far more about Joel than Samantha. This was not as close as I had expected.

Winner: Joel Goodson, Risky Business

2 vs. 15: A school of thought holds the events of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off take place entirely in the mind of Alan Ruck’s Cameron Sloane, a boy so paralyzed by anxiety he invents a super cool alter ego. Whatever the “reality,” though, we learn a great deal about what drives poor Cameron. The same cannot be said of Kelli Maroney’s effervescent valley girl Samantha Belmont in Night of the Comet, beyond excelling at killing zombies. This is not close.

Winner: Cameron Sloane, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off


1 vs. 16: I have not seen Dead Poets Society since it was released in 1989; indeed, I had forgotten Ethan Hawke was in it. I just re-learned, though, that the arrival of Hawke’s Todd Anderson at Welton Academy sets the film’s events into motion. I have never seen SpaceCamp, so I cannot speak directly to Thompson’s brainy Kathryn Fairly and her misadventures on the Space Shuttle. As a result, I take the easy way out and choose the character from the film with an IMDb rating of 8.1 (vs. 5.7).

Winner: Todd Anderson, Dead Poets Society

8 vs. 9: The second-most-associated name with Hughes is Hall, who also broke out as The Geek in Sixteen Candles. And while his character similarly has relatively little depth, he wins on a technicality – upon reflection, Jonathan Silverman’s Eugene Lawrence Jerome is more than loosely based on Neil Simon, who wrote the play that became Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Winner: The Geek, Sixteen Candles

5 vs. 12: The scope of Fame – four years at the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City – gives its characters time to breathe. We learn, for example, that for all of Irene Cara’s Coco Hernandez’ worldliness, she still falls prey to the advances of a pornographer. This behavior feel authentic. By contrast, Ione Skye’s Diane Court (Say Anything) is mostly defined by the expectations of her overprotective father and the projections of infatuated Dobler. It is close, but Coco’s range wins here.

Winner: Coco Hernandez, Fame

4 vs. 13: I have adored Times Square for more than 40 years; I admit that up front. I have never seen Labyrinth; I also admit that up front. Both are elaborate fairy tales in which a younger teenaged girl wanders through an elaborate maze – be it a few square blocks of Manhattan or a fantasy realm of Muppets and David Bowie. The difference is that while Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah Williams succeeds in rescuing her baby brother (who she herself put at risk), Trini Alvarado’s Pamela Pearl rescues not only herself – finding her inner strength – but also the lost souls around her. Connelly is a great actress, but at just 13 years old, Alvarado is astonishingly good as Pearl. This is no contest.

Winner: Pamela Pearl, Times Square

6 vs. 11: Here is the ultimate battle of the computer geniuses: Lightman vs. Mitchell-Smith’s Wyatt Donnelly in Weird Science. The difference is that Lightman is McGyver-level resourceful away from his computer in WarGames, while Donnelly seems absolutely lost until the final showdown with the biker gang. Plus, Lightman first triggered the idea of this tournament. This is no contest.

Winner: David Lightman, WarGames

3 vs. 14: It was already her third movie role, and she was far from the star of the film – but when Beetlejuice was released in March 1988, the buzz centered around a 16-year-old actress named Winona Ryder – who just happens to be the top-billed star of Stranger Things. Her goth, brainy, rebellious Lydia Deetz continues to inspire girls to this day (or, she should, anyway). By contrast, Gish’s “Kat” Araujo – a kind and attractive Yale-bound 18-year-old – is a bit generic, not unlike Kathryn Fairly or Diane Court. Mystic Pizza is a charming and enjoyable film, but Kat gets lost in it. Once again, this is no contest.

Winner: Lydia Deetz, Beetlejuice

7 vs. 10: Barry Miller does something truly remarkable in Fame: he gets us to like and root for a character with no obvious redeeming qualities. Ralph Garcy is abrasive, self-absorbed and obnoxious – but Miller allows us to see this an act to disguise deep personal and cultural insecurities. Diane Franklin’s Monique Junot – Cusack’s (eventual) romantic interest in Better Off Dead – is funny, resourceful, smart and beautiful. She is an early version of the manic pixie dream girl – and possibly the most interesting character in the film. But we are supposed to like her, whereas Miller compels you to like the unlikable Ralph. Still, this was fairly close call.

Winner: Ralph Garcy, Fame

2 vs. 15: I have not seen Dead Poets Society in 33 years because the suicide of Robert Sean Leonard’s Neil Perry was so devastating. As brutally honest as it is in context, it erases his character arc from my mind. By contrast, Ralph Macchio’s photography-loving high school “bad boy” Eddie Palikian elevates the underrated Teachers. Forget Nick Nolte’s Alex Jurel, Palikian is the moral center of this movie – and we get the sense his life will be richer as a result. This is no contest – and the first major upset of the tournament.

Winner: Eddie Palikian, Teachers


1 vs. 16: Here is the second major upset. Crispin Glover brings a nerdy creepiness to George McFly in Back to the Future – the kid is a Peeping Tom after all – but he also makes a character for whom we are meant to root a bit hard to like: Ralph Garcy in reverse. By contrast, Kristy McNichol brings a quiet dignity to the “kid from the wrong side of the tracks” cliché in her portrayal of Angel Bright in Little Darlings. This is close given Future’s iconic status, but the summer-camper gets the edge.

Winner: Angel Bright, Little Darlings

8 vs. 9: Talented ensemble casts – Fame, Dead Poets Society, even Teachers – make it hard to single out at most two “compelling” characters. This is why I chose three characters from Future – though I just eliminated one. This is equally true of Fast Times and The Outsiders, from which I could easily have picked five or more characters. C. Thomas Howell’s Ponyboy Curtis appears to be the “first among equals” in the latter film (at least among the males; Cherry Valance is the clear female lead), just as Stacey Hamilton is in the former. However, Fast Times also featured a virtuoso turn by a then-unknown Sean Penn as permanently-stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli. Outside of Phoebe Cate’s bare breasts, he is what people remember most about the film. Like, no contest, dude.

Winner: Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

5 vs. 12: What remember most about the darkly comedic Heathers is the titular teenaged girls, not Christian Slater’s Jason “J.D.” Dean. This is no disrespect to Slater, who is brilliant as the deranged and homicidal J.D. But the film truly belongs to the five young female leads, including Carrie Lynn’s Martha Dunnstock. By contrast, in Pretty In Pink, Ringwald’s Andie Walsh is the center of the film, as she finds herself the object of desire for three very different teenaged boys. This is also Ringwald’s best performance of this era. So, while J.D. gets lost in the Heathers, Walsh is Pretty In Pink.

Winner: Andie Walsh, Pretty In Pink

4 vs. 13: To be honest, I was not going to include any characters from Hughes’ most famous 80s film, The Breakfast Club. The five “characters” feel less like real teenagers and more like archetypes with nametags. Plus, I already had two Ringwald and Hall characters and one Emilio Estevez characters. Nonetheless, I relented, which is why Ally Sheedy’s Allison Reynolds is in this tournament. That all said, she pales in comparison to the relentless can-do energy of Kevin Bacon’s Ren McCormack in Footloose. Allison gets a makeover, Ren changes minds. This is not close.

Winner: Ren McCormack, Footloose

6 vs. 11: It is a curious quirk of using IMDb scores that there are two Heathers vs. Pretty In Pink matchups in the first round in this quadrant – both male vs. female. Here it is Jon Cryer’s lovestruck Philip “Duckie” Dale against Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer. And the same logic applies, though it is a very close call. But, over time, Duckie has come to seem whinier and stalker-like, while Veronica is ahead of her time.

Winner: Veronica Sawyer, Heathers

3 vs. 14: This time, I am choosing the character from the film I like far less. Robin Johnson, in her acting debut, turns Nicky Marotta from a one-note character into a multi-layered symbol of loss and alienation in Times Square. She may also be the only LGBTQIA+ character in a VERY straight white tournament. And then there is Ferris Beuller, a character folks know without even having seen the movie. It breaks my heart, but this is no contest.

Winner: Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

7 vs. 10: Joining Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science in the Hughes gallery is the quirky Some Kind of Wonderful. As good as Eric Stoltz and Thompson are in the leads, the film is absolutely stolen by Mary Stuart Masterson’s drummer best-friend-secretly-in-love-with-her-best-friend Watts; I cannot find a first name for her character. Matt Dillon helped to launch his career with his portrayal of gang-nostalgist Rusty James in Rumble Fish, but the character itself is fairly common. Watts is anything but, making this no contest.

Winner: Watts, Some Kind of Wonderful

2 vs. 15: The OTHER character I selected from The Breakfast Club is Judd Nelson’s admittedly-mesmerizing John Bender, the “criminal” who turns out to be a scared and scarred little boy. He is the only one of the five with anything even close to a character arc. Joyce Hyser, meanwhile, is wonderful as Terry Griffith, who poses as a boy in a rival high school to make a point about gender discrimination in Just One of the Guys. As charming as Hyser is, however, this is not close.

Winner: John Bender, The Breakfast Club

Innate Hero

1 vs. 16: If there is anything like a frontrunner in this tournament, it is Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly in Back to the Future. He is not only a well-developed character, he literally saves his own existence…and apparently wrote “Johnny B. Goode.” Yeah, that part has not aged at all well. With all respect to James Spader’s Morgan Hiller in Tuff Turf, this is obvious.

Winner: Marty McFly, Back to the Future

8 vs. 9: In other bizarre quirk of IMDb scores, the two leads of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure face off in the first round. In another mental coin flip, I choose Keanu Reeves’ Theodore “Ted” Logan over Alex Winter’s Bill S. Preston.

Winner: Theodore “Ted” Logan, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

5 vs. 12: There are different kinds of heroic journeys. One, like Michael O’Keefe’s Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, involves overcoming bullies of all ages to win a scholarship. Oh, and he did NOT get his girlfriend pregnant. Another, like Slater’s title character in The Legend of Billie Jean overcome misogyny, classism and a biased criminal justice system after being falsely accused of a crime. As endearing and sweet as Danny is, this is no contest.

Winner: Billie Jean Davy, The Legend of Billie Jean

4 vs. 13: In another curious quirk of IMDb scores, both characters who use fighting-as-sport – karate and wrestling – to achieve an essential personal goal face off in the first round. Unlike many members of the MTV Generation (a term I prefer to “Gen X”), I can take The Karate Kid or leave it – but I know exactly what “wax on, wax off” means and what “the stork” is. The only thing I really know about Vision Quest, which, to be fair, I have not seen, is Journey’s “Only the Young.” Nonetheless, in a relatively close decision, I choose Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso over Matthew Modine’s Louden Swain.

Winner: Daniel LaRusso, The Karate Kid

6 vs. 11: I have never seen The Last Starfighter, whereas I have seen Some Kind of Wonderful multiple times. Nonetheless, I am choosing Lance Guest’s Alex Rogan – the titular character of the former film – over Stoltz’s Keith Nelson. No disrespect to Stoltz, but Rogan literally gets chosen to travel into space.

Winner: Alex Rogan, The Last Starfighter

3 vs. 14: I freely admit I bent the rules almost beyond repair by including Lane’s Vera Cicero – who claims to be 17 when we first meet her in the criminally-underrated The Cotton Club. However, it is the best performance I have ever seen her give. For all that, she is not a teenager in the same sense as the rest of these characters are, so I reluctantly give the nod to Cusack’s Dobler from Say Anything.

Winner: Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything

7 vs. 10: It really comes down to which is more harrowing: facing down gnarly vampires in the rural west or surviving a night in Chicago with three younger kids in tow. Adrian Pasdar’s Caleb Colton does the former in Near Dark, while Elizabeth Shue’s Chris Parker does the latter in Adventures In Babysitting. Granted, I have not seen Near Dark, and I have a soft spot for Shue. But I think Shue just edges Colton because of the sheer number of obstacles she has to overcome in a very short amount of time.

Winner: Chris Parker, Adventures in Babysitting

2 vs. 15: Speaking of harrowing, the final matchup pits two teenagers facing off against nightmares, in one case quite literally. And, because Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson has to face down Freddie Kreuger practically alone – all while trying not to fall asleep – in A Nightmare on Elm Street, she gets the nod over Catherine Mary Stuart’s zombie-fighting Regina Belmont in Night of the Comet. Both are quick-thinking and highly-resourceful, but Thompson is a more realized character.

Winner: Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street



Sheltered Kid

Baines vs. Houseman: It is the 1950 vs. the 1960s, and while both Lorraine and Frances are strong, well-written characters, “Baby” ekes out a narrow win here based upon her rebellious social conscience. Still not putting her in a corner.

Winner: Frances “Baby” Houseman

Williams vs. Hamilton: This is the battle of the “good girls with a racy edge.” But other than dreaming about birds, Sandy is a bit of an archetype. Stacey is perhaps the most reality-grounded character in the entire tournament. This is not close.

Winner: Stacey Hamilton

Jarrett vs. Valance: That Cherry made it this far is a bit of a surprise, actually. As much as she sets the plot in motion – and as much as I love Diane Lane – Conrad takes absolute command of his film. Again, this is not even close.

Winner: Conrad Jarrett

Sloane vs. Goodson: This is a fascinating matchup of repressed upper-middle-class white boys who find a way to break out of their shells – and destroy cars. It is also a VERY close choice, but – I literally just changed my mind writing this paragraph. While Sloane smashes a single car, Goodson smashes his and everyone else’s expectations for him.

Winner: Joel Goodson


Anderson vs. The Geek: Once again, as I am changing my mind as I write this. I thought The Geek – or a character like him – needed to be represented in the Sweet Sixteen. But then I realized Anderson represents a richer version of brains and privilege – and has a far more compelling story arc. This is close…ish.

Winner: Todd Anderson

Hernandez vs. Pearl: Two visions of a being a teenaged girl in Manhattan in 1980 face off here. Coco is self-assured, driven and a person of color in what is a VERY WHITE tournament. However, she is equally self-assured and driven at the end of her film. Pearl, meanwhile, grows by leaps and bounds…and, again, Alvarado’s 13-year-old acting is revelatory. This was close, but the blossoming genius survives.

Winner: Pamela Pearl

Deetz vs. Lightman: This is a very apples-to-eyeliner comparison. Deetz is an angsty goth teen who cavorts with the dead. Lightman is a genius hacker who almost causes billions to die. Both are relentlessly curious and highly endearing. How do you choose? For me, the edge goes to the girl who triumphs on her own merits, literally flying at the end of her film.

Winner: Lydia Deetz

Garcy vs. Palikian: This is a very easy call, and not only because at least one Fame cast member needs to be in the Sweet Sixteen. We like Eddie from the start – credit that Ralph Macchio charm – but we love Ralph in spite of ourselves.

Winner: Ralph Garcy


Spicoli vs. Bright: While McNichol elevates the “tough girl” trope with her buoyant charisma, Penn turned Spicoli into an icon, full stop. Hey, dude, let’s (keep) partying – this is a no-brainer.

Winner: Jeff Spicoli

Walsh vs. McCormack: Of all the broadly similar characters played by Ringwald in the mid-1980s, Andie is by far the most well-rounded and fleshed-out. She is independent, resourceful, and caring. Ren is energetic and endearing, but besides loving to dance and missing the city, we know little about him. In the end, this is not that close.

Winner: Andie Walsh

Bueller vs. Sawyer: This is the most painful choice I have had to make in 144 matchups across three tournaments. I sought Nell’s counsel – and she said what I knew to be true: as wonderful, as compelling, as Ryder’s Veronica is, you cannot have a Sweet 16 for 1980s teenaged film characters without – say it with me now – ”Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.” I can also argue Heathers is really the first great teen film of the 90s, and that keeping Ferris populates all four quadrants with a nicely even two boys and two girls, but it really comes down to how iconic the film is.

Winner: Ferris Bueller

Bender vs. Watts: I now breathe easier. When I argued John was the most well-rounded character in that Saturday high school detention, that was only in comparison to the other four attendees. By contrast, Some Kind of Wonderful literally opens with Watts’ impassioned drumming – a not-so-subtle indication who the real star of the film is. This is not close.

Winner: Watts

Innate Hero

McFly vs. Logan: In the battle of the teenaged time travelers – one of whom is really only half a character (Ted without Bill is like Bob without Doug, eh), is there really any choice but Marty?

Winner: Marty McFly

LaRusso vs. Davy: As compelling – that word again – as Daniel’s bid to win the karate tournament is, and as much as he grows, it does not come close to the inner strength and will Billie Jean find when she stares down a rigged system. This was not that close in the end.

Winner: Billie Jean Davy

Dobler vs. Rogan: This was the role that made Cusack a star – and show me someone not yet eligible for Social Security who does not know exactly what holding up a boombox conveys. With respect to a literal starfighter, this is not close.

Winner: Lloyd Dobler

Thompson vs. Parker: This is a very close contest between two extremely smart and capable teenaged girls. If Thompson has the tiniest edge, it is that you cannot have a tournament like this without at least one slasher film character in the Sweet 16. That does not make this choice any easier, though.

Winner: Nancy Thompson

And with that, I present the Sweet 16 group of candidates for the most compelling teenaged character in a 1980s film:

Figure 2: From 64 to 16

Figure 3: Sweet 16

As in the two previous tournaments, I will only vote to break a tie; I will decide on a case-by-case if “too few” votes have been cast. Each of the 15 successive matchups will go live just after midnight EST and last for 24 hours. You can follow the tournament on Twitter – I am, as always, @drnoir33 – using #80sfilmteencharacters.

Now, let the voting begin!

Until next time…please wear a mask as necessary to protect yourself and others – and if you have not already done so, get vaccinated against COVID-19! Also, if you are not already registered to vote, please do so immediately. And if you like what you read on this website, please consider making a donation. Thank you.

[1] I almost limited the tournament to students actually enrolled in a high school, but that excluded some compelling characters. I also made an exception for 13-year-old Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) in Times Square.

[2] Lana (Risky Business), Lynne Stone (Girls Just Want to Have Fun), Daisy Araujo (Mystic Pizza), Maggie O’ Hooligan (Caddyshack), Frankie Croyden (Tuff Turf), Diane Warren (Teachers)

[3] Randy (Valley Girl), Otto Maddox (Repo Man), Michael Emerson (The Lost Boys), Scott Howard (Teen Wolf), Brian Moreland (Taps)

[4] I also considered “Hoops” McCann from One Crazy Summer, but Dobler is still slightly more interesting.

2 thoughts on “Who Is the Most Compelling Teenaged Film Character of the 1980s?

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