Movies That Define Gen X, From The Goonies to Reality Bites


It seems no one can stop talking about Millennials and Gen Z these days, not to mention the Boomers. But what about Gen X? They seem to be the forgotten generation and if you know anything about them, they’re just fine with that. Gen X is defined as people born between the years 1965-1980. Basically, the ’80s and ’90s were the formative years and there were a handful of films through those decades that really defined the generation. From the brat pack to the slackers to swing dancing, here are 15 of those films.

The Goonies (1986)

Who doesn’t love a pirate adventure? The Goonies made a mark on many kids in the mid-1980s. A group of teenagers stumble across a treasure map that may just be the key to saving their hometown from being turned into a country club. So what if master criminals are chasing them and the treasure as well? It’s an action-packed adventure fantasy that made many Gen Xers revere the infamous (and fictional) pirate, One-Eyed Willy. But the real message was friendship and the lengths people go through to keep their group together no matter what the cost.


Iconic Line – Down here it’s our time. It’s our time down here. That’s all over the second we ride up Troy’s bucket.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

So many John Hughes movies to choose from, so little time. Some are more problematic, so let’s go with Pretty in Pink. A girl from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with a rich guy and the class struggles they face, even at 16, to make it work. Molly Ringwald stars as Andie and is one of the most memorable characters of the ’80s. She served as a role model for young girls everywhere when she refused to change who she was to get the guy. Not to mention, she probably has the best movie sidekick of all time in Duckie (Jon Cryer) and even though he may not be the love of her life, he’ll always be her best friend.

Iconic Line – I just want them to know that they didn’t break me.

RELATED: The Best High School Movies From the 80s

Dirty Dancing (1987)

In the ’80s, everyone was feeling pretty nostalgic for the ’50s and ’60s. This story takes place in 1962 as Baby (Jennifer Grey) goes on a family vacation to the Catskills with her parents at an all-inclusive resort. There she is introduced to Johnny (Patrick Swayze) who teaches her about ballroom dancing, dirty dancing, and just about everything else. It’s one of the sexiest movies of the ’80s and the ending scene of this movie will go down in history as one of the best dance scenes of all time.

Iconic Line – Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

Beetlejuice (1988)

The premise sounds ridiculous and yet, it’s a comedy for the ages. A young couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) die in a car accident and are determined to haunt the new hipster family who has purchased their country home back to NYC where they belong. In doing so, they encounter Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a ghost who has fallen out with the underworld and yet may be the only chance they have. Winona Ryder appears as Lydia, who may have inspired an entire generation of Goths. And you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Catherine O’Hara dancing to “The Banana Boat Song.”

Iconic Line – I’ve seen The Exorcist about 167 Times, and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it!

Heathers (1989)

A very dark comedy about misfits who take revenge on the popular kids in a deadly way. It’s not as funny as it used to be as it’s all too real now, but back in the day, it was laughable. Winona Ryder stars as Veronica, who is desperately trying to be accepted into the elite group of Heathers who run the school. Enter J.D. (Christian Slater) who shows her that they may not be all they’re cracked up to be. J.D. shows Veronica a different path which forces her to choose exactly who she wants to be. In 2010, the movie was adapted into a musical and had short runs Off-Broadway and in the West End in London. It was also prominently featured in Season 3 of Riverdale.

Iconic Line – My son’s a homosexual and I love him. I love my dead, gay son!

Say Anything… (1989)

High school has ended. And yet when Lloyd (John Cusack) shows up at the biggest party of the year with the reclusive valedictorian, Diane (Ione Skye), everyone’s minds are blown. How can this romance work? Especially with Diane leaving for London at the end of the summer? It’s a whirlwind romance mixed with some kickboxing and some (odd) family drama that endears this movie to everyone everywhere. There’s also the iconic, oft-imitated scene of Lloyd holding a boom box over his head, playing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” outside Diane’s home.

Iconic Line – I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

It’s the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn. Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery boy for a local pizza joint. The high temps aren’t helping the racial tension that is ready to boil over. Mookie has to choose between his employer and his family and friends when it comes down to doing the right thing. Spike Lee’s crowning achievement which should have won him an Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1990. He did finally receive one in 2019 for BlacKkKlansman.

Iconic Line – Mother Sister’s always watching!

Pump Up the Volume (1990)

An errant radio DJ, (Christian Slater) who thinks he’s talking to himself finds himself with a huge cult following as he rages against the school authorities and the trend of teen suicides as of late. When he realizes he’s going to have to use his power for good and help his peers, he may have to do it at the risk of exposing exactly who he is to the shock of his family and school.

Iconic Line – Being a teenager sucks, but that’s the point, surviving it is the whole point.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Boyz n the Hood examines the life of South Central Los Angeles in the early ’90s with the prevailing gang violence. First-time writer/director John Singleton wrote the film based on his personal experiences. He was nominated for two Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Director. The film also made stars of Cuba Gooding Jr, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and showed everyone that Ice Cube was more than just a rapper. Over 30 years later, the film is still considered one of the best ever made.

Iconic Line – Either they don’t know… don’t show… or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.

Wayne’s World (1992)

A Saturday Night Live sketch that transitioned into the most successful SNL movie of all time. Two stoners, Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey), get an offer from a corporation to turn their public access talk show into a machine produced by “the man.” Money threatens the friends, but rock and roll just may save them all. When the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on, any Gen Xer worth their salt will start headbanging in the correct place.

Iconic Line – If you blow chunks and she comes back, she’s yours but if you spew, and she bolts, it was never meant to be.

RELATED: 10 Movies From The 1990s Everyone Should See At Least Once

Singles (1992)

An underrated gem from Cameron Crowe, this film tells the story of single life in Seattle in the early 1990s. With an all-star cast including Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Campbell Scott, this film is a perfect snapshot of the early grunge scene. To cement its place in music history, Eddie Vedder, along with Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, have cameos as members of Dillon’s band, Citizen Dick. The soundtrack went platinum twice as it featured Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Screaming Trees.

Iconic Line – That’s a very nice hat you’re wearing. And I don’t mean that in an Eddie Haskell kind of way.

Reality Bites (1994)

One of the most prevalent films about life in the ’90s. After college has ended, Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her pals Vickie (Janeane Garafalo), Michael (Steve Zahn), and Troy (Ethan Hawke) have decided to live together. But when real life sets in and bills come due, the good old college times are gone, and they have to figure out how to navigate their new circumstances and sexual tension in their lives. Directed by Ben Stiller (who also stars), the soundtrack of this film is definitive for this time period. But also, it’s a great snapshot of life in 1994 with palpable chemistry between Ryder and Hawke.

Iconic Line – Evian is naïve spelled backward.

Clerks (1994)

One of the biggest indie films of all time, Clerks became a star-maker for writer/actor/director Kevin Smith. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) is one of the titular clerks as he mans the cash register at a convenience store. Next door, his best friend Randall (Jeff Anderson) works at the video store. Together, neither of them really wants to be there, and they’ll remind you of that repeatedly. The film spawned a sequel in 2006 and a third is rumored to have wrapped filming and should be released sometime in 2022. The film also spawned the classic characters of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) who pop up in nearly all of Smith’s films.

Iconic Line – There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?

Empire Records (1995)

The life and times of the employees of an indie record store in Delaware. The staff is thrown into a tizzy when Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), a former teen idol, is about to make an appearance at the store. After Liv Tyler first appeared in her dad’s music video, she started booking film roles and Empire Records thrust her into the mainstream. Alongside future Oscar winner Renée Zellwegger, Tyler made this record store a place that everyone wished they could visit.

Iconic Line – We mustn’t dwell. No, not today. We Can’t. Not on Rex Manning Day.

Swingers (1996)

Swingers came along at just the right time and introduced the world to East L.A. and the hot swing clubs that had popped up there during the swing boom of the late 1990s. Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau star as two guys in the scene who are just trying to figure out the L.A. life as two single guys in their late 20s. The movies gained a cult following and even introduced new phrases into the vernacular whether we wanted it to or not.

Iconic Line – You are so money, and you don’t even know it.

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