5 Unforgettable Childhood Friendships on Screen

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Stand By Me we salute 5 more on-screen friendships.

30 years ago, Stand By Me exploded onto our screens with a quartet of adventure seeking boys. The film, based on Stephen King’s The Body, smashed the Hollywood mould for coming-of-age tales. The result was a film that was not only incredibly enjoyable to watch, but also artisitically and culturally signifcant.

Despite the film being Rated R, the film was seen by a lot of children (some parents actually took their children to see it in cinemas!). Perhaps this is why it was such a major life moment for many young people who saw it; the film is its own coming-of-age in a way, a first ‘adult film’. Stand By Me, and childhood movies like it, are cult hits for a reasons: they’re unique, smart, and offer us something more than simple storytelling. These films tell us something about ourselves at a time when we’re undergoing significant change.

Jerry O’Connell, Corey Feldman, River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton in Stand By Me

Perhaps most importantly, they reflect our hormone fuelled and chaotic lives and the friendships that vacillate between supportive and savage, integral and harmful. Stand By Me epitomises the adolescent experience. The group of friends on screen squabble and tease one another, support each other, and grow together when they come face-to-face with mortality. The raw energy of the film and the fantastic on screen chemistry of the four boys (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) cements the group’s friendship as indelible.

In honour of Stand By Me’s 30th birthday, we take a look at 5 other unforgettable childhood friendships on screen.

1. The Breakfast Club (1985)

The 80s were a time of disillusionment as the USA suffered from stagflation and the nation that seemed so full of energy felt like its empire was crumbling. These sentiments transferred into the youth culture who displayed this sense of cynicism like a badge of honour.

Movies like The Breakfast Club perfectly captured the sentiments of teens at the time. The five students who are forced to sit in detention with each other express their angst and disappointment with the world. In expressing their vulnerability to one another, the group soon become unlikely allies against the man (Principal Vernon).

The quintet are incredibly compelling and because their conversations feel so natural, as the movie progresses they share more and more with each other. As we are privy to confessions about peer pressure to revelations about child abuse, each of the characters is fleshed out into rich full portraits. Ultimately, the group represent the myriad issues that teens struggle with on any given day. What is so fantastic about coming-of-age film is how adroitly it captures the experience.

And who could forget the dance scene!

2. BMX Bandits (1983)

When it comes to quintessential teen friendships, the Australian adventure crime-drama BMX Bandits taught us all that friends and bikes go hand-in-hand.

As writer Luke Buckmaster notes:

“For children living in Australia in the 1980s, nothing was cooler than owning a BMX bike. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s film… about fast-pedaling youngsters taking down a criminal syndicate was a big reason why.”

The trio must rely on each other in order to keep each other safe and it’s this display of mateship, bordered by beautiful and inventive cinematography that ensures P.J., Goose and Judy shine. Of course the film also stars a 16-year-old Nicole Kidman, inspiring The Guardian to write “there’s a girl called Nicole Kidman who’s rather good”. Lol.

And, of course, you may remember the famous waterslide scene in which our heroes ditch their pursuers in style, complete with hilarious 80s synthy whooshing sounds.

3. Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990–1996)

Who could forget about the five magic rings sent to five special young people? More hard hitting than your average coming-of-age storyline, Captain Planet was truly ahead of its time (and possibly still is) in terms of diversity and stories about empowered young people. The Planeteers resonate with audiences because even though they’re teens, they’re smart, resourceful and brave.

The long running TV show about environmentalism often places the show’s protagonists, hailing from five different continents and representing a variety of ethnicities, in precarious situations. Their friendship, loyalty and support of one another enables the group to persevere and foil the plans of nefarious villains who are determined to keep polluting the planet.

Of course, like any shared bond The Planeteers have times when their relationships are strained. An issue arises, for example, when they receive elemental gloves that are much more powerful than their rings, which leads to intense competitive behaviour. Or for instance when Zarm (voiced by Sting), turns them against each other. However, these issues were always resolved and put into perspective by the group, thus strengthening their friendship. This notion is also reflected in their powers combining to create Captain Planet, symbolising that the united efforts of a team are stronger than its individual parts.

There are many things to love about the series: the way it ensured a new generation cared about the environment, the fact that Gaia (the spirit of the earth) is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, and the fact that it has provided us with one of the most memorable TV theme songs ever.

4. Our Gang/ The Little Rascals (1922–1944)

Traveling back almost seven decades, Our Gang/The Little Rascals charted the adventures of a group of poor neighborhood children. The series is often praised for depicting children behaving in a relatively natural way, rather than attempting to affect an adult style of acting. In addition, Our Gang notably put boys, girls, and different races together as equals, ensuring that the motley crew was certainly progressive for the time.

Though fun was always high on the agenda for the kids, whose race didn’t decide the fates of their friendships, the show did play to white and black cultural stereotypes. As Julia Sun-Joo Lee, author of Our Gang: A Racial History of the Little Rascals, writes:

“The story of race and Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, is rife with the contradictions and aspirations of the sharply conflicted, changing American society that was its theater… Hal Roach and his gag writers, used his “Rascals” to tap into powerful American myths about race and childhood”.

Despite these stereotypes, the central message of the series revolved around the value of true friendship. From baking mishaps to rescuing each other from wells, the kids not only entertained an entire generation but also demonstrated a sense of inclusiveness.

5. Stranger Things

Forget the Demagogue, the Upside-Down and shady government organisations, Netflix’s instant cult hit Stranger Things is actually about friendship. At the heart of the story are our preteen heroes, united by nerdom and unwavering loyalty to one-another.

When we first meet Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Will, they’re innocently playing D&D in the basement. We’re immediately invited into the dynamics of the group when they’re faced with the fictional demagogue in their game. Lucas’ hotheadedness is revealed when he demands a fireball be cast, Dustin’s need to shield his friends with the projection spell, and Mike’s role as leader being the Dungeon Master, while Will demonstrates his honesty by admitting he rolls seven and not thirteen. You can bet the good one is going to be the one that goes missing.

And when Will does, the group’s loyalty comes to the fore. Rather than shirk away from the danger of searching for their missing friend in the middle of the night, the group embarks on a journey that’s going to see friendship tested and strengthened. Throwing a spanner in the works is Eleven, the super-powered lab-rat who has little understanding of human relationships.

Despite driving a wedge between the group (as girls do in these tween masculine gangs), Eleven comes to be an indispensable element of the coterie. After Mike explains that a “friend is someone that you’d do anything for and they never break a promise… that’s super important because friends tell each other things; things that parents don’t know,” Eleven finds her purpose. Rather than running and hiding — from the monster, from Papa — she deliberately puts herself in harms way to help the group.

The boys too demonstrate their fierce loyalty. Mike literally steps off a cliff for Dustin, willing to sacrifice his life, while the group consistently put themselves in harm’s way in their unwavering search for Will. When Lucas and Mike fight over Eleven, it’s Dustin that brokers the peace, reminding Mike of the rules of their bond — “you drew first blood, so you shake his hand”.

Once the show has ended, you can imagine the four kids walking off their separate ways like in Stand By Me, Richard Dreyfuss’ astonished voice over wondering, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Also worth noting the similarity between Vern and Dustin when the two groups set out on their journey. Vern brings a comb (despite having no hair), while Dustin brings trail mix and smarties — much to the chagrin of their companions — just one of the touching references to the ’80s movies that inspired the show.

If you love film as much as we do, be sure to catch some movies in our cinemas.


Originally published at www.acmi.net.au.

Like what you read? Give ACMI a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.