10 Unique Friendship Movies and TV Shows #1 (1939–1986)

Friendship isn’t easy.  Not everyone is a social butterfly. At best, many just have a small clique. Still, that little group can make all the difference in the world. On that note, here are 10 unique friendship-themed movies and TV shows.

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

What can be said about Victor Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz”? It’s only of the most iconic fantasy/adventure stories of all time. It’s also one of the best musicals for people who hate musicals. Of course, “The Wizard of Oz” wouldn’t be the same without having its fantastical elements grounded in friendship. Granted, things get off to a bumpy start. Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her group are dysfunctional, and she’s always whining about getting home. On top of that, she has the absolute gall to say she likes the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) best! Still, one could forgive such shortcomings when faced with bizarre adversity — namely The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton).

“The Wizard of Oz” reminds us that people shouldn’t entirely be judged by first impressions. Dorothy and crew initially fear the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), but he’s soon revealed to be just dandy, in what becomes a regular pattern throughout the film. In fact, even the freaky Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) isn’t as scary as he seems. That being said, The Wicked Witch never redeems herself, and practically no one wants to be pals with those flying monkeys (not even Toto)! Of course, Dorothy is eventually glad to get home again to be with other companions: Her family. Aww!

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Miloš Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a look at people making the best of bad situations….sort of. R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is like a lot of people out there. He’s not entirely a villain but he keeps getting into trouble, so society sees him as a problem on legs. When McMurphy cons his way into a mental hospital to avoid a harsher sentence, he tries his best to fit in with the residents, but Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is constantly cramping his style. Buried inside the others is a resentment against her, too, which McMurphy ultimately brings to a boiling point.

Along the way, McMurphy befriends the other “nuts,” including “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), Harding (William Redfield), Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd) and Martini (Danny DeVito). Interestingly, this was the debut film for both Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif (whose prior film appearances were both oddly scrapped). Obviously, if your first role is in a feature film that nabs all 5 major Academy Awards, you’re off to a decent start.

3. Ghostbusters (1984–?)

Columbia-Delphi Productions

Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” is about 3 college buddies who team up to start a ghost fighting business. They hire a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), to bust those ghosts even better. Obviously, Winston, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) have become iconic characters, and this is largely due to their chemistry. The guys seem real and like they know each other. That helps when you’re in a really weird line of work, doesn’t it?

Although Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) is basically just their secretary in the original film and its sequel, she would often see an expanded role in the equally classic animated series, “The Real Ghostbusters.” Much the same could be said of Slimer, the ghost whose potential is far more utilized in “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon than on film. While reaction to the insufficient 2016 reboot was bizarrely over-politicized, fans can always go back to these original depictions for their nostalgia fix. Oh yeah, and the original film also stars Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis!  With a new movie on the way, Ghostbusters threaten to keep moving beyond the ’80s nostalgia.

4. The Karate Kid (1984)

VENTS has included John G. Avildsen’s “The Karate Kid” in another movie list before, but what can we say? The bond between Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) is a huge part of what makes the movie work. When you’re a New Yorker moving to L.A. who’s bullied by the buttheads in Cobra Kai, why not latch onto Mr. Miyagi and his karate prowess? Miyagi makes it look easy, too!

At the same time, this movie isn’t just about fighting. It’s also about learning discipline, moral ground, taking a stand against jerks, and an unconventional friendship. Most of us fall short of adopting such ways because let’s face it, we have to make a living! Still, it’s fun to pretend, right? Also, Daniel learns to focus on life outside of himself and his own problems, while simultaneously facing them.  That’s bad-ass.

5. Muppet Babies (1984)

You may be thinking, “‘Muppet Babies’? They’re really going to include them and not the Care Bears?” Yes, because the Care Bears who too on-the-knows about their caring about each other. With Jim Henson’s “Muppet Babies,” you get more well-rounded, flawed and cool characters going on zany, wild, sometimes psychotic adventures. You have baby versions of Kermit (Frank Welker), Miss Piggy (Laurie O’Brien), Gonzo (Russi Taylor), Fozzie (Greg Berg), Animal (Dave Coulier/Howie Mandell), Skeeter (Mandel), Scooter (Berg) and Rowlf (Katie Leigh).

While that roster sounds like the name of a law firm, their own troubles are most often confined to their imaginations. Thankfully, Nanny (Barbara Billingsley) reels them back to reality when they get too far out, and she always looks stylish with her pink skirt, purple sweater, and green and white socks. In fact, her look is about as iconic as Freddy Krueger’s and commands respect. While Disney’s coughed up a new version of the “Muppet Babies,” the original is all most of us will need (also, because 1980s nostalgia’s still in vogue, most of the references aren’t even dated).

6. The Goonies (1985)

Amblin Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Hey, you guys! Yes, every other article on Richard Donner’s “The Goonies” will likely reference that, so why not us? Anyway…”The Goonies” not only seared Cyndi Lauper into our collective ’80s nostalgia psyche. It also was — and still is — a movie heavily rooted in the theme of friendship. Sure, it’s not a conventional group by any means, but the Goonies are good enough! Every Goonie gets a chance to prove his or her worth, from Mikey (Sean Astin) who gets the ball rolling to Chunk (Jeff Cohen), who gets left behind but forges a bond with Sloth (John Matuszak) — the giant who sort of saves the day.

You also have Mikey’s brother, Brand (Josh Brolin), who keeps the group disciplined. Then there’s Mouth (Corey Feldman), who translates text on “One-Eyed” Willy’s map. Data (Jonathan Ke Huy Quan) is a very inventive kid, using his skills to evade the Fratelli crime family. Then you have Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton), the ladies of the bunch. While they at first seem like honorary Goonies at best, it should be noted that Andy’s musical knowledge helps them escape a deadly booby trap.  She’s good enough!  While Sloth is always the most lovable Fratelli, “The Goonies” wouldn’t be the same without the evildoers, Mama (Anne Ramsey), Francis (Joe Pantoliano), and Jake (Robert Davi).

7. The Golden Girls (1985–1992)

One of the all-time great sitcoms, “The Golden Girls” didn’t play it very safe, especially for a primetime show about elderly women living in Florida. The show’s main theme of friendship is right there in the opening song: “Thank you for being a friend.” The main question one must ask here is: Which “Golen Girl” is your favorite? Could it be Dorothy Zbornak (Beatrice Arthur), whose acrid-witted comments could stop damn near anyone in their tracks? How about Rose Nylund (Betty White), the sweetheart with endless strange tales of life in St. Olaf, Minnesota, who often incurred Dorothy’s bitterest barbs?

There’s also Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), the sultry southerner who, apparently, made nearly every man weak in the knees. Last but not least, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), Dorthy’s mother, who is similarly unfiltered when it comes to speaking her mind (if not more so). “The Golden Girls” lasted for 7 seasons, followed by the short-lived spinoff, “The Golden Palace.”  Though it seems like it’s a show for old ladies, people of all ages could (and should) enjoy “The Golden Girls” from time to time.

8. Aliens (1986)

20th Century Fox

James Cameron’s science fiction action film may seem awkward on this list, but think again. The further this film goes along, the more it becomes about the bonds between people. Sure, aliens are constantly trying to render those bonds limb from limb, but they’re not totally successful. You obviously have Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Newt (Carrie Henn), but there’s also her increasing bond with Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn). Hell, Ripley even gains respect for Bishop (Lance Henriksen), which requires her to put aside prejudice based on her negative experience with one. Additionally, you have Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and Private Drake (Mark Rolston). While there’s a sexual tension between them, it’s clear that he very much respects her. While not everyone is strong enough to survive the xenomorphs, it’s obvious that it’s a group effort. Go, team, go!

9. Stand by Me (1986)

No group of 4 people will exist without problems, whether they like each other or not. Based on a Stephen King story, Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me” is a great exploration of the dynamics between troubled youngsters. Setting out on a morally ambiguous quest to find a dead kid’s body, they get to know each other uncomfortably well along the way. We get to know them, too. There’s Gordon Lachance (Wil Wheaton), a gifted storyteller whose father (Marshall Bell) apparently hates that his brother (John Cusack) died instead of him.

Then there’s Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), who feels dogged by his family’s bad reputation. Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) may even be a good, loyal person, but he’s been a little warped by abuse from his father. Finally, there’s Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell). While he’s not a complex character, there’s a sense that he’s picked on due to his weight. Plus, he supplies a good amount of the film’s comic relief. One must also comment on John “Ace” Merrill, who remains one of Kiefer Sutherland’s best, most iconic performances.

10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

John Hughes’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a shockingly straightforward story about high schoolers skipping class to go out on the town. That really is about it! However, it’s undeniably an impactful film, proving that a movie can have layers while still being mostly a zany comedy. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is an almost bizarrely popular student, who generally knows how to get what he wants. He skillfully plays hooky along with Cameron (Alan Ruck) and Sloane (Mia Sara). Along the way, they evade human obstacles such as the school’s Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), a snooty maitre d’ (Jonathan Schmock), and Bueller’s parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett) and sister (Jennifer Grey).

They don’t exactly change the world, but they get to see some of Chicago, and Ferris even works in a classic musical number. Things take a darker turn, though, when Cameron reveals his stresses with his dad, who cares more about his car than his own son. It’s oddly poignant, and seemingly an out-of-place critique of Reagan-era materialism, considering this film also features the conservative Ben Stein in one of its most iconic scenes. How influential is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”? Well, it’s been preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress

Did we miss a great pop culture friendship movie or TV series? Let us know in the comments!

Wade Wainio
Author: Wade Wainio

About Wade Wainio

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