The 8 Greatest Nerd-Movie Empowerment Anthems

By Todd Gilchrist in Daily Lists, Movies, Music, Nerdery
Monday, February 24, 2014 at 6:00 am


With several "big" movies arriving in theaters this weekend, including Liam Neeson's Non-Stop and the religious epic Son of God, it remains to be seen how long The Lego Movie will hold onto the top spot at the box office. But long after its overall impact on moviegoers begins to wane, there is one part of the film that seems guaranteed to linger, if not move in, unpack its bags and gain 15 pounds of relationship weight in people's memories: "Everything Is Awesome," Tegan and Sara's unforgettably, irresistibly upbeat theme song.

As with just about everything else in the movie, "Everything Is Awesome" becomes more than just a fun addition to the story - it transforms from a mind-numbing, ubiquitous soundtrack for conformity into an empowerment anthem for Emmet the nerdy main character. But it follows an illustrious history of theme songs that have made 97-pound weaklings feel like Charles Atlas, and we've assembled a playlist of some of the best.

1. Better Off Dead - "Everybody Wants Some," Van Halen

John Cusack spent the better part of the 1980s standing in as a proxy for the slighter members of teen society who hoped one day to meet a pretty girl, and prevail over their decidedly more athletically-gifted counterparts. Better Off Dead marked his leading-man breakthrough, playing a heartbroken kid struggling to get through a devastating breakup.

Playing a cartoonist and surprisingly gifted skier named Lane, he often disappears into his daydreams as he's sorting through his feelings. But after befriending the French exchange student across the street, Lane eventually discovers that it only takes a good job - and an absent boss - to locate your inner bad ass.

2. The Breakfast Club - "Don't You (Forget About Me)," Simple Minds

As an iconic portrait of teen social hierarchies, the central focus of The Breakfast Club is the convergence of classmates from different cliques - athletes, brains, criminals, princesses and basket cases. John Hughes, possibly the '80s greatest purveyor of teen stories, creates a vivid ensemble that simultaneously indulges and razes stereotypes.

After they've all gone through a remarkably dramatic wringer, challenging their perceptions of each other and even themselves, the "brain" (Anthony Michael Hall) is tasked with writing an essay that encapsulates their collective experiences. As he reads the essay in voiceover, Simple Minds' now iconic tribute to self-actualization blasts on the soundtrack.

3. Can't Hardly Wait - "Paradise City," Guns N' Roses

Can't Hardly Wait is simultaneously a portrait of '90s teen life and a throwback to the tropes of '80s teen movies like John Hughes' Sixteen Candles. The characters are confronted by a possible future as they stand on the precipice of high school graduation, and look into a deep and terrifying - and okay, often funny - darkness that echoes the words of Barry Manilow: "I'm ready to take a chance again."

In one of the film's best scenes, William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo) stages a plot to take revenge on his tormentors during a graduation-night party. But he soon finds his carefully-planned revenge interrupted by the prospect of having fun, and after a few beers, he leaps on stage in front his classmates to belt out a positively transcendent version of one of G N' R's biggest crowd-pleasers.

4. The Karate Kid - "You're The Best," Joe "Bean" Esposito

'80s movies loved nothing more than they loved montages, especially ones set to big, memorable pop songs. And although there are several in John G. Avildsen's story of a Reseda teenager who learns to fight back against school bullies with the help of a wise but cryptic handyman named Mr. Miyagi, perhaps the most famous one comes late in the film as Daniel is finally using his wax-on, wax-off training to dispatch foes in the ring.

As he moves swiftly from one opponent to the next, Avildsen shrewdly pairs Daniel's ascent with a tune that has become something of a cliché, but only because it's so damn effective. Joe "Bean" Esposito never went on to do anything as memorable again, but as the greatest go-to hero-corn theme of the '80s, he created a true classic.

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