Molly Ringwald, left, Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club.” (Universal City Studios)

Whether she likes it or not, director Penelope Spheeris may be forever associated with “Wayne’s World,” her 1992 feature comedy based on a series of “Saturday Night Live” sketches about two high-school metalheads (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey). “I’ve always said, when I’m dead and gone, if there’s anything I could be remembered for, I would want it to be my ‘Decline’ films,” she says, referring to her series of three documentaries on youth subcultures. “That would be the greatest honor.”

Spheeris is now one step closer to that dream.

On Wednesday, the Library of Congress announced that the first film in Spheeris’s “The Decline of Western Civilization” trilogy — a controversial look at the burgeoning Los Angeles punk rock scene — was one of the 25 films selected for inclusion in the 2016 National Film Registry. Reached by phone, Spheeris described herself as “astonished” at the inclusion of her 1981 low-budget film, which she calls “one of the most written-about films of that year,” despite the fact that “no one saw it.”

Including performances by such bands as X, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks and Fear — and featuring slam-dancing mosh pits so rambunctious that Spheeris’s cameraman, Steve Conant, jokingly requested a “shark cage” for his own protection — the film shocked the bourgeoisie, and delighted the counterculture, upon its release. The title of the film, she explains, was meant ironically. By the time “Decline 3” came out, with its sobering look at homeless teenagers known as “gutter punks,” Spheeris says the series had “grown into its name.”

Now numbering 700 films, the registry each year selects titles for their “cultural, historic or aesthetic importance,” typically preserving a copy of each film for posterity at the library’s Packard Campus in Culpeper, Va. Other films honored this year include Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” (1987); Ridley Scott’s “Thelma & Louise” (1991); Disney’s “The Lion King” (1994); a 17-minute gangster film by D.W. Griffith called “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (1912); and an archive of footage documenting African American life in the 1920s by minister, businessman and amateur filmmaker Solomon Sir Jones. This year’s films, which must be at least 10 years old, were selected by the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, with input from members of the National Film Preservation Board and other Library of Congress film experts. Members of the public are encouraged to nominate their own favorite films.


Jason Schwartzman in “Rushmore.” (Touchstone Pictures)

“Decline” is one of a handful of movies on this year’s registry that touch on the themes of teen angst and/or disaffected youth. That’s a coincidence that is completely unintentional, according to the 64-year-old Hayden, whose cinematic taste from her teen years hews closer to the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.” Other titles from this year’s list that share that spirit of hormonal rebellion include the James Dean vehicle “East of Eden” and the juvenile-delinquency drama “Blackboard Jungle,” both from 1955; John Hughes’s high school detention-set “The Breakfast Club” (1985); and “Rushmore,” a 1998 comedy by Wes Anderson about an adolescent misfit who is in love with his teacher.

Spheeris doesn’t find it odd that thematically related films appear on the list. The youth-in-revolt genre, she says, has an enduring appeal, since adolescence and early adulthood are when we are forming our identities. “You become angry,” she says. “You want to change the world.”

The genre is, however, one that she feels is in dire need of preservation.

“The children of today have access to so much information, via the Web and social media, that it’s confusing,” says the 71-year-old filmmaker, who is at work on her fourth installment in the “Decline” series, about which she won’t reveal any details. “What this access has done is totally eradicate what I’ve always called the ‘underground’: the hippies, the punks, etc. Today, there are no unique and different films coming out of the underground.” In fact, she says, “the underground is aboveground.”

All the more reason, Spheeris says, for the registry. “It’s become a vital reference library for upcoming generations of young people. Today’s kids don’t know who they are.”

Films selected for the 2016 National Film Registry

●Atomic Cafe (1982)

●Ball of Fire (1941)

●The Beau Brummels (1928)

●The Birds (1963)

●Blackboard Jungle (1955)

●The Breakfast Club (1985)

●The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

●East of Eden (1955)

●Funny Girl (1968)

●Life of an American Fireman (1903)

●The Lion King (1994)

●Lost Horizon (1937)

●The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

●Paris Is Burning (1990)

●Point Blank (1967)

●The Princess Bride (1987)

●Putney Swope (1969)

●Rushmore (1998)

●Solomon Sir Jones films (1924-28)

●Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

●Suzanne, Suzanne (1982)

●Thelma & Louise (1991)

●20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

●A Walk in the Sun (1945)

●Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)