Teen movies say something about growing up — about being a teenager, the ups and downs and highs and lows, finding one’s self on the cusp of adulthood. A time when hormones and emotions assault your senses and you’re experiencing a bunch of first times: like first love or first sexual encounter, or drink or drugs, or debauched house parties… all that stuff.
So I thought I’d highlight a bunch of teen movies I’ve loved over the years — ones that I either watched growing up or saw as an adult. All of them, to one degree or another, had some sort of impact on me. What would make your list, and why?
This movie was directed by Olivia Wilde and starred Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. At the time it was described as ‘the female Superbad‘, which was quite reductive, as this movie was so much more than that. It also had a great soundtrack.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
For me and many ’80s kids this was the go-to movie about the teen experience, and paved the way for movies like American Pie. It was directed by Amy Heckerling and starred Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Last year (in 2020) a bunch of actors, including Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, did a table read as a fundraiser.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
I feel this movie has grown in status over the years, particularly after the death of one of its stars, Heath Ledger. As well as Heath it starred Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew. I watched it recently and it didn’t feel too dated. Bar the odd moment, it’s held up well.
American Pie (1999)
This movie was massive at the time and dominated the cultural landscape for quite a few years. I was 17 when it came out and felt, behind the slapstick, it has some well observed moments in terms of how a group of guys grow up and interact with each other, and with women. Looking back, it hasn’t aged that well if I’m honest.
Mean Girls (2004)
I was late to the party with this movie, having only watched it last year, but I can see why people love it. It put Rachel McAdams, Lizzie Caplan and Amanda Seyfried on the map and, well, Lindsay Lohan would have joined them had she not been battling demons.
Another classic directed by Amy Heckerling. It’s another that I only got around to seeing last year, and can see why people love it. I don’t have the nostalgic attachment to it that others do, but it was a fun movie. Again, this is another film that can be seen in a new light following the death of one of its stars, Brittany Murphy.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
One of the all-time greats in this genre. Directed by the mighty John Hughes this film has largely held up over the years. TV show Sex Education had a lovely nod to it in their second season. There’s also this article where a dad watched it with his teenage son to see what still felt true, and what had aged not so well.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
I imagine there are many adults in their 30s that watched this a lot growing up. I know I did. It became an instant classic and allowed Sarah Michelle Gellar to show a whole new side to her after Buffy. I imagine quite a few people fell in love with Ryan Phillippe’s tortured teen at the time as well. In my mind, Selma Blair’s character was this movie’s secret weapon. She was a delight.
Easy A (2010)
Easy A is adapted, or at least inspired by, the 1850 historical novel The Scarlet Letter. It starred Emma Stone as the wonderfully named Olive Penderghast and is one of the movies that helped her break through to stardom. A year later she did Crazy, Stupid Love and The Help, and then after that, The Amazing Spider-Man.
It’s almost hard to imagine the most successful actor to come out of this movie would be Jonah Hill, who now has multiple movies with Leonardo DiCaprio under his belt and a directing credit for skate movie Mid90s (2019). At the time this was his breakout, along with Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
I feel Heathers morphed into a cult classic over the years. It featured a young Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. For Slater, this was probably his breakout. Ryder had been in Beetlejuice just before this, so it was the combination of those two movies that put her on the map. After 31 years this movie still holds up.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)
This coming-of-age drama was written by Stephen Chbosky and based on his 1999 novel of the same name. It starred Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller and was critically well received at the time. I remember liking the performances, particularly Ezra Miller. It was one of the first times I’d seen him, and he was magnetic.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
I liked this movie when it came out but it didn’t land that well with critics. Over the years people have reassessed it, praising both Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried’s performances, as well as Diablo Cody’s writing and Karyn Kusama’s direction.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
I only saw this last year (a mere twenty years late to the party), but I instantly got why it has cult classic status. It’s about two outcast teen sisters, one of whom gets attacked by a creature one night and starts to, you know, howl at the moon and that sort of thing.
Diablo Cody has a second entry on this list (after Jennifer’s Body), with this movie putting her on the map as a writer. It also showed people what Elliot Page (Ellen at the time) could do. In general, it was sweet movie, but one that had stuff to say. Little White Lies called it a feminist cult classic.
The Craft (1996)
‘We are the weirdos, mister.‘ I haven’t watched this movie in some time, but I saw it a hell of a lot growing up. It starred Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk and Neve Campbell and remains a fun ride to this day. For some mad reason they tried to remake it last year, which obviously failed. No surprise there really.
Empire Records (1995)
I adore this film. It’s one of my all-time favourite teen movies, a classic of the genre. It’s about the drama teens go through, how many are outcasts and only have their dysfunctional family (in this case, their co-workers at the record store) to fall back on. It had superb performances from a young Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger and Robin Tunney, wonderful quotes and an amazing soundtrack.
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
‘Rats from the bay! as uttered by William’s Sadler’s strange janitor in this sci-fi teen horror. It’s not the world’s best movie, but it did feature a young Katie Holmes and James Marsden, with wildcard Nick Stahl stealing every scene he was in.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
This movie introduced the world to one smooth-talking Texan, Matthew McConaughey, as well as a young Parker Posey. It’s a Richard Linklater ’70s-set comedy about a bunch of kids celebrating the last day of school. Rolling Stone has a good article about how this slow ride through the ’70s defined the ’90s.
Then there’s a few I’m yet to watch, which are:
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
Eighth Grade (2018)
American Graffiti (1973)
Lady Bird (2017)
The Outsiders (1983)
Say Anything (1989)