Drama. Comedy. Romance. Intrigue. Gym class.
Teen movies have it all.
Whether you’re in high school now or hall passes are a distant memory, there’s something special about watching a good teen movie. A sense of innate relatability. An escape to a magical place where nothing is more important than the prom theme.
That’s why I’ve put together a list of some of the best teen movies committed to film.
Is this list exhaustive? As if. Every decade has had its teen flick darlings, far too many to list here. Instead, these are a few of my high school-themed faves, each accompanied by a trailer and a choice quote. Be sure to share yours in the comments!
Get in loser, we’re going teen movie watching.
1. Mean Girls, opens a new window (2004)
Cady Heron has spent most of her life in Africa, where she was homeschooled by her zoologist parents. When her family moves to the U.S. and Cady starts mainstream high school, she’s got a lot to learn about being an American teenager. She soon finds herself a member of an exclusive group known as “The Plastics,” desperately trying to navigate cliques, gossip and crushes.
Written by Saturday Night Live comedian Tina Fey and loosely based on Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence, opens a new window, Mean Girls is a hilarious look at high school, cliques and what it means to be a teen girl. It’s also insanely quotable with a veritable treasure trove of in-jokes. Basically, Mean Girls is totally fetch.
Most Iconic Quote: “And none for Gretchen Weiners, bye., opens a new window”
2. Clueless, opens a new window (1995)
One of the most iconic movies of the ‘90s, People are often surprised to find out that Clueless is actually a modern (well, modern-ish) adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, opens a new window.
Clueless follows Cher and her BFF Dionne, both “named after famous singers of the past who now do infomercials,” in their quest to be the best-dressed, opens a new window and most popular girls in school.
But Cher is far less vapid than she may seem. Whether she’s trying to make-over a new girl in school, play matchmaker for her teachers or pass her driving test, Cher does everything with style, good intentions and a ton of valley flair, making Clueless a teen classic for the ages.
Most Iconic Quote: “Do you prefer ‘fashion victim’ or ‘ensemble-y challenged’?, opens a new window”
3. Easy A, opens a new window (2010)
What is it with high school and reimagining classic novels? Whatever it is, it’s in fine form in Easy A, a modern retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, opens a new window. Our plucky protagonist, Olive, is a smart girl who happens to feel invisible at her school. That is, until a rumour gets out of hand and she decides to tell a few creative lies about her love life for a boost in popularity (and a few free gift cards).
From singing along to a greeting card to sewing red A’s onto bustiers to create a new attention-grabbing wardrobe, Olive has the self-awareness, wit and relatable charm most of us could only dream of having in high school. This movie gets bonus points for its charming self-awareness of its source material and Olive’s cooler-than-cool parents.
Most Iconic Quote: “Ironically, we were studying The Scarlet Letter, but isn’t that always the way? The books you read in class always seem to have a strong connection with whatever angsty adolescent drama is being recounted. I consider this. Except for Huckleberry Finn, because I don’t know any teenage boys who have ever run away with a big hulking black guy., opens a new window”
Continuing the theme of teen movies based on literary classics, 10 Things I Hate About You takes Shakespeare’s work as its source material. Based on The Taming of the Shrew, opens a new window, this film updates the bard’s story to Seattle in the ‘90s.
Cameron James is the new kid who falls for the unattainable Bianca Stratford (her last name a nod to Shakespeare’s birthplace) in this comedy of errors. There's just one problem: her father has strict dating rules for his daughters. In order to get around them, Cameron cooks up a scheme to get the school's bad boy, Patrick Verona, to take out Bianca's rebellious older sister Katarina. Chaos, romance and a healthy heaping of teen angst ensue.
Watch out for one of my all-time favourite movie moments, when Kat's love interest Patrick (played by a young Heath Ledger) serenades her in a flash mob-style moment that involves the school’s marching band and a mad dash from campus security.
Most Iconic Quote: “Oh, see that, there. Who needs affection when I have blind hatred?, opens a new window”
10 Things I Hate About You is also available on Blu-Ray.
5. Never Been Kissed, opens a new window (1999)
This movie just goes to show that high school is hard for everyone, even when you’re doing it for the second time around. Josie is a 25-year-old copy-editor at a newspaper in Chicago who is still haunted by the trauma of being bullied in high school. But that doesn’t stop her when she gets the chance to go undercover as a student on her first real journalistic assignment.
Now this lifelong nerd has to figure out how to be popular to get the dirt she needs for her story. At moments, it’s hard not to cringe at Josie’s complete lack of social graces, but it’s ultimately her geekiness that makes her such a loveable and relatable character—and what keeps Josie’s coworkers (and the audience) rooting for her.
Most Iconic Quote: “All of you people, there is a big world out there... bigger than prom, bigger than high school and it won't matter if you were the prom queen, the quarterback of the football team or the biggest nerd in school. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it., opens a new window”
6. Whip It, opens a new window (2009)
Bliss Cavendar’s mom wants her to win the local beauty pageant. Bliss wants… something a bit different. The Bodeen, Texas teen discovers roller derby on an illicit trip to nearby Austin and falls in love with the rowdy sport. Soon, she’s lacing up her own skates, going by the name Babe Ruthless and rolling with a fierce crew of women sporting names like Iron Maven and Eva Destruction.
Whip It is a coming of age story about a teen who finds her passion well outside the rather small box that’s been drawn for her. Directed by Drew Barrymore (her directorial debut) and starring Ellen Page of Juno fame, Whip It is something a bit different from the usual teen movie fare: a film that celebrates complicated and interesting female characters.
Most Iconic Quote: “I can take losing the money. I cannot take losing the chance for our kid to be happy., opens a new window”
This is far from a comprehensive listing of all of my favourite teen films, but it definitely captures the cream of the crop. Some honourable mentions include: 17 Again, opens a new window (2009), John Tucker Must Die, opens a new window (2006), She’s the Man, opens a new window (2006) and Bring It On, opens a new window (2000).
What are your fave teen movies? Whether they’re guilty pleasures or cinematic classics, we want to hear about them in the comments!