No Particular Order: Favorite Teen Movies

Inspired by watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) with my friends last night, I thought it might be fun to compile a No Particular Order of my favorite raunchy, fun, smart teen films or movies that at least take place in a high school setting, since it is such a popular sort of set up at this point.

The list is pretty varied (in fact, one barely fits the generic markers other than its setting and cast of characters, but it was too good to not include) basically because I wanted to acknowledge and encompass some classics, but without being too predictable or redundant, so no John Hughes on this list unfortunately! But I hope you read on and enjoy my picks anyway!

Superbad (2007)

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This is the ultimate teen sex comedy for the Apatow generation of movie-goers. It perfectly brings together the hormonal debauchery of teenage boys who are on the desperate brink of their transition from high school to college, with something more meaningful (maybe) than the humor that ensues from that; it’s a film that doesn’t just think with its libido, is what I’m saying, but also with its head and heart (at least sometimes). I think Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, along with Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the film with Evan Goldberg), Bill Hader and Emma Stone in scene-stealing supporting roles, are really responsible for this balance and I can’t imagine the film without their specific comedic sensibilities.

It’s a film which I’ve seen so many times and yet can watch over and over again still– there’s something about it that has just always felt classic and which has remained satisfying and wonderfully quotable even as I exited my own teenage years with no such adventures. Plus, it has given us some of the most uproariously and well-executed obscene high jinks in a teen movie ever, which again, really speaks to a larger canon of raunchy films in recent years but perfectly places those trends into a high school party setting and its pubescent set of circumstances.

Easy A (2010)

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Easy A is even more smart and modern in some ways and makes a nod to the very fact that its main character– Olive, played by the incomparable Emma Stone in what is now considered to be her big breakout role– is not having the quintessential 80’s teen-movie experience. That’s probably why I love this movie so much though; it’s so witty and mature and its heroine is one of the most intelligent and funny we’ve ever been given in a movie of this kind since maybe Juno (but that’s also a loaded statement and problematic comparison, perhaps), embodied so perfectly by Stone’s usual sarcastic, subversive charm.

The narrative is framed through video blogging which is interesting and timely and also gives us the sense that our Olive has already learned some lessons and wants to teach them to anyone willing to listen, but the high school experience that has taught her these lessons seems just as nosy and toxic as ever here, while still somehow functioning within a plot that otherwise feels fresh and new. This movie never ceases to make me laugh, but it also succeeds at making us think about sex and rumors and judgments just enough, in a way that is refreshing and probably really important for its target audience.

Mean Girls (2004)

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Speaking of importance, I’d argue that as endlessly enjoyable and quotable as this movie is, it is also the most groundbreaking within the genre (if we’re considering this to be a concrete genre anyway) and so crucial for the millennial Queen-Bees-and-Wannabes generation of teens to see, if not for the more significant messages and morals to be gleaned about catty teen girls and other assorted cliques, then certainly for the pop cultural powerhouse it has become today, ten years after its release.

Like Heathers for the 1980’s and Clueless for the 1990’s, Mean Girls gave teenage girls (and boys, even) a cruel and cautionary tale about vicious social sorting under the guise of humor; humor which is in this specific case laced with Tina Fey’s brilliant sense of scripting and timing, and which has become particularly memorable, iconic and beloved. This is Lindsay Lohan at her comedic prime too, with wonderful performances all around as she navigates a different kind of jungle than her home-schooled-in-Africa character Cady had been accustomed to at the film’s start. I think this movie is undeniably enjoyable but also more respectable than I wonder if some people realize today when they quote it with their friends, myself totally included in that.

 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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In my personal opinion, the 90’s were really the decade where teen comedies as we might know them today really came into their own– I love John Hughes as much as the next person (well, perhaps not quite enough to squeeze any of his classics into this list, actually), but when I think of teen movies, I really do think of 10 Things I Hate About You. She’s The Man similarly tried to (and mostly succeeded) adapt a Shakespeare play (Twelfth Night) into high school terms, but it’s got nothing on its predecessor which adapted The Taming of the Shrew into those terms seamlessly and adorably.

The high school setting does not detract whatsoever from the spirit of misunderstanding, mismatches, and general silliness that Shakespeare’s comedies often exhibited; in fact, they come across with a pleasant, almost gleeful sense of innocence and charisma. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also love watching it as a retrospective look at late 90’s fashion or more importantly for the sheer pleasure derived from some of the more silly but famous scenes the film boasts– in particular the many cute, romantic moments shared between Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.

The Faculty (1998)

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This is the item of my list which I referred to in my introduction, because it is clearly the black sheep of the bunch. This film is one of the first sort of horror/sci-fi comedies I’d ever seen growing up, and I loved it because it is fundamentally teens against adults, teachers in particular (all of whom have been taken over by evil aliens whom the students must defeat by working together). That in itself sets this film apart structurally from the rest– this film is about characteristically different teenagers coming together and fighting a mutual evil instead of the ever-typical stories that highlight, perhaps rightly so though, teenagers’ differences. Something I think these movies do all have in common at least to varying degrees and in obviously very different manifestations is the eventual coming together despite the previously-normalized high school social code that prevented them from doing so without some kind of catalyst. Even Superbad, though its ending is ambiguous somewhat, makes us feel like college won’t come between best friends Seth and Evan, and in Easy A, not everything is necessarily fixed fully but Olive is clearly making strides for everyone in what we hope and feel as viewers to be the right direction.

Anyway, what makes The Faculty so fun and so necessary for my list (beyond my genre bias) is definitely the campy quality that comes with putting this science-fiction foe into a high school context where, obviously, that is not usually the issue at all, and every teenage character here is surprisingly three dimensional and interesting as we watch them battle some pretty ridiculous, silly, scary aliens. The cast is great too, including Josh Hartnett and Elijah Wood and John Stewart as one of the teachers. I love this movie, and the fact that it took place among teenagers in a high school made it qualify for my teen movie list. I hope my leaving John Hughes out is forgiven and that my choices were still hip, cool, and all-the-rage enough for everyone reading this.

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7 thoughts on “No Particular Order: Favorite Teen Movies

  1. My teen movie love is from the previous generation (although I love The Faculty and 10 Things I Hate About You). The C Thomas Howell-starring “Secret Admirer” is maybe my favourite, aside from the John Hughes classics. Oh, and John Cusack’s early films are pretty brilliant too. I used to have such a big collection of them…on VHS.

    Mark, http://www.iscfc.net

    • Very cool! I’ll have to check Secret Admirer out when I have a chance! I definitely stuck to very recent films which I felt bad about but it would have taken me forever to write about all the great ones there are. Thanks for your comment!

      • Not at all – thank you for writing the article. Teen movies from my past are the ones I’m most afraid to revisit, for fear that the issues that seemed burningly important when I was 16 will seem petty at *cough*older*cough*.

      • I know what you mean; a few days after I wrote this article I watched Clueless again which I hadn’t seen since I was very young actually, and I still appreciated it but saw it in a much different light than I had before, and I wonder how cultural age (the fact that I kept saying “that’s so 90’s” during it, I mean) plays into how we see these films as well, not just individual viewing age. Interesting to think about and it’s a genre I don’t think people really consider in those ways often enough either. Thanks again!

  2. Have you ever seen Not Another Teen Movie – I think you’ll like it’s references to the types of films you’re talking about.

    For me, they don’t make teen movies like they used to. The best come from the 1980s. Although I do love John Hughes, given you’re not listing his movies, here’s a selection he didn’t write or direct: – Better Off Dead, Teen Wolf, Class, Say Anything, Stand by Me, The Goonies, Rock n Roll High School, The Outsiders, Heathers, Suburbia, Over The Edge and The Sure Thing.

    However, since then I’ve loved Pump Up The Volume, Dazed and Confused and The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I would also recommend checking out If from 1968 and Rebel Without A Cause from 1955.

    • I love Not Another Teen Movie– it does well with playing with/making fun of a lot of these tropes. Those are some good choices you listed, I definitely have to go back and watch a lot of these that I haven’t seen. I thought The Perks of Being a Wallflower was so in a league of its own in a lot of ways, truly a more honest and interesting take on the genre and a really underrated film, I love the book as well of course. As for Rebel Without a Cause, I’m actually watching that for my melodrama class next week! Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Pingback: Month in Review: January | French Toast Sunday

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