Teen movies have been a staple of Hollywood for decades, offering audiences a chance to relive the ups and downs of adolescence and experience the excitement and drama of first loves, high school cliques, and coming-of-age moments.
In this introduction, we’ll explore some of the key factors that make a great teen movie, including relatable and likable characters, memorable and quotable dialogue, and themes that resonate with young audiences.
We’ll also take a look at some of the most iconic and beloved teen movies of all time, from classic films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to more recent entries like “Mean Girls” and “Lady Bird.”
Best Teen Movies
Whether you’re a teenager yourself or just looking to revisit your own high school years, there’s sure to be a teen movie that captures the essence of this formative period of life and stays with you long after the credits roll.
1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a comedy film directed by John Hughes and released in 1986.
The film stars Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, a high school student who fakes an illness in order to skip school and spend a day in downtown Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck).
Throughout the day, Ferris and his friends have various adventures and encounters, including stealing Cameron’s father’s prized Ferrari, crashing a parade, and visiting an art museum.
Meanwhile, Ferris’s sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) is determined to catch him in the act and expose his scheme to their parents and the school principal.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was a box office success and has become a beloved classic of 1980s cinema. The film is praised for its humor, charm, and memorable characters, as well as its iconic scenes and soundtrack.
The film is also notable for its metafictional elements, such as Ferris’s direct addresses to the audience and its use of postmodern techniques.
2. Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Some Kind of Wonderful is a romantic drama movie released in 1987, directed by Howard Deutch.
The film tells the story of Keith (played by Eric Stoltz), a high school student who is in love with his best friend, the beautiful and popular Amanda (played by Lea Thompson). However, Amanda is already in a relationship with the arrogant and wealthy Hardy (played by Craig Sheffer).
Keith becomes friends with the rebellious and artistic Watts (played by Mary Stuart Masterson), who encourages him to pursue his dreams and helps him plan a grand gesture to win Amanda’s heart.
Along the way, Keith and Watts develop feelings for each other, leading to a complicated love triangle.
Some Kind of Wonderful is a charming and heartfelt movie that explores themes of friendship, love, and identity. It is notable for its strong performances, particularly by Mary Stuart Masterson, who steals the show with her portrayal of the independent and complex Watts.
The film received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its engaging characters and heartfelt storytelling, while others criticized its formulaic plot and lack of originality.
Despite its reception, Some Kind of Wonderful remains a beloved and influential movie that continues to resonate with audiences today.
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3. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film released in 1985, directed by John Hughes. The movie follows five high school students, each representing a different social group, who are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention at their school’s library.
The students are initially hostile towards each other, but as they begin to open up and share their stories, they realize that they have more in common than they thought.
The “Breakfast Club” includes the popular girl Claire (Molly Ringwald), the jock Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the nerd Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), the rebel John (Judd Nelson), and the outcast Allison (Ally Sheedy).
The film explores themes of teenage identity, social pressure, and the difficulties of growing up. It is remembered for its iconic soundtrack, its honest and relatable portrayal of teenage life, and its timeless message of breaking down barriers and finding common ground.
The Breakfast Club was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $50 million at the box office and receiving positive reviews from critics. It has since become a cult classic and is considered a quintessential film of the 1980s.
4. The Sure Thing (1985)
The Sure Thing is a 1985 American romantic comedy film directed by Rob Reiner. The movie stars John Cusack as Walter “Gib” Gibson, a college student who agrees to drive cross-country with a fellow student, Alison Bradbury, played by Daphne Zuniga.
Along the way, they develop a love-hate relationship and encounter a series of misadventures.
The film is known for its clever script, witty humor, and charming performances by Cusack and Zuniga. The Sure Thing was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and is often cited as one of the best romantic comedies of the 1980s.
The film also features a memorable supporting cast, including Tim Robbins in one of his early roles. The Sure Thing is a feel-good movie that explores themes of love, friendship, and personal growth. It has become a cult classic among fans of romantic comedies and college movies.
5. Stand by Me (1986)
Stand by Me is a 1986 American coming-of-age film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell.
The film is based on the novella “The Body” by Stephen King and follows four boys as they go on a journey to find the body of a missing boy.
The film is a poignant and nostalgic exploration of childhood friendships and the loss of innocence. It captures the essence of growing up in a small town and the challenges and joys of navigating adolescence.
The performances of the young cast members are particularly notable, with River Phoenix giving a standout performance as the troubled and charismatic Chris Chambers.
Stand by Me has become a beloved classic over the years, praised for its authenticity, humor, and emotional depth. It has been described as a timeless film that speaks to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and has been included in many “best of” lists over the years.
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6. The Goonies (1985)
“The Goonies” is a 1985 American adventure comedy film directed by Richard Donner and produced by Steven Spielberg. The film follows a group of young friends, the Goonies, as they embark on a quest to find hidden treasure in order to save their homes from foreclosure.
The group’s adventure takes them through underground tunnels and booby traps, where they encounter dangerous obstacles and comical misadventures.
“The Goonies” has become a cult classic, praised for its sense of adventure, humor, and nostalgia.
The film features a talented cast of young actors, including Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Martha Plimpton. The film also features a memorable musical score by composer Dave Grusin.
Upon its release, “The Goonies” was a commercial success, grossing over $61 million at the box office. The film received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising its sense of fun and energy, while others criticized its formulaic plot and lack of depth.
Despite any criticisms, “The Goonies” has endured as a beloved classic, with its characters and catchphrases still popular among fans today.
7. Queen of Katwe (2016)
“Queen of Katwe” is a 2016 biographical drama film directed by Mira Nair and starring Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.
The film tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from the slums of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda who discovers a talent for chess and goes on to become a champion player.
The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised its heartfelt storytelling, strong performances, and vibrant depiction of life in Katwe.
Nyong’o, in particular, was singled out for her powerful portrayal of Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet, who struggles to provide for her family and support her daughter’s dreams.
“Queen of Katwe” is a powerful and inspiring film that celebrates the strength and resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Through its portrayal of Phiona’s journey from poverty to success, the film explores themes of determination, perseverance, and the transformative power of education and opportunity.
Overall, “Queen of Katwe” is a must-see film that combines powerful storytelling, compelling characters, and inspiring themes to create a moving and uplifting cinematic experience.
8. Flipped (I) (2010)
“Flipped” is a coming-of-age romantic comedy-drama film directed by Rob Reiner and released in 2010. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Wendelin Van Draanen and stars Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe as Juli and Bryce, two middle school students who live across the street from each other.
The film is told from the alternating perspectives of Juli and Bryce as they navigate their relationship and their personal lives.
Juli is a quirky and idealistic girl who is immediately smitten with Bryce, while Bryce is more reserved and unsure of his feelings. The film follows their friendship and eventual romance over the course of several years.
“Flipped” received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its nostalgic charm, heartwarming story, and strong performances from the young cast, while others criticized its cliched and predictable plot.
The film has since gained a cult following for its genuine portrayal of adolescent romance and its exploration of themes such as identity, family, and first love.
9. Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age comedy-drama movie released in 2017, written and directed by Greta Gerwig.
The film follows the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan), a high school senior who dreams of leaving her hometown of Sacramento, California and attending college on the East Coast.
Lady Bird navigates through her final year of high school, dealing with issues such as her strained relationship with her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf), her first love (played by Lucas Hedges), and her friendships. She also struggles to come to terms with her identity and her place in the world.
Lady Bird is a poignant and witty movie that explores themes of identity, family, and the bittersweet transition from adolescence to adulthood.
It is notable for its strong performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, who deliver nuanced and powerful portrayals of their characters.
The film received critical acclaim upon its release, with many critics praising its authentic and heartfelt storytelling and Greta Gerwig’s directorial vision.
Lady Bird was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, cementing its status as a modern classic of the coming-of-age genre.
10. The Way Way Back (2013)
The Way Way Back is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film released in 2013, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
The movie tells the story of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who is forced to spend the summer at a beach house with his mother (Toni Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell).
Feeling alienated and miserable, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), the easygoing manager of a nearby water park.
As Duncan begins to find his place in the world and stand up for himself, he learns valuable lessons about friendship, love, and the complexities of adult relationships.
The film features a talented ensemble cast that includes Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, and AnnaSophia Robb, among others. It explores themes of family, self-discovery, and the power of human connection.
The Way Way Back received positive reviews from critics and was a modest box office success. It is remembered for its heartfelt and honest portrayal of adolescence, its poignant performances, and its poignant themes of resilience and growth.
11. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Sixteen Candles is a 1984 American coming-of-age comedy film directed by John Hughes. The movie follows Samantha Baker, played by Molly Ringwald, as she navigates the trials and tribulations of turning 16.
On the day of her birthday, her family forgets about her because of her older sister’s wedding, and Samantha’s crush on Jake Ryan, played by Michael Schoeffling, seems to be going nowhere.
The film is known for its authentic portrayal of teenage life in the 1980s, its iconic soundtrack, and its memorable characters. Sixteen Candles launched the career of Ringwald and established Hughes as a leading filmmaker in the coming-of-age genre.
The film also features a talented ensemble cast, including Anthony Michael Hall, Gedde Watanabe, and John Cusack in one of his early roles.
Sixteen Candles is a charming and nostalgic movie that captures the ups and downs of growing up, and has become a beloved classic of 1980s cinema.
12. And Your Mother Too (2001)
And Your Mother Too (Y Tu Mamá También) is a 2001 Mexican drama film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Maribel Verdú.
The film follows two teenage boys, Tenoch and Julio, as they embark on a road trip with an older woman, Luisa, to a remote and idyllic beach called Boca del Cielo.
The film explores themes of sexuality, class, and politics in Mexico, and is known for its frank and explicit depictions of sex and nudity. It also features a nonlinear narrative structure that adds complexity and depth to the characters and their relationships.
And Your Mother Too was praised for its innovative storytelling, its rich and layered characters, and its candid portrayal of Mexican culture and society.
It won several awards at international film festivals, including the Best Screenplay Award at the Venice Film Festival and the Best Foreign Language Film Award from the New York Film Critics Circle.
The film is regarded as one of the defining works of the “New Mexican Cinema” and has had a lasting impact on contemporary Mexican cinema.
13. Licorice Pizza (2021)
“Licorice Pizza” is a 2021 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Set in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, the film follows the unlikely romance between a 15-year-old aspiring actor named Gary (played by Cooper Hoffman, son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a 25-year-old woman named Alana (played by Alana Haim of the band Haim), who works as a photographer.
The film explores themes of youth, ambition, and the pursuit of dreams, as Gary and Alana navigate their budding relationship against the backdrop of the vibrant and eccentric cultural scene of 1970s Los Angeles.
The film’s title, “Licorice Pizza,” refers to a now-defunct record store chain that was popular in Southern California during that era.
“Licorice Pizza” received critical acclaim upon its release, with many praising its nostalgic and vivid depiction of 1970s Los Angeles, as well as the strong performances of its cast.
The film was also notable for featuring appearances by a number of prominent actors, including Sean Penn, Tom Waits, and Bradley Cooper.
Overall, “Licorice Pizza” is a charming and engaging film that captures the spirit of a bygone era while also exploring timeless themes of love, friendship, and the pursuit of happiness.
14. The Princess Bride (1987)
“The Princess Bride” is a classic romantic comedy-adventure film directed by Rob Reiner and released in 1987.
The film is based on a novel of the same name by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay. The movie follows the story of a young woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her true love, Westley (Cary Elwes).
The plot is set in the fictional kingdom of Florin, where Buttercup and Westley fall in love before Westley sets out to seek his fortune so he can marry her.
When he is reported to be dead, Buttercup agrees to marry the wicked Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), but is kidnapped by a group of bandits led by the masked Dread Pirate Roberts.
In their attempts to rescue Buttercup, Westley and his companions face many obstacles and enemies, including a giant named Fezzik (Andre the Giant), a Spanish swordsman named Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and a dangerous Sicilian named Vizzini (Wallace Shawn).
The film has gained a cult following and is known for its memorable characters, witty dialogue, and romantic storyline. It has become a beloved classic of the 80s and is considered a must-see for fans of romantic comedies and adventure movies alike.
15. Willow (1988)
“Willow” is a fantasy adventure film directed by Ron Howard and released in 1988. The film was produced by George Lucas and stars Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, and Jean Marsh.
The film takes place in a mythical kingdom ruled by an evil queen named Bavmorda (Marsh), who seeks to destroy a baby prophesied to overthrow her.
The baby is found by a farmer named Willow (Davis), who sets out on a quest to deliver the baby to safety with the help of a rogue swordsman named Madmartigan (Kilmer).
“Willow” was a box office success and has become a cult classic of 1980s fantasy cinema. The film is praised for its epic scope, imaginative world-building, and memorable characters, as well as its impressive visual effects and action sequences.
The film has also been noted for its influence on the fantasy genre and its impact on popular culture, including inspiring the character of Jar Jar Binks in Lucas’s “Star Wars” prequel trilogy.
16. Cinderella (I) (2015)
Cinderella is a live-action romantic fantasy movie released in 2015, directed by Kenneth Branagh. The film is a retelling of the classic fairy tale of Cinderella, with Lily James playing the title character and Richard Madden playing the Prince.
The story follows Cinderella, who lives with her cruel stepmother (played by Cate Blanchett) and two stepsisters.
Despite their mistreatment, Cinderella remains kind and optimistic, dreaming of a better life. She meets the Prince in the forest, not knowing his true identity, and the two fall in love.
However, when the King announces a ball to find a wife for the Prince, Cinderella’s stepmother forbids her from attending. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter), Cinderella attends the ball and captures the Prince’s heart.
Cinderella is a visually stunning movie that captures the magic and wonder of the classic fairy tale.
It is notable for its strong performances, particularly by Lily James, who delivers a heartfelt portrayal of Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett, who brings depth and complexity to her role as the stepmother.
The film received positive reviews upon its release, with many critics praising its faithful adaptation of the classic story and Kenneth Branagh’s direction.
Cinderella was a commercial success, grossing over $500 million worldwide and spawning a new wave of live-action Disney adaptations.
17. Summer of ’42 (1971)
Summer of ’42 is a coming-of-age drama film released in 1971, directed by Robert Mulligan. The movie tells the story of Hermie (Gary Grimes), a teenager spending his summer on the idyllic island of Nantucket during World War II.
Hermie becomes infatuated with a woman named Dorothy (Jennifer O’Neill), who is married to a soldier fighting in the war. As Hermie spends more time with Dorothy, he begins to learn about love, loss, and the complexities of adult relationships.
The film features a memorable score by Michel Legrand and a talented cast that includes Jerry Houser and Oliver Conant as Hermie’s friends, and Katherine Allentuck as Hermie’s young crush.
Summer of ’42 was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $20 million at the box office and receiving positive reviews from critics. It is remembered as a poignant and sensitive portrayal of adolescence and the universal experiences of growing up and falling in love.
18. Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)
Can’t Buy Me Love is a 1987 American romantic comedy film directed by Steve Rash. The movie stars Patrick Dempsey as Ronald Miller, a high school nerd who pays the popular cheerleader, Cindy Mancini, played by Amanda Peterson, to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month.
However, as they spend more time together, Ronald and Cindy begin to develop real feelings for each other.
The film is known for its lighthearted and humorous tone, and its exploration of teenage love and social dynamics. Can’t Buy Me Love was a commercial success upon its release, and has become a cult classic among fans of 1980s teen comedies.
The film also features a talented supporting cast, including Courtney Gains and Seth Green in early roles. Can’t Buy Me Love is a fun and entertaining movie that celebrates the importance of authenticity and true connections in relationships.
19. Pretty in Pink (1986)
Pretty in Pink is a 1986 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Howard Deutch and starring Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, and Jon Cryer.
The film follows the story of Andie, a high school girl from a working-class family, who falls in love with a wealthy classmate named Blane. However, their relationship is complicated by their different social backgrounds and the disapproval of their friends.
The film explores themes of class, identity, and teenage romance, and is known for its memorable characters and iconic soundtrack. Molly Ringwald’s performance as Andie has become a symbol of the 1980s teen movie genre, and the film is considered a classic of the era.
Pretty in Pink has been praised for its witty dialogue, relatable characters, and its ability to capture the complex emotions and social dynamics of adolescence.
It has become a beloved cult classic over the years and has influenced many subsequent films and TV shows. The film’s theme song, “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, became a hit single and remains a popular song to this day.
20. Three O’Clock High (1987)
“Three O’Clock High” is a 1987 American high school comedy film directed by Phil Joanou and starring Casey Siemaszko and Richard Tyson.
The film follows the story of Jerry Mitchell (Siemaszko), a high school student who accidentally crosses paths with the school’s notorious bully, Buddy Revell (Tyson). After inadvertently angering Buddy, Jerry finds himself challenged to a fight at three o’clock that afternoon, with the entire school watching.
The film explores themes of peer pressure, courage, and standing up to bullies. It features a memorable cast of characters, including Jerry’s nervous best friend, his sympathetic sister, and the tough-talking school security guard.
The film also boasts a distinctive visual style, with exaggerated camera angles and stylized lighting.
“Three O’Clock High” received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its humor and energy, while others criticized its clichéd plot and reliance on formulaic high school movie tropes.
However, the film has since become a cult classic, beloved by fans for its offbeat humor and memorable characters.
Overall, “Three O’Clock High” is a fun and entertaining film that captures the anxiety and drama of high school life, while also offering a message of empowerment and standing up to bullies.
3 Characteristics of Teen Movies
Coming-of-age themes: Teen movies often explore the themes of growing up, finding one’s identity, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood. These films often depict the struggles and challenges faced by teenagers, such as peer pressure, bullying, first love, and social anxiety.
Youthful energy and humor: Teen movies often feature a lively and energetic tone, with a focus on humor and a youthful spirit.
These films are often designed to appeal to younger audiences, with a focus on relatable characters, funny situations, and the excitement of youth.
Pop culture references: Teen movies often reflect and draw upon popular culture trends and references that are relevant to young audiences.
These films may incorporate music, fashion, slang, and other aspects of youth culture, making them relatable and engaging for teenage viewers.
3 Reasons To Watch Teen Movies
Relatable experiences: Teen movies often explore the experiences and challenges faced by young people, such as first love, friendship, peer pressure, and self-discovery.
Watching these movies can be a relatable and comforting experience for teenagers, as they can see their own experiences and feelings reflected on the screen.
Nostalgia: For older viewers, teen movies can be a fun and nostalgic trip down memory lane, evoking memories of their own teenage years.
These movies can also help to bridge the generation gap, allowing parents and their children to bond over shared experiences and cultural touchstones.
Escapism: Teen movies often offer a form of escapism, allowing viewers to lose themselves in the lives of the characters and the world of the movie.
This can be especially appealing during times of stress or anxiety, as it allows viewers to take a break from the real world and immerse themselves in a fictional world of drama, romance, and adventure.
Best Teen Movies – Wrap Up
In conclusion, teen movies have been a popular genre in cinema for many years, and continue to capture the hearts of audiences with their relatable characters, memorable soundtracks, and themes of coming-of-age, romance, and identity.
From classic films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to modern hits like “Mean Girls” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” the genre has something for everyone.
Some of the best teen movies feature a strong ensemble cast, such as “Clueless” and “Heathers,” while others focus on a central romance, like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “The Spectacular Now.”
The genre has also seen a rise in representation in recent years, with films like “Love, Simon” and “Moonlight” exploring LGBTQ+ themes and characters.
Ultimately, what makes a great teen movie is its ability to resonate with audiences and capture the universal experiences of growing up and navigating the complexities of teenage life.