In the mid-‘80s, we had the John Hughes collection -- The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Weird Science -- and in the late-‘90s/early-‘00s, a new era of high school classics -- American Pie, Bring It On, She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You -- stormed theaters with its CW-primed cast of up-and-comers.
Not since 2004’s Mean Girls have moviegoers seen a film resonate with an audience and impact a culture as widely as it has. Yet, in the decade since, there have been several flicks that have nevertheless raised the bar for what a teen film can be. Whether it’s the Shailene Woodley collection of films that’s redefining teen romance or this summer’s Dope, which makes nerdy the new black, these films are ushering in a new era of teen films that everyone must see.
Forget Twilight and everything you thought you knew about Kristen Stewart and watch this theme park comedy featuring a lively and youthful Stewart as Jesse Eisenberg’s love interest. It’s a heartfelt story about having to suck it up and absorb the hard knocks until you figure everything out.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 88%
2. The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola returned to her teen roots -- see The Virgin Suicides -- with this real-life drama about a group of teens who start house-crashing and robbing the likes of Paris Hilton and Audrina Patridge. Coppola gave the film her cool girl-aesthetic while Emma Watson and Katie Chang channeled their inner mean girls to “go shopping” in Hilton’s closet.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 60%
Like The Wood before it, this film focuses the spotlight on Inglewood, Calif., giving audiences a taste of urban teen culture packed with tons of ‘90s nostalgia. And like Dear White People, it offers a hilarious look at what it means to be an educated black teen in a post-Obama world. AND like many films on this list, it comes with a killer soundtrack -- this one spearheaded by Pharrell Williams.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 91%
4. The DUFF
Easily one of the funniest teen comedies since Mean Girls, The DUFF said "no" to being pretty and "yes" to owning your ugly. Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell bring so much natural chemistry to their on-screen romance, it’s hard not to fall for these two falling in love.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 72%
5. Easy A
Following breakout roles in Superbad and The House Bunny, Emma Stone commanded the attention of fans as the Scarlet Letter-branded teen with nothing to lose. This film was probably the first since Mean Girls to spill over into an undying world of GIFs and quotable references.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 85%
6. & 7. The Fault in Our Stars/The Spectacular Now
The Shailene Woodley duo of films redefined what teen romances could be and proved that you don’t need all the Nicholas Sparks schmaltz to tell a story about a girl falling for a boy, that boy falling for that girl, and cancer (or alcoholism) to ruin it. Step aside, Sparks. You’re done here.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 81%/93%
This version of the high school story put the gay kid front-and-center and made good use of all the ‘90s teen comedy tropes that came before it. And just like every comedy from that previous era, it made use of an up-and-coming cast of MTV stars all ready to bounce from TV to film.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 82%
This Oscar-nominated film made a household name out of Ellen Page, who starred as a pregnant teen with more common sense than most of the adults around her. It was a touching, sharp-tongued approach to a topic that easily could have been more drab on Lifetime.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 94%
10. The Kings of Summer
This very little-seen film starred Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson as a boy on the verge of adulthood -- and deeply frustrated by it. Seeking escape in a house he built in the woods, he and his two friends navigate the bonds of male friendship and the unexpected responsibilities of being self-sufficient and independent.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 75%
11. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Say what you will about Michael Cera, but this film (and the previously mentioned Juno) featured him before he became insufferable on the same level as James Franco (another former teen star). Nick and Norah was a sweet romance that never tried too hard and supported itself with an amazing collection of indie-alt rock.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 74%
12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Adapted from Stephen Chbosky’s popular novel, this coming-of-age drama captured all the teen angst high schoolers have felt since Holden Caulfield became an icon for teenage rebellion. The film also featured one of the best casts, with Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, and Nina Dobrev all bringing the novel’s characters to life.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 85%
13. Spring Breakers
The R-rated film, starring Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Pretty Little Liars' Ashley Benson, gave fans a twisted look at their favorite child stars gone terribly, terribly bad. Released in the same year as The Bling Ring, these cult films also served as a warning: all that glitz and glamour comes with a price.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 66%
14. Warm Bodies
While it seemed like vampires would dominate the teen romance genre, Warm Bodies proved that audiences had an appetite for more than glittery bodies and a cold-hearted Kristen Stewart. The zombie romance was a smart comedy that blurred romance with the latest monster craze.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 81%