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It’s obvious that movies are a staple of our culture. While some people prefer action movies, others prefer dramas, and still, others prefer horror films. Thankfully, there is no shortage of movies in any genre.
But, arguably, one of the best things about watching a movie is finding something within the movie you relate with on some level – be it the plot, a character, or even just one setting within the film. Enter teen movies.
While we may not think to call this genre a “teen movie”, we all know it. More than that, we were all raised on it. The teen movie is a quintessential part of most millennials’ adolescence. Everyone has their favorite, and the debate over which one is best could go on for ages.
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What Are Teen Movies?
Teen movies are more often than not, romantic comedies taking place in a high school or college – with some exceptions, of course. They often work off of stereotypes, such as the jocks, cheerleaders, geeks, misfits, new kids, and rebels (think Breakfast Club).
They also typically include an element of coming of age, be it a first love, a prom, a high school graduation, or a summer vacation. Social cliques are often heavily involved in the storyline, and the storyline often centers on a character or characters that don’t seem to fit into the already established cliques.
Essentially, the best way to think of a teen movie is a rom-com adapted to the age of a high school student. This may be one reason teen movies are so successful. Almost everyone can relate to some element on some level. Almost everyone has gone to high school, or had their first love, or felt like they didn’t fit into the social groups around them.
Characteristics Of Good Teen Movies
Just what exactly makes up a good teen movie, then?
A Social Hierarchy
A good majority of teen movies are structured around some sort of hierarchy. At the top of this hierarchy tends to be the male athletes and the female princesses (defined below). Scattered downwards through the hierarchy are the geeks, the rebels, the stoners, the student government types, and the social outcasts close it out at the bottom. Many teen movies focus on this social hierarchy being disrupted on some level, often by a new kid.
A High School
Most teen movies either take place in an actual high school or are comprised of high school aged characters.
The jock in a teen movie is most often male, extremely popular, and a bully. Sometimes, the jock is not a bully (think High School Musical’s Troy Bolton).
The princess in a teen movie is female, extremely popular, often a bully, and always at the top of the social hierarchy (think Mean Girls’ Regina George).
The geek can be male or female, book smart, often shy, and often is bullied. Most of the time either the jock or the princess character spearheads the bullying.
The rebel can go a few different ways in a teen movie. Sometimes, the rebel is the one to disrupt the social hierarchy and demand that things be different, sparking the change that the teen movie focuses on. In this light, the rebel is often a positive character.
Image by Terg via Pixabay
Other times, the rebel can be more of a negative character, where they are often disrespectful to authority, disregard rules, and adopt an “I don’t care about anything” attitude. Teen movies use both types of rebels often.
In teen movies, the outcast is often a new kid to the high school that struggles to exist within any of the preexisting social cliques, although the outcast doesn’t have to be new. Many teen movie storylines center on this character.
The Romeo and Juliet of the teen movie, improbable romances define many of the storylines of teen movies. Essentially, two characters fall for each other that, according to the social hierarchy, shouldn’t have. In doing so, they disrupt the order of the hierarchy and create the tension in the plot.
Many teen movies involve a makeover of one character (think Mean Girls’ Cady). Often, a more popular character such as the princess or the jock reaches out to an outcast and changes how they dress, act, and talk. Other times, the character makes over themselves.
All memorable teen movies include a soundtrack with popular songs from the time the movie is released.
10 Teen Movies We All Know And Love
While there are too many good teen movies to list, here are 10 of the best.
Mean Girls (2004)
So many stereotypes, so much drama, so many one-liners! Regina George will forever define the princess role. This movie checks off all the teen movie boxes: high school, popular (mean) girl, new girl, backstabbing, prom, social hierarchies being disrupted. To list teen movies without listing Mean Girls would be a crime.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Arguably one of Heath Ledger’s best performances. In this teen movie, the self-proclaimed outcast high school student Kat ends up falling for the charming rebel Patrick against her will. Improbable romance, anyone?
A Cinderella Story (2004)
The iconic line: “Waiting for you is like waiting for rain in this drought – useless and disappointing.” While there have been endless “Cinderella story” remakes, this version with Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray is, without a doubt, the best. Social outcast Sam falls for jock Austin, who walks off the football field to be with her – much to the many princesses in this film’s dismay.
The Princess Diaries (2001)
Who didn’t wish their grandma would show up and tell them they were a secret princess of a foreign country after this one? When Mia’s grandmother, played by the one true queen Julie Andrews, shows up and tells her she is the princess of Genovia, Mia undergoes one of the most epic makeovers seen in any teen movie. She struggles to adjust to her new role, but settles in and brings her charming quirks along with her for the job.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
When Jennifer Garner’s iconic character Jenna Rink wishes to be “thirty, flirty and thriving” on her thirteenth birthday, she wakes up to find that her wish has come true. She is thrilled to find that she is a successful 30-year-old but quickly discovers that being an adult really isn’t easier than being 13 years old, after all, and wishes for her old life back.
17 Again (2009)
Can we make a deal to include all Zac Efron movies in the teen movie category? In 17 Again, his character reverts to his 17-year-old self. The catch? He is still in present time and is now in high school with his kids. It’s a heartwarming story about how a dad’s eyes are opened to the real struggles that his kids are dealing with in high school.
A little older than most other films listed, Grease is possibly one of the original teen movies. Full of stereotypes and high school drama, Danny and Sandy created the ultimate prototype for the improbable romance in a story that only gets better with time.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Although Pitch Perfect takes place in college rather than high school, most of the essential characteristics of a teen movie remain. A social hierarchy exists within the Barden Bellas’s a Capella group, which gets disrupted when Beca walks into their group. She gives the entire Bellas group the makeover they needed and breaks down their social hierarchy for good.
The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants (2005)
This one doesn’t seem like the typical teen movie, but it fits the category nonetheless. One magical pair of pants connect four best friends by fitting all four of their different body types perfectly. With an underlying message of friendship that remains strong despite the friends going their different ways, this movie is a classic and cannot be excluded from the teen movie discussion.
A Walk To Remember (2002)
This teen movie is equal parts romance and tragedy. When rebel high school student Landon meets the shy, good girl Jamie, he falls in love with her despite himself. But just when it seems like their improbable romance is finally about to work out, Landon learns that Jamie has terminal cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer. They end up getting married, and although Jamie dies, this movie lives on forever as one of the best teen movies of all time.
Teen movies are a staple in the movie world. They have a feel-good element that draws people in and have so many relatable scenes and experiences portrayed that not relating to them on some level is nearly impossible. Even if it’s not our absolute favorite genre, we can all agree that a teen movie occasionally is always a good choice.