Ten Best Teen Movies
It’s not easy being a teenager – unless you’ve got a six-pack of beer
If you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed seeing movies about teenagers, those pre-adults who want to be adults but without the hassles, worries, financial commitments and marital entanglements. Yet, for better or worse, they end up being more like their parents than not. Hence, bring on the eight-to-five jobs, the car payments, student loans, mortgages, braces for the kids and, for many of them, divorce, rehab and/or other calamities. Then they wonder why they were in such a hurry to grow up!
At any rate, we love watching teens act like kids - or adults.
Here’s my list of the Ten Best Teen Movies:
10. Dazed and Confused is about these party-hardy teenagers at a Texas high school in 1976. At the end of the school year, next year's seniors haze the incoming freshman by hitting them on the butt with paddles, generating much ill will. And there are plenty of hot chicks, of course, looking for action of a sexual nature. The film has no plot, though it does have a theme: Do what you really want to do. This is the essence of the 1970s, a.k.a. the “Me Decade,” spawned from the Peace and Love counterculture, the hippie movement, Cheech and Chong’s dope-smoking silliness and philosophizing via Easy Rider and other movies and books. Produced in 1993, the movie has a plethora of up-and-coming stars – Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey and Jason London. At the climax of the movie, Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) essentially flips off the coach who wants Pink to pledge abstinence in order to play football. But Pink would rather go see Aerosmith. From this era, who wouldn't?
Dazed and Confused
9. Three O’clock High is the lone bully movie on this list. It's about a tough guy who picks a fight with a wimp who looks if he couldn’t whip his kid sister. Wasn’t Beaver Cleaver in that spot a time or two? How about you? Casey Siemaszko plays Jerry Mitchell, a clean-cut, high school senior who accidentally "touches" Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson), the big bad school bully who doesn’t like to be touched. Revell challenges Mitchell to a fight after school at three, a take-off on the classic western, High Noon. Terrified, Mitchell tries everything he can think of to get out of fighting Revell, including stealing $450 from the student store, with which he bribes a football star to chase off Revell. But Revell knocks out the jock with one punch to the kisser. Then the jock refunds Mitchell’s money, and then Mitchell takes this money and tries to pay off Revell, who snatches the money but calls Mitchell the biggest pussy he’s ever met. Them’s fightin’ words, ya know? With the fight back on, Mitchell and Revell square off in the parking lot and an over-the-top battle ensues, after which each combatant shows due respect by the curtain call.
Three O'clock High
8. American Pie is by far the raunchiest flick on this list. Released in 1999, the movie is about four high school seniors who pledge to lose their virginity before graduation. Starring Jason Biggs as Jim Levenstein, who has trouble relating to girls, the film is loaded with ribaldries, particularly when Jim gets caught by his father while masturbating with an apple pie. In another scene, Jim has oral sex with a girl in his bedroom, which he records with a webcam, not realizing that the “show” is going to virtually everyone in the student body. Generally considered hilarious, critics either praised or panned the film, which eventually spawns two sequels. For hormone-charged, bed-hopping R-rated fun involving teens, this film is hard to top.
7. Blackboard Jungle is about disaffected youth - or “teenage savages” as the trailer calls them - attending an inner-city high school in the middle 1950s. Released in 1955, this is the first movie featuring a rock ‘n’ roll tune, Bill Haley and the Comet’s “Rock Around the Clock,” while the movie begins rolling, also beginning, in a fashion, the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, or so some analysts have claimed. The movie stars Glenn Ford as teacher Richard Dadier, a name bound to elicit smart-alecky chuckles from the kids (Hey, daddy-o!). Sydney Poitier and Vic Morrow play Dadier’s chief antagonists. Eventually Dadier has to square off in the classroom against switchblade wielding Morrow, nearly getting stabbed, until the other students, including Poitier, finally show respect for Dadier and come to his aid. The movie caused riots in some theaters in the United Kingdom.
6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is based on the personal experiences of Cameron Crowe, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, who attends a California high school for one year and pens a book. Judging from the subject matter, Crowe must have witnessed some fast times indeed, the catch phrase of the film being “At Ridgemont High only the rules get busted.” The cast is filled with fledgling actors who eventually made it big in the cinema: Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Perhaps the film’s most memorable part is played by Penn as Jeff Spicoli, maybe the biggest stoner, airhead, screw-up in the history of the movies. Awesome! Critic Roger Ebert called it a “scuz-pit of a movie,” though he liked the acting.
5. To Sir, with Love is not another movie about mindless hedonism in the teenage ranks, but it does echo as earlier “teacher movie,” Blackboard Jungle, in which Sidney Poitier plays an unruly student. Now the tables are turned on Poitier, who plays a teacher who tries to make his students care enough about themselves to take education seriously. Instead of the three rs, he teaches them about - life. There are plenty of racial undertones in the film as well, as Poitier is a black teacher in an all-white, decidedly tough, British high school during the height of the civil rights era of the U.S. in 1967. Poitier’s role as the inspirational teacher spawns a gaggle of later similar works, such as Stand and Deliver, Sister Act 2 and Dangerous Minds. Also, pop star, Lulu, sings the theme song, which becomes a number one hit.
4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about the kid who gets away with everything, and of course, all kids at his high school want to be like him. Starring Matthew Broderick who plays the title character, the film was produced, directed and written by the late John Hughes, who reputedly wrote the script in about an hour and a half. This movie is Hughes’ tribute to the city of Chicago, the scene of Bueller’s adventures. And as suave and debonair as Cary Grant ever was, Broderick plays the lead just right, because, even though he gets everything he wants, he isn’t a bit conceited or arrogant. Moreover, Bueller often turns to the camera and speaks to the viewers in an offhanded way, presaging the reality TV and movies to come. At the end of Bueller’s eventful day, he turns to the audience and states: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look once in a while, you could miss it.” Finally, Bueller tells everyone its time to go home. But, I suspect, many really didn’t want to.
3. The Wanderers is a so-called greaser flick about an all-Italian gang in the Bronx of the early 1960s. The leader of the Wanderers is a tough kid named Richie Gennaro (Ken Wahl), whose girlfriend’s father is in the mob. The Wanderers regularly antagonize or fight other gangs such as the Fordham Baldies and the Ducky Boys (actual names of gangs in the area at the time.) Overall, this film is about the end of a more innocent time, before the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War, the Sexual Revolution and the hippie movement. The movie is loaded with strutting tough guys and gang fights (or near fights), yet the film also depicts the sensitive side of teenagers, pertaining to matters of race, sex, family relations, loyalty, brotherhood and machismo. Like many on this list, the movie is considered a cult classic.
2. American Graffiti is another movie about the transitional years of the early 1960s, its tagline being, “Where were you in sixty two?” The film is based on the recollections of director/writer George Lucas during his teenage years in Modesto, California. The plot highlights the events of a single summer night for some seniors, as they wonder what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives – go to college, stay in town and do the same old thing or join the military. Much of the film’s events take place while teens cruise the main drag in their cars. The legendary Wolfman Jack, whom Lucas admired, makes an appearance as a DJ at the local radio station. The story’s villain, if you will, is played by Harrison Ford, a hot-shot with a fast ’55 Chevy, who challenges local tough guy (Paul Le Mat) to a race. In perhaps the most atmospheric scene in any teen movie, at dawn the teens drive in a funereal way to the raceway while “Green Onions” plays.
1. Rebel without a Cause is perhaps the greatest drama on this list, and James Dean’s acting is as explosive and riveting as that in any teen movie. Tragically for Dean – and everyone else - he died in a car crash a month before the film’s release! Dean plays Jim Stark, a troubled 17-year-old kid who runs the gauntlet between school bullies, peer pressure and, in particular, his two-faced parents, who never give him a “cause” around which he can form a sense of self, much less the meaning of life. At the police station, Stark, arrested for drunkenness and uncertain what his parents think he should do in this mess, utters the immortal line: “You’re tearing me apart!” Natalie Wood also gives an emotional performance as Dean’s girlfriend, and Sal Mineo plays a shy kid who idolizes Stark. Poignantly, Stark and these two kids imagine themselves in a kind of “fantasy family.” The themes in this movie are just as valid today as they were back in 1955 when the film was released, making this gem, “timeless.”
Most of the movies on this list are about the transitional decades - the middle 1950s to the late 1960s and early 1970s. This of course makes lots of sense because being a teenager is all about being neither here nor there, and at the same time trying to figure out one’s place in this crazy world. But help should be available, preferably by one’s parents. Jessie Jackson said, “Your children need your presence more than your presents.” And Mario Cuomo stated: “I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week.”
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© 2010 Kelley Marks