Kelley has been an online writer for over 13 years. His articles often focus on the television, movie and music industries.
The Teen Movie Genre
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.
Let's take a look at the top 15 movies about teens behaving badly, angelically, and everything in-between.
15. The Breakfast Club (1985)
A movie that scored at the box office and was mostly liked by critics, The Breakfast Club, directed by John Hughes and starring Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, a group that became known as the Brat Pack, is a coming-of-age “dramedy” that tries to prove that young people, although seemingly different from one another, are mostly alike.
Five students must serve detention by showing up at school on Saturday, where Vice Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) says each one of them must write a thousand-word essay that answers the question: “Who do you think you are?” But the teens pass the time by talking, dancing and smoking pot, and as the brainy one of five completes his essay, he signs it, the Breakfast Club, and then leaves it for the vice principal.
14. The Lords of Flatbush (1974)
This is a coming-of-age movie set in Brooklyn in the late 1950s. Capitalizing on the nostalgia craze of the middle 1970s, the Lords of Flatbush is a leather-clad gang of punks who chase bobby-soxers and steal cars; they also play pool and hang out at the malt shop—always looking tough in whatever they do.
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler and Perry King, this is Stallone’s first starring role (he also helped write some of the dialogue); and Winkler used this part for inspiration before starring in TV’s Happy Days in 1974. (Richard Gere was originally cast in Perry King’s role of Chico, but he and Stallone fought so much that Stallone got him fired!) A major component of the story is when Stanley (Stallone) knocks up his girlfriend and must then contemplate adulthood as a father and married man.
13. Ma (2019)
This psychological thriller is a cautionary tale about the dangers of teenage drinking. Of course the teens in the story are too young to buy alcohol, so they drive to a liquor store, where they beg adults to buy them booze. Finally Sue Ann “Ma” Ellington (Octavia Spencer) not only buys them some; she also invites them to party in the basement of her home!
Ma’s place becomes a party venue for the teens, though they soon grow tired of her bribing them with alcohol so they’ll party with her. Then one of the teens humiliates Ma’s daughter at school; and Ben Hawkins (Luke Evans) discovers that Ma is giving alcohol to his underage son and warns her to stop. “You’ve always been a loser,” he tells Ma. One last time, Ma invites the teens to party at her house, where she promptly begins drugging, torturing and killing them. Moral: If you can’t buy your own alcohol, wait till you’re 21! But who does that?
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12. Love, Simon (2018)
Love, Simon is the only “coming out” movie on this list. Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) plays a good-looking, 17-year-old high school student who falls in love with “Blue,” a stranger with whom he swaps emails. Simon hopes to learn the identity of Blue, another student at the high school, without “outing” himself.
Unfortunately, his friend Martin Addison (Logan Miller), an outspoken wise guy, learns Simon’s secret and threatens to expose Simon if he doesn’t help Martin get a date with Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp), one of Simon’s best friends. After Abby rejects Martin, he posts some of Simon’s emails to Blue on a gossip website. Then Simon tells everybody he’s gay, including his parents. Simon doesn’t learn the identity of Blue until he posts on a website that he’ll wait at the Ferris wheel of a local carnival until Blue shows up. Naturally Blue shows up, and then the couple shares a kiss on the Ferris wheel.
11. Dazed and Confused
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?
10. Clueless (1995)
In Clueless, based on the book Emma published by Jane Austen in 1815, Alicia Silverstone plays Cher Horowitz and Paul Rudd is Josh Lucas, Cher’s older, ex-stepbrother. Cher and Josh pick at each other but in an innocent way; Josh thinks Cher is a superficial socialite, while Cher finds Josh idealistic and stuck-up. Cher attends Bronson Alcott High School in Beverly Hills, where she plays a matchmaker, as protagonist Emma Woodhouse does in Austen’s comedy of manners novel. Cher and her two girlfriends, Tai and Stacey, use plenty of 1990s’ slang—totally buggin'—creating plenty of laughs. Of course, Cher and Josh eventually get together romantically. Surprise! The movie spawned a sitcom, a series of books and a remake may be coming soon.
9. Three O'clock High (1987)
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.
8. American Pie (1999)
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 (1955)
Blackboard Jungle is about disaffected youth—“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 (1982)
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 catchphrase 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 (1967)
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 (1986)
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 as 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.”
3. The Wanderers (1979)
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 (1973)
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 (1955)
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.”
What Are Your Favorites?
Most of the movies on this list are about the transitional decades from the middle 1950s to the 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.”
Please leave a comment.
© 2010 Kelley Marks
Daniel on February 18, 2017:
3o'clock High is one of the best 80s movies hands down, and your write up on it is perfect.
TheBreakfast Club has to be in that list for sure and not forgetting Some Kinda Wonderful and Cant Buy Me Love.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 24, 2010:
I like your pseudonym, I am DB Cooper. He was never apprehended. He probably went to Rio and spent his dough. Thanks for the comment. Later!
I am DB Cooper from Whereabouts unknown at this time on May 24, 2010:
American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused are my favorites.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 12, 2010:
"The Warriors" is definitely a good pick for this list. I saw it once back in the late seventies and probably need to see it again and perhaps reconsider. "The Breakfast Club" was also very good. Thanks for the comment. Later!
Chloe Comfort from Long Island on April 12, 2010:
Great hub! Some of these are CLASSICS and I remember them fondly. Two of my faves that I would add to your list: The Breakfast Club (THE teen movie of the 80's) and The Warriors - simply classic. Kudos!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 09, 2010:
Megavitamin, I definitely recommend all the movies on this list. Keep in mind, you can see some of the older ones on Turner Classic Movies - uncut, and without commercial interruption. Later!
Megavitamin on April 08, 2010:
I LOVE teen movies! This is a pretty good list. I haven't seen some of the older movies, so I can't say it's amazing or anything :0) They're in my Netflix queue now. Great job!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 08, 2010:
Thanks for the compliment, TattooVirgin. Love your nickname. Later!
TattooVirgin on April 08, 2010:
WOW what a great Hub! Packed I tell ya packed with tons of great stuff, Thanks for all the research and work gone into this one. Peace :)