The 50 best teen movies of all time

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Can we all agree that the golden era for high school films was the 1980s?

Can you believe "teenager" wasn't even a word (well, not a commonly used one) until the early 1940s? And that it took Hollywood another decade to start making content specifically for them (toggling between beach blanket fare and serious dramas)? You could argue (and we will!) that the pickings remained a bit slim until the 1980s, when the birth of the mall multiplex coincided with an explosion of movies for and about teenagers. Was it because packs of adolescents hanging out with nothing but Orange Julius and Space Invaders to distract them made for an ideal captive audience? Survey says… yes! Malls in the '80s were true teenage third spaces, parent-free zones where kids could freely exist in air-conditioned comfort. Film studios responded by setting so many teen scenes in malls (see: Fast Times, Back to the Future, Valley Girl, Bill and Ted), that it basically became a trope.

But even as time marched on (malls closed, smartphones took over), teen movies kept up the momentum, telling new stories, amplifying new voices, and taking new risks. So what if the screens are smaller and the audiences are scattered? Teens still want to see movies about their lives — mall or not, this will never change. Here's EW's list of the best teen movies, presented in chronological order.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Drag races, forbidden love, and the universal search for understanding are all expertly handled by the formidable trio of James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo (with an able assist from Dennis Hopper) in this classic of teen angst. The original beautiful brooder, Dean tragically (and famously) died in a car crash four weeks before the premiere, cementing his legacy forever.

Where to watch Rebel Without a Cause: Amazon Prime Video

Gidget (1959)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The original surfer girl winningly portrayed with loads of sunny charm by Sandra Dee herself (the one the song in Grease is about) remains a perfect cinematic escape. While not formally part of the beachy, blankety, bingo-ey world of Annette and Frankie that dominated the 1960s teen film landscape, Gidget remains a pop culture stalwart, both because of the unique concept and the 1965 TV spin-off starring a young Sally Field as the surfing phenom.

Where to watch Gidget: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

While the concept of repressed desire and guilt leading to a suicide attempt (and institutionalization) seems gothic in its intensity, Natalie Wood's powerful performance makes Splendor in the Grass a teen angst classic ('50s Repressed Female Edition). The object of her lust? None other than future Hollywood lothario Warren Beatty, playing the town's football hero. Elia Kazan's look at the suffocating pressures of mid-century small town middle life was a welcome alternative to the era's sanitized, goody-goody image.

Where to watch Splendor in the Grass: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

Everett Anne-Margaret in the 1963 film Bye Bye Birdie
Everett Anne-Margaret in the 1963 film Bye Bye Birdie

Ann-Margaret shines in Bye Bye Birdie — a gloriously silly, wildly energetic parody of '50s fandom, a heart-shaped giant candy box of a movie that throws everything into the mix to create an unabashedly over-the-top entertainment package. In addition to the iconic "The Telephone Hour" medley, there's Dick Van Dyke dancing with cartoon accompaniment to "Put on a Happy Face," and the classic "Kids" (What's the matter with kids today?!) sung by the inimitable Paul Lynde. Ann-Margret is incandescent as a plucky small town teen who wins the chance to be kissed on television by Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson), a thinly veiled Elvis copy. If a movie could be marketed as an antidepressant, this might be it.

Where to watch Bye Bye Birdie: YouTube

To Sir, With Love (1967)

Everett Collection Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love
Everett Collection Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love

Sidney Poitier, playing a London schoolteacher, uses a combo of tough love and storytelling (and perhaps, his movie-star handsome looks) to win over a group of unruly students in To Sir, With Love. EW's critic called it a "sappy but never maudlin tale of inspiration and tolerance," and the theme song remains an eternal classic to this day.

Where to watch To Stir, With Love: SlingTV

American Graffiti (1973)

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Everett Collection

Watching American Graffiti can feel like a treasured sitcom (Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, to be exact) pulling a Kevin Can F— Himself, a.k.a. stepping away from the studio audience and into the real world. But the truth is the opposite: George Lucas cast future sitcom stars Cindy Williams (Shirley) and Ron Howard (Richie) alongside a young Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss before Happy Days, though the success of Graffiti helped convince ABC to pick up the pilot (and cast Howard). The plot revolves around teenage concerns: cruising the streets, looking for girls (and boys), and getting into plenty of trouble.

Where to watch American Graffiti: Tubi

Cooley High (1975)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The first 10 minutes of Cooley High — writer Eric Monte's tale of kids growing up in the Chicago projects circa '64 — at times feels like an alternative Ferris. After a creative classroom escape, our heroes, Richard "Cochise" Morris (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) and his best friend, Leroy "Preach" Jackson (Glynn Turman), gleefully zip around Chicago to the exuberant strains of Stevie Wonder on blast. Monte, writer/co-creator of sitcoms Good Times and What's Happening, often uses his own experiences to inform his work, and Cooley High was no exception (it's his alma mater). With its cinema verite style, the film notably influenced directors like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend (who has a small role). Though the real Cooley High is no more, its memory remains in this gem of a movie.

Where to watch Cooley High: Amazon Prime Video

Freaky Friday (1976)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Jodie Foster in bell bottoms, skateboarding to the diner for her breakfast sundae with her gal pals was #goals long before #anything existed. But her familial frustration is eternal. Beyond the now-classic plot twist (mother/daughter switch bodies, chaos ensues) the performances shine forever, both from the supremely natural (and hilarious) Foster and the sassy, gorgeous Barbara Harris in all her gum-cracking, loose-limbed glory. Sure, Foster also appeared in Taxi Driver this same year (and sure, there are some seriously weird moments here involving plenty of polyester and cigarettes… and clunky "special effects"), but hey, all of this only adds to the vintage charm.

Where to watch Freaky Friday: Disney+

Over the Edge (1979)

Orion/Courtesy Everett Collection
Orion/Courtesy Everett Collection

Drugs, delinquency, a half-built suburban housing development, a teenage riot… and 14-year-old Matt Dillon? If you're in the mood for some seriously retro Troubled Teen entertainment, this is your movie. The '70s suburban-kid angst film is shot in a borderline documentary style, and it always lands on the side of the youths. Over the Edge wound up influencing a lot of future talent, including Richard Linklater (who specifically named it as inspiration for Dazed and Confused).

Where to watch Over the Edge: YouTube

Rock 'N Roll High School (1979)

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Everett Collection

Naming a chaotic hard rocker high school after the greatest football coach of all time is pretty much all you need to know about the sense of humor in this goofy film. Featuring the glorious sight of the Ramones lurching through the halls of academia like a pack of terrifying but cute leather-clad aliens, this 100% pure punk creation is the scrappiest entry on the list; it's clunky, cheap, and fun. But for real, who cares about a thin story and a low budget when you've got the amazing P.J. Soles (playing Ramones super fan Riff) starring alongside evil-eyed Clint Howard.

It's jarring to see the freaking Ramones (!!) mixing with mere mortals, but with their goofy, awkward expressions, jeans, and shaggy hair, they sorta fit right in. The best parts are the musical ones, of course, but there's plenty of deliciously trashy John Waters-style cheese happening too, with silly subplots and exaggerated teen stereotypes (nerd, huckster, prep, secretly beautiful girl with glasses) all adding up to the perfect party movie.

Where to watch Rock 'N Roll High School: Tubi

Grease (1978)

Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in 'Grease'
Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in 'Grease'

Filmed in a handful of charmingly-faded L.A. schools, Grease's affectionate (if teasing) portrayal of the teaching staff is one of the many extra details that elevate this period musical to greatness. Packed with Golden era Hollywood icons ranging from Eve Arden (as the jittery principal) to Dody Goodman (xylophone diva and Arden's foil) to a very game Sid Caesar was an inspired touch. Caesar, as the comically exasperated (but kinda supportive) coach putting Danny Zuko (John Travolta) through his paces in a kind of anti-Rocky montage, is a treat. So much magic comes from the fact that the movie was shot on location: the battered classroom furniture, dusty green chalkboards, and sweaty gym (the dance-off was filmed during a heat wave with no A/C) only add to its charm.

Where to watch Grease: Max

Fame (1980)

MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection
MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

This film might be a bit darker than you remember, both in content and lighting. (If "aging public school" is an aesthetic, Fame nailed it.) But the darkness shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing how director Alan Parker was also responsible for movies like Midnight Express. Gritty and gorgeous, Parker gets so many of the details right: the toe shoes, the crumpled sheet music, the grimy piano keys… all of it infused with the spirit of NYC at the cusp of a new decade, when yellow cabs clogged the streets, Times Square was sketch, and kids (cinematically) climbed over piles of rubble to get home.

Quick recap: Fame tells the often-wrenching tale of a handful of showbiz hopefuls, including Coco (Irene Cara), Doris (Maureen Teefy), Bruno (Lee Curreri) and Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray). Shooting in the Big Apple with real students packing each scene as piano-playing, pirouetting extras, this is a film as ambitious as its characters, weaving tough topics (teen pregnancy, drugs, exploitation) between heart-pumping songs to create a dream version of an arts school. And if the spontaneous cafeteria performance of "Hot Lunch" is, in fact, totally unrealistic, we don't wanna know.

Where to watch Fame: Amazon Prime Video

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Universal/Everett
Universal/Everett

If you said "awesome" today, blame Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the gloriously idiotic stoner king Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) — this word flew off the screen and into our world, where it's taken up permanent residence ever since. Cameron Crowe deserves credit as well for his authentic screenplay, which was inspired by his experience going undercover as a high school student for a whole year. The result is a movie that presents the "glory days" with unvarnished awkwardness and a truth-first approach, setting the template for every great teen comedy that followed.

Then there's Amy Heckerling, the young director with a decidedly punk rock approach, strong POV, and perfect sense of tone. She respects these kids and it shows, crafting a non-sensationalistic document of their humiliating after-school jobs, clumsy attempts at sex, and even one character's abortion (Jennifer Jason Leigh's Stacy). And like all of the best teen movies, this one didn't forget the teachers: In addition to the perfectly dry Ray Walston as Spicoli's nemesis Mr. Hand, there's also the uniquely sad-eyed presence of Vincent Schiavelli as the educator who takes the class to see a dead body at the morgue for a field trip. NOT awesome, dude.

Where to watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Netflix

Valley Girl (1983)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Hello, '80s time capsule! Set in THE Valley (San Fernando, that is), this charming, low budget, new wave take on Romeo and Juliet stars Nicolas Cage as Randy, a droopy-eyed Elvisy punk-hunk from the wrong side of the tracks, and perfectly feathered, sweet-as-a-Slurpee Deborah Foreman as his Julie(t). The whole thing is a meltingly perfect ode to forbidden love, and it's all ridiculously fun. With plenty of lost L.A. eye candy happening in the background (including Googie diners and perfectly tacky malls at their peak), you might need to watch it twice. Director Martha Coolidge has a sure hand here, suffusing each scene with a distinctive glam quality that makes it a joy from start to finish.

Where to watch Valley Girl: Tubi

The Outsiders (1983)

Everett Collection 'The Outsiders'
Everett Collection 'The Outsiders'

Based on the classic teens-in-trouble novel (which was written by a then-16 year old S.E. Hinton), Frances Ford Coppola's take on The Outsiders is a veritable who's who of future stars in baby-faced, leather-jacketed glory. Starring Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, and Diane Lane, this is a major tear-jerker guaranteed to grab (and hold) the interest of even the most reticent young viewer. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Where to watch The Outsiders: Max

Footloose (1984)

Everett Collection Kevin Bacon in 'Footloose'
Everett Collection Kevin Bacon in 'Footloose'

When dancing is a matter of life or death, you need to call a professional — and in 1984, Kevin Bacon was the man for the job. Footloose takes place in a town where dancing is prohibited, which of course only makes it more fun. The 2011 remake may have leaned more on winking and eye rolling, but this was made in the '80s when sincerity was still a thing, and Bacon and Lori Singer bring it.

Where to watch Footloose: Max

Back to the Future (1985)

Everett Collection Michael J. Fox in 'Back to the Future'
Everett Collection Michael J. Fox in 'Back to the Future'

The real love story in Back to the Future is between the odd couple pairing of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his mentor, Doc (Christopher Lloyd). Their combined interest in STEM research (jammed into the dashboard of a DeLorean) allows the film to take on multiple timelines, nailing 'em all. There's a reason film students (and screenwriting books) put this movie on a pedastal: The story's got a literal "ticking clock" (make that dozens of ticking clocks!) and a perfectly propulsive pace. It's both funny and emotionally resonant, with each scene pretty much defining "high stakes." And while the iconic performances (hello, Crispin Glover as McFly's tortured dad) help make this such an enduring classic, much of the appeal also lies a simple idea shared by teens across time: Wouldn't it be soooo cool/weird/scary/amazing to meet my parents when they were my age?

Where to watch Back to the Future: Tubi

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Universal Pictures/Getty
Universal Pictures/Getty

John Hughes' decision to use a suburban Chicago high school with a harsh brutalist style for his classic about a Saturday spent in detention was no accident… Shermer High might as well be a prison for our teenage leads. As you probably know by now, The Breakfast Club is more like a play, simple and even-paced, giving the five main characters — a princess (Molly Ringwald), a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), an athlete (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy), and a criminal (Judd Nelson) — plenty of room to breathe. Set almost entirely in the Shermer Library (a set built in the gym but faithfully based on the real library where this was shot), this film doesn't need anything fancy to make its point: High school is rough for everybody, popular kids included. And while we'll never know what actually happened Monday morning (did the princess and the criminal hold hands? Did the basket case and the athlete go out?), we can always hope they remained friends.

Where to watch The Breakfast Club: Netflix

River's Edge (1986)

Island Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Island Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Watching River's Edge feels like discovering a lost treasure. Its continued under-the-radar status is a bit confounding (and yet, somehow perfect) for this tale of disaffected, working-class teenagers in a forever overcast part of Northern California. Presenting a flannel-clad, gorgeously adrift cast of young stars (Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, and Crispin Glover) navigating bad parents, creepy dudes (Dennis Hopper!) and the death of a friend is pitch-perfect without a single false note. And Glover's indelible, earth-shatteringly funny/scary portrayal of a weirdly enthusiastic dirtbag is simply a delight, a role for the ages, a piece of art, and a creation only he could deliver. Written by Neil Jiminez while he was still at UCLA film school, the script is also pure gritty poetry, capturing the teen experience unlike any other work since.

Where to watch River's Edge: Showtime

Pretty in Pink (1986)

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Everett Collection

Named after the Psychedelic Furs song and written specially for his muse, Molly Ringwald, Pretty in Pink is arguably John Hughes' masterpiece. The film STILL feels lightyears ahead of its time, from its cluttered, hand-made indie look to its perfectly cast crew of supportive (and wacky) adults, notably Annie Potts and… Harry Dean Stanton!? As one-of-a-kind as a hand-sewn prom dress, the magic of Pretty in Pink remains undimmed, and watching it feels like finding a diamond in the bottom of a thrift store bin.

Where to watch Pretty in Pink: Max

The Lost Boys (1987)

Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Let's get one thing clear: There's more to The Lost Boys than cute vampires and a cheesy retro soundtrack. Because while it's silly, it's also filled with the eternal teen themes of freedom, love, family ties, and… flying over the ocean. But of course, this being a Joel Schumacher production means it's also a massive guilty pleasure. And that's where so much of the fun lies, like when Michael (Jason Patric) stares at Star (Jami Gertz) doing what can only be described as an "'80s rock dance" in a bustier as a buff saxophone player rocks a beachside concert, a moment so iconic, it was re-enacted in an episode of Reservation Dogs.

Where to watch The Lost Boys: PlutoTV

Say Anything (1989)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

If you're looking for an '80s couple with heart-melting chemistry (who both cry real tears), we got you: Say Anything. Ione Skye is Diane Court, a valedictorian dream girl for the ages, and John Cusack is Lloyd Dobler, the charming (and kickboxing) weirdo who only has eyes for her. The movie may be best known for his uniquely intense (perhaps… too intense?) proclamation of love, holding a boombox overhead, in the rain, outside of her house, blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" while looking up at her window with a thousand-yard stare. EW's critic wrote that Cameron Crowe's ode to young passion made Cusack "the thinking teen's heartthrob and should have done the same for Ione Skye." A sneakily scene-stealing performance from husky-voiced Lili Taylor as Dobler's pal, fresh off of a nasty break up and determined to sing about it? Icing on the cake.

Where to watch Say Anything: Amazon Prime Video

Dead Poets Society (1989)

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Everett Collection

''O Captain! My Captain!" This Ivy League Y.A. drama about literature, friendship, and sweater vests boasts strong performances from the boys (including Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard) and their fearless leader, Robin Williams playing a rebellious, passionate teacher in a role he was born for. Dead Poets Society will also always be known for the shocking death that occurs — something that remains gut-wrenching no matter how many times you see it. If you're watching with the kids, be ready for questions (and tears, regardless of age).

Where to watch Dead Poets Society: YouTube

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Orion/Courtesy Everett Collection Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'
Orion/Courtesy Everett Collection Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'

If "Valley Boys" were a thing, Bill and Ted would be the group's official ambassadors. SoCal dudes who look like stoners and speak like they've just walked out of 16th century England shouldn't be a concept that works as well as it does, but the charm radiating from William "Bill" S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and "Ted" Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) is undeniable. At its heart, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is a fresh take on the buddy comedy, the story of two slightly hapless pals lumbering through high school, passing history with a little bit of an assist from George Carlin, a magic phone booth, and an ability to travel through time, collecting famous figures along the way. Strange things afoot at the Circle K, indeed.

Where to watch Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: Showtime

Heathers (1989)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The voiceovers! The funerals! The clothes! The Winona Ryder-Christian Slater dream team! Now, if you're looking for a realistic, perhaps even uplifting film about the high school experience, step away. Faaaar away. Actually, run. But if you're looking for a bizarre, problematic (Is Slater's Jason Dean just a very cute gaslighter? Are we suprised that a teen suicide satire didn't age well?), serious guilty pleasure, look no further than Heathers. It's easier to think of the film as a giant metaphor for how terrifying girls can be instead of seeing it for what it really is: a freaking horror movie. If the use of red lighting, fire, and smoke in many of the scenes doesn't convince you, the murders will (note the random smoke drifting into the cafeteria for no reason). The dialogue is basically unprintable here — but even if we could do it, we wouldn't — because these words were meant to be sneered out loud by the awesome cast. The devil is in the delivery!

Where to watch Heathers: Tubi

House Party (1990)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Better practice your kick-step! House Party zoomed onto the scene with fierce energy, humor, and style, featuring a stellar young cast including Kid 'n Play, Tisha Campbell, and Martin Lawrence. No surprise, the film was a major hit and spawned multiple sequels. House Party (the first feature from director Reginald Hudlin) was anything but typical — in a world of white teen films, this presented a (MUCH needed) different POV.

Where to watch House Party: Max

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The soundtrack is glorious, the performances are a joy, and the loose, excitable quality of the whole operation captures the mood of being 17 to a T. Shot on location at a high school in Austin, Texas, Richard Linklater's shaggy-cool movie is set in 1978 and infused with the cinematic deliciousness he's known for: rambling conversations, a humanistic pace, a sense of longing, and a ton of heart and soul. The entire cast of Dazed and Confused is excellent, but shout out to Austin Ambassador Matthew McConaughey in an iconic bit part and to Parker Posey's terrifyingly bossy, super-southern mean girl. EW's writer praised its "kaleidoscopic look at the end of high school, never just focusing on any one clique, but, instead, daring to try and capture them all." Linklater set a new standard for teen movies here, enveloping the audience in the experience of it all, the off-kilter emotions swirling around the last days before adulthood, surrounded by your friends (the only people who truly understand you), while the real world beckons just outside of the frame.

Where to watch Dazed and Confused: Peacock

Clueless (1995)

Paramount Pictures Clueless Paul Rudd, Justin Walker, Elisa Donovan, Jeremy Sisto, Stacey Dash, Alicia Silverstone, Donald Faison, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, 1995
Paramount Pictures Clueless Paul Rudd, Justin Walker, Elisa Donovan, Jeremy Sisto, Stacey Dash, Alicia Silverstone, Donald Faison, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, 1995

Clueless spends a lot of time at Bronson Alcott High, which, according to Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is a "really good school." And with faculty that includes Wallace Shawn and Julie Brown (famous for '80s MTV staple "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"), we totally support it. Remember, Cher wasn't a mean girl — she just looked like one. But if you had to pick one term to define her, it might be fixer: Her very first project was setting up two of her teachers (with the goal of improving her grades, but still). Her genuine joy at seeing the two "old people" fall in love made the audience fall in love with her. The fact that this movie holds up so well and still feels fresh as a daisy after nearly 30 years is a testament to writer/director Amy Heckerling's skill, something she so winningly demonstrated with her other teen classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Where to watch Clueless: Paramount+

Rushmore (1998)

Everett Collection Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in 'Rushmore'
Everett Collection Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in 'Rushmore'

With his knack for organization, labeling, and placing actors in the exact center of the screen, it's no stretch to say Wes Anderson probably loved school (and school supplies, natch). Anderson returned to his alma mater (St. John's in Houston) to film Rushmore, an epic tribute to his teen years. The film tells the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), participating in every extracurricular activity under the sun (from French club to wrestling) while failing all of his classes. Max's favorite thing to do (besides trying to woo his teacher, Olivia Williams) is putting on explosive-laden plays. Meanwhile, Rushmore Academy is a charmingly vintage-looking academic fantasia where it's always raining. Surprisingly, in the end, the trash-strewn, badly lit public school to which Max transfers proves itself the real winner: the kids are genuine, a girl likes him, and he can still put on his plays. Best of all, Max doesn't have to continually lie about who he is. Like an awkward bird poking out of his shell, he's just trying to figure out who he is — and it's easy to imagine Anderson at that age doing the same.

Where to watch Rushmore: MGM+

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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Everett Collection

There are way more than 10 things we love about this '90s teen rom com: Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles' chemistry, her take-no-prisoners attitude (and taste in music), Joseph Gordon-Levitt's sweet performance, and the way the script flips Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew on its head. Watching Ledger and Stiles' relationship stumbling, growing, and finally blooming, well, you'd need a heart of stone not to be affected. But perhaps the thing we love most about 10 Things I Hate About You is… the school itself. Hear us out: This is no normal, average high school building — it is a LITERAL CASTLE PERCHED ON THE SEA. The soccer field looks like it's a secret part of Hogwarts, there are multiple wings, turrets, and stained glass windows, plus Puget Sound views from every window. And the wildest thing of all? It's an REAL public school in Tacoma called Stadium High. Originally built as a hotel, there's about 1,500 students enrolled currently, and at least one of them is (we hope) singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" this very moment.

Where to watch 10 Things I Hate About You: Amazon Prime Video

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

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Everett Collection

The dreamlike, dark parable of five sisters with a death pact — Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Mary (A.J. Cook), Cecilia (Hanna Hall), Therese (Leslie Hayman), and Bonnie (Chelse Swain) — was Sofia Coppola's directorial debut. And it's just as stylish, confident, and loaded with atmosphere as you might expect. But the award for the most nostalgic scene in The Virgin Suicides does not, surprisingly, belong to any of the sisters; it belongs to Josh Hartnett (as heartthrob Trip Fontaine) slo-mo striding down the school hall to Heart's gritty rock ode, ''Magic Man."

Where to watch The Virgin Suicides: Paramount+

Bring It On (2000)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Before Cheer, there was Bring It On, the OG portrayal of cheerleading as a serious sport. And while from the outside it may look like just another teenybopper flick, it isn't — Kirsten Dunst makes sure of that. Dunst plays Torrance (yes, like the SoCal city), the bright-eyed captain of the… Rancho Carne Toros cheerleading team, which literally translates to "meat ranch." Hmm. Torrance must reinvent the squad and win a sixth national title while dodging a major scandal (a cheeragedy if you will) going down about stolen routines. A pivotal scene from the film was notably re-enacted by Ariana Grande in her 2019 "Thank U, Next" music video.

Where to watch Bring It On: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Newmarket Releasing /Courtesy Everett Collection
Newmarket Releasing /Courtesy Everett Collection

Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't just play the role of Donnie, he inhabits it in this cult classic. One of the reasons Donnie Darko remains such a strong force in popular culture is that it presents a new kind of teenage anti hero, one that copes with mental illness, navigates an uncanny landscape, and, of course, makes a kid's Halloween skeleton costume look cool. It's no wonder the film is still resonating with young people to this day, sparking obsessive fandom with its take on the terror-ific emotional rollercoaster ride that being a teenager actually is.

Where to watch Donnie Darko: Amazon Prime Video

Thirteen (2003)

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection
Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

Evan Rachel Wood's performance as a sensitive, struggling seventh grader (who transforms into a teen terror before our eyes) is incredible in Thirteen: She's focused and fierce, with a kind of clarity that belies her young age. The film, Catherine Hardwicke's (of Twilight fame, with the same blue filter) directorial debut, shows us a harrowing side of teendom, L.A. style, without ever feeling exploitative. Instead, you see this new world through the eyes of Tracy's increasingly worried bohemian mom (Holly Hunter), powerless as she watches her daughter go off the deep end.

Where to watch Thirteen: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

School of Rock (2003)

Andrew Schwartz/Paramount Pictures Jack Black in 'School of Rock'
Andrew Schwartz/Paramount Pictures Jack Black in 'School of Rock'

If "adult teaches kids how to loosen up and have fun" is a genre, School of Rock falls cleanly into this category. With Dewey Finn (Jack Black) as the teacher, could it be any other way? (And though it technically features tweens and not teens, we'll let it slide.) Inspired in part by Black's rock pedigree (he's half of Tenacious D), this is the gold standard of school-centric family films — earnest, hilarious, inspiring, even… cool?! Bringing an unscripted, free-form vitality to Horace Green Prep, Dewey teaches the kids about the wonders of classic rock in a classic classroom, complete with a dusty chalkboard and a Declaration of Independence poster. The setting, like the film, has a worn-in, comfy, real life vibe, reflecting the loose joy of Black's singular performance.

Where to watch School of Rock: Paramount+

Friday Night Lights (2004)

Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection
Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

It's the movie that started it all. Adapting Buzz Bissinger's nonfiction book, director Peter Berg took the story and ran with it, casting Billy Bob Thornton as the Panthers coach in Friday Night Lights. (The role was later claimed by Kyle Chandler in the television series that premiered two years later.) Like the show, the film is filled with the kinds of details (and sensitively portrayed characters) that make this small-town high school football story come alive.

Where to watch Friday Night Lights: Peacock

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

"How was school?" "The worst day of my life, what do you think?" Dang, so many iconic lines… and were the lockers always painted like a stick of Fruit Stripe gum? Filmed with a tiny budget in a tiny town, Preston, Idaho (population 5,000) is home to Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) and the couple who invented him: Jerusha (writer) and Jared Hess (director). But instead of denying the banal environs, this film celebrated it, using its plain-potato backdrop to emphasize the unnervingly hilarious performances. Heder's symphony of awkwardness (open mouthed, hunch-shouldered, in a state of permanent aggravation) is so good, we almost forget he's acting. And the real life Preston High is where the most iconic moments happen, from the Happy Hands performance of "The Rose" to the talent show dance, to our personal favorite, Napoleon's anguished cry for Chapstick, "Stelllllaaaa" for a new generation.

Where to watch Napoleon Dynamite: Max

Mean Girls (2004)

Everett Collection Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams, and Lacey Chabert in 'Mean Girls'
Everett Collection Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, Rachel McAdams, and Lacey Chabert in 'Mean Girls'

The power of Tina Fey's magnificent pen is the key to Mean Girls' success. While this teen queen comedy was partially based on a non-fiction book (Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman), Fey's ability to pack it with wickedly classic lines ("Get in, loser, we're going shopping") made it into an undeniable classic. The film follows the Plastics (the "mean girls") and the innocent new kid (Lindsey Lohan), who gets taken under their bedazzled wing for a real-time sociology lesson on the complexities of modern teen-dom life. Not everyone would read a book like this and think "comedy material," but then again, not everyone is Fey, who not only wrote the screenplay but also appears in the film as a teacher. This endlessly quotable, surprisingly deep exploration of the cruelties of modern adolescence is a forever favorite.

Where to watch Mean Girls: Paramount+

Brick (2006)

Focus Features/Everett Collection
Focus Features/Everett Collection

If high school noir wasn't a genre before Rian Johnson's Brick, it sure was after. The star of the show, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, prowls the breezeways like a baby Bogart, trying to solve the mystery that led to his girlfriend's… troubles, shall we say. Because if you haven't seen Brick, we don't want to spoil the twists, of which there are many. Expanding the potential of what a "teen movie" can be, the film masterfully plays with '40s-era language, a cool trick that thrills. It ain't black and white, but it sure feels that way. With a femme fatale (Nora Zehetner), a dead girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin), and a mysterious cape-wearing drug lord (Lukas Haas), Brick gives you a high school flick in the guise of a noir thriller where everything is all very life-and-death.

Where to watch Brick: Amazon Prime Video

High School Musical (2006)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Basketball star Troy (Zac Efron) and mathlete Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) meet cute at a party while singing a karaoke duet together, setting the tone for this squeaky-clean musical romp. How High School Musical manages to be both sincere and self-aware (We're dancing! In the cafeteria! We're dancing! On the basketball court! With basketballs!) is no easy feat. Kenny Ortega, choreographer of 1987's classic Dirty Dancing and director of TV shows like Gilmore Girls, strikes just the right tone. EW's critic called Ortega "Musical's secret weapon: He keeps the plot moving and the kids jumping." He certainly pulls his inspo from the best: Hints of Grease, Bye Bye Birdie, and even Stomp show up in the joyful mix.

Where to watch High School Musical: Disney+

Superbad (2007)

Everett Collection Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in 'Superbad'
Everett Collection Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in 'Superbad'

A coming of age story from the minds of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg… what could go wrong? Superbad begins when graduating seniors Seth (Jonah Hill, named after Rogan) and Evan (Michael Cera, in the Goldberg role) develop a plan to score booze and get laid. The first step brings a third nerd into the game (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a four-eyed fella whose fake ID name, "McLovin," became the joke the film is best known for). As EW's critic wrote, "the rest is mishap, improv, declarations of love (between BFFs Seth and Evan), and, well, chastity."

Where to watch Superbad: Netflix

Juno (2007)

Doane Gregory/Fox Searchlight
Doane Gregory/Fox Searchlight

EW's critic called Juno a "blithe charmer," balanced between a "fairy tale and a life's-a-real-bitch tragicomedy." The film was unique for making the screenwriter (and eventual Oscar winner) Diablo Cody just as famous as the work itself, and her story of writing the script in a Target Starbucks boosted the production's indie cred. Cody's sensitivity shows in her gentle, hilarious, heartbreaking exploration of the thorny topic of teen pregnancy. Elliot Page's performance as the "cautionary whale" is adorably whip-smart, and he's supported with a highly capable cast, including J.K. Simmons (playing against type as Juno's kind and loving father), Allison Janney as her stepmom, and Michael Cera as the father of the bump. Jennifer Garner gives an especially strong performance as Vanessa, half of the childless couple (along with Jason Bateman) looking to adopt, with their story providing a secondary but equally compelling plot thread.

Where to watch Juno: Max

Hairspray (2007)

New Line/Courtesy Everett Collection
New Line/Courtesy Everett Collection

Good morning, Baltimore! The tale of Tracy Turnblad, a plucky, positive gal with a love for dancing and an indomitable spirit, was a surprisingly wholesome John Waters venture. His 1988 non-musical version was great, with tons of heart, soul, and even a lil' political nudge (or seven). But when Hairspray was re-made in 2007 (following the 2002 Broadway adaptation), something magic happened: It got even better, keeping the same joyful spirit and high energy, but making it something you could dance to. Add to this the great, touching performances from John Travolta and Christopher Walken (playing Tracy's parents) and Queen Latifah (as Motormouth Maybelle), along with powerhouse Nikki Blonsky (as Tracy) and you've got a teen movie to lift your spirits, guaranteed.

Where to watch Hairspray: Amazon Prime Video

The To Do List (2013)

Bonnie Osborne/CBS Films
Bonnie Osborne/CBS Films

From Porky's to American Pie, raunchy teen sex comedies have long been dominated by boys, though a few notable (and excellent) attempts have been made by female directors: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Booksmart, and Maggie Carey's The To Do List. Aubrey Plaza is the perfect person to helm this somehow un-sordid tale about a class valedictorian and all-around overachiever who "forgot" to lose her virginity, among… uh… other things. Her methodical approach (the titular "to do list") to getting it on makes this a comedic heroine's journey for the ages.

Where to watch The To Do List: PlutoTV

Dope (2015)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

A strong contender in the coming of age category, this jam-packed, fast-paced flick is narrated by the dulcet-voiced Forest Whitaker. The film tells the story of Malcolm, (Shameik Moore) a nerd obsessed with what he calls "white s—" like comic books and Donald Glover (his words, not ours). But when Malcom and his friends get involved in a drug handoff gone wrong, things get crazy, and, as EW's critic described it, "the geek has to turn gangsta to get out of the mess before his big Harvard admissions interview." Yep, Dope is a sunny, fizzy crowd-pleaser that's perfect for summer viewing.

Where to watch Dope: Sling TV

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

STX Entertainment /Courtesy Everett Collection
STX Entertainment /Courtesy Everett Collection

As a coming of age drama our critic compared to Heathers, The Edge of Seventeen has copious amounts of darkness and ennui lurking beneath the surface. A great performance from Hailee Steinfeld (and Woody Harrelson playing her teacher) anchors this "smart and sensitive" tale of high school survival.

Where to watch The Edge of Seventeen: Hulu

Lady Bird (2017)

Merie Wallace/A24
Merie Wallace/A24

It's no secret that Greta Gerwig's highly praised directorial debut is a semi-autobiographical tale, with Saoirse Ronan standing in for teenage Gerwig as she tries, earnestly and awkwardly, to make her way out of Sacramento and into adulthood. Unlike many coming of age sagas, Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson doesn't really excel at anything or quite know what she wants out of life. She's a little drifty and confused — and that's alright. Every performance is a home run, from Ronan to her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) to the boys in her life, Danny (Lucas Hedges) and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). But the true highlight of Lady Bird is her strained, relatable, and subtly affectionate relationship with her mother, a revelatory Laurie Metcalf.

Where to watch Lady Bird: Showtime

The Hate U Give (2018)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Based on the searing 2017 Y.A. novel by Angie Thomas, Amandla Stenberg's performance as Starr Carter powerfully depicts a teen crossing between worlds, from her poor, mostly Black neighborhood to her wealthy, mostly white school. After witnessing her childhood best friend get murdered by police, Starr becomes swept up in a movement for racial reckoning and begins a path towards advocacy. The Hate U Give is heartbreaking, moving, infuriating, and a must-watch for all ages.

Where to watch The Hate U Give: Amazon Prime Video

Eighth Grade (2018)

Linda Kallerus/A24
Linda Kallerus/A24

Can something be too realistic, too awkward, and too painful? We don't know the answer, because we spent most of Eighth Grade with our hands over our eyes. Yup, it's that real. Comedian Bo Burnham made an incredibly sensitive portrait of what it's like to be a 13 year old girl (Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher) growing up in today's social media saturated world. The film looks at the teenage experience up close and personal, zits and all, unsanitized and unruly. A bright spot for Kayla is her relationship with her dad (Josh Hamilton), a Gen X dude who means well and is alway there for her, even when she wants nothing to do with him.

Where to watch Eighth Grade: Max

Booksmart (2019)

Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures
Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures

Modern, timeless, and honest AF: Booksmart is quietly revolutionary. Sometimes known as the "female Superbad" (by people who haven't seen the film), this movie is so much more as an optimistic-yet-anxious coming-of-age story. Focusing on two best friends (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who, on their last day of high school, discover they've spent the entire tenure studying so much that they basically "forgot to have fun." With one wild night left to make up for years of lost time, chaos (and adventures!) ensue. EW's critic, who called it "laugh-out-loud-funny," went on to describe Booksmart as "a zippy, affecting experience that's endlessly revisitable."

Where to watch Booksmart: Amazon Prime Video (to rent)

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