The best teen movies that totally perfect the genre | Sunday Observer

The best teen movies that totally perfect the genre

21 November, 2021

What is it about the best teen movies that make them so very bingeable?

Maybe it’s how reassuringly repetitive they are. (Unrequited love? Check. Evil principal? Check. New slash misunderstood kid at school who ultimately subverts the status quo? Check check.)

For all their tropes and repetition — not to mention interesting (read: adults as 16-year-olds) casting choices — the classic teen movie is a formula that just keeps giving. And thankfully, the teen movies coming out today are a lot more diverse and inclusive than, say, the whitewashed John Hughes universes of the past.

Whether you’re picking a sleepover movie with pals or in need of a solid solo-time-and-sweatpants flick, we’ve rounded up some of the best movies that center teen narratives authentically. From ultra-relatable high school movies and offbeat cult classics to powerful dramas and teen romance movies that perfect the genre, you’re bound to find something you’ll want to stream, stat.

Moonlight (2016)

Hopefully you’re familiar with Barry Jenkins’s 2016 masterpiece (based on the semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney). But if you’re not, now is a great time to fall for Moonlight. Split into three stages of protagonist Chiron’s life, this Best Picture winner is a gorgeous coming-of-age story about Blackness, masculinity, and queerness. The second act finds Chiron and his friend Kevin in high school, played masterfully by Ashton Sanders and then 18-year-old Jharrel Jerome, who auditioned for the role while a freshman at Ithaca College.

Good Burger (1997)

Children of the 90s everywhere can rejoice at the fact that Good Burger is streaming on Netflix. If you’re not a millennial, or if you were out to lunch when this absurdist cult classic first rocked our world, Good Burger is based on a sketch from Nickelodeon’s All That. In the movie, teenagers Dexter (Kenan Thompson) and Ed (Kel Mitchell) attempt to save their beloved fast food joint after a chain competitor, Mondo Burger, opens across the street. This David vs. Goliath story of corporate greed is as relevant today as it was when Kenan and Kel were teens and Sinbad dominated the box office.

After you watch it, check out this oral history of Good Burger and catch the iconic duo reunite on Rick Famuyiwa’s Inglewood-set coming-of-age flick is a fun homage to 90s hip-hop culture and teen movies. Shameik Moore, who was 19at the time of the film’s Sundance 2015 premiere, stars as high school senior and 90s hip-hop geek, Malcolm, who gets mixed up in a drug deal along with his best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori).

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of 10 Things I Hate About You. A modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, this iconic late 90s rom-com tells the story of popular high school student, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who isn’t allowed to date until her outcast older sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), accepts a date of her own, and what happens when new student Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — smitten by Bianca — schemes to set Kat up with bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger). Press play and then check out these 10 life lessons from 10 Things I Hate About You.

ighth Grade (2018)

Comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut tells the story of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a shy, social media-obsessed 13-year-old who struggles with anxiety, as she faces her fears during her final week of middle school. This A24 comedy-drama was adored by audiences of all ages when it hit indie theaters in 2018. Today, Eighth Grade’s conversation around social media, young adolescence, and anxiety is particularly timely in this age of ongoing social distancing.

Mean Girls (2004)

Lindsay Lohan was 18when she played 16-year-old new girl, Cady Heron. Sixteen years later, mean girls have not gone away, and neither has our love for this smart and hilarious take on high school bullying and clique culture. Revisit this cultural touchstone and check out these 10 important lessons from Mean Girls.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

In The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a precocious, self-absorbed teenager whose world turns upside down when her best friend starts dating her older brother. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, it’s a smart and touching addition to the teen angst coming-of-age canon. It’s also worth commending the film’s honest depiction of teen depression and mental health.

Dick (1999)

I don’t know about you, but to me there’s nothing more satisfying than watching corrupt white men fall from power on screen — except, of course, watching it happen off-screen. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams were still teenagers when they starred as 15-year-old best friends who take down the President of the United States. Released on the heels of the 1999 Clinton impeachment, this goofy piece of historical revision still very much holds up.

Bring It On (2000)

Long before Cheer, there were the Rancho Carne Toros and the East Compton Clovers. Kirsten Dunst was still in high school when she played high school senior and cheer captain Torrance Shipman. Twenty years later, Bring It On is hailed by many as a glorious lesson on cultural theft. Gabrielle Union has herself spoken on the film’s timelessness. “There’s still that repackaging of Black culture and putting blonde hair and blue eyes on it—which I think is one of the exact lines in the movie that [director] Peyton [Reed] came up with on the first day,” Gabrielle told Complex. “It still speaks to a lot of people.”

The Hate U Give (2018)

The film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s YA novel of the same name, The Hate U Give sees Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, a 16 year old straddling two worlds — the poor, mostly Black neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white prep school she attends — who witnesses the fatal police shooting of her childhood best friend. As the plot would suggest, this is not an easy watch. For those who are impacted by police violence, please exercise self-care.

Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)

If ever there was a time to revisit this Disney Channel classic, it’s now. Set in 2049, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century tells the story of 13-year-old space station resident, Zenon (Kirsten Storms), who’s sent away to live on earth. While there, she uncovers a plot to destroy the space station. Not surprisingly, the adults ignore her plea to act. Sound familiar? Watch Zenon for the climate change allegory it suddenly packs or just for the nostalgia (hellooo, Protozoa). Either way, enjoy.