The 25 best teen movies to make you feel old in the best way

Teenagers. What a bunch of [assorted unkind words]. Ok ok, so maybe they aren't that bad. After all, we were all their age once. We've all experienced the good times (I've got a date!) and the bad (I've got zits, a bad haircut, and no date). Teen movies tend to portray both of these extremes, highlighting the everyday struggles of the nerdy outcast and/or the lifetime highs of the popular jock. It's just like real life! Except the main cast are always about 43 years older than they ought to be, and everyone gets a cracking personal soundtrack, the lucky buggers. This list covers the very best of these teenaged dreams.

25. Risky Business (1983)

With his parents away and the mounting pressures of college interviews and finals, Tom Cruise's Joel decides to call up a prostitute. To alleviate those pressures, presumably. Things spiral out of control pretty fast as the hooker with a heart of gold moves into his house, turning his parents pristine abode into a makeshift brothel. Parties ensue, naturally, and life lessons are learned in an oddly dark way. And, like all ‘80s teen movies, Risky Business includes a montage. This one has Cruise parading around his house in a white shirt, socks, and Ray-bans. He manages to look way cooler than most actual teenagers. 

24. Ghost World (2001)

Daniel Clowes' comic book is a darkly funny look at the lives of a couple of teens who aren't popular but aren't outcasts either. It's what makes this film adaptation ring true. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson play Enid and Rebecca, a pair of high schoolers on the cusp of graduation. For Enid, juvenile pranks remain a source of endless entertainment. For Rebecca, it's the allure of having their own pad and their own choice of kitchenware. It's when their two views on the future collide that things take an interesting turn. What awaits them in the real world is the meaty part of director Terry Zwigoff's dramedy. That happens to include a scene-stealing turn from Illeana Douglas as Enid's art school teacher. 

23. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Based on the novel of the same name, The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows quiet introvert Charlie (Logan Lerman) who navigates the drama of his first year of high school while making friends with seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). While there is plenty of traditional teenage drama such as dealing with first loves, a lot of deeper issues (such as abuse, suicide, and mental health) are also explored. It perfectly captures that feeling of being a misfit or an outsider at school. The film's most uplifting moments come as this bunch experience the joys of hearing a great song for the first time, cruising through the night without a clue about what the future holds. 

22. Easy A (2010)

Emma Stone's Olive Penderghast is this generation's Ferris Bueller. Where Bueller skipped school, earning the adoration of the entire student body, Olive achieves notoriety in a totally different way. She becomes a social outcast when rumors run rampant that she's a sleazy bed-hopper who'll sleep with anybody. Instead of denying the allegations, she goes with it, letting her classmates earn cred for their supposed sexual exploits. She's a tad more selfless than Ferris, as it's all at the expense of her reputation. Though the film's ridiculously funny, its other elements also feel fresh and modern, including its portrayal of female relationships (Olive falls out with bestie Rhiannon), and the gay kid (Dan Byrd) who just wants to fit in. Plus Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci win the award for the coolest parents ever.

21. Dazed and Confused (1993)

It isn’t one of Quentin Tarantino's favourite movies for nothing. Richard Linklater's film is a bona fide cult classic, dipping into the last school day for a bunch of Texan kids in 1976. It ropes in tons of recognisable names including Matthew McConaughey who makes an unforgettably cool early appearance as a surfer dude. Yep, this is where "alright alright alright" comes from. Aside from McConaughey, keep an eye out for Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, and Ben Affleck too. Like Linklater's more recent movies, there's a touch of dramatic tension, but it never gets sappy or preachy. Instead it offers a funny, warm look at what high school life is really like for the kids of America.

20. Animal House (1978)

Animal House is all about gross-out fratboy pranks and toga parties: it's the fratboy movie to end all fratboy movies. If it weren't for this film, we wouldn't have modern teen flicks like Revenge of the Nerds, Old School, and Neighbors. And its plot is remarkably straightforward: a group of college kids challenge the authority of their dean. Although all the best bits are what happens in-between, with most of the outlandish crap hailing from the real-life experiences of its creative team. Not only is Animal House one of the most profitable films of all time, it's also a defining moment in the teen movie genre. It established John Belushi as a movie star as well as an SNL player and launched John Landis' directing career.

19. Pretty in Pink (1986)

While he didn't direct Pretty in Pink, there's little touches of John Hughes all over this  socially-aware teen flick. Well, he did write it. One of his more successful movies - it made $40 million back on its teenie $9 million budget - the basic premise follows high schooler Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) as she dreams of dating the rich and hunky Blane (Andrew McCarthy). The path of true love never did run smooth, of course, and she finds herself debating her lot in life and whether her social status will prevent her from landing the posh totty. Luckily there's her best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) who ensures there are always laughs just around the corner.

18. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

What's most refreshing about this retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is how the supposed 'shrew' is actually a badass feminist. That'll be Julia Styles's Kat. When she's not shredding on her guitar, she's reading The Bell Jar as a way to give the finger to the “oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education.” At the same time, Heath Ledger is the self-appointed Aussie bad boy paid to, er, 'tame' her. There's oodles of little plot entanglements (this is Shakespeare after all) that really rev up all the teenage hormones of Kat's fellow high schoolers. The soundtrack's a late '90s gem (I Want You To Want Me by Letters To Cleo still rocks) and adult actors Larry Miller and Allison Janney get just as many laughs as the teens.

17. Donnie Darko (2001)

Nostalgia for '80s sci-fi kicked off in the early 2000s with Richard Kelly's filmmaking debut. At the tender age of 26 he wrote and directed this twisted, head-scratcher of a time travel movie that just so happens to be a brilliantly observed piece of teen cinema. Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is not your average kid. He has visions of a giant rabbit named Frank who tells him the world will end in 28 days. During that period, Donnie goes through the same gamut of angsty teen experiences as most and then some. Alright, he basically has a month-long existential crisis. What stands out is how Kelly balances the seriousness of things (Donnie's tumultuous relationship with his mom, Donnie outing a pedophile) with some proper LOL-inducing humor. The Sparkle Motion line alone is just perfect. 

16. Brick (2005)

A decade before he was given like, the coolest gig ever directing Star Wars 8, Rian Johnson knocked out this nifty noir. Young high schooler Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) turns into a detective when his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin) turns up murdered. This ain't no comedy, folks. Brick takes its noir influences super-seriously, and our protagonist really goes through the wars trying to uncover what the hell is going on. It's like something cooked up by Raymond Chandler. This is a teen flick with 'cult classic' written all over it. JGL is fantastic in an early dramatic role, and it cemented director Johnson as a talent to keep an eye on.


Gem is GR+'s west coast entertainment news reporter. She’s a bit obsessed with all things Aliens and Terminator.


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