We often view our old memories through rose-colored glasses. We turn our mundane high school hallways into corridors of exhilarating adventures. We transform our windowless classrooms into spaces in which we became Spicoli and ordered Papa John’s pizza through a portal to the outside world. We look back on those terribly lame school dances, and allow our brains to freeze frame split-second periods in which we maintained eye contact with our big crushes or took off high heels in the mosh pit, much to the dismay of all those with noses in the near vicinity.
Although these “memories” are dangerously deceptive, as they artfully transcribe fuzzy recollections into falsehoods that being a teenager is somehow the utmost liberating state of a life, we humans can’t help but give these nostalgic flashbacks nods of approval, as they have resulted in films completely submerged in self-discovery in the high school setting.
From must-see-before-you-die films like “The Breakfast Club,” to silly, cult-classics like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” these are some essential classic teen movies that’ll make any pre- or post-teen smile as they can envision their future juvenile journeys as well as look back on their long past good ol’ fashioned days of yore.
1. The Breakfast Club
“What happens on Monday? Are we still friends?”
This film is a masterpiece. A classic in every variant of that definition, “The Breakfast Club” is a pop culture necessity for any human being. Masterfully balancing comedy and drama, the story chronicles five teenagers who have all been given a Saturday detention. A timeless social commentary on high school’s fixed stereotypes, this John Hughes’ pièce de résistance dares to challenge the assumptions society has about adolescents, and vindicates those who hide the best of who they are underneath kaleidoscopes of beauteous clothes, bright cosmetics, and breakfast clubs, when in reality, everyone’s actually a basket case… and the coolest part? The entire scene where the kids confess why they’re in detention was improv.
2. Mean Girls
“That is so fetch.”
This is one of the most quotable movies of all time. Written by Tina Fey and starring Lindsay Lohan in her career-defining character, this Millennial/Generation-Z hit is about a high school junior who moves from South Africa to the United States, discovering what one must sacrifice in moving up the social ladder. Joining the iconic “Plastics,” and setting out on a mission to destroy Regina George (a.k.a., the most popular, mean girl at North Shore High), Cady ends up learning a lot about life, perhaps most importantly that on Wednesdays, one must wear pink.
3. Easy A
“This is where the magic happens. And as we all know, by ‘magic’ I mean ‘nothing.’”
This is easily the most underrated film of the 2010s. Starring Emma Stone in one of her best roles to date (don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten “La La Land”), “Easy A” is all about how one good girl’s white lie about virginity spirals out of control, hilariously resulting in a business of “faking it” with the unlikeliest of customers. What with scenes in which Emma Stone’s character iconically sings to a “Pocketful of Sunshine” by Natasha Bedingfield, or when her Dad (Stanley Tucci) explains that everyone goes through a “gay stage,” this film is kind of a must-see.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
“If I’m here and you’re here, doesn’t that make it our time?”
This movie is gnarly, and has inspired thousands of virtuoso schoolchildren to order pizza through a window. Hilarious and undeniably similar to today’s potheads, this movie is one to watch when you’re looking to laugh at the ridiculously inappropriate language of the 80s valley boy and want a guy like Spicoli (Sean Penn), who wins championship surfing competitions. Can you say trippendicular?
“That ain’t no Etch-a-Sketch. That’s one doodle that can’t be undid, home-skillet.”
In an Oscar-worthy flick starring Ellen Page, “Juno” follows a mature teenager who gets pregnant in high school. Luckily, however, Juno is blessed with two extraordinarily supportive parents, an adorably awkward father-to-be, and two prospective adoptive parents, all of whom make the film’s mature content that much more ingeniously hilarious.
“I’m not prude. Just highly selective.”
What would the 90s be without “Clueless?” When the most popular girl at Beverly Hills High School (Alicia Silverstone), decides to makeover the newest and most clueless student (Brittany Murphy), things definitely don’t go as planned. This cult-classic features the most hilariously shallow, rich, and somehow likeable valley girl to ever grace the silver screen, and has the funkiest love story of the 90s. It’s totally tubular.
7. Risky Business
“So, your folks are going out of town…”
“You have to something bad when mommy’s out of town,” said Lorelai Gilmore, referencing “Risky Business.” Chronicling an honor student’s (Tom Cruise) wild weekend of parental absence, “Risky Business” is the incredible story of how a lil’ ingenuity, bend in moral judgement, and help of a pimp named Guido (Joe Pantoliano) can help turn a high school student body’s worlds upside down. If nothing else makes you watch even a bit of this movie, just know that it has Tom Cruise dancing to “Old Time Rock & Roll” home alone in his underwear.
“Chaos is great! Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling.”
This movie is so messed up on so many levels, but gosh has it become a cult classic. Starring Winona Ryder (a.k.a. “Stranger Things'” Joyce Byers) as Veronica, this hysterically disturbing chick-flick follows a good girl’s alliance with a morbid bad boy, both on a mission to destroy the three “Heathers” that torture the school. Most certainly a parody of the high school social hierarchy, this film’s theme engrains the idea that, should someone at the top be, quite literally, destroyed, another Heather will always be ready to take their place… But boy, oh boy, is it fun to watch all that insanely creative death along the way.
9. Sixteen Candles
“I loathe the bus. There has to be a more dignified mode of transportation.”
Oh, our dear Molly Ringwald. The teen who got typecast as the awkward, spoiled, and somehow loveable girl-next-door. Right in her element, Ringwald plays Samantha; a 16-year-old who is literally having the worst birthday in the universe. From being stalked by a totally dorky freshman (Anthony Michael Hall) to dealing with an attention-hog sister, all Samantha wants is to be noticed by the high school hunk Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). However, things don’t go as planned, and the result is a bittersweet teen comedy that is a pop culture staple for the decades.
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
Okay, read the book first. Then, come and watch this masterpiece of a movie. For anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, a weirdo, or perhaps a wallflower, this movie is one of those that’ll give you the feels. All about the many ups and downs of the teenage years, it’s just so liberating to be a fly on the wall of these kids’ sad, beautiful, and tragic lives. From the innocent joys of these their friendships, to the loves that threaten their very beings, this is a 21st century must-see.
11. Dead Poets Society
“Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”
This movie is one of the most inspiring, melancholy high school films you may ever see. Set within a strict, all-boys prep school, this film tells the story of how the students’ lives are transformed when their dry curriculums filled with regurgitation are replaced with discussion and poetry as well as a new, unorthodox English teacher (Robin Williams). Incredibly beautiful, and terribly sad, this is one of those classics you should try and see before you die. Bring some tissues, though.
12. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
You’ll learn more life lessons from this film than you did most weeks in high school. From the necessity of facing your fears to the importance of dancing like nobody’s watching (although in Ferris’ case, everybody is), this is another one of those John Hughes’ must-sees that’s essential to understanding pop culture jokes. Seriously, you’re not going to get whole sections of “Deadpool,” “Spider Man: Homecoming,” or “Family Guy” without seeing this favorite of your parents.
Cover image courtesy of Huffington Post.
Also published on Medium.