These Teen Movies Were Way Ahead Of Their Time

by Amy Roberts
United Artists

It really doesn't matter how old I get, I still hold a gigantic soft spot for a good teen movie. Part of that is likely because I love to relive the most awkward moments of my life through movies, but another is that teen movies can be an amazing barometer of culture and society. Some of the best teen movies of all time, for instance, are ones that have, in some way, managed to nail a specific social movement or cultural change. They're movies that define the next generation, and that, in turn, can also come to foreshadow upcoming culture and trends too. As a result, it isn't too surprising to discover that there's a wealth of teen movies that were ahead of their time in these respects. And that's likely why they still manage to maintain a cult status even now.

These teen movies were so ahead of their time that you can easily see parallels to much of contemporary media by looking at many of their themes, characters, storylines, or tones. It isn't just that all these movies have been greatly influential in some way (which they undoubtedly all were) but that their arrival signaled a change in attitudes, beliefs, culture, and society at large. And, as if to prove the point, all of them are still completely watchable today.

1. Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael (1990)

As the troubled, outcast teen Dinky Bossetti, who thinks that movie star Roxy Carmichael may be her real birth Mother, Winona Ryder heralded the dawn of a new era of teenager. One who was unique, sassy, full of angst, and charming as hell for it.

2. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Featuring a female lead character whose political leanings were as proudly oblique as a modern day Tumblr feminist page, 10 Things I Hate About You often felt like a beginners guide to pop cultural feminism.

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3. Jawbreaker (1999)

Gleefully sardonic, the vibrant yet horrific landscape of Jawbreaker is one that can still be enjoyed in a modern property like Scream Queens. Back in '99, however, the overall tone of the movie felt unique and wonderfully shrill.

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4. Pretty In Pink (1986)

With a narrative that concentrated primarily on class dynamics and the concerns of a working class female teenager, Pretty In Pink was ahead of the curve in presenting teenagers as being complex people capable of real problems (even if part of that problem does still relate to prom).

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5. But, I'm A Cheerleader! (1999)

This proudly queer satire on conversion therapy camps gave teenagers agency in celebrating their homosexuality and non-cisgender identity. It was also the first teen film of its kind to solely concentrate on the topic in a positive and empowering manner.

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6. Grease (1978)

Set in the '50s, this iconic musical was the first to embrace the idea that teenagers are often nostalgic for time periods they weren't actually alive for. It was also one that took teenage sexuality seriously, discussing it from both a male and female perspective.

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7. Heathers (1988)

I can still barely believe that Heathers ever got away with being so deliciously dark a movie, but it did. Full of biting satire and delivering dark comedy with a beguiling charm, Heathers was brutal, utterly hilarious, and completely ahead of its time for those qualities.

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8. Dazed And Confused (1993)

A coming of age story almost bereft of any adult figures, Dazed And Confused took the nostalgic baton of Grease to celebrate teenagers of the '70s. Most importantly, the film showed teenagers being far from well-behaved, well-adjusted, or even cool. These were teenagers who were hedonistic and horny, hopeless and horrible, and utterly perfect for it.

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9. The Lost Boys (1987)

Who knew back in '87 that teenagers and vampires would make such terrific cultural pals? The Lost Boys was the first movie to use the changes of becoming a vampire as an allegory for the pains of growing up, paving the way for other stories like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, to follow.

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10. The Breakfast Club (1985)

John Hughes took teenagers and their experiences very seriously, and he might have been the first mainstream movie director to have ever done that. As a result The Breakfast Club was, and still is, glorious proof of a shift in cultural values and in the worth of the average teenager.

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11. Donnie Darko (2001)

In many ways, Donnie Darko foresaw the dawn of a new era of emo. One that saw teenagers throughout the '00s snarling nihilistic statements at their parents and wearing skeleton prints with pride.

12. Footloose (1984)

There were plenty of groundbreaking things to love about Footloose. Not only does it explore alternative ideas of masculinity through the medium of dance (rock it, Kevin Bacon), but it also celebrated the idea of sexual freedom and self-expression.

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13. Ghost World (2001)

Full of all the uncertainty, discontent, and general life anxiety that feel all too familiar to many a millennial, Ghost World appeared to anticipate many of the themes of modern culture.

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14. Mean Girls (2004)

The fact that Mean Girls is still so utterly quotable and painful to relate to is proof of how on-point and ahead of its time this classic teen movie was.

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15. Clueless (1995)

Clueless didn't just capture a specific '90s zeitgeist in which affluent Californian teenagers dominated TV, but it also reshaped that moment with intelligence and wit. It was a movie that suggested that a seemingly superficial subject matter could be done in a smart, engaging way with plenty of depth.

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16. Scream (1996)

Meta-narratives are so ubiquitous within modern culture that they've become almost worthy of an eye roll. But, back in '96, the idea was still unique and novel, and the teenagers of Scream (and those of its audience) were celebrated as being smart, cultural, and informed individuals. That's something that still holds strong in today's cultural playing field.

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17. The Craft (1996)

Not only is witchcraft still a major fixation within much of teen and mainstream culture, but the way in which The Craft first explored innate female power through the medium of the Wiccan art was an absolute revelation to teenage girls in the '90s.

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Bearing all of that in mind, this is exactly why I continue to love and watch teen movies. They should never be disregarded as movies for one specific audience, but as movies that can indicate the values, concerns, and experiences of the next generation.