50. Splendor in the Grass - 1961
Young love - especially when it's with the star of the football team
- can make a girl crazy. Literally. In pre-Depression, small-town Kansas,
good-girl Natalie Wood is so tortured by her sexual urges for beau Warren
Beatty and conflicting pressure to be moral that she attempts suicide after
a school dance and ends up in a sanitarium. It's the ultimate depiction
of overwhelming first love, and - sorry, religious right - a chilling
PSA against the dangers of teen abstinence.
49. Sixteen Candles - 1984
It's tough to turn 16. But when your entire family forgets your birthday,
it only makes that day worse. Molly Ringwald puts on a brave face as her
character endures basically the worst week of her life, whether it's having
her panties taken by Anthony Michael Hall or getting groped by her grandma
("Fred, she's gotten her boobies!"). The awkwardness is all hilarious,
though, especially watching a young Joan Cusack attempt to use the water
fountain in orthodontic head gear.
48. Just One of the Guys - 1985
Every generation has its variant on the girl-dresses-as-boy, girl-as-boy-falls-for-boy,
boy-freaks-out tale. And this immensely fun, if minor, romp from the '80s
perfectly captures the decade's raunch-lite spirit and funky fashion sense.
As the cross-dresser caught in the middle, Joyce Hyser's aspiring journalist
learns the hard way that there's more to being a dude than just stuffing
a tube sock down your pants.
47. Napoleon Dynamite - 2004
The plot is insignificant, the lead character (Jon Heder) is a petulant
spaz, and the pace creeps along just barely faster than a John Deere.
Still, this sleeper hit succeeds because it manages to mock and celebrate
high school geekdom with a bone-dry, unsentimental tone. The inane one-liners,
absurd non sequiturs, and sheer stupidity of the characters don't just
bring back memories of adolescence, they make you feel like a teenager
again, giggling at something idiotic without knowing exactly why.
46. Flirting - 1992
She's a Ugandan beauty in a prep school populated by blond Aussies (including
young Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts); he's a gawky stutterer obsessed
with Camus. Given their shared outsider status at their respective institutions,
is there any doubt that Danny (Noah Taylor) and Thandiwe (Thandie Newton)
end up falling for each other? Wryly tender and respectfully told, director
John Duigan's coming-of-age romance is a warm and fuzzy confection that
stops short of being icky.
45. My Bodyguard - 1980
There's something timeless for everyone when new kid Clifford "Peachy"
Peache (Chris Makepeace) enlists the mysterious, tortured class psycho
(Adam Baldwin) to protect him from the school bully (Matt Dillon). Lifelong
scapegoats will cheer the underdogs' triumph, while former home-room villains
of all generations will shed a nostalgic tear at Dillon's showcase of
evergreen bully tactics: the locker prison, the wet toilet-paper bomb,
the bathroom surprise attack. Ahhh, high school: good times, good times.
44. Can't Hardly Wait - 1998
It's the last night of high school and the only thing left to do is party
- and face the skeletons in the closet. By the end of this crazy
bash, everyone succeeds: The nerd gets revenge on the jock, the nice guy
snags his prom-queen crush, and a pair of unlikely old friends reunite.
It may be a typical teen comedy, but the underlying message always rings
true: Don't let fate pass you by.
43. Stand and Deliver - 1988
Any grandiose "O Captain! My Captain!" speech would only invite a Dead
Teacher's Society beatdown at dilapidated Garfield High in East L.A.
Instead, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) teaches in a fast-food-worker
uniform and inspires with math problems about gigolos. He gives extra
textbooks to a studious gangbanger (Lou Diamond Phillips) in exchange
for protection, and turns a mathematical truth, "A negative times a negative
equals a positive," into a social one. That's ganas, jefe.
42. Fame - 1980
By today's standards, this Oscar-winning musical is downright gritty,
with its frank and often bleak depiction of arts-inclined teenagers. Sure,
they sing and act and turn lunchtime into a funk jam, but they also have
abortions, fend off predatory pornographers, experiment with drugs, and
contemplate suicide. High School Musical, it isn't. The potent
shot of authenticity is sweetened by the memorable, soul-drenched musical
numbers, which inspired millions to try and pirouette on a taxi.
41. Can't Buy Me Love - 1987
Before he was Dr. McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey won
us over as the lovable lawn-mowing nerd Ronald Miller. After a failed attempt
to buy his way into the cool clique, Ronny goes from totally chic right
back to a total geek. Lesson learned: Sometimes performing the "African
Ant Eater Ritual" at the school dance isn't enough to get you a spot at
the right lunch table.
40. Risky Business - 1983
Long before Tom Cruise became a couch-jumping Scientologist, he came to
prominence in this sharp satire of privileged suburban teens. The socks-and-undies
dance scene is what everyone remembers, but this Reagan-era hit isn't just
another teensploitation flick. It's about the soul-crushing pressure to
be perfect, and the primal urges to rebel against a manicured, pre-programmed
future - even if that means turning your parents' house into a brothel.
39. The Virgin Suicides - 2000
This one deserves to be on the list if only for the one terrific shot in
which Josh Harnett, as heartthrob Trip Fontaine, glides down the locker-lined
hall, with his leather jacket hung over one shoulder and Heart's "Magic
Man" blaring on the soundtrack as all the girls turn their heads. If guys
in high school don't actually walk like that, they should. The rest of the
movie, about gorgeous sisters in a death pact, is shot by debut director
Sofia Coppola as teenage iconography at its dreamiest and most weirdly entrancing.
38. Bye Bye Birdie - 1963
High school is definitely more fun when you add a little song and dance.
Ann-Margret is all big hair and energy as a lucky small-town teen who
wins the chance to be kissed on television by Conrad Birdie, a thinly
veiled Elvis copy. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is a tad jealous of her
swapping spit with a celeb. What follows is a gleeful parade, perfect
for viewers who always wanted to meet the high school star crush whose
posters adorned their bedroom walls.
37. Friday Night Lights - 2004
Is there a sight more wonderful than kids playing a sport just for the
sheer love of the game? That's a vision entirely absent from Peter Berg's
superbly unsparing, based-on-real-events examination of the diamond-forming
pressure present in small-town-Texas high school football. A great teen
movie and a great sports movie, albeit one that may prompt more than one
young ballplayer to switch to darts.
36. Harry Potter
and the Goblet of Fire - 2005
No, we haven't lost our minds. One of J.K. Rowling's ingenious ideas was
to blend two literary traditions, fantasy and coming-through-school fiction
(à la Tom Brown's School Days). That's particularly true in
Goblet, which depicts 14-year-old Harry's heightened state of adolescent
anxiety, about the big (Quidditch) game, about finding a date for the big
dance, and about juggling homework while saving the wizard world from evil
35. Brick - 2006
"Nah, bulls gum it. They'd flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes,
probably find some yeg to pin." The high school kids in Brick talk
like this for the entire movie. With a femme fatale, a dead girlfriend,
and a mysterious cape-wearing drug lord, Brick gives you a teen flick in
the guise of a noir thriller where everything is all very life-and-death.
Come to think of it, that's exactly what high school is like.
34. Get Real - 1999
A typical first-love-with-the-school-jock story, but with a twist. "Sex
on legs" track star John Dixon (Brad Gorton) really does fall for Steven
Carter (Ben Silverstone), the bright, gawky student journalist who's lusted
after Dixon while tiptoeing around female classmates on platonic dates.
Of course, Dixon also has an official girlfriend. But when our hero yearns
for a romance that's a little more public, the baton gets dropped in a way
that's touchingly, poignantly real.
33. Hoop Dreams - 1994
This documentary follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two kids who avoid
the pitfalls of growing up in the Chicago slums by living, breathing,
and playing basketball. As with any kid who plays ball, Gates and Agee
fantasize about one thing: making it to the NBA. For all audiences, this
is a purely inspirational tale. For some, it's nostalgic, bringing back
dreams you once had of making it to the pros.
32. Scream - 1996
Aside from the awesomeness of seeing Henry "The Fonz" Winkler as a square
principal, Scream is the supreme teen horror movie specifically because
it is so self-aware of how ridiculous and formulaic teen horror movies can
be - even those that are set outside of high school, in college dorms
or summer camps. And if sex equals death, as fright flicks and parents alike
have tried to warn us, then how cool is it (spoiler alert!) for Scream
to make the killer Neve Campbell's boyfriend - the one trying to get
in her pants? Scary cool, we say.
31. The Karate Kid - 1984
We practiced ''the crane'' and wasted money on a Bonsai tree. But the
real reason this movie makes the cut: Rocky director John G. Avildsen
understood that Mr. Miyagi (late Oscar nominee Pat Morita) had a lot to
say - about finding balance, about choosing mentors wisely, about
disguising defensive martial-arts techniques in home improvement (and
yourself in a shower curtain, if it meant you could attend your high school
Halloween dance undetected by Cobra Kai bullies). Perhaps that explains
why only one of Daniel-san's training sessions is set to music: When Miyagi
talked, we, like outsider Ralph Macchio, listened.
30. Bring It On - 2000
They're sexy, they're cute, they're popular to boot! Kirsten Dunst plays
Torrance, the bright-eyed cheerleading captain who must save her high school's
squad from a major cheeragedy: going down as the team who stole routines.
In the end, we learn there's more to cheerleading than loads of hairspray,
teeny halter tops, and back-stabbing: These are athletes who know how to
really bring it. We give this comedy five spirit fingers up!
29. Gregory's Girl - 1982
Gregory's Girl is short on stars, long on soccer, and it sounds like
a Weird Al Yankovic parody of Rick Springfield. But it is also sweetly hilarious
as gangly Scottish teen Gregory (Gordon John Sinclair) falls for an out-of-his-league
girl. The result is guaranteed to make viewers feel much better about their
own post-pubescent awkwardness - unless they, too, ever tried to romance
someone with the information that "When you sneeze, it comes out your nose
180 miles an hour."
28. Back to the Future - 1985
A.K.A. the coolest movie ever to feature a Huey Lewis and the News song.
The film ingeniously literalizes high school's sexual frustration and
disdain for one's parents by having Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly getting
hit on over and over again by Lea Thompson as his young, future mother
(thanks to that time-traveling DeLorean). It just goes to prove that the
parental units were just as horny back in the day as we were.
27. To Sir, With Love - 1967
Way before Mr. Holland began teaching his opus and Michelle Pfeiffer was
molding dangerous minds, Sidney Poitier was taming a room of unruly British
teens with his real-life lessons and tough-love tactics (a boxing glove
to the stomach, anyone?). Having himself played an insubordinate kid in
1955's Blackboard Jungle, the student masterfully becomes the teacher
in this sappy but never maudlin tale of inspiration and tolerance.
26. Pretty in Pink - 1986
Perhaps the most controversial ending to a teen romance ever. (Behind Romeo
and Juliet? Fine.) Should Andie (Molly Ringwald) have chased after rich,
repentant Blane (Andrew McCarthy), or stayed at the prom with poor, devoted
Duckie (Jon Cryer)? That we, women now in our 30s, still care is a testament
to John Hughes' script about love across class lines (point for Blane);
the meaning of friendship and individuality (point for Duckie); and the
evil nature of wealthy high schoolers in crisp, white clothing (point for