The teen genre has come a long way since its inception in the mid-50s. After its heyday in the 80s, the genre evolved, becoming a mainstay in American cinema. Nowadays, numerous teen movies come out every year, usually with a romantic angle, although they aren’t afraid to experiment with other genres.
However, the 2010s were something of a golden period for the teen movie, producing many worthy and memorable pictures that quickly became popular with critics and audiences. Better yet, many of them have cemented their reputations as some of the best entries into the genre, cementing their place as classics in the making.
10 ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (2018)
Based on the 2014 book, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before stars Lana Condor and Noah Centineo. The film centers on Lara Jean, a hopeless romantic teenager whose private love letters become public, threatening to expose her long and unrequited crush on Josh, her sister’s ex-boyfriend.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before soared thanks to Condor’s earnest performance and on-screen chemistry with Centineo. The film spawned a trilogy that ranks as one of Netflix’s most successful and launched Centineo’s career as a leading man. Although far from perfect, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a sweet throwback to the classic teen romances that built the genre.
9 ‘The Hate U Give’ (2018)
Amandla Stenberg stars in the 2018 teen drama The Hate U Give. The actor plays Starr Carter, a teenager whose life changes radically after witnessing the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by the police. Divided between her community and her prestigious prep school, Starr must reconcile her feelings about the incident and find her truth.
The Hate U Give deals with several crucial and sensitive issues that dominated the past decade, including racial tensions and dynamics. Coming out at the height of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the film perfectly reflects its generation with an insightful, thought-provoking, and hard-hitting depiction of Black youth, elevated by a stellar turn from Stenberg. The Hate U Give is further proof that the teen genre can be far more interesting and compelling than many give it credit for.
8 ‘Love, Simon’ (2018)
Nick Robinson stars in the tender teen romance Love, Simon. The plot follows Simon Spier, a teenager in the closet who forms a close online connection with a mysterious classmate, leading him to reconcile his identity and relationships with his friends and family.
Love, Simon is a sweet and honest LGBTQ+ movie, a crowdpleaser if ever there was one. Riding on the back of Robinson’s earnest and sensitive performance, Love, Simon showcases the tricky nature of first love and the fear and doubt of self-acceptance during a person’s formative years. Many teen movies deal with similar themes, but few do it as tenderly or as effectively.
7 ‘The DUFF’ (2015)
Based on the eponymous 2010 novel, The DUFF stars the ever-underrated and always-reliable Mae Whitman alongside Robbie Amell. The film tells the story of Bianca, a teenager who discovers she is the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend – in her friend group. Determined to change her narrative, she enlists the help of a popular jock to improve her social status.
The DUFF could’ve easily been offensive or formulaic, but Whitman’s winning performance elevates to classic teen movie territory. Whitman is endlessly entertaining and sympathetic as Bianca, creating one of the most memorable characters in any teen movie from the 2010s. The DUFF is far from a masterpiece, but a compelling narrative and a ridiculously rewatchable quality cement its place as a classic in the making.
6 ‘Booksmart’ (2019)
Olivia Wilde‘s directorial debut introduced her as one of her generation’s most promising filmmakers. Booksmart stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as two lifelong and academically-driven best friends who decide to make the best of their last night as high schoolers.
Like all the best high school movies, Booksmart is a funny, insightful, and non-judgemental look into adolescence. With a clever screenplay and a pair of stellar lead performances, Booksmart is an accurate depiction of high school and a refreshingly original take on the “love yourself” trope that so many teen movies flaunt but so few successfully pull off.
5 ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ (2015)
Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, and Olivia Cooke star in the 2015 adaptation of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The plot follows a socially awkward teenager and amateur filmmaker who reconnects with his childhood best friend, a young woman recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Unlike other teen movies with similar premises, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opts for a non-emotionally manipulative approach. The film is an honest and funny look into a difficult situation, benefitting from a trio of central performances that effortlessly blend charm and nuance. Especially, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a showcase for Olivia Cooke, further confirming her as one of her generation’s most versatile and promising actors.
4 ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ (2016)
Hailee Steinfeld, one of the youngest Oscar nominees ever, stars in the 2016 teen comedy-drama The Edge of Seventeen. The film deals with a socially awkward teenager whose life unravels when her best friend begins dating her popular older brother.
The Edge of Seventeen has a clever and insightful screenplay and a talented ensemble to help bring it to life. However, the film excels because of Steinfeld’s outstanding performance, a layered and rich portrayal of adolescent confusion and angst, unlike few others in the genre. Refreshing and poignant, The Edge of Seventeen is the perfect film for the Gen Z generation, featuring one of the genre’s most fascinating and engaging protagonists.
3 ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the rare teen movie that revolutionized a generation. Logan Lerman plays Charlie, a teenager with post-traumatic stress disorder during his freshman year of high school, making new friends and learning to cope with life’s hardships. Ezra Miller and Emma Watson also star.
Critically acclaimed and deeply influential, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been widely embraced since its debut, becoming a crucial part of Gen Z culture. The film features a career-best performance from Lerman that further elevates the film, aided by gentle direction and a stellar supporting cast. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has already achieved cult classic status, but it won’t be long before it becomes a timeless teen picture in the vein of American Graffiti or The Breakfast Club.
2 ‘Alex Strangelove’ (2018)
In the pantheon of great LGBTQ+ movies, Alex Strangelove has a place of honor. The film centers on Alex Truelove, a teenager who begins a relationship with his lifelong best friend and plans to lose his virginity to her. However, he begins doubting his sexuality after meeting a charming gay kid.
LGBTQ+ themes have seldom been portrayed on screen with such care and accuracy, making Alex Strangelove a unique and much-needed entry into the ever-expanding teen genre. However, beyond its representation, the film is a triumphant story about love, identity, and embracing one’s true self without fear. Already beloved, Alex Strangelove‘s reputation will only increase over time.
1 ‘Easy A’ (2010)
Emma Stone became a bonafide star thanks to her spectacular performance in the 2010 teen comedy Easy A. The story follows Olive Penderghast, a teenager who fakes sexual relationships with fellow unpopular classmates after a rumor is spread about her virginity.
Funny, intelligent, and featuring a rousing lead turn by Stone, Easy A is arguably the best teen movie from the 2010s. The film is everything a great teen flick should be: witty, quotable, entertaining, and, above all, unforgettable. Teen classics don’t get any better than Easy A, an endlessly rewatchable and riotous movie that will never get old.
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