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What’s the Best Teen Movie?

Some staffers nominate their favorite films in the genre

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Tied to the 20th anniversary of Bring It On, we hereby dub the next five days Teen Movie Week. Dig up your varsity jacket, pull up to your cafeteria table, and relive your adolescence as we celebrate the best coming-of-age movies ever made. Here, staffers nominate their personal favorites in the genre:


Varsity Blues

This one has all the classic teen sports and coming-of-age archetypes/= and stereotypes. Characters include the underrated athlete who just needs a chance to show you what he can do (Johnny Moxon, the backup quarterback better known as “Mox,” played by James Van Der Beek); the smart kid who has designs on a bigger/better life and desperately wants out of his provincial hometown (also Mox); the leader who rebels against authority and rallies his teammates to win the big game (still Mox. Come to think of it, most of this is Van Der Beek). We also get Jon Voight as cruel head coach Bud Kilmer, Scott Caan as hard-partying bro wide receiver Tweeter, Ali Larter as schoolwide crush Darcy, and Paul Walker (may he forever rest in peace in a heaven that I hope is both fast and furious) as injured all-everything quarterback Lance Harbor. Oh, and we are treated to one of the great lines in movie history. I don’t care what his kids say, Van Der Beek nailed it. —John Gonzalez

Can’t Hardly Wait

The beer has gone bad!!!!! Can’t Hardly Wait is the “why don’t they just make the whole plane out of the black box?” of teen films: Pretty much the whole thing is set at one chaotic year-end rager. And what a rager it is! Seth Green, at the height of his try-hard powers—he had played Scotty Evil just a year earlier—attempts to mack on a series of disgusted gals. Jennifer Love Hewitt radiates coltish prom queen perfection. Jerry O’Connell plays Trip McNeely and strikes fear into the heart of confident high school senior boy viewers everywhere. (In college, he explains miserably, “We’re a dime a dozen.”)

The girl whose party it is is credited as the character “Girl Whose Party It Is.” Ethan Embry is leaving in the morning because he’s got this workshop with Kurt Vonnegut (?!) Melissa Joan Hart wants to know if you’ve signed her yearbook yet. THE COPS!!! show up. Jason Segel appears as the character “Watermelon Guy.” (If you can’t spot the Watermelon Guy in your own squad, guess what: You’re him.) From the appearance of teen movie icon Chris Owen to a satisfying closing credits montage, Can’t Hardly Wait plays all the hits, and I don’t just mean Paradise City. —Katie Baker

Superbad

It’s been 13 years since we first were introduced to Superbad. To put that in perspective, Luka Doncic was 8 when the movie was released and the actor that played McLovin has now been able to legally buy alcohol for more than a decade. Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, and Emma Stone have all gone on to become A-list celebrities. And the cult classic is somehow more rewatchable than ever thanks to its timeless humor (yes, I’m that mature) and realistic depiction of high school debauchery. The beauty of being a senior in high school is that you think you know everything but you also know that you can’t be touched. You have wild irrational confidence while also feeling invincible. You still live with your parents. You have zero financial responsibility. And you’re completely aware of the arrangement. It’s why the cast of Superbad tries to get away with anything and everything—and mostly succeeds. And it’s why the movie is such a cult classic to people who went to high school during that era. It’s one of those movies where you appreciate a different line or scene each time you watch. And the blooper reel proves the movie was just as fun to make as it is to watch (again and again). —Matt Dollinger

Angus

Angus is as sappy as Vermont in March, but there’s no teen movie that I love more. Why? Because unlike many of the genre’s films, it doesn’t shy away from showing the true pain that some high school kids face. Angus Bethune, played by Charlie Talbert in his acting debut, is kind, smart, and a star JV tackle. He’s also big. This leads the quarterback who he blocks for every week—James Van Der Beek in his first big-screen role—to bully him mercilessly. (Rick Sandford is more diabolical than any other character Van Der Beek has ever portrayed, including Sean Bateman in The Rules of Attraction.)

With a snarky sense of humor and a geeky best friend (Chris Owen, a.k.a Sherman in American Pie) by his side, Angus bravely manages to get by. Director Patrick Read Johnson’s dramedy is quietly loaded with interesting stuff: It features three Oscar winners in George C. Scott, Rita Moreno, and Kathy Bates, in addition to the best ’90s alternative rock soundtrack this side of Singles. Finally, there’s the profoundly satisfying underdog-story ending, which Roger Ebert called “wholly the equal of anything in Rocky.” —Alan Siegel

10 Things I Hate About You

There are almost too many reasons why 10 Things I Hate About You is the best teen movie. It checks the right boxes of being funny and sad and real; the bit players (Larry Miller as the overbearing gynecologist father, Gabrielle Union as the not-so-trustworthy teenage friend, Allison Janney as the horned-up school guidance counselor) are incredible; the soundtrack is the perfect blend of ’90s angst, classic covers, and just outright bangers; and it’s part of the grand tradition of reimagining classic Shakespeare works around modern teens.

But the heart of this movie belongs to Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. Though both play surly, scary, tragically maligned characters, they evolve together into something that’s almost tooth-achingly sweet. I know this performance is a bit, occurring when Ledger’s Patrick Verona is still getting paid to date Stiles’s Kat Stratford, but I mean, look at that grin:

It’s rare that you get two such incredible actors come together in a movie that’s designed to target high schoolers with no money, but we are so blessed that it happened. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go play “I Want You to Want Me” on the top of a ridiculously expensive-looking high school. —Megan Schuster

Mean Girls

There’s a reason the highest praise you can give to a teen movie these days is that it’s the best since Mean Girls. Tina Fey’s vivisection of high school power dynamics, technically an adaptation of a nonfiction book called Queen Bees and Wannabes, is both a timeless breakdown of adolescent female psychology and extremely of its time—a time when original comedies could still get green-lit, released theatrically, and become hits; a time when Lindsay Lohan was at the top of her game, her stardom on the rise.

Even speaking the name “Mean Girls” out loud sets off an instant round of Name the Quote: “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom”; “You go, Glen Coco”; “You can always try Sears!” But Fey’s script isn’t just quippy, in the grand tradition of teen classics from Heathers to Clueless. It’s also savage, as unflinching an appraisal of what teenage girls will do for social approval as you’d expect of an amateur zoologist like Cady Heron. Mean Girls is as gloriously aughts as it comes, from Lizzy Caplan’s goth getup to Rachel McAdams’s flat-ironed hair, but its observations of the feral animal that is the suburban high school student stand eternal. —Alison Herman