The 37 Best Teen Movies That Totally Perfect the Genre

A side of angst with our house party scene, please!
LADY BIRD from left Saoirse Ronan Beanie Feldstein 2017. ©A24courtesy Everett Collection
Courtesy Everett Collection

What is it about teen movies that make them so very bingeable?

Maybe it’s how reassuringly repetitive they are. (Unrequited love? Check. Evil principal? Check. New slash misunderstood kid at school who ultimately subverts the status quo? Check check.)

For all their tropes and repetition — not to mention interesting (read: adults as 16-year-olds) casting choices — the equation for classic teen movies is a formula that just keeps giving. And thankfully, the best teen movies coming out today are a lot more diverse and inclusive than, say, the whitewashed John Hughes universes of the past.

Whether you’re picking a sleepover movie with pals or in need of a solid solo-time-and-sweatpants flick, we’ve rounded up some of the best movies for teenagers that center teen narratives authentically. From ultra-relatable high school movies and offbeat cult classics to powerful dramas and teen romance movies that perfect the genre, you’re bound to find something you’ll want to stream, stat. In fact, we’re considering this a list of the best teen movies of all time.

Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird shines a spotlight on the life of Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), specifically her senior year of high school at a private Catholic school. Her childhood memories center around the family barely getting by financially, in part due to her father (Larry) being laid off and her mother (Marion) taking extra shifts at a psychiatric hospital as a counselor. In a crowded home where her brother Miguel and his girlfriend Shelly also live, Christine dreams of a different life. This movie digs into the at-times rocky relationship between parent and teenage daughter and the growth that can come from the struggle.

Where to stream it: Apple TV

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The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021)

When it comes to teenage movies that speak to the chaos of growing up, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things tackles the topic of young love with an unexpected sci-fi twist. It all kicks off centered around Mark, a teen stuck in a time loop wasting time away righting wrongs and replaying games with his best friend. Once things start getting a bit monotonous, he realizes another person — a fellow teen named Margaret — is also trapped in the loop. As you can imagine, puppy love and adventures follow.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

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Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)

This movie is the wild night of New York City fun we all wish we could’ve had earlier in life. Nick — a musician played by Michael Cera — is stuck in his feelings over an ex-girlfriend while her friend Norah (played by Kat Dennings) fights to break through his breakup fog. The plot circles around the duo’s efforts to find Norah’s drunk friend Caroline, while Nick’s bandmates play sidekicks to the search. The wilder the night gets, the closer the two grow.

Where to stream it: Hulu, Apple TV

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Blue Crush (2002)

Starring Kate Bosworth as surfer Anne Marie and Matthew Davis as star athlete Matt Tollman, this movie weaves the story of Anne’s life with three roommates in a beach shack as she prepares for the Rip Masters surf competition. When Matt enters the scene, she discovers a new challenge — in the water and in love. As others hear about their budding romance, jealousy rages and tensions rise when fellow surfers start to question Anne’s dedication to the sport.

Where to stream it: Apple TV

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Cruel Intentions (1999)

This sexy movie digs into a dangerous game of seduction set up between two manipulative teenage step-siblings played by Sarah Michelle Gellar (as Kathryn) and Ryan Phillipe (as Sebastian). The two choose their prospects — characters played by Selma Blair (Cecile) and Reese Witherspoon (Annette) — and a tale of debauchery, danger, and devious tricks unfold. The prize? If Sebastian wins, he requests a hook-up from Kathryn (this very request should give you an idea of how… dark this film can get). And if Kathryn comes out on top? She scores Sebastian’s 1956 Jaguar.

Where to stream it: Apple TV

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It Follows (2014)

Most horror films centered around the teenage experience go off the rails pretty quickly. But this horror film manages to keep the suspense going the entire time, without ever once showing the face of a terrifying monster or villian. In fact, the bad guy in this film is the act of sex. It kicks off with a sexual encounter between Jay and Hugh. Once finished, Hugh shares that he has left a curse on Jay — it’s the last thing he says before completely disappearing from her life. The curse acts as an STD of sorts, taking the form of any single person that only Jay can see, referred to as “It.” If caught, it will kill her. The only way out? Passing the curse to someone else. A group of friends comes together to try and get rid of this evil, while dodging tons of near-death moments and situations.

Where to stream it: Apple TV

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Carrie (1976)

If you haven’t seen this classic, put it on your list immediately. While most teenagers can’t relate to the supernatural abilities high school student Carrie (played by Sissy Spacek) experiences, the mean nature of high school-age bullies is (unfortunately) relatable. The plot comes together in a massive moment of chaos as the prom queen is crowned and a particularly horrifying prank plays out.

Where to stream it: Apple TV

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Say Anything (1989)

The premise of this movie is a masterclass in teenage love and the incredible weight of post-graduate decisions. Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) makes the decision to win over the heart of Diane Court (Ione Skye), the school’s brain-y beauty. It’s a classic tale of parental disapproval combined with the impact of a father’s poor decisions on his daughter, as she navigates the decision to study in England and how Lloyd plays into her plan — if at all. This one definitely hits on the list of top 10 teenage movies.

Where to stream it: Hulu, Apple TV

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Moonlight (2016)

Hopefully you’re familiar with Barry Jenkins’s 2016 masterpiece (based on the semi-autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney). But if you’re not, now is a great time to fall for Moonlight. Split into three stages of protagonist Chiron’s life, this Best Picture winner is a gorgeous coming-of-age story about Blackness, masculinity, and queerness. The second act finds Chiron and his friend Kevin in high school, played masterfully by Ashton Sanders and then 18-year-old Jharrel Jerome, who auditioned for the role while a freshman at Ithaca College.

Where to stream it: Showtime, Amazon Prime

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Good Burger (1997)

Children of the 90s everywhere can rejoice at the fact that Good Burger is streaming on Netflix. If you’re not a millennial, or if you were out to lunch when this absurdist cult classic first rocked our world, Good Burger is based on a sketch from Nickelodeon’s All That. In the movie, teenagers Dexter (Kenan Thompson) and Ed (Kel Mitchell) attempt to save their beloved fast food joint after a chain competitor, Mondo Burger, opens across the street. This David vs. Goliath story of corporate greed is as relevant today as it was when Kenan and Kel were teens and Sinbad dominated the box office. After you watch it, check out this oral history of Good Burger and catch the iconic duo reunite on The Tonight Show.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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Dope (2015)

Rick Famuyiwa’s Inglewood-set coming-of-age flick is a fun homage to 90s hip-hop culture and teen movies. Shameik Moore, who was 19at the time of the film’s Sundance 2015 premiere, stars as high school senior and 90s hip-hop geek, Malcolm, who gets mixed up in a drug deal along with his best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori).

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10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of 10 Things I Hate About You. A modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, this iconic late 90s rom-com tells the story of popular high school student, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who isn’t allowed to date until her outcast older sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), accepts a date of her own, and what happens when new student Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — smitten by Bianca — schemes to set Kat up with bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger). Press play and then check out these 10 life lessons from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Where to stream it: Disney+, YouTube

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Eighth Grade (2018)

Comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut tells the story of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a shy, social media-obsessed 13-year-old who struggles with anxiety, as she faces her fears during her final week of middle school. This A24 comedy-drama was adored by audiences of all ages when it hit indie theaters in 2018. Today, Eighth Grade’s conversation around social media, young adolescence, and anxiety is particularly timely in this age of ongoing social distancing.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, Showtime

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Mean Girls (2004)

Lindsay Lohan was 18when she played 16-year-old new girl, Cady Heron. Sixteen years later, mean girls have not gone away, and neither has our love for this smart and hilarious take on high school bullying and clique culture. Revisit this cultural touchstone and check out these 10 important lessons from Mean Girls.

Where to stream it: YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play

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The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

In The Edge of Seventeen, Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a precocious, self-absorbed teenager whose world turns upside down when her best friend starts dating her older brother. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, it’s a smart and touching addition to the teen angst coming-of-age canon. It’s also worth commending the film’s honest depiction of teen depression and mental health.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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Dick (1999)

I don’t know about you, but to me there’s nothing more satisfying than watching corrupt white men fall from power on screen — except, of course, watching it happen off-screen. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams were still teenagers when they starred as 15-year-old best friends who take down the President of the United States. Released on the heels of the 1999 Clinton impeachment, this goofy piece of historical revision still very much holds up.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

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Bring It On (2000)

Long before Cheer, there were the Rancho Carne Toros and the East Compton Clovers. Kirsten Dunst was still in high school when she played high school senior and cheer captain Torrance Shipman. Twenty years later, Bring It On is hailed by many as a glorious lesson on cultural theft. Gabrielle Union has herself spoken on the film’s timelessness. “There’s still that repackaging of Black culture and putting blonde hair and blue eyes on it—which I think is one of the exact lines in the movie that [director] Peyton [Reed] came up with on the first day,” Gabrielle told Complex. “It still speaks to a lot of people.”

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The Hate U Give (2018)

The film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s YA novel of the same name, The Hate U Give sees Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, a 16 year old straddling two worlds — the poor, mostly Black neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white prep school she attends — who witnesses the fatal police shooting of her childhood best friend. As the plot would suggest, this is not an easy watch. For those who are impacted by police violence, please exercise self-care.

Where to stream it: Hulu, Amazon Prime

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Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)

If ever there was a time to revisit this Disney Channel classic, it’s now. Set in 2049, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century tells the story of 13-year-old space station resident, Zenon (Kirsten Storms), who’s sent away to live on earth. While there, she uncovers a plot to destroy the space station. Not surprisingly, the adults ignore her plea to act. Sound familiar? Watch Zenon for the climate change allegory it suddenly packs or just for the nostalgia (hellooo, Protozoa). Either way, enjoy.

Where to stream it: Disney+, Amazon Prime, YouTube

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Skate Kitchen (2018)

Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen follows an all-girl skate crew around New York City. Though scripted, this gritty skate drama stars the real-life members of the Skate Kitchen. In fact, other than love interest Jaden Smith and Orange is the New Black actor Elizabeth Rodriguez, the film’s cast consisted entirely of non-actors at the time it was filmed. It’s a welcome addition to the skate genre, which has historically excluded the experiences of women and girls, and women and girls of color in particular.

Where to stream it: Hulu, YouTube, Google Play

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Clueless (1995)

Twenty five years before the more recent Emma movie adaptation, there was another take on the iconic Jane Austen novel. Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy (R.I.P.) were both 18 when they starred as Cher Horowitz and Tai Frasier in the iconic mid-90s classic. A quarter-century later, Clueless is just as fun.

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Charlie Bartlett (2008)

Anton Yelchin tragically died in 2016 at age 27. Teen comedy-drama Charlie Bartlett was one of his most memorable roles. In it, then 18-year-old Yelchin stars as the titular Charlie Bartlett, a wealthy teenager who begins to act as his new public school’s in-house shrink. The film touches on themes of mental health and addiction impacting young people.

Where to stream it: YouTube, Amazon, Google Play

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A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Ava DuVernay broke through major barriers when she brought Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 fantasy story to the big screen. Ava, the first Black woman to direct a film with a budget of over $100 million, recast the book’s white teen protagonist as a 14-year-old Black girl (Storm Reid). When else in movie history has a Black woman had the opportunity to build an entire universe with a Black girl at the center of it?

Where to stream it: Disney+

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

We’re pretty sure any roundup of teenage movies would be tragically incomplete without this heartwarming romance in it. A best-selling YA trilogy turned breakout phenomenon, the To All the Boys franchise isn’t just beloved for its sweetly relatable protagonist, Lara Jean Song Covey, and her (accidental) romantic exploits. It also helped usher in a new era of Asian and Asian-American stories on screen, plus its success inspired Netflix to invest in a slew of other made-to-stream teen rom-coms. What don’t we have To All The Boys to thank for? Make sure you’re caught up on the full trilogy before Netflix’s spinoff show hits screens.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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Booksmart (2019)

An A+ addition to the “one-crazy-night-changes-everything” camp of comedies, Booksmart gives us a sublimely snappy duo in the form of Molly (Beanie Feldstein, younger sister to Johan Hill) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). The girls are brainy, Ivy League-bound best buds who come to realize they’ve let high school slip by without stirring up any trouble. So, with just a handful of hours ahead of graduation to go, they correct that. Reviewers at the time called it “like Superbad, but with girls and better,” and honestly, that sums it up pretty perfectly.

Where to stream it: Hulu, YouTube

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Yes, God, Yes (2019)

Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer kills it as a Catholic school student awakening to having a sexuality in an extremely sex-negative environment. It’s funny and it’s frank and, with a spot-on screenplay from Karen Maine, a Catholic high school alum herself, it’ll feel cringingly familiar to anyone who’s been subjected to an abstinence-only education.

Where to stream it: Netflix, YouTube

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What a Girl Wants (2003)

It’s hard to say whether What a Girl Wants or She’s the Man is the more classic mid-aughts Amanda Bynes flick. The scene where Bynes’ untameable-American-teen Daphne crashes a catwalk to the tune of Willa Ford’s “I Wanna Be Bad” may have been what edged this one onto the list, though. The movie follows Bynes as she, having hopped a plane to London, meets her father (Colin Firth) for the first time. Turns out, he’s a Lord! Who didn’t know she existed! Firth in leather pants and Oliver James’ ultra-2003 spiky hair feature among the movie’s highlights.

Where to stream it: Netflix, YouTube, Amazon

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But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

It’s got Natasha Lyonne. It’s got RuPaul. And it’s got a whole lot of satire. A classic in the queer canon, the movie follows a high school cheerleader (Lyonne) whose parents suspect of her not being straight (she’s a vegetarian who loves Melissa Etheridge). Sent to a conversion therapy camp, she meets Graham (Clea DuVall), another camp attendee, and discovers that she really, really isn’t straight in this comedic, campy takedown of homophobia.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, YouTube

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See You Yesterday (2019)

Spike Lee mentee Stefon Bristol’s directorial debut makes a nod to fellow teens-who-time-travel classic Back to the Future, but with an urgently topical twist. The sci-fi drama follows two Black teen STEM prodigies (Eden Duncan-Smith and Danté Crichlow) from Brooklyn who put one of their inventions, a time travel backpack, to the test in a bid to thwart police brutality. A story about grief and the horrors of systemic racism, it’s anchored within a teen comedy-adventure format that lets in a little light, too.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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Heathers (1988)

No roundup of high school movies could be complete without Heathers. It manages to be both a wonderfully dark satire of the teen movie and an iconic teen movie in and of itself. Following accidental-murderess Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) and her gaggle of frenemies collectively known as the Heathers, it’s a black comedy that combines cliques and croquet and 19-year-old Christian Slater to extremely memorable effect.

Where to stream it: Hulu, Amazon Prime

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Divines (2016)

French-Moroccan filmmaker Houda Benyamina made a splash at Cannes with her directorial debut, and it’s not hard to see why. A coming-of-age thriller, Divines tells the story of two best friends, Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena), who are fed up with how clearly the system is stacked against them. Growing up in Paris’ working-class suburbs, they link up with a gang helmed by the drug-dealing Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda) in a bid to take economic mobility into their own hands. The girls’ friendship is the story’s heart, but there’s plenty of social commentary packed in along with it.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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The Craft (1996)

“We are the weirdos, mister.” And just like that, The Craft earned its place in the hearts of occult-leaning teens forever. The story follows Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney), a telekinetic teen who’s new to her Catholic prep school and in need of friends. A trio of outcasts, led by the sinister Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk), takes the job, and forming a coven is naturally the next step. Expect plenty of dark magic and even darker lipstick.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube

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Dumplin’ (2018)

Love Dolly Parton, body positivity and drag queens? Us, too. They’re a big part of the reason we found the dramedy Dumplin’ such a treat. Danielle Macdonald stars as Willowdean Dixon, the plus-size, Backwoods Barbie-loving teen daughter of a former Texas beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston). Mom and daughter don’t exactly see eye-to-eye, and in an act of protest, Willowdean decides to enter the Miss Teen Bluebonnet beauty pageant her mom directs. What ensues is coming-of-age tenderness, a beautifully body-pos message and plenty of silliness to boot.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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Empire Records (1995)

Just three months after another all-time teen classic on this list, Clueless, came out, Empire Records was released. A mid-90s time capsule with a cult following, it follows a group of miscreant, misfit teens who work together at an independent record store that’s under threat of being turned into a corporate conglomerate. The motley group attempts to save the store and stick it to The Man in an effort that includes running off with the store’s money to Atlantic City. Liv Tyler and Renée Zellweger are both in this, and please refer back to “time capsule” in regards to their (perfect) wardrobes.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime, Hulu, Google Play

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The Princess Diaries (2001)

The movie that ignited mass bedroom envy — seriously, Mia (Anne Hathaway) lived at the top of a spiral staircase in a firehouse-turned-art studio — and inspired you to put M&Ms on your pizza at least once. (Don’t deny it.) Featuring a classic movie makeover sequence if there ever was one, 20 years later, Princess Diaries still reliably hits all the right sentimental notes. Plus, actual queen Julie Andrews playing Grandma-Queen Clarisse Renaldi? What more could you want!

Where to stream it: Disney+, Amazon Prime, YouTube

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The Breakfast Club (1985)

If you’re going to enter the whitewashed universe of John Hughes at all, some would argue it should be for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Sixteen Candles. But our money is on The Breakfast Club. In some ways, it’s about as teen movie as you can get with the explicitly stated roles each character in the Saturday-detention squad holds: the Nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), the Beauty (Molly Ringwald), the Jock (Emilio Estevez), The Rebel (Judd Nelson) and the Basket Case (Ally Sheedy). But it does offer a more thoughtful look at teen angst, and the reasons for it, than Hughes’ other movies.

Where to stream it: Google Play, Amazon Prime, YouTube

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Twilight (2008)

We felt obligated to end things with a solid hate-watch-that-you-secretly-love suggestion. Need a healthy helping of the supernatural along with your teen romance movies? Why not make a date with the Cullens and return to Forks, Washington, where you can revel in Kristen Stewart’s clumsiness as Bella and rewind at least once when Robert Pattinson makes That Face in the science classroom. All jokes aside, between love triangles and new-kid-at-school tropes, there are plenty of reasons the Twilight saga is true teen movie fodder.

Where to stream it: Netflix

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