Anyone who has ever been a teenager at some point heard the following words from a knowing adult: “These are the best years of your life”. Anyone who can remember being a teenager knows that’s a complete lie made up by old people because they can’t remember anything.
A select few had great times during their high school years, feeling accomplished, accepted, and happy throughout. For the other ninety five percent, those teenage years can be years of loneliness, isolation, unexplained emotions, painful internal yearnings to fit in, and endless vowing to never end up with the same life as one’s parents.
The films on this list show the raw, dark truth of many teenage stories. They all attempt to capture the heightened emotions and feelings that are exclusive to those years. As a result, many of the films on this list have been a great comfort to the youths who have loved them, and some of them have even achieved to remind adults of the feelings they’ve forgotten over the years.
Whether or not you respond to them personally, these films best reflect the years of frustrated, horomonally challenged states of mind that have more to do with shaping who we are as adults than we could ever fully recognize.
30. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
This was the first, but certainly not last, film to suffer the inevitable backlash of Diablo Cody’s household name-making (not to mention Oscar-winning) success for writing the screenplay to the 2007 hit Juno.
Jennifer’s Body works on a number of different levels, mainly because it knows its place in film history (it’s unabashedly Carrie meets Heathers if it was directed by Sam Raimi). Jennifer’s Body is downright silly, sometimes spooky, but always astute in its observations of teenage life. Director Karyn Kusama does a fine job of communicating the many layers of Cody’s cleverly designed screenplay.
29. Better Off Dead (1985)
Like Heathers, Better Off Dead successfully manages to satirize and shed light on the highly serious topic of teenage suicide. The film succeeds in distancing its audience from the darkness of its plot (a teenage boy portrayed by a very young John Cusack repeatedly attempts and fails to commit suicide after being dumped by his flakey girlfriend) by examining it in such an absurd, almost inappropriate eye.
Better Off Dead ultimately succeeds, however, as much for its cleverness as it does for its clear moral that is revealed by it’s sincere (though bent) heart at the film’s end.
28. Brick (2005)
Rian Johnson’s directorial debut is an amped-up murder mystery noir (complete with 1950’s-inspired hard boiled pulp dialogue) that ingeniously revolves around a group of high school students. Secretive meetings that should take place in bars over shots of whiskey are now set in suburban kitchens over milk and cookies.
Joseph Gordon Levitt delivers in one of his first lead film roles, and more than proves he has always been capable of becoming the increasingly fascinating leading man he’s become.
27. Down In the Valley (2005)
A prime cinematic case for why it’s never a good idea for a teenage girl (in the case of this film, an always great Evan Rachel Wood) to follow her hormones and date the much older, mysterious man (Edward Norton, in one of his best and most unknown roles) who makes her feel like a grown woman.
Wood’s character is a bored, unguided teenage girl who finds herself thrown into the life of Norton’s very charming but dangerously delusional drifter. Haunting and unique, Down In the Valley is a rare character-driven thriller that is every bit as disturbing as it intoxicating in its portrayal of naïve teenage love gone wrong.
26. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
What makes this move such a (as it’s recent remake proves, irreplaceable) classic is the sheer genius, pure horror, and utter simplicity of its premise and execution: that creepy dude who lingered around your childhood can now haunt you in your teenage years where you are most helpless, in your dreams.
The original gets right everything the remake did wrong: nothing is entirely explained, mysteries remain, just enough of the horror is left to your imagination, and just enough gore is shoved in your face to make you the right kind of nauseous throughout.
Robert Englund is horrific for the first and only time in a Freddy Krueger movie before its countless sequels turned him into an iconic, wisecracking, and always- entertaining screen villain. But he was, sadly, never again scary. In writer/director/ creator Wes Craven’s hands for this first and greatest film of the franchise, however, Freddy Krueger will forever remain the wholly disturbing, back-from-the-dead, and heavily deformed child molester that ruined many teenagers’ wonder years’ dreams.
25. Bully (2001)
Larry Clark’s nasty little film is based on a true story about a group of borderline sociopathic and hopelessly disconnected teens who retaliate against the sadistic bully in their social circle by (very sloppily) ganging up on him and killing him. If Clark’s Kids shined the light on the dark, apathetic nature of nineties adolescents,
Bully extinguishes that light and wholly wallows in the darkness left behind. Bully is a tough, bitter pill of a movie that makes no apologies for what it is, and doesn’t really pretend to have much of a point other than to rub the adults of the world’s noses in the messes they’ve created.
Nick Stahl, as the titular bully, dives headfirst into the dark recesses of his depraved sicko character, and gives one of the most whole-heartedly committed and terrifying (not to mention completely underrated) portrayals of evil ever put on film.
24. Thirteen (2003)
The dark side of a girl’s early teenage years is on full display in Catherine Hardwick’s Thirteen. Frank and courageous, Thirteen masterfully exhibits all the confusion and pain associated with the early times of a girl’s teenage years, while also highlighting the excitement and discovery of power that comes with the territory, as well.
Evan Rachel Wood and Vanessa Hudgens both deliver impressively naturalistic break through performances that are as troubling as they are accurate.