One of the things I like to do when I need to escape is to watch a movie. Or two. Or eight. They’re soothing to me because I can take a break from my life and watch someone else’s. I love a good romantic comedy, action-adventure, documentary, and so on. One of my very favorite genres, however, is the teen movie.
I believe that we never stop growing up. The more we experience, the more lessons we learn, and the more we mature and learn about ourselves. We grow up in different ways at different times. Teen movies usually teach some kind of life lesson in which the character or characters learn something about themselves or the world, and their lives are better for it. If I can connect with the characters, even by the slightest personality trait or simply through something they said, that movie makes an imprint on my life that teaches me something of great importance or reassures me when I need it most—or both.
In any case, I experienced many changes in my life as a teenager, and teen movies were one of the things that helped me make sense of them. I have so many favorites, which makes it hard to narrow down, but here are some of my must-see teen movie recommendations.
Aquamarine is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve always loved mermaids, probably because I watched The Little Mermaid so much as a kid. At the time, H20: Just Add Water was on as well, and I was hooked on that show, so this movie came out at the perfect time.
However, the thing I most love about this movie is the way the friendships are portrayed. Claire (Emma Roberts) and Hailey (JoJo Levesque) were, and remain, my idols. I loved them and their friendship, and I loved it even more when Aquamarine herself (Sara Paxton) was added to the picture. Just days before Hailey is due to move to Australia, Aquamarine washes ashore and tasks the teenage friends with helping her find love. She needs to prove to her father that love exists and so that she can be let out of an arranged marriage. Willing to help her to stop Hailey from moving, a wish that Aquamarine promises to grant them if they help her succeed, Claire and Hailey eagerly take on the assignment.
I love their adventures, their attempts to set up Aquamarine with Raymond (I had a major crush on him, just like Claire and Hailey), and watching the three gradually bond with one another. The central theme was how love exists in all forms, not just romance. Love exists between friends, making them family. You’d do anything for them, and vice versa.
As Hailey says, love is “the closest thing we have to magic.” That quote has always stuck with me. Whenever I feel disillusioned with the world, humanity, or simply my own life, I turn to the movies that remind me of the greatest magical power we have in this world: love. In its most pure form, it’s unconditional, it’s eternal, and it will change your life for the better. When we love people, whether it’s a friend or family member, we would do anything for them, even if it means a sacrifice on our part, but we don’t think twice. Love conquers all. As Aquamarine demonstrates, friendship is one of the most powerful forms of love we can ever have.
Claire’s and Hailey’s friendship is strong; they spend pretty much every moment together, and have for years. It appears the two of them hang out with no one else, at least until they meet Aquamarine. Before meeting the mermaid, the two are struggling in their own ways. Claire is afraid of being left behind in the town she’s lived in all her life, and that she’ll never have another friend like Hailey. She’s terrified that Hailey going means she’ll be alone, which is something she struggles with especially given her parents unexpectedly drowned when she was little, leaving her with her grandparents. Claire doesn’t have much, but when it comes to the people she does have, she loves them deeply and is fiercely loyal to them. Having that broken makes Claire feel insecure and afraid.
Meanwhile, Hailey doesn’t want to leave Claire. For one, she doesn’t want to leave her best friend, and two, she’s afraid of moving to a new place-a new country entirely-and fears that she’ll never make another friend like Claire. Her mother points out that she didn’t want to leave Boston either, but that if she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have met Claire. However, this doesn’t do much to put Hailey’s mind at ease. Hailey is faced with a significant change in her life, and initially, she is steadfastly against it.
Aquamarine did so much more than give them an adventure; she gave them both reassurance. By becoming friends with Hailey and Claire, she proved to both girls that they could make new friends and share the bond they share with other people. Aquamarine helps Hailey realize she has to go to Australia and support her mom, and that she will be okay. In turn, Aquamarine helps Claire realize that she won’t be alone, and with their wish still unused, Claire and Hailey will get to see each other again sooner than they think. Aquamarine raised their self-esteem, allowing them to see what they were each capable of doing and that even with the big change of Hailey leaving, they would be alright, and they would never be alone.
That ending scene, as the three all declare what they would give for one another and how much they love each other, has me in tears every time. I’d hate to say goodbye to my best friend, and I have had to say goodbye to several of my friends over the years as we’ve moved to different parts of the country to pursue our dreams, but at the end of the day, they’re not gone. It’s just goodbye for now, because you can still talk to them, and you know you’ll visit each other. If only we all had mermaid friends who could magically make those visits happen anytime, anywhere.
The Breakfast Club
I was around 16 when I saw this 1985 classic. My mom noticed it was on TV one weekend and taped it, then watched it with me. I remember we had a conversation about it afterward, talking about our favorite characters and the depth of the subjects the movie references. These were five different high schoolers, all from diverse backgrounds. However, they shared many important things in common. For one, they’re all misfits in their own ways. Each of them is terribly unhappy. Each of them has experienced some degree of family dysfunction. Each of them wants an escape. Their connection is legendary: in just one Saturday, they let their walls down and connect with others they never thought they would.
Claire (Molly Ringwald) was the princess, Bender (Judd Nelson) was the criminal, Andrew (Emilio Estevez) was the athlete, Brian was the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall) and Allison (Ally Sheedy) was the basketcase. John Hughes created these characters and made them real, and the actors made them come to life. These characters talked about the problems of being a part of different cliques, the drama of family life, the woes of growing up. They are things that no one talks about, or necessarily wants to talk about, but at the same time, everyone goes through them. Their discussions and their ability to connect with one another, despite them being from different backgrounds, was incredible. It proves that you shouldn’t stick to one group of people and that you can be friends with anyone. For me, it made me feel less isolated in how I was struggling, that I wasn’t in the boat alone, and at the time, that was one of the things I needed to be reminded of the most.
Plus the fact that each character in the film was struggling with his or her identity. Part of growing up is discovering who you are, what you want, and what drives you. Everyone has their moments of identity crisis in which they question who they are, perhaps even wishing they were someone else. I’ve had a moment or two of that, and it’s nice to know that it’s not as abnormal as one may think from time to time.
I’ve always thought Brian’s struggle with suicidal thoughts, given the pressures he faced daily, was ahead of its time. That topic is more widely discussed now than ever before, but in 1985, that wasn’t the case. Brian’s feelings are not diminished, and the group makes him feel important. Though they don’t want to write their essays, there is another point to asking Brian to write it for all of them: to highlight his talents. He is the smartest in the group and therefore should have the honor, and his words are forever immortalized:
Dear Mr. Vernon,
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions…
Those words taught me not to care how the world saw me. People would form their own opinions. Yet those who really cared enough to know the real me would see past the screens of judgment, whether it be their own or someone else’s, and truly see the soul beneath. Those would be the people that would matter. And I was content with that.
The other important thing I learned is that, as a grownup, I would never let my heart die. I would not fall into a pattern in which I would become desensitized to the world and allow my soul to be degraded by the harshness that life can sometimes bring. I would rise, and I would be stronger for it. Like Allison, I care. I care very much, and I refuse to let my heart die, no matter what.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
I picked this movie out of a bin at Safeway not long after it had come out, and I have never regretted it. Logan Lerman’s character, Charlie, is groundbreaking. He has gone through so much, and the movie does not shy away from his struggles. It outlines them, but it also portrays how Charlie overcomes them with help from his new friends Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). They change and influence his life, an eternal impact that makes Charlie’s life brighter.
I remember how much this movie inspired me to try new things and to live in the moment. I wanted to be free; I wanted to extend my arms while standing in the back of a truck, driving through a tunnel, as though I were flying. I wanted that moment where nothing could get to me and where I felt absolutely liberated, even from my own insecurities.
That tunnel scene in the movie’s conclusion is one of my favorite scenes, not just in teen movies, but out of any movie I’ve ever seen—and trust me, I’ve seen a lot of films. Just watching that scene makes me feel as though I’m capable of anything, as though I, too, am infinite.
Charlie is one of my favorite characters. Like Charlie, I’m a writer, and I’m also a bookworm. I was also friends with my English teacher in high school. Charlie gave me someone to relate to, and I understood where he was coming from. He is shy and uncertain; his world suddenly opened up when Sam and Patrick each take him under their wings. I hung out with friends in college that introduced me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show so that later became a sentimental aspect as well.
Seeing a character like Charlie changed my life because I’d never seen another character like him, and it made me feel invincible to a certain degree. Charlie’s story proves that the right people come into your life just when you need them the most. In turn, Charlie overcame his obstacles to put himself out there and to be open to everything Patrick and Sam exposed him to. He learned about their struggles as well, which deepened the connection between them all.
Patrick confided in Charlie about his tumultuous love life after Charlie walked in on Patrick kissing another guy from their school. When push came to shove, Charlie later defended him, which won back his friendships with Sam, Patrick and the rest of the group. We saw his mental health take a dive when he kissed Sam instead of his girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), and this led to none of them hanging out with him anymore. We can see the stark difference in Charlie when he has his friends, and when he loses them. He is so much better with them, and in several ways, they are so much better with Charlie.
It’s one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn in mental health. When the right people are in your life, they change it for the better and there’s a noticeable difference in your mental health. You feel it in your very soul, and the darkness is easier to dissolve.
Plus, let’s not forget: if Charlie can overcome all he has, what else is there to stop him?
10 Things I Hate About You
Kat (Julia Stiles) and Patrick (Heath Ledger) wind up making the perfect couple, but it’s no easy journey to get to where they are. Kat isn’t easy to get along with and is shown to be prickly, opinionated, and fiercely independent. Her reason for being so antisocial becomes clearer over time, especially when she tells her sister about her experience as a freshman with Joey (Andrew Keegan), in which she succumbed to peer pressure and had sex with him. Then deeply regretting it afterward and having to deal with Joey dumping her.
Patrick was paid to date Kat so her sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) could also date, as Bianca and Kat’s father is strict and overprotective, especially where it concerns his daughters and dating. Though it’s seemingly a cruel plan, Patrick and Kat help each other in many ways, allowing Kat to trust again and giving Patrick someone he ends up truly caring for. Love may not be perfect, but despite their rocky beginning, it’s worth it for both Patrick and Kat.
I love a movie, especially a teen movie, that has characters showing love in unexpected and unusual ways for one another. Patrick with the marching band, attempting to win over Kat, and Kat declaring that she still loves Patrick despite his deception with her poem, “10 Things I Hate About You,” are particularly unforgettable.
Kat’s faith in others is severely shaken after her terrible experience with Joey. It’s clear that her mental health took a dive and she developed distrust in others from then on, broken only when the right person, Patrick, came along. Sometimes it’s friends or family that can get through, but in cases like this, sometimes it’s love, a real love, that truly breaks down a person’s walls and gets them to trust again. Kat became a better person when she was with Patrick, and the fact that Patrick worked as hard as he did, even when his deception was exposed, to win over Kat meant so much because it showed just how much he loved her, and that he was someone she could trust with everything she had.
In any case, despite the odds stacked against them, love still comes through for Kat and Patrick. They don’t necessarily have the most romantic start, but they do have one of the most romantic endings. Patrick puts his payday to good use, purchasing a guitar so Kat can start her band. Sometimes you need a movie that reaffirms your belief in love, especially when love seems impossible, and 10 Things I Hate About You has nothing to hate—“not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”
She’s All That
This movie shows how superficial and materialistic high school can be. Whether it’s Taylor (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) leaving her popular boyfriend for a guy from The Real World, or a bet made between two buddies as to whether one of them can make a random girl into a prom queen within six weeks—everything that makes high school difficult is portrayed.
Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) is an artist and loner, and just so happens to be who Dean (Paul Walker) picks for his best friend Zack (Freddie Prinze Jr.) to make prom-queen-ready by the six-week deadline. Laney is resistant, seeing through Zack’s charms, only agreeing to a date with him after he befriends her brother, in an attempt to put an end to it. From then on, her life is never the same.
Laney is content with who she is. She doesn’t need status to feel whole. She even tells Taylor once, “Thank you. For a minute there, I forgot why I avoided places like this and people like you.” Unfortunately, Taylor is cruel and brings Laney to tears with her harsh words after that, but Laney is still unafraid to stand up for herself. It’s not easy, especially in high school, when teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood and trying to figure out who they are and where they’re going and can feel vulnerable to peer pressure and fellow students.
Laney keeps her distance from the in-crowds on purpose. Unlike them, nothing has been handed to her; she has worked hard to earn the things she has. She’s a gifted artist, and looks and money mean nothing to her. However, something clearly changed once Zack’s sister gave her a makeover. Sometimes a makeover can boost your confidence, but it’s what inside that matters. Laney remembers this, which is what makes her stance against Taylor at a party so meaningful. She is brave, but she is not immune to Taylor’s harsh words, though she doesn’t let it keep her down in the end. Laney is not ashamed of who she is or where she comes from; she is far more mature and responsible than most of her classmates, but in a way, she is closed off from the world.
Zack gets her to open up over time, and that’s part of why his deception was so devastating: just when Laney thought he was trustworthy and that she was falling for him, she finds out she’s just a bet. It sent her mental health and confidence in a downward spiral. However, Zack truly does have feelings for her, and that’s why I love the fact that he declares how he feels, remedying the situation and getting Laney to forgive him and be with him. They are both better when they are together, with Zack being more like himself and Laney being more open to the world and what it has to offer.
Unfortunately, since Zack lost the bet, it also means that he has to attend the high school graduation ceremony naked. Laney doesn’t appear to mind.
Despite the woes of high school, love still develops from the unlikeliest of places, as long as both parties are willing to let it and don’t allow everyone else to come in between them. It’s forever an important message and one of the reasons why I love this movie so much. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a good teen movie, especially one from the ’90s?
There are so many wonderful teen movies out there that I love for different reasons. I could go on and on recommending my favorites—Can’t Buy Me Love, The DUFF, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles (obviously, I love John Hughes movies)—but I’ll stop myself here. Teen movies are my teachers, my escapism, my guilty pleasures, and they’ve never let me down.
It’s important to maintain your mental health. Checking on my mental health helps me sleep, work, and get everything done that I need to. It makes me calmer, able to tackle anything, even my greatest problems and struggles, with more ease and less stress.
Movies are a big deal in my family. I grew up watching my fair share of them, and when it came to teen movies, my mom introduced them all to me. We’ve spent hours watching them over and over again and had even more conversations about them. One of our favorites is The Breakfast Club, which is another reason why that particular teen movie is so special to me.
With that said, I leave you with this, from that film: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”