"Have a latte. Vote for Taylor!"
We've all seen them, but did we really appreciate them for what they were? Yes, I am talking about the abundance of teen movies that hit in the '90s. The decade started and finished fairly strong and delivered us some of the most memorable characters, insults, and stories of my generation. The fact that I still hear people my age and a bit younger saying, "as if!" goes to show how powerful the decade was for film.
Within the decade, we as a teenagers and pre-teens learned valuable life lessons although it might not seem like it. The overall plot themes for a majority of these movies was to just be yourself and sort of carry the mantra of, "I am who I am no matter what you have to say about it." We also had psycho stalkers, breakups, make ups, and the overall challenges of becoming young adults.
With this list I am focusing on the '90s teen movies that were the brightest and most memorable and I want to stress that these are not in any sort of "worst to best" or numerical order, so don't panic if one of the greats is lower down on the list. That doesn't mean I'm saying it's bad. The genres span from romantic comedies to horror to drama to just plain comedy. The decade had no real boundaries and that's what made it so great. You'll also notice a lot of these were released in 1999, so I guess the whole Y2K thing really panicked Hollywood as well.
Disclaimer: this list is in no particular order!
22. Never Been Kissed (1999)
Never Been Kissed is, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked films in comparison to a lot of others. It is one of the many that came in the last year of the decade, but that doesn't make it less relevant. The story follows Drew Barrymore as Josie, a 25-year old rookie reporter who is sent back to high school to pose as a 17-year old and write an expose on the teenagers of the day.
The film contained several jokes and included the groups of every school in the country: popular kids, nerds, outcasts, brains, and more. The lessons Josie learns about high school and about herself help her heal existing wounds from her teenage years and aid her in moving forward as an adult. Aside from Barrymore, the film also starred David Arquette and much younger, less popular versions of Leelee Sobieski, Jessica Alba, Marley Shelton, James Franco, and Michael Vartan.
21. The Craft (1996)
This was definitely one of those movies your mom was nervous to let you watch at a sleepover. The Craft touched on the subject of witchcraft in a somewhat believable sense, seeing that just about every group of teenagers has that "goth" group that most people think are scaring everyone for fun. The difference here was the girls actually knew what they were doing.
The Craft followed Sarah (Robin Tunney) as she enrolls in an upscale Catholic school and falls into a trio of outcast girls claiming to be a witch coven. With the addition of Sarah, the group soon begins to conjure up spells and curses, leaving the group's leader, Nancy (Fairuza Balk), in a delusional state of power. The film also starred Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Rachel True, and Christine Taylor.
20. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)
Back in the high times for Natasha Lyonne we had this not so subtle '90s gem. But I'm a Cheerleader touched on the subject of homosexuality in more of a satirical way, but it wasn't necessarily disrespectful. Lyonne plays the film's protagonist Megan, a naive cheerleader who is sent to a rehab facility after her friends and parents suspect she is a lesbian.
I remember watching this for the first time and thinking it was pretty hilarious, but the more you look at it as our society has changed and evolved regarding human rights issues I think it deserves a second look by a lot of people. Starring alongside Lyonne was Clea DuVall, Michelle Williams, RuPaul, and Dante Basco (Ru-fi-oooooooooooo).
19. Encino Man (1992)
"Shush! Hush please!"
There's no getting around the fact that Pauley Shore was a major part of the early to mid '90s. In the sea of Shore films such as In the Army Now, Son in Law, and Bio-Dome, he really hit a grand slam with this 1992 film which also introduced the world to a baby-faced Brendan Fraser. It is a stupid, buddy comedy but it has some serious hilarious moments and it is very quotable.
Shore and Sean Astin starred as teenage outcast buddies Dave and Stoney as they stumble across a frozen cave-man (Fraser) while digging a pool in the backyard. The duo defrost the prehistoric man, disguise him as a foreign exchange student, and use him as a tool to gain them overnight popularity. The fun thing about Encino Man is, although the premise is completely out there, the characters are pretty easy to relate to and the overall moral of the story isn't bad either.
18. Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991)
This is one of the earliest films to hit the '90s and you can tell because it still has the '80s written all over it in terms of fashion and slang. However, it is still an enjoyable movie and it covers teenagers in a bit of a different light than most other typical teen movies.
After being left in the care of a babysitter all summer, a group of five siblings must fend for themselves after the babysitter dies of a heart attack. I thought what this movie did most of all is show how siblings really do stick together when push comes to shove. Granted, the eldest sibling Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate) basically scams her way into an LA fashion firm, she does it purely to support herself and her siblings while mom is away. The overall moral of the story is a good one and I'm glad to see this movie has held up over time... and hasn't been remade. Well, not yet.
17. Wish Upon a Star (1996)
This is the only television movie on this list, but I still wanted to include it because despite being made for television it is a fun movie overall. Starring Katherine Heigl and Danielle Harris as polar opposite sisters Haley and Alexia, the pair swap bodies after Haley wishes to be her pretty and popular older sister when she sees a shooting star.
It was pretty much just another modern rip-off of Freaky Friday, but the way the sister were portrayed was rather believable. It's also a nice end to the story as they learn that despite their differences and despite the arguments, they had a lot more in common than they thought.
16. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
This version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great one and it sadly got overshadowed by the television show. I think that's really all there is to it. It's a fun adaptation and it fit with the times of the early '90s.
Kristy Swanson starred as Buffy, a popular cheerleader who is approached by a mysterious man and told she is the one destined to slay the vampires. While fulfilling her duties and embracing her new life, she turns to the town outcast named Pike (Luke Perry) and together they bond to destroy an ancient vampire. The film also starred Donald Sutherland, Hilary Swank, Paul Reubens, Stephen Root, and David Arquette.
15. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
10 Things is easily one of the more popular '90s films due to its cast and even more so the script. Containing some of the best one-liners and insults of the decade, the loose adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew resonated with critics and helped wrap up the definition of the generation.
The story is centered around a teenage boy named Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he pursues a girl named Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) only to find out she and her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) aren't allowed to date. After convincing their father to allow Bianca to date Cameron there is still one caveat... they have to find a date for Kat, too.
The film cast consisted of many other '90s and early 2000's staples including Heath Ledger, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, and David Krumholtz. If you ask most people, the second most loved Heath Ledger character is Patrick Verona.
14. The Faculty (1998)
One of the few horror films on the list, The Faculty was a decent and fun take on an alien invasion. Another late '90s film starring popular actors such as Clea DuVall, Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster, Usher Raymond, and Shawn Hatosy, it told the story of a high school faculty being overtaken by extraterrestrials.
The Faculty is one of those movies that you remember seeing and when you watch it again you can tell how cheesy it is, but you still enjoy watching it. I bought it after finding it cheap on Amazon and after a repeat viewing after many years, I still enjoy watching it for what it's worth. Who doesn't love crazy teachers?
13. Election (1999)
Another late '90s release, Election is one of the more memorable ones for me because of how funny it was. Matthew Broderick plays a high school teacher who enlists the school's quarterback (Chris Klein) to run against a previously unopposed candidate (Reese Witherspoon) for student body president.
Election is another film with a great cast and an even better script. The one liners and insults this movie contains are priceless.
12. Jawbreaker (1999)
Deal with it! For some reason, Jawbreaker is the movie that people tried to forget even existed. It was one you no doubt watched at a sleepover one time, thought it was funny, and then never heard about it again. It's a real shame because for me it's one of my favorite movies of the decade.
Jawbreaker follows a trio of friends as they accidentally murder their friend and prom queen, Liz, after a prank kidnapping goes wrong. Things take a turn for the worse after an outcast girl named Fern (Judy Greer) stumbles upon the group's accident. To keep her quiet, Courtney (Rose McGowan) turns Fern into the most popular teen dream in school.
The backbone of every great movie of the decade was the script. Jawbreaker was another with a flawless script and truly mean teenage girls. Before we had Mean Girls, we had Courtney and Fern.
11. Empire Records (1995)
Empire Records is one of those simple concepts that turned out great. Again, great script and a great cast. The film is centralized around the employees of an independent music store as they bond together to avoid being absorbed by a major corporation. Coincidentally, they all seem to be having one of the worst days ever.
The cast consists of Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger, Anthony LaPaglia, Robin Tunney, Debi Mazar, Rory Cochrane, and Ethan Embry. It resonated rather highly among critics and most people in my age bracket and a bit older definitely reflected on the characters.
10. Scream (1996)
You can't make a '90s list without including Scream. I think a lot of people took it as more of a parody of the horror genre and they're probably right. As the franchise moved on and actually did parody itself it became more evident what they were trying to do with this story.
Following a brutal murder of a high school student, a group of friends is confronted with a masked killer out for blood. In order to survive the group must come to terms with how well they remember their favorite scary movies.
Like it or not, Scream became a defining movie for the generation and aided in molding the modern slasher film. The cast included several popular actors of the time such as Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Jamie Kennedy. They must have done something right because we had Scream 4 in 2011 and MTV just launched a Scream television series. Not to mention being the main target of satire in Scary Movie.
9. Now and Then (1995)
Everyone remembers watching Now and Then. You can't deny that one.
This 1970s coming of age story followed four friends played by Thora Birch, Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, and Ashleigh Ashton Moore as they endure an eventful summer in a small Indiana town. 20 years after making a pact to always be there for each other, the friends reunite in their hometown and slowly relive the summer that turned them into lifelong friends.
I've always loved Now and Then and especially now that I have endured and lost friendships made during childhood, it's probably one of the more deep and emotional teen movies of the decade. It comes face to face with murder mystery, death, divorce, and the overall pain of exiting your childhood into young adulthood. It reflected the time period well and also gave insight into how everyone's upbringing is different, as you see in the characters. It's also a rare occasion where the adult counterparts to the child actors were cast perfectly.
8. Cruel Intentions (1999)
Who doesn't remember Cruel Intentions? The dialogue alone is why parents, including mine, didn't want their kids watching this raunchy movie which was essentially the Gossip Girl of the '90s. Thank God for middle school sleepovers or I would have never seen Cruel Intentions.
The film stars Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, along with several other '90s acting staples (Joshua Jackson and Selma Blair, anyone?) in this story about sex, deceit, wealth, and romance. Gellar plays a wealthy teen named Kathryn who bets her step-brother, Sebastian, that he can't get a virginal girl, Annette, to have sex with him before the school year. If he fails, Kathryn gets his car. If he wins, he gets Kathryn. And yes, you read the term step-brother correctly.
The raunchy dialogue was enough to make teens giggle and laugh together, but it was the main characters and the overall thematic elements of the film that drew us to it. It's one of the many that portrayed teens in a somewhat negative light, but it was fun because there are people like that out there and in every high school.
7. Detroit Rock City (1999)
Not enough credit is given to Detroit Rock City as it's often passed over or not recognized at all. Edward Furlong, James DeBello, Guiseppe Andrews, and Sam Huntington played four teenage burnouts on a quest to make it to a Kiss concert in 1978.
Not only is the movie completely and utterly hilarious, it also reflected the time period perfectly in terms of Kiss fandom and the different kinds of lives the teens had. The events are great and it actually features the band completely decorated and reminiscent to how they looked and acted in 1978. It also featured Natasha Lyonne, Gene Simmons' wife Shannon Tweed, and Lin Shaye as the terrifying and obsessively religious mother who thinks Kiss stands for "Knights in Satan's Service."
"As they say in the tampon biz, see you next period!"
6. American Pie (1999)
"Milf! Milf! Milf! Milf!"
If you're talking one of the most recognized movies of the '90s in general, you might as well expect to see American Pie. Not only did this movie become a rather defining moment for the class of 1999, it created some of the most widely recognized characters, situations, and quotes of the decade. It also allowed itself to be beaten to death with three sequels and some direct to DVD spin-off films.
Starring probably one of the best casts of the decade, the movie followed four teenage friends as they made a vow to lose their virginity at prom before they graduate high school. The group consisted of Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Chris Klein, and Thomas Ian Nicholas and their female counterparts were made up of Tara Reid, Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, Shannon Elizabeth, and Natasha Lyonne. The film also starred Seann William Scott, Jennifer Coolidge, and Eugene Levy.
The thing that makes American Pie such a great movie not only for the decade but in general is the fact that the characters are easy to relate to and the overall thematic elements are very real. Facing graduation, you feel a lot of things and you want to grow up, but at the same time you want to keep your friends and have everything stay the way they are. It also gave us answers to what happens when you masturbate with a pie, masturbate with a tube sock, when you broadcast personal events on the internet, when you can't poop at school, and when you make a "frenemy." And, of course, what happened that one time at band camp.
5. She's All That (1999)
This '99 gem was one of many, but it is honestly one of the best and a personal favorite of mine. One of the films responsible for skyrocketing the popularity of Freddie Prinze Jr., it's another one of the most comedic yet emotional of the decade.
On the verge of prom and graduation, the newly single class president Zack Siler (Prinze) makes a bet with his friend Dean (Paul Walker) that he could turn an unattractive, unpopular girl into the prom queen. After Dean chooses a bullied art student named Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook), Zack's world begins to slowly open up and he not only learns a lot about Laney but he begins to piece together how he wants to kickstart his post-graduate life.
We all wanted to be that girl who the most popular boy in school falls in love with and She's All That gave us some fulfillment to that fantasy. It's similar to a Cinderella type story but it is truly meant for teens of any decade, complete with witty dialogue, mean girl insults, and choreographed prom dances.
4. Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
This hilarious and extremely underrated documentary-style story of a teen beauty pageant in a small Minnesota town is by far one of my personal favorites. The town of Mount Rose, MN is home to a small town beauty pageant where local teenage girls compete to be named the Miss American Teen Princess. There's no telling if the entire country contains girls as competitive as these, but every second of watching is worth your time.
Kirsten Dunst plays Amber Adkins, a trailer dwelling teen aspiring to be the next Diane Sawyer. Her pageant competition gets even more difficult as Becky, the daughter of the town's richest family, enters the competition intending to win by any means necessary. The way that Denise Richards brought Becky to life was both ridiculously funny and calculating, and what made it better was Kirstie Alley as her mother, Gladys. The other contestants were brought to life by Brittany Murphy, Amy Adams, Laurie Sinclair, Shannon Nelson, Tara Redepenning, and Sarah Stewart.
Not only did this film capture what life can be like in a small town, but it also brought humor into a world where it's needed to survive the backstabbing and sometimes vicious attacks just to obtain the crown.
3. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997)
"I was so lucky getting mono. That was the best diet ever."
This is probably the only teen movie of the decade to fast-forward a decade past high school and show that although most things change, a lot of things still stay the same. Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow play lifelong friends Romy and Michele as they receive invites to their 10-year high school reunion. Feeling inadequate about their lives since graduation, the duo devise a plan to show up and pretend to be more successful than they really are to impress their old classmates.
Romy and Michele ore probably the most well written friend duos of the decade and what sets them apart is not just their style and wit, but their attitude towards how they survived their teen years and how they plan on moving forward as a team. The film also starred Jeanine Garafalo and Alan Cumming as old high school geeks as they also show up to the reunion with plans of their own.
I love this movie and I would bet that it's another not many people think of or have even seen. If you've never seen it I would suggest watching it. You never know what ideas it might give you about your impending reunions or life in general.
2. Clueless (1995)
As if! Clueless is easily the most popular film of the decade and is even more easily the most defining movie of the teen genre. The script, the characters, and the morality lessons the film teaches you, despite being set in Beverly Hills, is something any viewer can relate to. A wealthy popular girl named Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) are confronted with jealousy, growing up, and relationships after deciding to "adopt" a frumpy new student named Tai (Brittany Murphy) and turn her into the next most popular girl in school.
The characters alone are what make Clueless priceless and a lot of that has to do with the script. A majority of one-liners you hear people saying were lifted from Clueless and the fact that they're still said to this day proves what a lasting effect it's had on the generations. The evolution of the characters throughout the school year is also something to kind of gawk at because you see some of the most popular kids struggle with things you wouldn't expect a popular kid would struggle with. Subjects of drugs, sex, relationships, and overall friendship are main themes within the story and they are reflected on as equally heavy. They are just masked by a great delivery of humor about life.
1. Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
I saved Can't Hardly Wait for last because although I love all of these films, this is my absolute favorite. Centered around a high school party on the night of graduation, it follows several members of the graduating class as they struggle to end and start relationships, mold or keep friendships, and simply learn how to move into young adulthood now that school is over.
Not many teen movies about high school follow the groups after graduation. More often than not they are stopped at prom or right at graduation. What Can't Hardly Wait did right is it reflected on all four years of school and brought us right to the end and what happens after it's over.
The cast is made up of a great group, including Ethan Embry, Seth Green, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Freddy Rodriguez, and many many more. The fun part about this film is seeing how many people were brought together for this and how many popular, or formerly popular '90s actors made cameos. The cast is divided into cliques and groups that we all have experienced in high school and you can easily watch the characters and think, "yeah I know those people." The script is also one of the best as it focuses deeply on thematic elements such as love, sex, relationships, friendship, and maturity, while maintaining a perfect amount of humor that is relevant to all of it.
I didn't want to keep adding explanations for why a lot of these movies are so great, so here are some honorable mentions just to keep your to-do lists a bit longer!
Dazed and Confused (1993)Dick (1999)Idle Hands (1999)Rushmore (1998)Wild Things (1998)Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain (1995)I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)Varsity Blues (1999)Fear (1996)Mermaids (1990)Pleasantville (1998)