First of all, I want to preface this by saying a) pretty much any John Hughes film is a good bet and b) any film with Hilary Duff is also guaranteed to be a great teen film and can basically do no wrong. Secondly, I’d like to say – in defence of some of my choices – these are not all cinematic masterpieces, by any means. In fact some are absolutely notverygoodfilms at all. But having been a teenager for a whole six years I feel qualified to recommend all of these for both guilty-pleasure viewings and open enjoyment. Bonus: most of them have pretty good messages for young kids and teenagers. Now, in no particular order…
- Pretty In Pink (1986)
Directed by: Howard Deutch Written by: John Hughes Starring: Molly Ringwald, Don Cryer, Andrew McCarthy
I’m a sucker for anything Molly Ringwald, and this coming-of-age story has the typical slightly outcast girl – whose only friend is of course an even more outcasted outcast – falling for the cute popular boy. But it does it in an aesthetically pleasing way. And it’s Molly Ringwald. So come on.
- The Craft (1996)
Directed by: Andrew Fleming Written by: Peter Filardi Starring: Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True
The Craft is one of those very guilty-pleasure films. It’s kind of so bad it’s good. The film itself follows a new girl (Tunney) who befriends three ‘witches’ at High School, and it turns out the new girl is the only one with any real power, resulting it a lot of jealousy. Plus it has some excellent one-liners. “We are the weirdos, mister.”
- The entire High School Musical trilogy (2006-2008)
Directed by: Kenny Ortega Written by: Peter Barsocchini Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman
Don’t you dare try to tell me that once you hear ‘we’re flying’ you don’t yell back ‘soaring’. I don’t have very high hopes for the upcoming fourth film in this franchise, but the first three are pretty solid. I mean, they’re no cinematic masterpiece, but the songs are catchy and they’re really good fun. The second one is very underrated (if you ignore that weird tikitiki song).
- Little Women (1994)
Directed by: Gillian Armstrong Written by: Robin Swicord (based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel) Starring: Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale
Now this is a seriously good film. All the acting is really good, and the script is a pretty faithful adaptation of the amazing novel. Whatever you’re age, you’re bound to resonate with one of more of the characters and the overarching message of sisterhood and friendship is really heartwarming.
- Raise Your Voice (2004)
Directed by: Sean McNamara Written by: Sam Schreiber Starring: Hilary Duff, John Corbett
This first HilzDuff film on this list and trust me this film is amazing. It follows a girl from Flagstaff who’s desperate to pursue singing but isn’t allowed because of her strict father, then due to some appalling heartbreaking events she goes off to a summer music programme in L.A. and experiences life, love, music and growing up. It’s so cheesy but damn is it good.
- Whip It (2009)
Directed by: Drew Barrymore Written by: Shauna Cross Starring: Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis
Possibly my favourite girl power film, Whip It takes you with the adorably alternative Bliss (Page) on her trip to becoming a member of the nearby roller derby league, and the effect it has on her friendships and family. The perfect story showing the adolescent difficulties between new groups of people, your roots, romance, and how to balance your passion with parents and real life. Highly highly recommend.
- 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Directed by: Gil Junger Written by: Karen McCullah & Kirsten Smith Starring: Heath ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Based on Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’, 10 Things is a kind of typical high school romance story, in that it tells the ‘bad boy falls for outcast girl while pretending to like her’ story. But while the characters are still caricatures of real students you know, the writing of them does feels more genuine than other teen flicks of a similar nature, which is what sets it apart from them.
- Princess Diaries 1 & 2 (2001, 2004)
Directed by: Garry Marshall Written by: Gina Wendkos & Shona Rhimes Starring: Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, Chris Pine
When these films first came out, everyone I knew was obsessed with them. And honestly, it’s understandable. Although it’s yet another ‘loser weirdo girl’ story, it’s incredible because it shows that despite the dramatic makeover Mia (Hathaway) undergoes she’s still the same person. And who doesn’t love an underdog tale? It tells the unfortunately true message of how fame and beauty attract fake friends, while your real friends love you no matter what. In addition, the film doesn’t make the fatal mistake of showing Mia only being attractive to boys after her makeover – as she SPOILERS ends up (in the first film, anyway) with the guy who liked her from the very beginning! 10/10 go watch both of them now.
- The Railway Children (1970)
Directed and written by: Lionel Jeffries (based on E. Nesbit’s novel) Starring: Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett, Gary Warren, Dinah Sheridan
Although only Bobby (Agutter) is a teenager in the film, The Railway Children manages to tell a coming-of-age story from so many perspectives. The friendship the three siblings have, and the tight family bond they share with their mother is depicted beautifully and the contrasting personalities of the children excellently show how we deal with different situations while growing up. The fact the film doesn’t shy away from serious matters but simply deals with them from the perspective of young people is refreshing.
- Jack & Diane (2012)
Directed and written by: Bradley Rust Gray Starring: Juno Temple, Riley Keogh
Jack & Diane is probably the quirkiest most niche film on this list, and it’s actually one of my favourites. While it has its shortcomings (the random horror shots) and isn’t very popular among critics, it is shot absolutely beautifully and the acting and dialogue tell such a tender first love story I think it’s possibly the best depiction of teenage love I’ve ever seen. The dreamlike quality of the film makes you feel as though you’re intruding on these private moments of the two girls but you can’t look away because it’s so captivating. Ultimately, it’s a story of outcasts and first love; a simple premise, but it’s also so much more than that.
- Stick It (2006)
Directed and written by: Jessica Bendinger Starring: Missy Peregrym, Jeff Bridges
This film is fun, funny and surprisingly emotional at times. Troublesome teenager Haley (Peregrym) is sent to a gymnastics academy as punishment for getting in trouble with the police, having fled from the gymnastics world years ago. We see her struggle with her identity, rebelliousness, other girls at the programme and her relationships with her divorced parents, all accompanied by an awesome soundtrack and gymnastic montages.
- Very Good Girls (2013)
Directed and written by: Naomi Foner Starring: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Clark Gregg
I’m slightly biased about this film due to my love for Elizabeth Olsen, but it’s quite a good coming-of-age film. About two best friends over their last summer before college and they both fall for the same guy, but Lilly (Fanning) doesn’t tell Gerry (Olsen) that she’s begun to see him. Although Lilly becomes quite dislikable throughout the film, and the guy does some very creepy stuff under the name of romance, it does tell a good tale of friendship and how one tiny lie can turn into a monster. And Elizabeth Olsen is just incredible.
- Legally Blonde (2001)
Directed by: Robert Luketic Written by: Karen McCullah Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Victor Garber
Ah, this old classic. Legally Blonde is probably on most top teen lists, but for good reason. Who doesn’t love the story of a ‘blonde bimbo’ going to Harvard Law and becoming an amazing lawyer? Especially when it co-stars Jennifer Coolidge and Holland Taylor. While it’s got a bad rap as being just another dumb chick-flick (nothing wrong with those!) the film actually gives some amazing messages about femininity and strength to young girls – or boys – but in a super fun, slightly sickeningly-pink way.
- Tanner Hall (2009)
Directed and written by: Francesca Gregorini, Tatiana von Furstenberg Starring: Rooney mara, Georgia King, Brie Larson, Amy Fergusson
I watched this recently because of my undying love for Rooney Mara, and was pleasantly surprised. While it’s not the best film ever, and throws around some quite serious issues without really dealing with them (TW for self harm and mention of suicide) it does a good job of showing four very different girls and how they deal with growing up in boarding school while balancing their friendship.
- The Breakfast Club (1985)
Directed and written by: John Hughes Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez
Another classic teen film is the incredible Breakfast Club. I remember watching this film and being amazed at how a film set entirely in one location could keep your attention so well for ninety minutes. It explores different school stereotypes, ultimately giving the message that although high school tends to split into cliques, people are probably a lot more similar to you than you realise.
- Little Birds (2011)
Directed and written by: Elgin James Starring: Juno Temple, Kay Panabaker
A beautifully filmed coming-of-age story following two best friends led astray and into L.A. after one of them becomes smitten with a boy she meets. It explores relationships and teenage infatuation, female friendship and mental health. The film shows the shock of moving from a quiet seaside town to the big city when you’re still young, without belittling or patronising younger viewers, and teaches that you can’t just run away from your problems.
- Ella Enchanted (2004)
Directed by: Tommy O’Haver Written by: Laurie Crag & Karen McCullah Starring: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Aidan McArdle, Lucy Punch
This incredible film is atrocious in all the best ways. It has songs, dancing elves, and Anne Hathaway. What more could you want? A re-telling of ‘Cinderella’, Ella (Hathaway) has been given the so-called gift of obedience, meaning she must do whatever she is told without her consent. And so comes abuse from her stepmother and stepsisters, mishaps involving an evil king and handsome prince, and Ella ultimately trying to get her curse broken.
- Wild Child (2008)
Directed by: Nick Moore Written by: Lucy Dahl Starring: Emma Roberts, Georgia King, Juno Temple, Kimberley Nixon, Sophie Wu, Linzey Cocker
Yes, it’s another Juno Temple film. Wild Child shows spoilt American Poppy (Roberts) sent away in disgrace to an English boarding school in an attempt to tame her. Which, obviously, doesn’t work… at first. Then, of course, it does. After she befriends some charming British girls and leads them partially astray. Despite the film being entirely predictable, it’s a lot of fun and shows that growing up and finding yourself doesn’t always mean completely discarding all of your previous personality.
- Albatross (2011)
Directed by: Niall MacCormick Written by: Tamzin Rafn Starring: Felicity Jones, Jessica Brown Findlay
This film is slightly more risqué than some of the others on the list, but still very much a coming-of-age film. While Beth (Brown Findlay) is bookish and quiet, destined to go to university, new girl in town Emilia (Jones) is only interested in writing… and Beth’s father. The two girls become close friends despite their differences and Emilia must decide between her passions and being honest with her friend. A great film exploring the morality and responsibility that comes with relationships, and shows a friendship dealing with real-life issues.
- According to Greta (2009)
Directed by: Nancy Bardawil Written by: Michael Gilvary Starring: Hilary Duff, Evan Ross, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Murphy
My final pick shows Hilary Duff is a more mature, grittier role, as she plays Greta a teenage girl whose rebelliousness and threats of suicide get her sent to stay with her grandparents in a sleepy beach town a.k.a. her idea of hell. While the film in some ways suggests Greta is just using suicide as a way to get attention – a stereotype I think perpetuates negative mental illness stigma – According to Greta does manage to deal with the subject in a respectful way, showing the blurry lines around mental illness. It cleverly depicts the repercussions of emotional manipulation and blackmail, without villainizing Greta for trying to get the attention and care she’s never received from her mother.
I hope you’ve seen some of these films already, and are inspired to go and watch more of them now! Honestly they’re all excellent films whether you’re 12 or 120, although if you are on the younger side I’d proceed with caution as some of the films do contain more mature content – I recommend a quick IMDb before watching. All in all, I hope this list shows the importance of making cinema for and about younger viewers as, at times, film is one of the biggest companions, comforts and learning resources teenagers have.
Thanks for reading!