90s teenage movies aren’t exactly the first thing we think of when it comes to quality films and, really, it’s not to everybody’s taste. But as a Gen Z Legally Blonde apologist, I believe that it is time we admit that some 90s teenage movies were actually really fun and a number of them have held up well over the years.
Have these movies won Oscars for their groundbreaking artistry? Maybe not, but they did help shape the tastes of a generation, and some of them, like The Virgin Suicides (1999), became cult classics that are still featured on Pinterest and Tumblr mood boards of young cinephiles today.
1. Clueless (1995)
Wherever would fashionistas be without the influence of Cher Horowitz from the 1995 teen flick Clueless? Even if you’ve never seen the movie itself, chances are, you’ve at least seen Cher’s iconic yellow suit and skirt ensemble either on her or on someone else inspired by her. Looking at you, Fancy by Iggy Azalea.
While we are yet to have the technological wonder of Cher’s digital wardrobe assistant in the 2020s, we do have Clueless to keep us company while we wait.
So what exactly is Clueless about? Don’t be fooled by its teen drama interpretation, this movie is actually an adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma whose rich, single, smart, yet unbearably bored heroine finds a way to use her smarts to meddle with other people’s lives until she’s forced to admit that it might not have been a good idea.
2. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Maybe you like your 90s teenage movies a little more literary or maybe more campy. I don’t know, Romeo + Juliet (1996) can fall into either. I have to admit, I wasn’t a big fan at first because I didn’t “get” it (I know, how very unintelligent).
Turns out they were speaking Shakespearen English from the original Romeo and Juliet while presenting it in a modern setting.
This admittedly makes Romeo + Juliet a pretty divisive film in terms of preferences. You either love it or hate it with a burning passion. Honestly, though, the teen movie-style adaptation is very fitting for the story’s protagonists and the tone of the original text because, spoiler alert, it turns out a playwright who makes dick jokes every other scene isn’t all that serious.
3. Never Been Kissed (1999)
Never Been Kissed is the buzzer beater of our list of 90s teenage movies as the film was released in 1999. But hey, many good things have come from that year like Mugler’s Spring 1999 collection and yours truly.
Anyway, Never Been Kissed. You’ve got Drew Barrymore playing Josie Geller, a No Boyfriend Since Birth and untouched Victorian damsel living in the 21st century as a copy editor for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Rigfort, her editor-in-chief, gives her an assignment to write a report about high school students and, in a shocking turn of events, actually sends her to investigate youth culture rather than asking other non-youngins what the kids are up to.
Josie, who again works as a copy editor, understandably falls in love with an English teacher at the high school. This gets really awkward for both of them as Sam thinks she’s actually a minor.
At the same time, Josie struggles with her own high school traumas of being an unpopular nerd because come on, homegirl was unironically reading literature in high school. What did you expect?
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
No 90s teenage movies recommendations list would be complete without a vampire film because, as we all know, the vampire teen genre transcends the boundaries of time. Why else do you think Twilight had such a wide reach and still has fanfiction being made of it today?
Among the most iconic vampire teen shows/movies, though, is Buff the Vampire Slayer. While the show was wildly loved, the 1992 movie of the same name is viewed a little less favorably because of how campy it is.
But I digress. That’s what makes this teen movie so much fun.
It’s unapologetically tacky. You have a cheerleader who becomes a vampire assassin but remains as unabashedly feminine as Clueless‘s Cher Horowitz and Legally Blonde‘s Elle Woods.
Like many teen horror comedies of its time, it didn’t take itself too seriously and that’s okay. Movies can be unserious and just plain fun. Buffy is that movie and it deserves to be enjoyed with a liter of orange soda and a cold pizza slice.
5. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
The title I Know What You Did Last Summer may now be better known to my fellow Gen Z-ers as that Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello song, but it was originally the name of a 1997 horror movie based on a novel of the same name.
Along with Scream, this was one of the big 90s teenage movies of the time to re-popularize the slasher genre and like Scream, the plot, naturally, involves a group of teenagers getting caught in a terrifying murder plot that picks them off one by one.
The difference is that our group of teens kill someone first before they become the targets of a string of murders. Their decision to hide their crime leads to them being haunted by a stranger who keeps telling them “I know what you did last summer.”
Obvious, I know. But still, kinda creepy if that were happening to you.
6. The Craft (1996)
You don’t have to be a 90s teenage movie connoisseur to recognize The Craft (1996). Social media aesthetic, witchcraft, and movie buff accounts have all posted a screenshot from the movie before. I am specifically referring to the scene where a bus pulls up to pick up a group of young goth girls on the side of the road.
The driver warns them of weirdos out to hurt young girls but our teen heroines reply that “We are the weirdos, mister.”
See? Told you you know this movie.
Jokes aside, this 1996 horror film is about a group of young teen girls mastering the dark arts together while doing the whole discovering themselves as women in the world theme that girls’ teen movies typically have under the surface.
Though they find empowerment with each other and power through each other, the girls quickly realize that nothing comes for free, especially unholy powers that let them dramatically alter the fates of others.
7. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Most of us remember Heath Ledger for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight which, while memorable, wasn’t his only big performance. For many ladies, he was Patrick Verona of 10 Things I Hate About You the bad boy love interest of Kat, one of the two female leads of the film.
If the surname Verona strikes you as oddly specific, that’s because 10 Things I Hate About You was a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, a play where two guys plot to marry the sweeter younger sister once they get the protective older sister out of the way by finding her an S.O.
Man, what is it with these 90s teenage movies and adapting classic literature as high school drama flicks? (And how do we bring this trend back?)
That’s the general plot of 10 Things I Hate About You too, except instead of marriage everyone is just dating, and the convoluted reason why Bianca can’t date anyone is that her father says she can only do so if her much sterner older sister dates first.
8. Scream (1996)
Scream (1996) is a cult classic, horror classic, and among the most iconic 90s teenage movies. Honestly, it doesn’t need an introduction. High school kids play cat and mouse, solidly teen slasher film tropes, kill, and get killed.
Speaking of tropes, this movie is also the source of that scene where a bunch of teens on a sofa mock horror movie tropes right before those same horror movie tropes happen to them. The humor is so very.
9. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Yes, I know, Marie Antoinette (2006) is the aesthetic Sofia Coppola film, but the girlies also really like The Virgin Suicides (1999). It’s like Ladybird (2017) before Ladybird and the two often go together on the same aesthetic mood boards.
The Virgin Suicides is based on a 1993 best-selling novel of the same name and, as the name implies, it follows the lives of five sisters through the eyes of a group of boys who are very much male gazing into their distant, alien, and feminine lives that these guys personally cannot relate to or fully understand.
The girls, who live disconnected and sheltered lives because of their overprotective Catholic parents, succumb to depression one by one as they become unable to complete the female teen coming of age story.
10. Show Me Love (1998)
Since we can’t fit all the 90s teenage movies in the world here, here’s one that unexpectedly reached a (relatively) large audience but remains mostly unknown.
Show Me Love (1998) is a romantic drama about two teenage girls falling in love. Doesn’t sound too revolutionary these days, but the movie was set during the 90s in the small Swedish town of Åmål.
You know the recent trend of drawing “I’m Not Like Other Girls” memes as girlfriends? This is that but it’s a whole ass movie. She was a punk and she did ballet. Can I make it any more obvious?
Agnes and Elen can’t be more different, but as they say, opposites attract, and after a long journey of coming to terms with the fact that they’re very in love with each other, the two become one of the few lesbians to have happy endings in movies.
Ugh, we love that for her. Hers? Them.