This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.
Ahh, the teen movie. The high school story. The hormonal homage. It’s a genre that has lived in my heart since long before I became a teenager, and will remain there when I am straight-up elderly. The awkwardness and misfitting, the fashion and feelings — there are few other times in our lives when everything is turned up to high-def in just such a way as when we are teenagers.
The 2010s were a terrific time for teen movies. Poignant, funny, raunchy, insightful, it was a decade where everything stopped being about the cookie-cutter popular kids and started being about real teens. And these are, I feel most ardently, the ten best teen movies of the past ten years.
Presented in chronological order…
Easy A Will Gluck, 2010
The decade started strong with one of my favorite teen movies of all time. Gluck’s Hawthorne-by-way-of-Hughes teen romp is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter starring Emma Stone in the role that made all of us say, “Hey, Emma Stone should be in everything.” Updating one of the first stories about slut-shaming for the modern teen girl is a pretty genius move, and Easy A is so funny and likable on top of all of the clever messaging.
Pariah Dee Rees, 2011
Writer/director Dee Rees went on to blow minds with her 2017 awards contender Mudbound, but her feature debut is every bit as powerful, though telling a somewhat smaller story. Pariah is about Alike, a young Brooklyn lesbian hiding her true self from a family that doesn’t understand her. Alike is a brilliant student, a poet, a warm and wise teenager who eventually learns the crucial lesson that we can always build our own families when those we’re born with don’t accept us, and she’s played by a truly astonishing Adepero Oduye. The film is moody and visceral, with breathtaking cinematography from Selma’s Bradford Young.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower Stephen Chbosky, 2012
Author Chbosky adapted his own novel about being an introverted outsider in 1990s Pittsburgh, a thoughtful and gorgeous meditation on mental heh, trauma and the life-saving importance of our youthful friendships. With lovely, honest turns by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, Perks teaches us that, sometimes, being a misfit isn’t so bad. Sometimes it’s beautiful, even or especially when it hurts.
Dope Rick Famuyiwa, 2015
Oh man, Dope rules. Famuyiwa’s fourth film stars Shameik Moore as Malcolm, a brainy geek living in Inglewood’s “The Bottoms” with his besties Jib Tony Revolori and Diggy Kiersey Clemons. Not much more than a week in the life – with some high stakes drugs shenanigans shaking things up – Dope’s strength lies in its fresh humor and charming energy, and in the terrifically affable performances of Malcolm and his friends.
Sing Street John Carney, 2016
Thank goodness for Sing Street, a movie about using art to fight bullies and, okay, impress girls that I just so happened to watch the night after the presidential election. Carney’s 1980s Dublin musical is sweet and quirky and powerful, and it has the absolute best original songs of any film that year, despite an awards season snub I’m still sy about. Drive it like you stole it, my friends. Drive it like you stole it.
The Edge of Seventeen Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016
The Edge of Seventeen is the second of three John Hughes nods on the list, each taking their own sweet, clever approach to the Breakfast Club baby. Craig’s film does the best job of reminding us how damn angry teenage girls are and what good cause they have to be, with Hailee Steinfeld stomping her way into all of our hearts as a permanently furious Nadine. Nadine’s a bit of an a-hole, but hey, weren’t we all at that age?
Lady Bird Greta Gerwig, 2017
Oh, and speaking of the angry teenage girl, Lady Bird wins the award as the film Most Likely To Make Me Cringe, because of all the teens on this list, Saoirse Ronan’s pimply, pretentious, academically rebellious drama queen is the one that most unfortunately resembles your writer at a young age. Gerwig presents such a specific person and place here in a film as peculiarly and preciously real as it is secondhand embarrassing.
Love, Simon Greg Berlanti, 2018
Love, Simon kicks off a very hearty year for the teen movies, with our last three titles coming in from 2018. Based on Becky Albertalli‘s YA romance Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, it’s a sweet, simple rom-com that just so happens to be about a gay kid. While that shouldn’t be a huge deal in 2018, it kind of is, especially in a relatively big-budget, mainstream film by hit-maker Berlanti. It’s also great, and Nick Robinson is a total dreamboat as Simon.
Eighth Grade Bo Burnham, 2018
Focusing on the waaaaaay more awkward just-turned-teen crowd, Burnham’s movie about YouTube star-aspiring weirdo Kayla is one of the most excruciating movies I’ve ever seen. It’s also wildly funny and really kind. And it introduced audiences to Elsie Fisher, who’s both a marvelous actress and a red carpet icon. Girl can rock the menswear.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before Susan Johnson, 2018
Another hugely successful adaptation of a YA novel this time, Jenny Han’s 2014 book of the same title, Johnson’s Hughesian film was such a hit that Netflix immediately greenlit both sequels. Lana Condor is powerfully cute as Lara Jean Covey, a romance novel-addicted nerd who ends up in a Can’t Buy Me Love-style phony romance with cool boy Peter Kavinsky. Peter’s played by at-the-time newbie Noah Centineo, who proved to be such a perfect YA romantic lead that he’s now in pretty much every teen movie. Hey, the 2010s need their own Brat Pack!
This list was extremely hard to whittle down I’m sorry, Booksmart! Forgive me, Attack the Block!, so I’d love to hear your picks in the comments below.