Just because a movie is made for a young audience doesn’t mean it can’t be complex. Children’s television and movies are increasingly praised for their mastery of mature themes, and teen movies can also be both intellectual and inspiring.
Ranker compiled a list of the best smart teen movies and left it up to fans to decide which deserved the top spots. Many of these films are based on works of classic literature, which gives them the ability to translate classic themes and theories into more accessible mediums. While these movies are fun to watch, they also deal with complex moral and political issues, making them more than just guilty pleasures.
To note: Please note that Ranker rankings are subject to change as votes are cast in real time. Therefore, the rankings here may be out of date.
Easy follows Olive Penderghast as she runs a school business by pretending to have sex with her peers. Olive is inspired by The scarlet letter claim his new role in the social sphere, despite the protests of his more conservative peers. But when the lies threaten to have long-lasting repercussions for the people Olive loves, she must decide whether the truth or her dignity is more important.
The scarlet letter is one of those must-read books that even the most dedicated student tends to struggle to read. Easy provides audiences with several summaries of the book itself, as well as insight into how modern society is similar to its Puritan roots in the culture of purity.
9 The foreigners
The foreigners follows a group of boys in 1965 Oklahoma as they try to overcome family crises and class divisions. After the protagonist Ponyboy and his friends and brothers are repeatedly attacked by their rivals, the Socs, it is decided to put a permanent end to the fighting. The moment forces them to flee, which triggers events that define each boy for who he really is, not Greaser or Soc, but human.
The foreigners was one of the first books to be set in the “Young Adult” genre, and it introduced the idea that teenagers deserved media that reflected the real struggles they might be going through. The foreigners shows teens they’re not alone in their struggles and helps them see the humanity in even their biggest rivals.
8 Little Women (2019)
Little woman follows four sisters – Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth – as they search for an ideal life for themselves. Jo helps her sisters through their struggles, both medical and societal, and grapples with her hopes for her life, considering marriage to a few different men as well as what her life might be like if she remained single and found a way to survive by teaching and writing.
Although there have been several adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s original book, the 2019 adaptation of Little woman made several changes for the better, which allowed audiences to get a more nuanced portrait of the family. The film delves into the struggles women often have with identity when society pushes them to follow a path that they may or may not adapt to.
clueless follows the wealthy and popular Cher Horowitz. After getting the thrill of doing “good deeds,” Cher decides to give new girl Tai Fraiser a makeover and a lesson in popularity. When Tai’s popularity becomes a threat to hers, Cher finds herself struggling with her priorities in life, which leads her to change the way she approaches life and love.
While parts of Clueless haven’t aged well, most of it still holds up, keeping young adult issues relevant to today’s teens. Popularity has its perks, but finding ways to give back to society can do so much more for the soul. Partially based on Jane Austin Emmait’s no wonder the character’s struggles and lessons learned are so timeless.
6 girl interrupted
girl interrupted follows Susanna as she navigates life in a mental hospital. Susanna grows closer to her partner Lisa, who encourages her to resist her treatments, but a tragedy makes Susanna realize that she does not want to live like Lisa. The film shows the complexities of women with mental illness, attempting to show them their flaws as well as their virtues.
Historically, women who don’t fit the mold of society are shunned like crazy and their very real struggles are often overlooked. Moreover, some mental illnesses can be seductive in their own way, promising freedom from societal pressures. Seeing these questions carefully considered makes girl interrupted a powerful medium.
5 Remember the titans
Remember the titans follows Coach Herman Boone as he attempts to lead the newly incorporated high school football team to victory. The battle for equality takes place on and off the pitch, and multiple team members must decide whether to do what’s best for themselves or put the team first.
Even decades later, Remember the titans is one of the best athlete biopics of all time, as it tackles racial tensions, community ties, and tragic accidents in nuanced and interesting ways. Any sports story about an underdog has the potential to be inspirational, but the levels of personal and societal risk presented make Remember the titans a classic.
4 10 things i hate about you
10 things i hate about you follows the love life of sisters Bianca and Kat. Bianca isn’t allowed to date Kat until she does, so she plans with her various admirers to set Kat up with bad boy Patrick. Everything seems to be fine until real feelings get involved, and the two sisters discover that their partners aren’t as generous as they first thought.
This classic girl movie is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew disguised, but thankfully it toned down many of the more misogynistic parts of the play. The film deals with the classic issues of overprotective parents, sexual pressure, and the importance of being honest in relationships, all of which help prepare teens to be better partners and parents.
3 The Diary of a Princess
The Diary of a Princess follows Mia Thermopolis as her life is turned upside down by the discovery that she is the secret heiress to a kingdom. The discovery throws Mia into the spotlight, a place she finds deeply uncomfortable. After several disastrous mistakes, Mia begins to realize the good she could do by accepting the title and taking her place as Princess of Genovia.
There’s a lot about The Diary of a Princess that fans might not know if they haven’t read the books, but the movies do a good job of balancing the struggles of the everyday teenager with the political responsibilities of royalty. At its heart, the films ask what a person owes society when they gain power and how they should try to balance their responsibilities with their own needs.
2 Bring it on
Bring it on follows Torrance Shipman as she tries to find success as a cheerleading captain. After discovering that his predecessor was stealing routines from another team, Torrance must find a way to create brand new routines in time for their next competitions. Multiple failures cause Torrance to doubt her position, but she eventually gains the confidence to make the team better than ever, both athletically and morally.
On the surface, it’s a film about the struggle between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy, but it also contains some pretty critical messages about race and privilege. The film examines what happens when disadvantaged groups are exploited and how difficult it can be for those who have profited from this theft to accept responsibility and do it right.
1 The princess to be married
The princess to be married is a fairy tale anyone can love, with charismatic fighters, devious enemies, and even a little well-deserved romance. After losing the love of her life, Buttercup is engaged to a cruel man she doesn’t want to marry. She gets kidnapped by a trio of bandits, beginning a series of adventures that could yet end with her finding love again.
Always a classic, The princess to be married is the kind of film that turns traditional stories upside down. Love is not just a prize given at the end of a story; it is something to fight for, even when powerful opponents stand in the way. The film easily parodies the fantasy genre while keeping an interesting story in its own right.
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