6 reasons why the ‘90s was the best decade for teen movies
Image: Buena Vista Pictures
Films have been made since the 1890s, and children's movies, featuring kids or relating to kids, have been made since the 1930s. However, it wasn't until the 1980s and the creation of the Brat Pack that Hollywood really nailed down a demographic that they had previously been ignoring — the teens. While teenagers teetered between the appeal of kids movies and ones geared towards adults, there weren't a whole lot of movies that really captured the high school experience.
Everybody loves the teen movies of the '80s — John Hughes and Cameron Crowe told the stories of high school friends, first loves and first heartbreaks. But we're here to talk about a lesser appreciated decade for teen movies, the 1990s. Here's why they should actually be considered the best.
They educated audiences on fine theatre
We’re not just talking Romeo + Juliet, either. 10 Things I Hate About You was a contemporary telling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew about the school’s bad boy’s (Heath Ledger) attempt to woo a moody feminist (Julia Stiles) because her younger sister isn’t allowed to date until she does.
She’s All That, starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, telling the story of the most popular guy in school who takes a bet from his friend that he could turn any girl into prom queen and find himself falling in love with the subject, art nerd Laney Boggs.
Have you ever actually read Les Liaisons dangereuses? Probably not, but you have a good idea of the plot because you’ve seen Cruel Intentions, which is really just a really good version of the Cliff’s Notes. Plus, it starred the reigning royalty of the '90s — Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Clueless, arguably the greatest movie of all time, was based on Emma by Jane Austen as well. Cher (Alicia Silverstone), a privileged, ditzy girl with good intentions who enjoys matchmaking. She successfully sets up her teachers and tries her hand with her unsophisticated friend Tai (Brittany Murphy), attempting to match him with her snooty friend, Elton (Jeremy Sisto), even though he’s actually interested in her.
They were so self aware
The '60s, '70s and '80s were full of horror movies, but few were as self-self aware as the films of the ‘90s. Movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer poked fun at the tropes that had become so commonplace in the horror genre. Though Scream director Wes Craven had dabbled in camp in the ‘80s with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream was a game-changer because the teens in the film were aware of all of the horror movie tropes and how they could use them to their advantage while trying to escape Ghostface.
They were all about girl power
While most of the teen movies in the ‘90s revolved around love stories in some ways or another, there were still plenty that were all about being independent. Pleasantville touched on women’s liberation, but other teen movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jawbreaker and Spice World just feature main characters who are women and know how to kick butt — literally and figuratively.
While The Craft does have the underlying message that a girl with too much power is destined to go crazy, it’s gone down in history as a cult classic that just about every ‘90s girl has a place in her heart for.
They embraced decades of the past
Some of the great teen flicks of the 1990s didn’t actually take place in the '90s. Pleasantville parodies the idyllic life portrayed in 1950s television, by transporting two siblings, played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon into one of these shows. As these modern teens disrupt the lifestyle by rebelling and expressing emotion, the world begins to turn to color, leaving the only the town fathers in black and white.
Dick, starring Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst as "Deep Throat," two teenage girls who supply Woodward and Bernstein with the information necessary to take down Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. 1993’s Dazed and Confused also takes place in the 1970s, featuring an ensemble cast on the last day of school.
The music, though
Music played just as big of a role in '90s movies as the plot themselves did. Empire Records took place in a record store, and even though a soundtrack featuring the Gin Blossoms and the Cranberries might seem super dated now, we all loved it back in the day. Can’t Hardly Wait is another flick with a killer soundtrack, featuring Third Eye Blind and the Replacements.
After seeing She’s All That, prom turned out to be really disappointing because we didn’t do a choreographed dance to a Fatboy Slim song. Other notable choreographed dances of ‘90s teen movies included Save the Last Dance, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Encino Man.