Capturing the high school experience on film is nothing new, but authentically capturing first love on screen is something that has only been achieved a handful of times. While it’s nice to think that taking off a pair of glasses and throwing on some Bonne Bell lipgloss can turn any of us from quiet loner to prom queen, in reality, it’s not that easy. It’s also not necessary to wear a tiara in order to find love in high school.
Here are ten films that got it right, when it comes to high school romance:
1. Pretty In Pink
The love story of Pretty In Pink that has stayed with fans for decades isn’t Andie (Molly Ringwald), the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and rich kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy) making it to prom. It’s Duckie’s (Jon Cryer) pure and unfaltering love for his best friend Andie, who at this point can only see him as a friend. If John Hughes had ever written a follow-up to Pretty In Pink, there’s a good chance Andie would have eventually realized that Duckie was a better catch than Blane. But never is the friend-zone more real and absolute than in high school.
2. The Breakfast Club
With hormones running at the speed of light, high school is essentially four years culminating in the eventual realization that we don’t always like the people we’re ‘supposed’ to like. In the film’s most powerful scene, the members of The Breakfast Club admit the sobering truth that liking someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re willing to say hello to them in the halls at school. Love sucks, especially in high school.
3. Mean Girls
Like the name suggests, Tina Fey’s 2004 masterpiece is about girls being mean, a film that was shocking only to those who had never been a girl in high school. But beyond the title, the film is also about the pressure to be popular and cool. Much of the film focused on Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan at her best) and her quest to be accepted by the Plastics. At the same time, Cady is competing with ringleader Regina George (Rachel McAdams at her least recognizable) for the affection of the same boy, while simultaneously alienating her friends. Relationships in high school are often our first introduction to the delicate balance of maintaining friendships while exploring romantic relationships. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get much easier in adulthood, but at least there’s less algebra involved.
A love story about two teens who accidentally get pregnant and end up giving the baby up for adoption sounds more like a trainwreck Hallmark film that an indie darling, but Diablo Cody’s 2007 film, starring Ellen Page in the title role, was in fact a sweet and sincere look at finding yourself and defining love in high school. While witnessing the crumbling relationship of her child’s fun, music-loving adoptive parents contrasted with the successful marriage of her seemingly ‘boring’ father and step-mother, Juno realizes that finding someone who loves you exactly for who you are is the ultimate cheese to your mac.
Like, sometimes you think your step-brother is a total Barney, but after a trip or two to the mall, you may have an epiphany and realize he’s actually a total Baldwin. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her ex-step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd at his most lovable, which is saying a lot) seem like the unlikeliest of pairings, but her optimism balances out with his seriousness and vice versa. And don’t even get us started on that jerk Elton. High school is full of Eltons. Be a Josh.
6. 10 Things I Hate About You
Before Heath Ledger was the Joker and Joseph Gordon Levitt was Robin, the two actors played high school students taking very different approaches to winning the affection of the Stratford sisters. The Hollywood romantic gestures are plentiful in this adaptation of The Taming Of The Shrew, but what’s most poignant is Julia Stiles’ Kat, who spends the majority of high school as a ‘shrew’ after being pressured into sex by her boyfriend and then cast out of the popular group when she refuses to have sex with him again. 10 Things I Hate About You manages to walk the line of fantasy romance in YA movies without making light of heartbreak from peer pressure. Shakespeare totally got high school.
7. Easy A
We all wish we could be as cool as Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) both in high school and in adulthood. In her quest to help the closeted, the overweight and the shy, Olive lies about sleeping with her school’s most inexperienced boys, in turn gaining a reputation for being a super nice person. Just kidding, this is high school and women are shamed on the daily. Thankfully, Olive gets a happy, John Hughes-filled ending, but the double-standard of high school and, well, life, is put on blast in Easy A and rightly so.
8. Can’t Hardly Wait
Though Ethan Embry’s pre-hipster hipster Preston and popular girl Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) get top-billing in Can’t Hardly Wait, it’s Preston’s bestie Denise, played by Lauren Ambrose, and her bathroom hook-up with her former best friend, current hip hop enthusiast Kenny (Seth Green) that are the most plausible couple in the film. Friendships with the opposite sex can be difficult to maintain in the elementary to high school jump, but throw in different socio-economic backgrounds and things get close to impossible. While Denise and Kenny get a happy ending, sort of, their story of betrayal and hurt feelings in the face of peer pressure rings much truer than nerdy Preston getting a kiss from the head cheerleader.
9. Perks of Being A Wallflower
How many ways can Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being A Wallflower break our hearts? Depression, sexual assault, substance abuse, unrequited love, homophobia and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All these facets make up a complicated high school experience that feels realistic, with a big touch of poetic license. But isn’t high school all about lower lows and in turn, higher highs?
10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Okay, hear us out. We know that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about as unrealistic as teen films get, but what is realistic is Ferris’ fear of his future with Sloan post-high school. The unknown of relationships after graduation is a scary prospect for high school lovebirds, but at least now there’s Skype. Ferris would have loved Skype.