Teen movies really hit their peak during the ’90s. From blood-soaked horror flicks to tearjerking coming-of-age films; from mushy high school romances to sexually awkward gross-out comedies, the films on this list all have one major commonality – popularity! Some of the greatest teen movies of the ’90s were the ones aimed at teenage girls, so we’re bringing you this list of all the most iconic ’90s movies that changed female lives forever.
What were your favorite ’90s teen movies growing up? Even if you’re not a girly girl, you’ll be able to spot some favorites in this list. The perils of popularity, the anxieties of sex and dating, and the dangers of stepping outside the status quo were all subjects these films explored (the relatable stuff, right?). Some ’90s movies for teen girls, like But I’m a Cheerleader, and Just Another Girl on the IRT, even discovered funny, heartfelt ways of exploring important social issues like race and sexual identity.
Possibly the most defining teen movie of the ’90s, Clueless was as remarkable for its stars’ eye-popping wardrobes as it was for its biting and ironic sense of humor. Cher and Dionne are the academically underachieving, socially overachieving stars of an upper crust Beverly Hills high school.
Though she’s a ray of sunshine whenever she’s getting her own way, things change for Cher when her newly college-educated stepbrother returns home and starts making her feel guilty about her vapid lifestyle. In typical fashion, a convenient transfer student appears, and Cher decides to take the girl under her wing and improve her life by molding her into a model member of her clique.
Overdressed popularity queens are usually the villains of teen movies. Part of what makes Clueless so funny and sweet is that Cher’s intentions remain pure, even if she’s a little spoiled, and sometimes gets mentally sidetracked thinking about how fabulous she is. Aside from the usual themes, Clueless is a great movie about the importance of not judging people at first glance.
10 Things I Hate About You
Based on (of all things) Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You is basically about getting your parents to loosen up and let you start learning to be an adult already. It was also one of Heath Ledger’s earliest movies, before he started getting all weird and freaky and doing roles that were serious and sometimes upsetting.
This movie stars Julia Stiles and Larisa Oleynik, who, at the time, was most recognizable as the star of Nickelodeon’s weird sci-fi show, The Secret World of Alex Mack. Stiles and Oleynik play two sisters who must navigate the bizarre dating stipulations of their overbearing father in order to respectively date Heath Ledger, and the less-impressive Andrew Keegan.
She’s All That
Contrary to most films of its ilk, She’s All That is a movie about how great conformity is, and how much it totally sucks to be an individual. It also epitomizes the head desk movie cliche of a “nerdy” female lead being instantly transformed into a knockout by removing her glasses and applying some lip gloss.
Snark aside, She’s All That is yet another ’90s teen movie about social cliques, and the politics of sex and relationships in high school. Rachel Leigh Cook plays Laney, an awkward loner who spends her time away from school painting, doing weird conceptual art performances, and working at a job where she wears a taco hat. Basically, Laney is way too cool and interesting for anyone else at her boring high school to appreciate her.
Her life of wonderment is destroyed, however, when she becomes a subject of unwanted attention from Zack, a popular jock played by Freddie Prinze, Jr., who has made a bet with one of his friends about whether or not he can get Laney elected Prom Queen. Fortunately for her, Laney is receptive to Zack’s invasive, cruel, and dishonest scheme, and her life ends up being way better afterward, because she now has a hot boyfriend who looks like Freddie Prinz, Jr., as well as a cool new haircut and some barrettes.
The film that launched a thousand fumbling adolescent Wicca phases, The Craft, formally stars Robin Tunney as transfer student Sarah, whose existence is turned upside down after she falls in with a group of scowling, outcast goth girls who claim to be witches. At war her whole life with her own volatile supernatural abilities, Sarah quickly discovers that the other girls’s powers are likewise legit – and that when pooled together, their abilities can be dangerous.
The real star of The Craft is Fairuza Balk, who stalks, leers, and pouts her way maniacally through the film as the group’s unhinged ringleader, Nancy. This movie was pretty much the highlight of Balk’s career, unfortunately, but her performance is amazing, and it remains one of the most iconic of the decade. No woman has ever done so much singlehandedly to spike purple lipstick sales, arouse hidden sapphic desires, and encourage irresponsible dabbling in the occult.
Basically a sexual thriller for teenagers, Cruel Intentions was notorious for being dirty and naughty. It contained things like lesbian kissing, verbal references to anal sex, and some really overweening cleavage on the part of Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as possibly the first ever subplot in a feature film about somebody’s nudes getting leaked on the Internet.
Based upon an 18th century French stage play, Les Liaisons dangereus (Dangerous Liaisons), Cruel Intentions tells the story of a pair of cynical and overprivileged prep students played by Gellar and Ryan Philippe. Out of boredom and general misanthropy, Philippe bets Gellar that he can seduce an incoming transfer student (these movies are full of transfer students) who recently published an article in a teen magazine about all the reasons why she plans to remain a virgin until marriage.
Never Been Kissed
Drew Barrymore channels the horrific awkwardness of high school in this film, where she plays a reporter who must return to high school as an undercover correspondent for her news organization. Posing as a high school student, her experiences are unsurprisingly awful, especially since (like most actual high school students) she feels completely out of her element, and has no idea how to dress, behave, or interact with any of her fellow students.
This all brings up a lot of uncomfortable buried emotions for Drew, who, as a handy set of flashbacks inform us, was kind of a dweeb and an outcast during her real adolescence. Things get even more complicated when Drew develops feelings for one of her teachers, who obviously likes her, but believes she’s underage.
Never Been Kissed is really a movie about overcoming who you were in high school and embracing your true identity. But it totally captures the uncertainly of adolescence, and the abject humiliation of most people’s early, fumbling attempts at romance.
Arguably more of a guy film, American Pie still made the necessary slumber party inroads to be considered a satellite classic of the girl film sub-genre. It also singlehandedly revived the gross-out comedy, a genre that had been sadly languishing since around the mid- to late-’80s. American Pie is bizarre, often gross, and occasionally horrifically sexist.
We have to begrudgingly admit, however, that for 1999, it was sort of nice just to see a movie made for teenagers acknowledging that women have a sex drive powerful enough to influence them into making dumb choices and embarrassing themselves.
Now and Then
The teens in this movie are of the younger, barely-pubescent variety, but this is still a movie that pretty much every woman I grew up with watched multiple times with their friends. Now and Then‘s gimmick is that the same characters are played, in both the past and the present day, by famous child actresses and famous adult actresses.
So like, Demi Moore and Melanie Griffith, et al., appear for fifteen minutes in the bookend segments at the beginning and end of the movie. Then during the major part of the movie in-between, they’re played in flashback by Thora Birch and Gaby Hoffman, as they discover things about growing boobs, looking at boys’ wieners, divorce, tragic, untimely death of family members, etc.. It also includes an obligatory cameo from Janeane Garofalo, playing a weird Tarot card lady in a diner.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Can’t Hardly Wait
Can’t Hardly Wait takes place over the course of one evening, on graduation night. The senior class is having a graduation party, and the advance buzz promises a rager. With high school behind them and the looming, terrifying future advancing, everybody has a lot on their mind, and a lot to get out of their system.
Ethan Embry is adorable in this movie, playing a dude with just one night left to tell the girl he loves (Jennifer Love Hewitt) how he really feels about her. The most memorable thing about Can’t Hardly Wait for most people, though, is Seth Green, his wacky hip hop goggles, and his unexpectedly adorable hook-up with cynical grump Lauren Ambrose. Plus, Jenna Elfman shows up in an angel costume at one point, and there are scheming nerds wearing X-Files t-shirts.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
Ditzy blondes Romy and Michele were harassed endlessly by their peers in high school. Deciding to try to one-up their snotty former classmates, they make a plan to attend their high school reunion and basically just make up a bunch of crap about how successful they are now. Their inept plan goes predictably awry, but more importantly, they get an opportunity to experience the things about high school that didn’t totally suck – namely, the parts of high school that involved hanging out and being friends with each other.
Even as a kid, it was easy to enjoy this movie’s point, which is that regardless of what happens to you after you graduate, what really matters is having friends who “get” you and want to share your experiences. And owning several, extremely shiny dresses in various colors.
Inspired by the movie Heathers (which was hugely popular in the ’90s, but was tragically released in 1988, making it ineligible for this list), Jawbreaker is a dark comedy about the members of a tyrannical high school clique trying to cover up an accidental murder.
Like Heathers (and its later offspring, Mean Girls), Jawbreaker dissects high school popularity and social stratification and lampoons the lengths the socially dominant will sometimes go to in order to maintain their power. Though the actual murder is horrific, the manipulation, deception, and backstabbing it eventually inspires is way more awful.
Drive Me Crazy
The Virgin Suicides
Nobody was anybody in the ’90s unless they could tell you who their favorite Spice Girl was. It was therefore an immense cause for celebration in 1997 when the official Spice Girls movie, Spice World, was finally released.
It received a lot of negative reviews even though it’s actually a pretty great movie, and not only because it involves the Spice Girls. If you missed it when you were a preteen, you can now experience midnight screenings of it all over the country, as it has finally ascended to its rightful status as an iconic cult film of its generation.
Sugar & Spice
Kind of like Clueless, Sugar & Spice focuses on a group of people in high school who usually get depicted as awful, calculating sociopaths, and turns them into the good guys (sort of). After one of them gets pregnant and is forced to drop out of school, a squad of lovably ditzy cheerleaders formulate a bizarre plan to stage a series of bank robberies in order to help their friend pay for nappies and baby formula.
Oddly, breaking the law while wearing coordinated rubber-mask costumes sums up the third mind mentality of socially enmeshed teenage girls with stunning accuracy.
Wish Upon a Star
Nothing defined teenage girldom more than wishing you could be older, more sophisticated, and have bigger boobs. Wish Upon a Star, a made-for-TV movie produced for the Disney channel, explored this exact scenario.
Nerdy younger sister Hayley switches bodies with her older, more popular, midriff-exposing sister Alexia, and soon discovers that being all grown up and pseudo-sexually active isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Consider this movie a whimsical last gasp of nostalgia for your prepubescent awkward phase.
Slums of Beverly Hills
Everyone in the ’90s seemed weirdly obsessed with the ’70s, so Slums of Beverly Hills is appropriately set in 1976. The film stars Natasha Lyonne, goddess of plucky sarcasm, who plays Vivian, a young lady on the verge of puberty who lives nomadically with her dad and brothers.
Slums of Beverly Hills suffered from a crap marketing campaign that tried to make it look like a bawdy gross-out comedy along the lines of American Pie. In reality, it’s more of a subdued indie comedy about sexual coming-of-age in the pre-Internet era. Vivian’s skeptical discomfort with bras, menstruation, and boob size are underplayed, but hilariously relatable.
Teaching Mrs. Tingle
Originally titled Killing Mrs. Tingle, this movie’s title was changed by the studio and the content reportedly watered down following the infamous Columbine tragedy. A revenge fantasy about getting back at evil teachers who spoil your life, Teaching Mrs. Tingle stars WB refugees Katie Holmes and Barry Watson. It tells the story of some hapless teenagers who, following a series of unfortunate events, confine a vindictive and mean-spirited history teacher in her home.
As the situation escalates, they find themselves under increasing pressure to cover up their missteps and just off her. Teaching Mrs. Tingle is full of weird plotting and convenient, out-of-left-field twists, but it’s impossible not to identify with the idea of getting back at a teacher who’s been ruining your life all semester.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
But I’m a Cheerleader
This is still one of the cutest movies on earth about coming out as lesbian, with one of the best casts and truly the best set design and costuming EVER. Natasha Lyonne stars as the movie’s titular, perky blonde teen, Megan, who honestly never realized that checking out her friends’ boobs in the public showers meant she was gay.
Once Megan’s mortified parents figure this out for her, she gets shipped off to a conversion therapy camp called “True Directions,” which is run light a nightmarish cartoon universe of reinforced gender stereotypes. Initially determined to conform, Megan’s perspective starts to change after she meets, and starts to have feelings for, a girl at the camp named Graham.
But I’m a Cheerleader is still a great movie about coming out as gay, made during a time when doing so was even more difficult and horrifying than it typically is today. Even if you’re not gay or lesbian, it’s a brilliant takedown of gender roles and sexism, and a really sweet and funny romantic comedy.
All I Wanna Do
This one is set in the 1960s at an all-girls boarding school and deals with all kinds of wacky themes. Gaby Hoffman gets in trouble for plotting to have sex with her boyfriend, so she gets sent off to a boarding school. There, she’s handed all the tools she needs to misbehave on an even grander scale after falling in with a group of similarly jaded young ladies who also don’t want to be stuck going to school there.
The seeds of discord are sewn within the group after rumors begin to circulate about the school turning co-ed. Supporting cast members include Rachel Leigh Cook, Kirsten Dunst (who was basically required to be in every movie like this made after 1995) and Heather Matarazzo from Welcome to the Dollhouse.