YAC HIT LIST: Teen Girl Movies

By Kirsten SmithApril 12, 2013

YAC HIT LIST: Teen Girl Movies

MOVIES ABOUT TEENAGE GIRLS are better than movies about other people. I’ve been in love with them since I came of age in the late 1980s in a small town in Washington state, wishing I was cooler than I was. My movie worldview was shaped by the Shakespeare of Teen Cinema, John Hughes, and his muse, Molly Ringwald (I wrote about my deep feelings for her here). I was smitten with his characters and his attitudes, his soundtracks and his costumes, and I aspired to grow up and be a writer like him. Aided by an after school job at the local video store, I soaked in every bit of teen-themed celluloid I could get my eyeballs on, Hughes and otherwise.

The first screenplay I sold with my writing partner, Karen McCullah, was an homage to Hughes by way of Shakespeare, 10 Things I Hate About You. The second screenplay we sold was a girl surfing dramedy called Girl in the Curl, which never got made, despite the efforts of Jennifer Love Hewitt to spearhead it with her new Sony production company. (The awesomeness of the 1990s was that J-Love wasn’t the only teen girl to have her own producing deal — in 1996, Sony also gave one to Alicia Silverstone so she could found First Kiss Productions.)

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, teen chick flicks were flourishing. Karen and I were hard at work on girl-power fare like Legally Blonde, Ella Enchanted, What a Girl Wants, and She’s the Man. But times were a-changing, especially when studios began turning teen flicks into vehicles for Disney and Nickelodeon stars. Unlike Molly Ringwald, who came out of nowhere and radiated a misfit charm, the Nickelodeon girls felt more squeaky kid-clean than honest teen. Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls (and, I’d like to think, Amanda Bynes in She’s the Man) were exceptions. But the Hughes Homages began to wear thin; soon the only place for real adolescent edge was in indies like Donnie Darko and Ghost World

In the late 2000s, post-feminism took powerful hold, and on the pages of YA fiction, a new kind of teenage heroine emerged: a girl fighting epic battles of good and evil, with the muscle to quite literally save the world. Hollywood caught on to Twilight and The Hunger Games, and suddenly movies about teenage girls became the unlikely blockbusters of the 21st century. Soon, my agent was encouraging me to write a YA novel with dystopian franchise appeal. I took his advice and wrote a YA novel. But much to his annoyance, the heroine in Trinkets isn’t killing bad guys, she’s shoplifting jewelry; she and her friends aren’t saving the world, they’re just trying to find their place in it. What it resembles more than anything is my favorite teen girl movies — the ones they don’t make anymore, the ones I’ll watch and re-watch no matter how old I am, the first loves I’ll never forget.

My Favorite Teen Girl Movies

Valley Girl (1983)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Just One of the Guys (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Heathers (1988)
Clueless (1995)
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
Show Me Love (1998)
Never Been Kissed (1999)
Dick (1999)
Bring It On (2000)
Ghost World (2001)
Mean Girls (2004)
My Summer of Love (2004)
Juno (2007)
The Runaways (2010)
Myth of the American Sleepover (2010)
Ginger & Rosa (2012)

And Post-Teen Girl Favorites

Modern Girls (1986)
Reality Bites (1994)
Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)


LARB Contributor

Kirsten Smith is a screenwriter and author of two YA novels, Trinkets and The Geography of Girlhood. Her film credits include Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, She's the Man and The House Bunny. A recipient of MacDowell Colony and Breadloaf Writer's Conference fellowships, she lives in Los Angeles, California. You can find her online at Kiwi Loves You or on Twitter @kiwilovesyou.  


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