Anyone who loves the movies knows we're definitely not living in a golden age of cinema. Facing dwindling audiences, vanishing DVD revenue and competition from outstanding television, Hollywood has doubled down on superhero sequels, cheap found-footage flicks and mass-marketed young adult sagas that risk little and play well to foreign markets.
There is one group particularly hurt by this slow erosion of the movie industry: high school teenagers. Unless you were born into a wealthy reality television family whose last name begins with K, adolescence is a time of strange uncertainty, hopelessness and monumental embarrassment. Teenage movies are the best antidote to those feelings. They teach us that the awkward girl can get the guy, that lots of us are still virgins by prom and, most of all, that there is life beyond high school.
These very films that prepared us for high school contain valuable lessons for teenagers in any era — especially this one. So grab your Blockbuster card — these are the essential films that got our generation through high school that the next generation needs to see:
1. 'She’s All That'
That moment when Laney walks downstairs in a little red dress — as "Kiss Me" plays in the background and Zack's eyes light up with joy (she was conventionally beautiful all along!) — gives a little hope to the millions of high-school black swans out there. If only winning the heart of your dream man were as simple as taking off your glasses.
2. 'Bring It On'
The plot to Bring It On is mindlessly simple, but the movie that Roger Ebert declared "the Citizen Kane of cheerleader movies" has a surprisingly incisive take on race and inequality. This is for all the teens today who can't quite muster up the courage to say what it is they really want to say. The movie's lesson? Be fearless.
3. '10 Things I Hate About You'
If there's one definitive teenage rom-com that's a must-see for the next generation, this is it. 10 Things I Hate About You is perfectly dressed like a high school flick, but its Shakespearean roots, clever screenplay and all-star cast give the film true heart and real gravitas. And while so many young people today know Heath Ledger as The Joker, they need to see him for what he was to so many of us growing up — Patrick Verona.
4. 'Can’t Hardly Wait'
This late '90s classic has a lot in common with the contained, one-setting movies Hollywood's generation today is familiar with — think Superbad. It can also teach the SnapChat generation an important lesson: All you really need to have fun are some red party cups and a little Smash Mouth.
5. 'Varsity Blues'
Before there was Taylor Kitsch there was James Van Der Beek. In Varsity Blues Van Der Beek shows us that even the quarterback struggles to figure out who he wants to be in life, and that we all have the power to reject our parents' wishes and pursue the life of our dreams. Also, there are way more creative uses for whip cream than dessert.
6. 'Never Been Kissed'
This movie captures how so many of us felt throughout high school: un-hip, un-loved and like total frauds. At a time when Drew Barrymore was the queen of the rom-com (nice try, Katherine Heigl), this was exactly what we needed. The empowerment message still rings true for awkward teens in any era.
7. 'Drive Me Crazy'
So, this movie isn't exactly filled with wisdom (and were we honestly supposed to believe Melissa Joan Hart and Adrian Grenier couldn't find dates to the dance?), but Sabrina the teenage witch + a very young Vinny Chase + the best Britney Spears song tie-in = something everyone needs to see.
8. 'Cruel Intentions'
The movie that taught us all how to kiss is campy, ridiculous and, let's be honest, downright bad at times, but there was something so deliciously dark and voyeuristic about watching coked-out, sex-obsessed Upper East Siders ruin each other's lives. What did we learn from Cruel Intentions? All the money in the world won't make you happy but it might make you a little more messed up.
Before there were Mean Girls there was the "Flawless Four." The dark, troubled girl clique taught us one very important thing: Being unpopular might not be such a bad thing and at the very least, it seems way safer than being a queen bee.
Because teenagers in every era need to be educated on what happens when a pop star tries to do a movie. Never forget.
11. 'American Pie'
Kids today face no shortage of films about losing their virginity, but none of them have had the kind of cultural impact American Pie still has more than a decade later. Sure, it was offensive and generally disgusting, but what would teenage years be like without band camp, the Sherminator or Stifler's mom?
12. 'Wild Things'
There was seduction, Denise Richards fighting Neve Campbell in a pool, trust funds, Denise Richards kissing Neve Campbell in a pool, blackmail, Denise Richards walking out of a pool … basically, lots of pools. It's definitely a must-see, but when kids learn how to Google before they can do the things they are Googling, it's hard to imagine them finding Wild Things as groundbreakingly risque as we did.
Using a utopian 1950's backdrop, the movie is a model of what life is "supposed" to look like with a smattering of valuable lessons about what happens when we're afraid of change. And yes, teenagers of today, there really was a time when Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire could believably play high schoolers.
14. 'Save the Last Dance'
When a white girl studying ballet moves to an inner city Chicago school, there is bound to be drama. The film approaches racial issues dead on, and while it gets cliche, this is of course a massive lesson about fighting for your dreams despite all the odds. Dance on.