The Best Teen Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated
The teen films you watched in high school are the ones you'll never forget.
What movie defined your high school years? While many of us still appreciate teen movies as adults, entries into the genre that hit us at just the right age are liable to stick with us forever. That's why we decided to go through the past several decades and pick the best teen movie from every year—including the year you graduated. Keep reading to see our picks, from 1960 to 2019, and find out if our choice for your graduation year teen movie still holds a special place in your heart. And for another walk down memory lane, This Was the Most Popular Teen Idol the Year You Graduated.
1960: Where the Boys Are
At this point, Where the Boys Are might be best remembered for its title song—it was sung by Connie Francis, who also starred in the film. And for movies that are better off forgotten, check out The Worst Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated.
1961: West Side Story
Real-life teenagers don't sing and dance their way through conflict, but they do in West Side Story, the film adaptation of the Leonard Bernstein–Stephen Sondheim musical based on Romeo and Juliet.
1962: Girls! Girls! Girls!
OK, Elvis Presley was a little older than a teenager when he starred in Girls! Girls! Girls!, but the teen movie market wasn't quite what it is now, and if you were 17 in 1962, there's a good chance you saw this one in theaters. And for more recent icons who defined a decade, check out The Biggest '80s Teen Idols, Then and Now.
1963: Bye Bye Birdie
Another teen movie musical—this one featuring a send-up of Elvis with the titular character of Conrad Birdie—Bye Bye Birdie was adapted from the hit 1960 Broadway musical.
1964: A Hard Day's Night
Like Elvis, the Beatles were slightly out of their teen years when they made A Hard Day's Night, but in chronicling Beatlemania, the film may be one of the best encapsulations of what it meant to be a teenager in the '60s. And for more fun content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
1965: Beach Blanket Bingo
Were any of the "Beach Party" films legitimately good? That might be up for debate. Nevertheless, Beach Blanket Bingo—starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello—certainly made its mark in 1965.
1966: Lord Love a Duck
At the same time, the "Beach Party" genre was being lampooned in movies like Lord Love a Duck, which starred Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld.
1967: To Sir, With Love
While To Sir, With Love may have been a showcase for Sidney Poitier, playing the teacher in this inspirational teacher drama, it also offered a notable look at the lives of teenagers at an inner-city high school. And for more great films from yesteryear, discover The Best Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated, According to Critics.
1968: Romeo and Juliet
Star-crossed teen romance has been inspired again and again by Shakespeare, but in 1968, we got a direct adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli.
1969: Last Summer
One of many coming-of-age films on this list about teenagers discovering their sexuality, Last Summer is notable in part for its strong performances, including by Catherine Burns, who was nominated for an Academy Award.
1970: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
If you were a groovy teen in 1970, you probably got a kick out of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which is less a sequel to the much maligned Valley of the Dolls and more a pitch-perfect satire. And for more startling films, check out The Scariest Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated.
1971: The Last Picture Show
Peter Bogdanovich's coming-of-age film The Last Picture Show, based on Larry McMurtry's semi-autobiographical novel, was nominated for eight Oscars and won two—for actors Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson.
1972: To Find a Man
If you saw To Find a Man when it hit theaters in 1972, you might have been scandalized by the storyline about a 16-year-old girl trying to terminate her pregnancy.
1973: American Graffiti
Set in 1962, American Graffiti was a sweet dose of nostalgia that teens in the '70s might not have appreciated nearly as much as those a decade their senior.
1974: The Lords of Flatbush
Another teen period film, The Lords of Flatbush followed a group of 1950s Brooklyn teenagers, played by future stars like Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler, the latter of whom would also don a leather jacket as Fonzie on Happy Days.
1975: Cooley High
Cooley High was significant for being specifically about the Black high school experience, which is part of what made the beloved film so influential for filmmakers like John Singleton and Spike Lee.
1976: Freaky Friday
The Mary Rodgers novel Freaky Friday has been adapted multiple times—you might even see it again on this list—but '70s teens stick by the first movie version, starring a 13-year-old Jodie Foster.
1977: Saturday Night Fever
In the midst of his growing fame on Welcome Back, Kotter, John Travolta catapulted to superstardom when he played Tony Manero in the era-defining Saturday Night Fever.
1978: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Beatlemania might have been a staple of the '60s, but it came back in the '70s—or rather, Robert Zemeckis decided to lovingly poke fun at it in this comedy about a group of teens trying to catch their favorite band on The Ed Sullivan Show.
1979: Breaking Away
Teenagers who just graduated from high school trying to figure out what comes next—it could be a genre unto itself. And if you, too, graduated in 1979, Breaking Away might have hit especially close to home.
A slightly older Jodie Foster—in one of her final film appearances before she went on hiatus to attend college—played one of the L.A.-based teenagers in Foxes, which also starred Runaways vocalist Cherie Currie.
1981: Gregory's Girl
Maybe you missed Gregory's Girl—the Scottish high school comedy isn't exactly as mainstream as some of the other films on this list—but even if you didn't see it as a teen, you're still likely to be charmed by it now.
1982: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
One of the defining teen comedies of the '80s—especially when it comes to movies not directed by John Hughes—Fast Times at Ridgemont High was funny and authentic, in part because screenwriter Cameron Crowe had gone undercover at a real high school to write the book it's based on.
On the less grounded side of the spectrum is WarGames, in which Matthew Broderick plays a teen hacker who accidentally gets involved in a possible nuclear war.
Teenagers in 1984 swooned over Kevin Bacon's Ren McCormack, who is determined to bring dancing to the small Midwestern town that's banned the practice.
1985: The Breakfast Club
Whether you were a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel, or a recluse, The Breakfast Club made you feel seen. John Hughes' recurring Brat Pack actors—including Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall—became '80s icons.
1986: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Another Hughes film—really, his '80s output is unmatched—Ferris Bueller's Day Off presents a pretty wild fantasy of what life could be like if you just ditched high school for a day.
1987: Some Kind of Wonderful
Hughes again, though this time only writing and producing. Howard Deutch's romance gave us a memorable trio of teens, played by Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Lea Thompson.
If you were an outcast in the '80s, you might have appreciated some of the earlier, less-family friendly movies that John Waters made, but Hairspray is downright wholesome, even with the heavy theme of racial desegregation.
And then there's the not-so-wholesome: The pitch black comedy of Heathers might not be for everyone, but the film has certainly found an adoring audience over the years, also spawning a musical and a TV series.
1990: House Party
Hip hop duo Kid 'n Play stepped into the acting game with House Party, which got great reviews, thanks in large part to the refreshing way it represented Black teenagers, so often left out of the teen movie genre.
1991: Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead
Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead takes the teenage fantasy of having the house to yourself for the summer and then turns it on its head, becoming a harrowing parable about early adulthood—with lots of laughs along the way.
1992: School Ties
Graduates in 1992 may not have personally related to the '50s-set story of School Ties, but the film—in which Brendan Fraser plays a Jewish teenager at an elite prep school—still resonated with audiences overall.
1993: Dazed and Confused
It's about more than just Matthew McConaughey's "alright, alright, alright" catchphrase. Dazed and Confused is Richard Linklater's affectionate and hilarious look at soon-to-be high school graduates in 1976 Texas.
1994: Hoop Dreams
The only documentary on this list, Hoop Dreams wowed audiences with its focus on two Black high school basketball players, telling their story over a gripping 170 minutes.
As if any list of the best teen movies of the last 60 years could leave off Clueless—not since Fast Times had Amy Heckerling so expertly captured the contemporary high school experience.
1996: Romeo + Juliet
Yes, again, but this time updated to modern times, and with hot young stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes drawing in a whole new audience who had maybe never appreciated the Bard before.
1997: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
OK, so Mira Sorvino's Romy and Lisa Kudrow's Michele are actually adults for most of the movie—even if they're failing at adulting. But this film's most poignant moments involve flashbacks to high school, and the struggle to fit in.
Rushmore was a major moment for Wes Anderson, but it was also a significant step forward for any adolescent outcasts who saw themselves in Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman.
1999: 10 Things I Hate About You
Another modern Shakespeare update, 10 Things I Hate About You is a twist on The Taming of the Shrew—way more feminist than the original, not to mention an exceptional showcase for Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger.
2000: Bring It On
If you saw Bring It On in theaters 20 years ago—or if you've seen it in the years since—there's a pretty decent chance you still know all the cheers, along with the song Cliff writes for Torrance.
2001: Donnie Darko
Emo kids fell head over heels with Donnie Darko—or, perhaps more accurately, with Jake Gyllenhaal, and with Gary Jules' ethereal cover of "Mad World."
2002: Bend It Like Beckham
Bend It Like Beckham follows 18-year-old Jess Bhamra, played by Parminder Nagra, whose parents won't allow her to play football—that's soccer, for us Americans.
2003: Freaky Friday
Yes, it's Freaky Friday again, this time with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis swapping bodies, and reminding audiences that it's hard being a teenager and just as hard being an adult.
2004: Mean Girls
Few teen movies in the 21st century have had the cultural impact of Mean Girls, which gave us catchphrases, an affinity for pink, and an unofficial holiday—even if "fetch" still hasn't really happened.
2005: Sky High
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made superheroes all the rage, Sky High gave us a look at high school kids with powers, and ended up impressing critics with its appeal to all ages despite being a family film.
The teen movie got the neo-noir treatment in Rian Johnson's endlessly clever Brick, which gave both genres a whole new dimension.
Juno was a massive hit for first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, who won an Academy Award for her script, but it also benefited from a phenomenal young cast, including Ellen Page and Michael Cera.
2008: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Michael Cera and his awkward charm were on display again in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, based on the young adult novel of the same name. He was partnered with Kat Dennings, and their chemistry was undeniable.
2009: Jennifer's Body
Sadly, Jennifer's Body was ahead of its time, so you might not have caught it in theaters when you were a teenager. The film has since undergone a critical reappraisal, and is now recognized by many as the classic it always was.
2010: Easy A
Before she became an Academy Award-winning actor, Emma Stone broke through in Easy A, a loose modern update of The Scarlet Letter that displayed her ample charms and her "Pocketful of Sunshine" pipes.
Another remake, and a sadly underrated one, the 2011 Footloose might hew a little close to the original, but it was enough of an update to attract a new teen audience.
2012: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
What does it mean to feel infinite? You might be hard-pressed to answer that, but if you were a teenager when you first saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower (or read Stephen Chbosky's novel), you know exactly what it means.
2013: The Spectacular Now
Teen movies in the 2010s got a little bit heavier, as in The Spectacular Now, which tackles teenage alcoholism with real authenticity, aided by strong performances from Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.
2014: The Fault in Our Stars
Shailene Woodley kept the tears flowing in The Fault in Our Stars, one of several 2010s teen movies that harken back to tear-jerker romances like 1970's Love Story. Be honest, you bawled your eyes out.
Led by a fantastic young cast—Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, and Kiersey Clemons—Dope follows a trio of geeks trying to navigate the high-crime neighborhood where they live and make it to college.
2016: The Edge of Seventeen
In many ways a throwback to the John Hughes films of the '80s, The Edge of Seventeen offers a slightly more modern look at surviving high school. Critics lauded the script and the performance by lead Hailee Steinfeld.
2017: Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig made her solo directorial debut with Lady Bird, earning herself an Oscar nomination—the film got five noms total—and the adoration of countless teens who saw themselves in the title character, played by Saoirse Ronan.
2018: Love, Simon
There had been indie teen movies featuring gay romance before Love, Simon, but this was the first real mainstream entry into the genre, and it helped a new generation of LGBTQ+ youth feel seen.
If The Breakfast Club established the typical high school types, Olivia Wilde's Booksmart gave a more accurate depiction of how loose and flexible those categories really are, fitting for a young 2019 audience.