Ah, the teenage years, those glorious days when everyone is an immature, hormone-addled ball of energy trying to figure out how to be a person in the world, and also how to get to that party literally everyone will attend after homecoming. While many movies chronicling this period of human development are fun and lighthearted, even the bounciest offer a darkly comforting reminder: You survived.
Put on your varsity jacket, grab your Trapper Keeper, and stream these essential teen movies on Netflix. Remember, if you can't get enough of these teen dreams, check out the best teen TV shows on Netflix.
Truly, nothing can spice up a school quiz tournament like the quest to lose your virginity. This '80s-set Netflix original sends a Bangalore trio of high school horndogs to Calcutta to win on both counts.
Writer/director Rian Johnson made a textbook noir flick -- a hardboiled story complete with fast-paced detective dialogue -- but gave it a twist by setting it in a contemporary American high school. After his ex-girlfriend goes missing, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's isolated teen feels compelled to follow the breadcrumbs she left behind. As he follows a series of clues, he discovers a world of underground crime in his high school. Brick has become a cult classic for all the right reasons.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
As romanticized as adolescence can be, it’s hard being young. Following the high school experience of troubled, overdramatic Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), The Edge of Seventeen portrays the woes of adolescence with a tender, yet appropriately cheeky tone. As if junior year isn’t hellish enough, the universe essentially bursts into flames when Nadine finds out her best friend is dating her brother; their friendship begins to dissolve, and she finds the only return on young love is embarrassment and pain. That may all sound like a miserable premise for a young-adult movie, except it’s all painfully accurate, making it endearingly hilarious -- and there’s so much to love about Steinfeld’s self-aware performance.
Empire Records (1995)
When a corporate giant threatens to buy a local record store, the store's devoted young employees spend the entirety of a day fighting the loss of their untouchable indie gem to a chain. In working to save the shop together, they learn a bit more about each other’s struggles, kind of like Breakfast Club set in a vinyl lover’s heaven. Empire Records is a mid-90s cult classic more because of its soundtrack than the quality of the movie, but it also features fun early performances from Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger. It's teen angst served with a heaping helping of Gin Blossoms.
People love Paul Rudd! That belief alone probably motivated this paint-by-numbers mid-2000s indie ripoff, which stars Rudd as a retired writer (hah!) searching for his next chapter (get it?). After deciding to become a caregiver (yes, this plot is shaping up nicely), he gets a job from a woman whose teenage son, Trevor, has muscular dystrophy, but also a sarcastic sense of humor. When Rudd and the kid go on a road trip to see famous roadside attractions (it's one of Trevor's adorable character quirks that he's obsessed with roadside attractions), they learn plenty about each other, but -- spoiler -- just as much about themselves. Selena Gomez shows up as a love interest for good measure, so if you're in the mood for an undemanding, treacly teen road-trip flick, The Fundamentals of Caring is your Rudd-approved best bet.
Like Mean Girls but with murder, this dark '80s cult classic features Winona Ryder and Christian Slater at their peak cool as two young lovers who start bumping off the popular kids in their high school (including a group of pre-Plastics mean girls all named Heather). While the film flopped at the time, the movie seemed pre-destined to be a cult classic, packed as it was with iconic images and lines: Veronica's monocle, the red power scrunchie, the croquet-playing, "What's your damage, Heather!?," and of course, "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw." Years ahead of its time, Heathers was a sharp satire of sickly sweet '80s teen movies, a lethal dose of cinematic Drano that we still can't believe ever got green-lit (and that certainly wouldn't pass muster in today's post-Columbine world).
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn’t your average young adult romantic comedy. There’s a lot of comic-inspired ass kicking and super villianous exes, as well as some not so great original garage band music. While ridiculous, these oddities in a movie about a bass player (Michael Cera) on a quest to win the heart of a special Ramona Flowers by defeating all seven of her evil exes give the genre some much needed action and edginess. From director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead), the film is uniquely stylized and has the right amount of teenage flair to make it a cult classic. What’s dreamier than a boy fighting super-powered evil exes from hell for the sake of love?
Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (2018)
In this Netflix original movie, titular loser Sierra Burgess (Shannon Purser, AKA Barb from Stranger Things) enlists her high school's most popular girl Veronica (Kristine Froseth) after semi-accidentally falling into catfishing the hot jock Jamey (Noah Centineo, aka Peter Kavinsky from To All the Boys I've Loved Before) who mixed up his phone numbers. The Netflix rom-com is creepy-sweet in the way only awkward high school tales can get away with.
“To the pants! And the sisterhood!” It may be a pretty cheesy premise to base an entire movie on a pair of magical jeans that fits four best friends of different sizes, but this aughts classic -- based on the book series of the same name -- is a genuinely heartwarming story about female friendship. Following Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, and Blake Lively as teenagers spending their summers apart -- stuck at home working, in Greece (literally the only good option here), across the country with Dad’s new family, and at soccer camp, respectively -- the girls keep in touch via letters and the titular pants. As each of them works through her own form of trauma, the thread of their shared support keeps them together.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
This coming of age story focuses on Miles Teller’s lovable but ill-fated Sutter, a teenage boy who lives in the now and sees little importance in looking beyond it, especially at the prospects of his future after graduation. Then, following one night of binge drinking, he wakes up on the lawn of Aimee (Shailene Woodley), an unsuspecting, studious classmate, and everything changes... for the both of them. Despite their differences, and Aimee’s unrelenting desire to dream about the possibilities outside of their deadbeat hometown, there’s something special that burgeons between them. Equal parts about the value and flaws in only focusing on the present, and an ode to dreams of tomorrow, The Spectacular Now is a near perfect young romance and story of personal growth.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
In this shrewd twist on the superhero genre, the audience's familiarity with the origin story of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger -- the character has already starred in three different blockbuster franchises, in addition to countless comics and cartoon TV adaptations -- is used as an asset instead of a liability. The relatively straightforward coming-of-age tale of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teenager who takes on the powers and responsibilities of Spider-Man following the death of Peter Parker, gets a remix built around an increasingly absurd parallel dimension plotline that introduces a cast of other Spider-Heroes like Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen), and, most ridiculously, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig in a Spider-Suit. The convoluted set-up is mostly an excuse to cram the movie with rapid-fire jokes, comic book allusions, and dream-like imagery that puts the rubbery CGI of most contemporary animated films to shame.
The uproarious comedy that kicked off Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's writing partnership crams more crude sex jokes than anyone ever thought possible into the heartwarming story of inseparable best friends (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) on the verge of leaving each other to ship off to college. Factor in some killer party scenes, a then-unknown Emma Stone, and high-school horndogs riffing to their hearts' content, and we all want to be McLovin.
What if your private letters to your crushes weren't private, but wound up in the hands of aforementioned crushes? It's a teen's nightmare! But maybe -- just maybe! -- this story, which is based on Jenny Han's best-selling YA novel of the same name, will turn out to have a happy ending. With strong performances from young leads Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, To All the Boys I've Loved Before is the rare Netflix original movie with enough heart and sincerity to overcome its flaws.