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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oddly, breaking the law while wearing coordinated rubber-mask costumes sums up the third mind mentality of socially enmeshed teenage girls with stunning accuracy.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.