Throwback Thursday: The Top 40 Teen Comedies of All Time, Part Two (30-21)

By on July 17, 2014

Last week, we delved into some of my all-time favorite teen comedies, starting with number 40. If you haven’t already, be sure and check out the first installment here. This week, the countdown continues, with another 10 of my favorites, including some fairly recent ones this time around. As before, don’t forget to click on the titles for the trailers if you’re interested in seeing more, and be sure to click on the other hyperlinks for more info on certain people and some bonus music videos. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!

30. Hairspray (1988)

Colleen Fitzpatrick, Debbie Harry, Divine and Ricki Lake get their "Hairspray" on. Courtesy of

Colleen Fitzpatrick, Debbie Harry, Divine and Ricki Lake get their “Hairspray” on.
Courtesy of

One doesn’t traditionally think of provocateur and trash film connoisseur John Waters as the nostalgic or traditional type, and, indeed, the vast majority of his films- which include the likes of “Polyester,” “Serial Mom,” “Desperate Living” and the notorious midnight film classic “Pink Flamingoes”- seek more to offend than give anyone the warm and fuzzies. Here’s the exception. Some of you might know this one better from its later Broadway incarnation, which was then itself remade into a film in 2007, but I prefer the original, not being a huge fan of musicals. Besides, this one retains more of Waters’ signature bite, and features his typical wonderfully-obscure soundtrack of lesser-known oldies from the era in which the film is set, the early 60s. It might lack the big names of the remake, but the casting is still pretty cool, including the likes of Debbie Harry (of rock group “Blondie” fame), Ric Ocasek (of the band “The Cars”), Jerry Stiller (“Seinfeld”), Sonny Bono (of “Sonny & Cher” fame), Pia Zadora (cult favorite “Santa Claus vs. the Martians”) and Waters regulars Divine, Mink Stole, and Mary Vivian Pierce. It was also the film that put then-later talk show host Ricki Lake on the map, who also crops up in the remake, along with Waters himself, to amusing effect. Lake stars as the endearing Tracy Turnblad, a sweet-natured teen that becomes a dancer on a local “American Bandstand”-type show, and later uses her fame to fight against racial segregation. It was grounded in Waters’ own childhood in Baltimore, where a similar show was filmed locally. It’s easily Waters’ most accessible work, the only one to receive a PG rating, and it’s arguably his most heartfelt as well. While I’ll allow his other work is much more challenging and perverse, this is the rare one the whole family can enjoy, and it has some solid morals to the story to boot- and how many Waters films can you say that about?

There's nothing that can't be made better by Emma Stone. Jonah Hill makes a move on everyone's fave redhead in "Superbad." Courtesy of

There’s nothing that can’t be made better by Emma Stone. Jonah Hill makes a move on everyone’s fave redhead in “Superbad.”
Courtesy of

29. Superbad (2007) The film that put Emma Stone on the map- which can’t possibly be a bad thing- as well as, for better or worse, Jonah Hill. “Superbad” was written by co-star Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg when they themselves were teenagers and was later picked up by producer Judd Apatow. It chronicles an eventful day in the life of Seth (Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), who, as you might have guessed from those names, are stand-ins for the writers themselves. With Evan being accepted into college and Seth being left behind, the two struggle with their impending separation while getting into a series of misadventures while trying to secure alcohol for a party at a girl’s house that Seth is crushing on (Stone). It’s a gloriously foul-mouthed exercise that nonetheless manages to show real heart in between all the vulgarity. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby, either, including many Apatow movie and TV-vets, like Martin Starr (“Silicon Valley”), Kevin Corrigan (“Grounded for Life”), Clark Duke (“2 and ½ Men”), David Krumholtz (from previous list entry “10 Things I Hate About You”), Martin Starr (“Knocked Up”), and the immortal “McLovin,” aka Christopher Mintz-Plasse; plus Rogen and “SNL”-vet Bill Hader as a pair of clueless cops. The foul language may be a big turn-off for some, but any movie that essentially introduced the world to Emma Stone can’t be all bad, and this one certainly isn’t.

Aubrey Plaza contemplates what's next on her "To Do List." Courtesy of

Aubrey Plaza contemplates what’s next on her “To Do List.”
Courtesy of

28. The To Do List (2013) Sort of the female version of something like “American Pie,” one of the most recent entries on my list features Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) as a nerdy, clueless teen that laments not having had any of the experiences one typically has for the first time in high school, so she makes a list- hence the title- of things she wants to do before heading off to college. Mostly sexual in nature, she sets out to achieve them alongside best pal Cameron (Johnny Simmons, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), with older guy Rusty (Scott Porter, “Hart of Dixie”) being the ultimate goal for the virginity hit. Complicating matters is her total lack of knowledge of what some of the things even are, leading to some hilarious misunderstandings and complications. Helping out, at least to a certain degree, are her big sister Amber (Rachel Bilson, “The O.C.”) and her boyfriend (Andy Samberg, of “SNL”); boss Willy (Bill Hader again), pals Wendy (Sarah Steele, “Spanglish”) and Fiona (Alia Shawkat, “Arrested Development”), and her amusingly-knowledgeable mother (Connie Britton, “Nashville”) and decidedly less-so father (Clark Gregg, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse also crops up, along with Donald Glover (of “Community” fame), Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project”), and Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”). The 1993 setting lends itself to a cool soundtrack, featuring everyone from the 2 Live Crew to Pavement, and the film is consistently funny and often surprisingly tender, while still holding true to the gratuitous, oft-tasteless humor the sub-genre is known for. It’s also the rare film of this type to feature female leads and a distinctly female POV. That’s no mistake, as the film was written and directed by Maggie Carey, of the online favorites “In the Motherhood” and “The Jeannie Tate Show.” She also happens to be married to co-star Bill Hader, which doesn’t hurt matters. It wasn’t a huge hit, but if you like this sort of thing, you should definitely check it out, as it does at least bring something new to the table by virtue of its approach, and that’s not easy to do these days.

Wierd Science27. Weird Science (1985) Speaking of sexually-clueless teens, this one marks the first appearance (but not the last) of teen-movie wunderkind John Hughes, who wrote and directed this surprisingly raunchy comedy about two science geeks who decide to take their dismal sex lives into their own hands and create the “perfect” woman, “Frankenstein”-style. Teen movie royalty Anthony Michael Hall, who appeared in most of Hughes’ best-loved teen movies, plays Gary; while the lesser-known but adorably dorky Ilan Mitchell-Smith (“The Wild Life”) plays his best pal Wyatt. Playing their creation, Lisa, is the delectable Kelly LeBrock, who later went on to marry her “Hard to Kill” co-star Steven Seagal. You might also be thoroughly amused by the characters played by then-future “Iron Man” Robert Downey, Jr. and, as the unforgettable Chet, Gary’s military-happy older brother, Bill Paxton, of “Aliens” and “Big Love” fame. (You won’t soon forget the sight of what Lisa turns him into!) B-movie fans will also appreciate the presence of Robert Rusler (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2”), Suzanne Snyder (“Killer Klowns from Outer Space”), Jill Whitlow (“Night of the Creeps”), Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”) and Vernon Wells (“The Road Warrior”). This being a Hughes film, the soundtrack is also first-rate, including punk faves Killing Joke (whose song here, “Eighties,” inspired Nirvana’s “Come as You Are”) and The Lords of the New Church, and, of course, the memorable theme song by Oingo Boingo, whose lead singer, Danny Elfman, would go on to work with Tim Burton and become one of the most well-respected score composers in the business. Though incredibly silly at times and often-ridiculous, the film is endlessly quotable, including a monologue delivered by LeBrock (to Gary’s parents!) that could well be the mantra for most of the films on this list: “You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candle-wax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no. Just a couple of hundred kids running around in their underwear, acting like complete animals.” Amen to that, and amen to this film, which rocks.

Charlie Korsmo, Peter Facinelli, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Lauren Ambrose and Seth Green "Can't Hardly Wait" for the big senior party! Courtesy of

Charlie Korsmo, Peter Facinelli, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Lauren Ambrose and Seth Green “Can’t Hardly Wait” for the big senior party!
Courtesy of

26. Can’t Hardly Wait (1998) One of the more underrated films on this list, this one heralded a bit of a resurgence in the teen comedy subgenre, after a bit of a fallow period in the late 90s. Helmed by writing/directing team Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, who would go on to helm the equally-underrated “Josie and the Pussycats” (yeah, I said it), the film is the quintessential teen movie of the era, with a superb cast, many of whom went on to much bigger success. The big name at the time was Jennifer Love-Hewitt, who was then coming off of TV’s critically-acclaimed “Party of Five” and the horror hit, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” which, along with “Scream,” helped to re-launch the similarly dead-in-the-water teen slasher sub-genre. Was there anyone who didn’t have a crush on her at the time? Hell, I still kinda do, if I’m being honest. (“The Client List” certainly didn’t hurt matters.) Also cropping up are Seth Green (circa “Buffy” and “Austin Powers,” but pre-“Robot Chicken”), Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”), Peter Facinelli (the “Twilight” saga), Jerry O’Connell (“Scream 2”), Jaime Pressley (“My Name is Earl”), Donald Faison (“Scrubs”), Eric Balfour (“Haven”), Selma Blair (“Cruel Intentions”), Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch”), Jenna Elfman (“Damages”), Freddy Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”), Clea Duvall (“American Horror Story: Asylum”) and Ethan Embry (“Once Upon a Time”), among other familiar faces. In short, this film has one of those casts that will inspire much “Oh my God! Is that…?” reactions. But it’s also well-written and acted in its own right, so it’s not just an exercise in star-gazing, to be sure. Granted, the storyline is standard teen movie stuff: it revolves around a high school graduation party held at a rich class member’s expansive house, and attended by a wide swath of subcultures, so as to better explore different cliques. That part’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the film itself is surprisingly well-observed and the characters mostly ring true to the times at hand. And the soundtrack is one of the best of the era as well, with the titular Replacements song the film was named after, of course; but also the late, great Sneaker Pimps, White Zombie, Missy Elliott, Sublime and lots of cool funk, rap and classic rock oldies to boot. If you skipped this one the first time around, you should really give it a second chance, because it’s well worth the effort.

Mia Sara, Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck contemplate what to do on "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."  Courtesy of

Mia Sara, Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck contemplate what to do on “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Courtesy of

25. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) Another John Hughes favorite, this one, also directed by the man himself, helped put star Matthew Broderick (“The Producers”) on the map and made “Bueller?…Bueller?…Bueller?” into such a catch-phrase that the name Ferris Bueller has managed to become synonymous with both having fun skipping out on school and being bored out of your wits when you are there. Whatever the case, the movie is essential 80s teen movie viewing, so much so that I’ve no doubt some of you will lament it being so low on the list. My main reasoning is that there’s so many quality Hughes films that something had to give somewhere, lest my top ten become a Hughes-a-palooza, and the fact that, classic though it may be, Ferris himself is just this side of annoying. Yeah, I said it. I think the main reason this film sometimes rubs me the wrong way is the whole directly-addressing-the-viewer thing, which can often induce much eye-rolling and groaning in certain people, myself definitely included. What saves it is the clever methods Ferris uses to weasel his way out of things, especially the Rube Goldberg-ian devices he has rigged up at his house. Well, that and the supporting cast, which includes the unforgettable Alan Ruck as the mopey Cameron (“Greek”), the lovely Mia Sara (“Legend”) as the delectable Sloan, Ferris’ girlfriend; Jennifer Grey (“Dirty Dancing”) as his understandably frustrated and jealous sister, Jeannie; then-future “Buffy” Kristy Swanson as a cute student; and, be still my heart, freaking Charlie Sheen as a stoner type- but of course. However, the adult supporting cast is equally crucial for once, including the memorably flustered principal Ed Rooney, played by Tim Burton-regular Jeffrey Jones (“Beetlejuice”); the aforementioned catch-phrase speaker Ben Stein, who basically made his career as an actor for life with this film; and the adorable Edie McClurg (“7th Heaven”) as Grace, Rooney’s right-hand woman, who memorably calls Ferris a “righteous dude.” Every year that passes, I feel more for the poor principal than Ferris, for whatever that’s worth, which is why this one ranks where it does. It’s absolutely fun at times, and who doesn’t love that “Oh Yeah” song? But overall, it’s a bit slight compared to some of the other Hughes films on the list, so I’m going with number 25 and leaving well enough alone. Others may differ, but what are you gonna do?

GBF24. G.B.F. (2013) The most recent film on this list, I saw this one on Netflix a few weeks ago, and was really blown away by how enjoyable it was, considering how little fanfare it was met with at the box office. Of course, box office success is hardly the best indicator of a film’s worth, so hopefully, its inclusion here will encourage others to seek it out. It’s certainly one of the most forward-thinking films on this list, to be sure. It revolves around two gay friends whose worlds are turned upside down when one of them outs the other and the other outs his friend to his mother in retaliation, which leads to many complications, not the least of which is a “competition” amongst the school’s most popular girls to make the former their “G.B.F.” or “gay best friend.” Will this unexpected fame and attention go to his head? Will it come between the two friends? Are they actually more than just friends and don’t realize it just yet? Directed by Darren Stein, of “Jawbreaker” fame, and written by George Northy, who went on to create the MTV show “Faking It,” which deals with similar themes, this is a novel twist on the typical teen comedy, which helps make it one of the fresher spins on the sub-genre I’ve seen in many a moon. The key thing about the film is the way it mostly treats being gay as not only no big deal, but actually a key component in modern popularity- a commodity to be desired, not feared. Now, that’s what I call progress! Don’t get me wrong, there’s some homophobia present, but overall, this film treats its characters with respect, delving into homosexuality in a way I can’t recall ever quite seeing before. That makes it worthy of a place on this list in my book, so here it is. The cast is excellent across the board, and the film also refreshingly unpredictable in its characterization. It stars Michael J. Willett (also of “Faking It”) as the publically-outed Tanner; Paul Iacano (who played the lead on the MTV show “The Hard Times of RJ Berger”) as his in-the-closet platonic pal, Brent; and as the popular girls fighting over Tanner, Sasha Pieterse (“Ali” on “Pretty Little Liars”), Andrea Bowen (“Desperate Housewives”), and Xosha Roquemore (“The Mindy Project”). Also showing up are musicians Dia Frampton (of “The Voice” fame) and Joanna “Jo Jo” Levesque (“RV”), another MTV star, Molly Tarlov (“Awkward.”); plus “SNL”-vet Horatio Sanz, Megan Mullaly (“Parks and Recreation”), Rebecca Gayheart (“Jawbreaker”), Jonathan Silverman (“Weekend at Bernie’s”), and Natasha Lyonne (“Orange is the New Black”). In short, it’s the one film on this list you most likely haven’t seen but should if you like this sort of thing, and if you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this, so there you go. You can thank me later.

It's "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"! Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh and Brie Larson star in the colorful adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. Courtesy of

It’s “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”! Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh and Brie Larson star in the colorful adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name.
Courtesy of

23. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010) An exceptionally-clever variation of the teen movie, this one combines all sorts of neat things into telling the story at hand, including wild special effects, animation and musical numbers. It’s based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, a musician himself, which is likely why the lead character is as well. Michael Cera plays the titular character, who meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Death Proof”), and, in order to be with her, must defeat her seven evil exes. If this doesn’t sound like your typical teen movie, you’re exactly right. It’s almost like a weird hybrid of a superhero flick, teen movie and an anime. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then it probably is. Directed by the talented Edgar Wright, of “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End” fame, the film features an impressive cast that includes Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”), Alison Pill (“The Newsroom”), Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore”), Kieran Culkin (“Igby Goes Down”), Eric Knudsen (“Continuum”), Ellen Wong (“The Carrie Diaries”), Mae Whitman (“Parenthood”), and Brie Larson (“Don Jon”). There are also two bona fide superheroes onboard: Brandon Routh of “Superman” fame and Chris Evans, of “Captain America” notoriety, who, naturally, play two of the evil exes in question. The movie is a lot of fun, with a rocking soundtrack that includes music by Frank Black (whose “I Heard Ramona Sing” served as the inspiration for the character’s name), Beck, Metric, Queen, The Rolling Stones, T. Rex, Broken Social Scene, and the Black Lips, among others. The graphic novel series is well-worth checking out as well.

Samantha Mathis and Christian Slater seek to "Pump Up the Volume." Courtesy of

Samantha Mathis and Christian Slater seek to “Pump Up the Volume.”
Courtesy of

22. Pump Up the Volume (1990) Another rock music-driven teen flick, this one features an early performance from then-teen heartthrob Christian Slater (“True Romance”), as pirate radio DJ “Hard Harry,” aka Mark Hunter, who develops an underground following at his high school while managing to retain his anonymity- at first. One fan determined to find out his identity is fellow teen Nora (Samantha Mathis, late of “Under the Dome”), who subsequently becomes his girlfriend. Tragedy strikes when one listener threatens suicide and Harry is unable to stop it, but it only spurs Harry to encourage his listeners to face their problems instead of giving in to them, which leads to problems with the FCC and the school, needless to say. The very definition of a sleeper hit, this film is right up the typical thematic alley of cult director Allen Moyle, best-known for other cult classics like “Times Square” (so worth seeing, especially if you’re a fan of the so-called “Riot Grrrl” movement) and “Empire Records” (which has a great stars-in-the-making cast like a lot of films on this list, including a standout turn from Liv Tyler). Though only the leads are particularly well-known amongst the main cast, the film does feature Ellen Greene (the 80’s version of “Little Shop of Horrors” and the cult favorite “Pushing Daisies”) and Seth Green in supporting roles. And that soundtrack! One of my all-time faves, it features the likes of the Beastie Boys, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, Richard Hell, The Descendents, Concrete Blonde, Cowboy Junkies, and the essential Leonard Cohen, whose “Everybody Knows” serves as Harry’s theme song of choice. It’s worth the price of admission alone, which is what you want in a film about a DJ. As a former DJ myself, this one is near and dear to my heart, and is a must-see to anyone who believes in the healing powers of rock music.

Not Another Teen21. Not Another Teen Movie (2001) Our final entry on this part of the list is the inevitable spoof of teen comedies, “Not Another Teen Move.” By the time this movie came out, a spoof was long overdue, and this one thankfully functions as both a spoof of then-current films and the classics, down to including some key figures in the teen movie oeuvre that our older readers will certainly appreciate. Nowadays, spoofs tend to be of the moment, making this one of the last ones to be more comprehensive, before the whole “let’s keep things current” mind-set took over, for better- or for worse, IMHO. In keeping with a lot of the films on this list, the cast is first-rate, and they even managed to get one character to play the same character he played in one of the films being spoofed! (That would be Ron Lester, of “Varsity Blues.”) Here’s a partial list…deep breath: Chris Evans (spoofing Freddie Prinze, Jr. circa “She’s All That”), Chyler Leigh (as the “pretty ugly girl”) Lacey Chabert (spoofing fellow “Party of Five” co-star J-Love Hewitt in #26 on this list), Jaime Pressley (spoofing Kirsten Dunst in “Bring It On” to hilarious effect), Mia Kirshner (spoofing Sarah Michelle Gellar in “Cruel Intentions”), Sam Huntington (spoofing Anthony Michael Hall), Eric Christian Olsen (spoofing every blonde d-bag in every teen movie pretty much ever), Deon Richmond (as the “token black guy”- their words, not mine, so save your comments), Ed Lauter (as the gruff, curse-heavy football coach), Mr. T. (as the “wise janitor”), Cerina Vincent (as the hot, frequently-naked, foreign exchange student with a thing for virgins, a la “American Pie”), and Paul Gleason, outright reprising his role in “The Breakfast Club.” Former teen royalty Melissa Joan Hart, Molly Ringwald and others also show up for amusing expository jokes- like how to perfect the “slow clap,” and why the dork never ends up with the hot main girl. It’s a whole lot of fun, especially if you know your teen movies, and some of the jokes are priceless. There’s a PG-13 version available, but stick with the extended, unrated director’s cut, which is readily available on DVD. You’ll be glad you did, if you like this sort of thing. I’ll grant you some of the jokes fall flat, as tends to be the case with many spoofs, but this is definitely one of the better ones, in terms of actual funny joke-to-bad joke ratio. If you love-to-hate teen comedies, this is the one for you, but even if you don’t, this is essential viewing no teen comedy fan should be without in their DVD library. That about does it for this part of the list. Be sure to check in next week for part three of my ongoing list, as we edge ever-closer to the top ten. Don’t forget to leave your own choices for your teen comedy favorites in the comments section. Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
  • Haley Mauree Townsend

    G.B.F is seriously a wonderful attribute to the Netflix library.

    • Mark Trammell

      Isn’t it though! I really loved it, and was suprised I didn’t hear more about it when it was originally realeased, much less since it hit Netflix. Maybe this article will help…probably not, but you never know!

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