Throwback Thursday: The Top Teen Comedies of All-Time, Part Four (10-1)

By on July 31, 2014
Heathers 2

Well, the time has finally come. We’ve sorted through all the also-rans and the teen comedies I really like, but not quite as much as the following list. Now it’s time to work our way through what I consider to be the very best of the best, the teen comedies without peers, the ones by which any other comers must bow down. These are the films that set the standards for what a teen comedy should be but rarely is: damn near flawless.

As ever, be sure to click on the titles for trailers and the various hyperlinks for more information about particular stars, filmmakers, and the like. And, of course, if you missed any of the previous four lists, be sure to check out, respectively, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Now that the list is complete, by all means, feel free to share your own list below in the comment section!

Now, without further ado, I bring you my top ten teen comedies of all time!

10. Jawbreaker (1999)

Julie Benz, Rebecca Gayheart, and Rose McGowan plot their next act of high school terror in "Jawbreaker." Courtesy of and Tristar Pictures.

Julie Benz, Rebecca Gayheart, and Rose McGowan plot their next act of high school terror in “Jawbreaker.”
Courtesy of and Tristar Pictures.

The second film on this list from director Darren Stein (the other being “G.B.F.”). This one was a commercial and critical disaster at the time and, indeed, still gets the cold shoulder from most mainstream critics–witness its dismal rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, time has been kind to “Jawbreaker,” resulting in its becoming a cult classic among those in the know. As with many films on this list, it seems that it was simply ahead of its time, and it has taken the years since then for it to get some modicum of the respect it deserves, particularly as a stepping stone between the likes of “Heathers” (its most obvious antecedent) and “Mean Girls” (which made the premise more palatable, by…um, not killing anyone, maybe?).

Rose McGowan, in the role that should have made her a star, digs her heels in as Courtney Shayne, the Queen Bee of a clique of girls that rule the roost at Reagan High School. The others include Julie Benz (“Buffy,” “Defiance”), Rebecca Gayheart (“Urban Legend,” “Dead Like Me”), and Charlotte Ayanna (“Training Day”). When a prank gone horribly awry results in the death of one of them (Ayanna), the girls must scramble to cover up their accidental crime, but they’re caught by the nerdy outcast Fern (Judy Greer, “Arrested Development”).

Courtney offers Fern a once in a lifetime deal with the devil: she’ll personally see to it that Fern becomes popular and part of their clique if she keeps her mouth shut. Fern agrees and the end result is basically “She’s All That”-meets-“Carrie”–though, to be fair, “She’s All That” was released the same year. However, the general idea remains the same: Fern’s newfound geek-to-chic makeover goes to her head, and when Courtney tries to destroy the monster she created, the monster strikes back. The end result is a comedy of the blackest variety, which may be why it turned off so many critics at the time. After all, aren’t all teen comedies supposed to be shiny, happy, inoffensive baubles? Not this one.

The cool cast also includes Tatyana Ali (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”), Lisa Robin Kelly (“That 70’s Show,” who met an untimely end of her own), Blaxploitation legend Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown”), “Grease”-vet Jeff Conway, the daffy Carol Kane (“The Princess Bride”), “Carrie” stars William Katt and P.J. Soles (also of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” from last week’s list); and rockers Marilyn Manson (who was dating McGowan at the time) and the Donnas, who must be the best prom band ever. This one may have rubbed people the wrong way at the time, but tastes change, and I suspect it will play much better with modern audiences than it ever did back then. So if you haven’t seen it, forget the bad press and give it a shot!

9. Election (1999)

Rees Witherspoon plots her hostile takeover of the high school presidency in "Election." Courtesy of

Rees Witherspoon plots her hostile takeover of the high school presidency in “Election.”
Courtesy of

Though fairly dark in its own right, “Election” fared decidedly better with critics, even becoming the rare teen flick to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and winning Best Film at the Independent Spirit Awards. Based on Tom Perrota’s novel of the same name (who also wrote “Little Children” and “The Leftovers,” currently a show on HBO), this biting satire tells the tale of a driven teen by the name of Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon, in her break-out role, for which she earned a Golden Globe nod).

Flick opts to run for class president, much to the chagrin of Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick, playing the polar opposite of his own classic teen character Ferris Bueller), who aims to put a stop to it by any means necessary. This results in a no holds barred fight to the finish with others entering the fray, including popular jock Paul (Chris Klein, of “American Pie”) and his younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell, “Freaks and Geeks”), a closeted lesbian that thinks school politics are useless. Things get much more twisted from there, but I won’t ruin it for you.

The rare teen movie that should be appealing to adults as much as teen themselves, “Election” greatly benefits from a clever, barbed script from director Alexander Payne, who would go on to win the Best Adapted Screenplay that eluded him here twice (for “Sideways” and “The Descendents”) and garner three Oscar nods for Best Director (for those two films and the recent “Nebraska,” which is also the setting for this film). That definitely makes this a cut above most films of this ilk, to be sure, as does the superlative cast.

8. Valley Girl (1983)

The lovely Deborah Foreman and Nicholas Cage do the "Romeo & Juliet" thing in "Valley Girl." Courtesy of

The lovely Deborah Foreman and Nicholas Cage do the “Romeo & Juliet” thing in “Valley Girl.”
Courtesy of

A longtime favorite of mine, “Valley Girl” manages to be unconventional and conventional at the same time in all the right ways. Basically a modern-day variation of “Romeo & Juliet,” this 80’s favorite sets the action in LA and the surrounding areas, capitalizing on both the punk and new wave musical movements of the time, as Valley Gal Julie (a thoroughly charming Deborah Foreman) falls for Punk Rock Guy Randy (Nicholas Cage, in the film that put him on the map), much to the distress of their friends. Trouble ensues, along with one of the best soundtracks you’ll ever hear, 80’s or otherwise.

This one really nails the time period like few others manage, but what makes it most impressive is the way it doesn’t focus just on one group but several, giving near equal screen time to the mainstream and underground culture, as well as the music from both sides of the tracks.

Cage is a decidedly unlikely leading man, yet he’s arguably never been as charming as he is here, nor as convincingly heartbroken when things inevitably take a turn for the worse–the “It’s your friends” scene is one for the teen movie time capsule, for sure.

Inspired in part by the then-popular “Valspeak” movement, memorably satirized in Frank and Moon Zappa’s hit “Valley Girl” (which isn’t in the film, sadly), the film actually doesn’t get too carried away with the lingo, but you can totally find its influence trickling down to today’s slang from the excessive use of “like” or “awesome” to the nasal quality of the likes of Kim Kardashian and pretty much every porn star you can name.

Though Cage went on to become a huge star, the film is filled with a host of talent that really should have been bigger stars, notably Foreman, who became a scream queen in much-loved cult horror flicks like “April Fool’s Day,” “Waxwork” and “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat” (with “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell as Van Helsing!). She essentially retired from the business to become a yoga and pilates instructor (how valley girl of her!) and a website designer, but her online fans are very dedicated. I should know, I’m one of them!

Also worth mentioning is sexy Elizabeth “EG” Daily, who went on to become voiceover royalty in “Babe” (as the titular piggie) and “The Powerpuff Girls” (she’s Buttercup) and “Rugrats” (she’s Tommy Pickles), among many others; plus geek royalty Michelle Meyrink, of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Real Genius” fame; and Michael Bowen, notably of “Breaking Bad” and who’s worked with Quentin Tarantino on many occasions, including “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill, Volume 1.”

Frederic Forrest, of “Apocalypse Now” fame, and Colleen Camp, of “Clue” and several of the “Police Academy” movies, as well as the aforementioned “Election,” also crop up as Julie’s hippie parents, who owned an organic food restaurant way before it was cool, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the original “Stacey’s Mom”/MILF template, Lee Purcell, as one of the girls’ mother, who tolerates a teen boy’s unrequited crush. Director Martha Coolidge also should have been a contender, with the excellent, underrated Laura Dern vehicle “Rambling Rose” and various TV credits to her name, such as episodes of “CSI” and “Sex and the City.” Finally, rockers Josie Cotton (the second-coolest prom act ever, after the Donnas) and the Plimsouls also crop up, performing several songs.

In short, it’s one of the best films of the era and one of the rare films I find myself coming back to time and again over the years. It’s exceptionally well-written, acted, and again, that soundtrack! If you haven’t seen this, you really should. It’s a cut above the rest, and that’s why it makes my list.

7. Pretty in Pink (1986)/The Breakfast Club (1985) 

He just don't give a duck! The immortal Duckie (Jon Cryer) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) in "Pretty in Pink." Courtesy of

He just don’t give a duck! The immortal Duckie (Jon Cryer) and Andie (Molly Ringwald) in “Pretty in Pink.”
Courtesy of

Okay, before you accuse me of cheating, bear with me for a second. I don’t know how long it’s been since you’ve seen “The Breakfast Club,” but it’s not really that funny. In fact, the bulk of it, especially after a certain point, is deathly serious and no laughing matter whatsoever. As such, I consider it more of a drama with comedic elements early on than an actual teen comedy, per se.

Therefore, my actual pick is my genuine favorite of all the John Hughes films, “Pretty in Pink,” but if you feel differently, by all means replace it with “TBC.” Lord knows, it’s a classic, regardless of how you classify it. I just don’t think it’s all that funny overall.

“Pretty in Pink,” on the other hand, is not only funny; it’s kind of the quintessential teen movie. Frumpy girl gets a makeover? Check. Dorky guy that secretly yearns for his best friend? Check. Big showdown at the prom? Check. Rocking soundtrack? But of course. Hell, the movie itself is named after a beloved 80’s song by the Psychedelic Furs. Cast of up-and-comers that became big stars, if they weren’t already on their way? Definitely. It’s got it all, let’s face it.

What I like best about this is that the heroine here, Andie (Molly Ringwald, at her peak) takes matters into her own hands every step of the way. No friends giving her a makeover here–she gives herself one. Hell, she even designs and sews her own prom dress! Now that’s taking incentive.

I suppose it would have been nice if Hughes had the guts to stick to his guns and let the immortal Duckie (Jon Cryer, “2 and ½ Men”) get the girl in the end, as planned, but his getting the original “Buffy” Kristy Swanson, is at least a nice consolation prize, to be sure. Besides, we all know in real life, the geek never gets the girl (see also “Not Another Teen Movie,” which cleverly tweaks this fact of life). Fun fact for those who prefer to live in denial: the novelization of the movie features the original ending, with Duckie getting the girl. You’re welcome, dreamers.

Hey, why aren't we offically on this list? "The Breakfast Club" lodge thier complaints. Courtesy of

Hey, why aren’t we offically on this list? “The Breakfast Club” lodge their complaints.
Courtesy of

This movie is just filled with win, from top to bottom. There’s Annie Potts (“Ghostbusters”) as the coolest record store chick you never worked for but wished you could; David Lynch movie regular Harry Dean Stanton (!) as Andie’s wonderfully supportive dad, maybe the best dad ever in teen movie history, IMHO; James Spader (“The Blacklist,” “The Practice”) as one of the most wonderfully douche-y rich a-holes in teen movie history; Andrew McCarthy (“Weekend at Bernie’s”) as the proto-rich-guy-who-falls-for-the-poor-girl type, with the best/worst character name ever, Blane (later the inspiration for the “Glee” character of the same name), plus early turns by Gina Gershon (“Showgirls”) and, heart be still, freaking Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay! As “SNL” character Stefan would say, this one has it all.

And need I mention the single greatest lip synching sequence in cinematic history? Any movie that introduces teens to the greatness of the legendary Otis Redding is doing something right. “Pretty in Pink” pretty much does everything right, and that soundtrack is full-on essential (though it does neglect to include Otis!), including New Order (who actually have more songs where that came from in the movie itself), INXS, the Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, Suzanne Vega, the Rave-ups (who also appear in the film) and, of course, the titular Psychedelic Furs classic. I love this movie, and everything about it, in case I haven’t made that clear enough. So, you can have your Prozac-inducing “Breakfast Club”- I’ll stick with thinking “Pink,” thanks.

6. Clueless (1995)

I can actually remember seeing this one as a early teen myself in the theater with friends and knowing that it was something special, a fact cemented by it going on to become a huge hit and one of the essential teen films of the 90s, if not the best (see #2). Certainly, it contains everything good and bad about the era and isn’t the least bit afraid of making fun of it along the way. I still hear the slang here to this day, particularly “as if” and “whatever,” and my sister still refers to anything mopey musically as “complaint rock,” as one character calls Radiohead here. The fashion is extremely influential, and even the recent #1 hit “Fancy,” by Iggy Azalea, pays homage to the movie in its video. In short, this one is one for the ages, regardless of when it was released.

Do you have a clue who these people are? Yep, it's the cast of "Clueless," including a young Paul Rudd and Alicia Silverstone. Courtesy of

Do you have a clue who these people are? Yep, it’s the cast of “Clueless,” including a young Paul Rudd and Alicia Silverstone.
Courtesy of

As with many a teen movie, part of the charm is in its perfect casting, from star Alicia Silverstone as the most popular girl in school, Cher; the dearly-departed Brittany Murphy in one of the all-time best screwball comedy performances as the frumpy-girl-who-gets-a-stylish-makeover, Tai; the seemingly ageless Stacey Dash as Dionne, the sassy black bestie; Elisa Donovan (who also crops up in the “Fancy” video) as the grumpy mean girl of the school, Amber; Breckin Meyer (“Franklin and Bash”) as the stoner board weasel Travis; Justin Walker as the dreamy is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay Christian; Donald Faison (“Scrubs”) as the grill-sporting, baggy-pants wearing Murray; and Paul Rudd (“This is 40” and seemingly almost every other comedy of the last decade) as the older, charming alternative music-loving hipster type that Cher crushes on…eventually.

Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who also directed our next entry, the script is pitch perfect and incredibly quotable. It’s sort of remarkable how Heckerling is able to pop up every decade or so and churn out what becomes one of, if not the ultimate teen movies of its respective decade. (Okay, so “Loser” (2000) and “Vamps” (2012) weren’t quite as good, but they undeniably reflect their given cultures, to be sure.)

Even more impressive is her ability to not only capture the lingo of the times, but to also invent her own. Many of the catch-phrases you know and love from these movies is all her, and her influence is huge, from Joss Whedon (who adopted the same gambit, teen-speak-wise, for his “Buffy” series) to Tina Fey (who took the high school clique to the next level with “Mean Girls”).

I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite moment from this one, but I melt every time I see Murphy singing along with the “Mentos” commercial, and the scene where the teens drive on the LA freeway by accident for the first time cracks me up every time. Plus, the term “Monet” is so brutal but funny- and so true of some people, and you know this. Also, any movie that calls cult cartoon ‘Ren & Stimpy’ “way existential” is okay in my book. Even if it did help popularize baggy pants.

5. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast TimesAnother classic with a cast that went on to bigger, if not necessarily better things, this one also just happens to be directed by Amy Heckerling, but manages to one up her own sterling work, thanks to a spot-on script by then-future director Cameron Crowe. Crowe, of course, went on to be a respected director in his own right, with films like “Say Anything…” (also on the list) and one of my all-time favorite movies, period, “Almost Famous.” Based on the lesser-known book of the same name- which is well-worth seeking out- it’s an excellent look at early 80’s teen life that almost single-handedly started the genre in earnest, spawning a small army of imitators. But this is still the best of the bunch, even after all this time.

Get a load of this cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Revenge,” “Weeds”) as the winsome, virginal Stacy; Phoebe Cates (the “Gremlins” movies) as her sexy, more experienced friend, Linda; Judge Reinhold (the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies) as Stacy’s dorky older brother, Brad; Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (“The Butler”) as the hulking, angry quarterback Jefferson; Nicholas Cage, Eric Stoltz (“Pulp Fiction”) and Anthony Edwards (“ER”) as stoner types; Amanda Wyss (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) as needy cheerleader, Lisa; and an unforgettable Sean Penn, never more likable or funny as Jeff Spicoli, resident surfer and stoner dude.

There’s also the great Ray Walston (“Picket Fences”) as the fed-up teacher Mr. Hand; Vincent Schiavelli (“Ghost”) as the science professor with the improbably hot wife (B-movie queen Lana Clarkson); stand-up comic Taylor Negron as a Pizza Guy that delivers to a classroom in a memorable scene; Heart rocker Nancy Wilson (who went on to marry Crowe) as a hot babe in a car that cracks up at the sight of Brad in his work clothes; plus the amusingly clueless Brian Backer (who also appears in most of Heckerling’s other films) as nerdy Mark ‘Rat’ Ratner and Robert Romanus (“The Runaways”) as Mike Damone, the would-be cool guy that teaches the ‘Rat’ the rules of being cool.

The influence of this one is undeniable: at least half the movies on this list follow its template, and plenty more where that came from ripped it off. There’s a band named Damone after the character of the same name, and the Walkmen’s “The Rat” was inspired by the character with the same nickname.

The soundtrack is pretty solid, too, with tracks by the Go-Go’s, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne (whose “Somebody’s Baby” amusingly underscores a key scene), solo tracks from most of the Eagles, a great one from Oingo Boingo, and the rare film appearance of a Led Zeppelin song, which Crowe had to petition the band to get permission for. Crowe had a solid ‘in,’ having profiled the band for Rolling Stone magazine, but earned the ire of Zep fans everywhere when he went from saying one needed to play the second side of their fourth album and then played a song from another album instead.

But you can’t possibly talk the soundtrack without mentioning the Cars’ track “Moving in Stereo,” which was the song playing when star Cates memorably doffed her bikini top, in a scene that no doubt launched a thousand puberties. There’s also plenty of great quotable stuff here, too, including the essential line of the 80’s, uttered by a delighted Penn: “Awesome, totally awesome!” It also features the first use of “wuss” (not to mention an explained definition) in a movie that I’m aware of, though feel free to correct me on that one. In short, this is classic stuff, and one of the best teen movies you’ll ever see, made all the better by a well-observed script that isn’t afraid to tackle some thorny subjects, like the often harsh realities of losing one’s virginity and even abortion. I can’t recommend it enough.

4. American Graffiti (1973)

American GraffitiHonestly, I was tempted to include this on the strength of the car porn alone. If you love classic cars, boy, is this the movie for you (see also #2). Also of note is the fact that it single-handedly proves that the much-ballyhooed George Lucas is capable of writing a solid script, (albeit with a little help from some friends for future drafts), at least when he has something meaningful to write about. In this case, he did, as the semi-autobiographical tale is a depiction of his own teen years growing up in California.

To this day–and I realize this will be sacrilege to almost everybody who reads it–“American Graffiti” remains my all-time favorite Lucas film. (Yes, that obviously includes the “Star Wars” movies.)

I know, I know. Feel free to lodge your complaints below, in a hopefully orderly fashion. But stick with me. Of all of Lucas’ endeavors, this is arguably the only one that reads as well as it plays. I mean, come on, people don’t exactly love the “Star Wars” movies for their excellent writing. (And before you start quoting “Empire Strikes Back” at me, please keep in mind that Lucas neither wrote nor directed that one.)

“Graffiti,” on the other hand, is chock-full of great characterization and quotable dialogue. I’m sorry, but it’s just plain the best thing Lucas has ever done, from an overall writing, directing, and execution standpoint. He might have played an integral part of better movies, like “Empire” and most of the “Indiana Jones” movies, but “Graffiti” is the best one he’s almost singularly responsible for.

Also of note is the astonishing soundtrack, which must have cost a small fortune to assemble ($90,000 of the $777,000 budget, according to Wikipedia), and was written into the script itself by Lucas. Indeed, so much was spent on the music that Lucas had to forgo a traditional score altogether.

However, the gambit paid off, as the film was one of the first to adopt such an approach, and the practice subsequently became the norm with many low budget films afterwards. The soundtrack itself was a huge hit and is the rare one to feature songs in the same sequence they are heard within the film. Further, it’s now become common practice for some directors to write the music they want to use within the script itself, i.e. Quentin Tarantino.

The cast is also impressive, featuring early turns by then-future stars like Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws”), Harrison Ford (who went on to star in Lucas’ “Star Wars” films), Suzanne Somers (“Three’s Company”), Ron Howard and Cindy Williams (who both went on to the “Graffiti”-inspired sitcom “Happy Days”), Candy Clark (“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” with rocker David Bowie), Charles Martin Smith (“The Untouchables”), Mackenzie Phillips (“One Day at a Time”), and the legendary DJ Wolfman Jack, whose radio station serves as the source for the non-stop soundtrack.

In short, this is classic stuff and arguably the single-most influential film on this entire list, in terms of being the first modern teen movie (albeit set in an earlier time period than the one in which it was released in, 1962) that set the stage for all that came after. It all goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same, if you ask me. One of the most profitable films of all time, “Graffiti” has grossed over $200 million in combined revenue from theaters and home video, making it not only a classic, but a bona fide hit to boot. It might seem a bit old-school to some modern viewers, but it’s still a lot of fun, and again, those cars!

3. Mean Girls (2004)

It must be Wednesday. The "Mean Girls," in all their glory, including Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, and Rachel McAdams. Courtesy of

It must be Wednesday. The “Mean Girls,” in all their glory, including Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, and Rachel McAdams.
Courtesy of

Speaking of influential, is there a more influential mainstream teen comedy than this one? Endlessly quotable, jam-packed with genuine laughs, with a winning cast of pros and relatively new faces alike, this is about as good as the modern-day teen comedy gets. I’m not sure what more I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll do my best. As with many films on this list, a great movie almost always begins with a great script, and this one is a doozy. Written by former “SNL” writer/actor Tina Fey, and somewhat inspired by the non-fiction book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman, this biting look at high school cliques is nothing short of brilliant, with winning performances all around and some of the best set-pieces in all of teen movie history.

Where do I begin? There’s the classic introduction to all the cliques to newbie Cady (Lindsay Lohan, never more likeable, before or since); the hard-line “rules” of the main female group, the Plastics (Say it with me: “On Wednesdays we wear pink!”); the hazards of running into your teachers outside of the school (“It’s like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs!”); the glories of Halloween costumes (the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it), big hair (all the better to hide your secrets), the word “fetch” (which has totally happened, Regina be damned), being able to tell the weather by touching your boobs, and inappropriate Christmas dance routines; and, of course, the excellence of being Glen Coco (you go). The list of quotes on this thing on is a mile long, and if there’s a longer one, I’m not sure I want to see it, though my top two entries surely come close.

Also great is Lizzy Caplan (“Masters of Sex”), whose every word is a delight to behold; a wonderfully demented motion picture debut by Amanda Seyfried, whose dumb girl is one of the all-time best ever (“I’m a mouse- duh!” cracks me up every time, as does her reaction to Lohan’s Halloween costume); my age-appropriate childhood crush Lacey Chabert (formerly of “Party of Five”) as the verbose Gretchen Wieners, who has a memorable rant about Julius Caesar; the self-involved Regina George, as excellently played by Rachel McAdams to such a convincing degree that I’ve never quite been able to buy her as sincere in anything since; and the gloriously inappropriate mom played by Amy Poehler.

There’s not a false note in this thing, and I swear that my niece, who I saw this with when she was just a kid–and no doubt many other girls like her– has used this as a template on how to act ever since. You’d be harder pressed to find someone who doesn’t like this film than one who absolutely worships at the altar of it wholeheartedly. As you might have guessed, I just love it through and through, and can hardly believe it’s been a decade since it came out and that my niece is now one of the “Mean Girls” herself in high school. Tina Fey must be so proud, as well she should be. You know, one time she punched me in the face… it was awesome. So is this movie.

2. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Jason London, Rory Cochrane and Milla Jovovich and the coolest chair ever, in "Dazed and Confused." Courtesy of

Milla Jovovich, Rory Cochrane, Jason London and the coolest chair ever, in “Dazed and Confused.”
Courtesy of

As much as I love “Mean Girls,” it was hardly typical of my own high school experience. Going to a public school doesn’t tend to attract many fashion-conscious rich kids, unless they don’t have a choice, and even then, they tend to downplay their money in order to better fit in. Instead, the outfit of choice for my friends and I tended to lean more towards the grunge-era, with lots of rock t-shirts, torn jeans and flannel and so on, and the accessory of choice was more often a skateboard. As such, despite the fact that this film is actually set in the mid-70’s, we found a lot to relate to in this tale of the last day of school for a group of kids in Texas.

As fellow Southerners, a lot of this film rang true for us even decades later, which shows that some things are timeless when it comes to the teen experience. Granted, I was never chased down the streets by drunken Seniors determined to beat the crap out of me with paddles as a Freshman, but otherwise, “Dazed and Confused” could practically be a biopic of my youth.

Parties in the woods, aborted parties in the ‘burbs caused by over-vigilant parents, drunken climbs up water/fire towers, lame school dances, blaring rock music on headphones as you went to sleep, coming home at five in the morning and getting caught, trying to avoid fights–and occasionally starting them, cruising around aimlessly, pulling pranks on your school, skipping class, trying to sweet talk girls, older friends who buy you booze, it’s all here, and I’ve experienced every single last one of those things, as have many before me and as many will for years to come.

As with “American Graffiti,” the cars in this thing are to die for, and there’s some amusing car-talk jargon at one point that always makes me laugh as I remember some of the gear-heads I grew up with. Also like that film, the music rarely stops, and just as “Graffiti” perfectly captures the early 60’s music scene, so does “Dazed” nail the music of the 70’s era. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better representation of 70’s music than the one here, save maybe the lack of movie’s namesake songsmiths, Led Zeppelin, who refused to let their music be featured but let writer/director Richard Linklater slide with one of their song titles, at least, so that they would be duly represented.

Dazed 2Also impressive is yet another ahead-of-its-time cast. Just to give you an idea of what things were like back then, the big name was star Jason London, hot off the critically-acclaimed “The Man in the Moon.” Now take a look at the largely unknown cast: Ben Affleck (pre-“Good Will Hunting”), Matthew McConaughey (in his screen debut), Milla Jovovich (pre-“The Fifth Element”), Parker Posey (in her first major role, “Louie”), Cole Hauser (“Pitch Black”), Adam Goldberg (TV’s “Fargo”), Anthony Rapp (“Rent”), Rory Cochrane (“CSI: Miami”), Joey Lauren Adams (“Chasing Amy”), Nicky Katt (“Boston Public”), and Marisa Ribisi (“Pleasantville” and Giovanni’s sister and Beck’s then-future wife). Hell, even that cute blonde extra in one scene was none other than Renée Zellweger. That’s what you call some lucky casting!

What I love about this film is the way it unfolds. It all takes place over the course of one day–the last day of school–and ends with the dawn of a new one. We see the next-year Seniors rising to the occasion, as the next-year Freshmen cower in fear of what’s to come, getting to know people from each side, and seeing things through their eyes, as we switch over to other POVs throughout the film.

We also get to see glimpses of the older generation, courtesy of the star-making performance by McConaughey, as the ever-quotable Wooderson, who’s “alright, alright, alright” became almost a mantra for the actor, and his signature catch-phrase “Just keep livin’” became the source of his late production company, J.K. Livin. Hell, he even thanked Linklater when he won an Oscar, as well he should have.

I just love this movie, and I’ve seen it more times than I can count. At this point, I can probably quote most of the movie wholesale, and yet, it never gets old. Great movies are like that–timeless. And “Dazed and Confused” isn’t just one of the best teen comedies of all-time. It’s one of the best movies, period.

1. Heathers (1988)

This is it, my all-time favorite teen comedy, ever. If you’ve been reading this list from the jump, you’ve probably noticed that, more often than not, my tastes lean towards the darker side of things, even amongst my teen movie choices. This is certainly no exception to that. “Heathers” is darker than dark: it’s positively pitch black, in fact. I can only imagine the pitch meeting for this one: it’s a teen comedy about suicide! Big Fun! Honestly, it’s a miracle this even got made, least of all in the 80s.

Either way, it certainly signaled the beginning of a darker era of film. Soon enough, the likes of Tarantino, Rodriguez, Nolan, Fincher, and plenty more where that came from, would take over the multiplex, and it would take teen movies the better part of the decade to recover. But hey, if you’re going to go out, you could do a lot worse than “Heathers,” but you’d be hard-pressed to do much better.

Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker and Winona Ryder make up the "Heathers" clique. Courtesy of

Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker and Winona Ryder make up the “Heathers” clique.
Courtesy of

It’s the tale of the original “Mean Girls,” the so-called titular “Heathers,” three girls with the same name that rule the school, and their latest acquisition, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder, then hot off of “Beetlejuice”), who is struggling with her newfound popularity, to say the least.

Enter new kid, the aptly-named J.D. (Christian Slater, then hot off of “The Name of the Rose”), who takes Veronica under his wing as well and teaches her how to get the better of those, who would try to get the better of her: by killing them, and framing it to look like suicide.

I know, it doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff that comedies are made of, but boy, is it ever for those of us with a certain twisted sense of humor. The writing is stellar, from start to finish, and if screenwriter Daniel Waters ended up having to jettison his even darker ending (in which the entire school–or who was left of it–all died in an explosion set by J.D.!), for one cribbed together somewhat from the cult classic “Massacre at Central High”–hey, it’s a miracle this even got made in the first place, so I can live with that.

Fun Fact: Daniel’s brother? None other than Mark Waters, who would helm the “Heathers”-inspired “Mean Girls.” He was also the original video store clerk-turned-writer, long before the likes of Tarantino and Kevin Smith.

As typical of most of the films in my top ten, this one is imminently quotable, but unlike most of them, the best quotes are basically unprintable here, so I encourage you to seek out the film, which is readily available on DVD to find them out for yourself. My favorite involves a “Heather” imploring someone to do something unsavory to her with a chainsaw. (Yep, it’s that kind of movie.)

I suppose I could quote some others, like “I love my dead gay son” or “I don’t patronize bunny rabbits,” but they don’t make much sense out of context, so like I said, just check it out. Trust me, any movie that names its high school after the legendary Paul Westerberg, of the Replacements fame, couldn’t be much cooler. I freaking love this movie, through and though, top to bottom, back to front. I’d marry it if I could. And if that doesn’t warrant a number one ranking, I’m not sure what does.

Well, that about does it for my list of my all-time fave teen comedies. Hope you enjoyed it, and please join me for my next epic list next Thursday. You’ll just have to wait and see what it is, but feel free to make suggestions below, along with your own top favorites. Thanks for reading!

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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.
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