Throwback Thursday: The Top Teen Comedies of All Time, Part Three (20-11)

By on July 24, 2014
Rock n Roll High School

It’s that time once again! As we inch ever closer to the top ten, things are definitely heating up, with a lot of films that may well rank among some readers’ all-time favorites, but for various reasons, which will be discussed, just missed the top ten for me. As ever, you are invited to submit your own lists down in the comment section.

Also, be sure to check out parts one and two, in case you missed them! Finally, be sure to click on the film titles and highlighted items for trailers, music videos, and links to more information about select actors and the like.

Let’s get things started!

20. Sixteen Candles (1984)

One of writer/director John Hughes’ most beloved films, Sixteen Candles was, remarkably enough, his directorial debut, coming after two well-received scripts for the hit movies National Lampoon’s Vacation (which also co-starred Anthony Michael Hall) and Mr. Mom. It was also a huge breakthrough for actors Hall and star Molly Ringwald, who went onto become massive stars and prominent members of the famed Brat Pack, an unofficial collective of young actors of a certain age that were known for their teen/young adult output and also included Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and others.

It’s the story of the perennial forgotten child, Sam (Ringwald), whose own parents forget her birthday in the madness of preparing for her older sister’s wedding, which is taking place the next day. Things only get worse from there, as the guy she’s crushing on (Michael Schoeffling) intercepts an embarrassing note that mentions him, a relentless geek (Hall) is constantly hitting on her, and her grandparents are staying at home, along with a foreign exchange student (Gedde Watanabe), who they insist accompany her to the school dance. What’s a poor girl to do?

The queen and king of teen! Molly Ringwald and writer/director John Hughes, on the set of "Sixteen Candles." Courtesy of imdb.com

The queen and king of teen! Molly Ringwald and writer/director John Hughes, on the set of “Sixteen Candles.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Like most everyone else, I do love this film, and probably would have rated it higher, if it weren’t for two things: there’s some very unfortunate racial stereotypes (hey there, Long Duk Dong!) and politically incorrect language going on that do not age the film well in modern times; and you have to be relatively careful which version of this you get on video/cable, in terms of the soundtrack, which can be understandably be an issue for traditionalists, myself  included.

For the record, the “High School Flashback” edition is the one to get, but you should avoid the mere “Flashback” one, which has an alternative, less-satisfying soundtrack, and any other previous editions just to be safe. Yes, it’s super confusing, which is why I’m complaining. I don’t have the Blu-Ray, so I’m not sure which version that is, but if the internet is to be believed, it should be fine, old-school soundtrack-wise, as it reportedly uses the “High School FB” one as well.

Anyway, this is still a lot of fun with some supporting actors with which people will be readily familiar, including early turns from both John and Joan Cusack, an amusing bit with Zelda Rubinstein (of Poltergeist fame), Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill’s bro, also of Caddyshack) as a Reverend, Oscar nominee Justin Henry (Kramer vs. Kramer) as Sam’s slovenly brother, and Jami Gertz (Entourage, Less Than Zero) as the hair-snipping “friend” of Haviland Morris’ drunken character. Fun fact: Morris, a natural redhead, was wearing a blonde wig for the role. You can see her in her sexy redheaded glory as the heavily-accented New Yorker Marla, in Gremlins 2, amongst other places.

I’m sure others might rate this one higher, but another Hughes’ film has a larger place in my heart, which we’ll get to in the next round, so to each their own. But, yeah, Farmer Ted obviously rules.

19. Better Off Dead (1985)

The "Better off Dead" cast, including Diane Franklin, Curtis Armstrong, Amanda Wyss, and John Cusack. Courtesy of imdb.com

The “Better off Dead” cast, including Diane Franklin, Curtis Armstrong, Amanda Wyss, and John Cusack.
Courtesy of imdb.com

Speaking of John Cusack, here’s the movie that first gave him the chance to shine in earnest, as the morose Lane Myer, who gets dumped by his girlfriend (Amanda Wyss, also of A Nightmare on Elm Street) and becomes a suicidal mess with an assist from his best friend, who tries to help him find the ideal way to off himself. I know, right? The stuff comedies are made of!

Actually, this is a very funny, oft-surreal effort from madman “Savage” Steve Holland, who went on to direct multiple episodes for a small army of teen shows like Unfabulous, Zoey 101 and Lizzie McGuire. As you might have guessed, the humor is pitch black at times, but still quite funny and certainly amusingly warped in ways few films of this era are (though another one that deals with the same subject in a decidedly different, even darker way crops up in my top ten). Wait until you see the relentless paperboy and his clarion call of “Two dollars!”

Co-starring as Charles, Lane’s best bud, is Curtis Armstrong, a fellow teen movie mainstay who also crops up in Risky Business and Revenge of the Nerds and basically has adopted the same shtick ever since, notably in a recent turn on Supernatural, as well a recurring gig on American Dad as the beautifully-named “Snot.” (He was “Booger” in Nerds, for those who didn’t get the in-joke reference.) There’s also lovely Diane Franklin, who I had a mad crush on back in the day and who crops up in another film on this particular list (#15), as well as in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and horror fan-fave “Amityville II: The Possession.”

If you like this, don’t miss Holland’s other efforts of the time, including One Crazy Summer, also with Cusack, plus Demi Moore and a memorably-crazed turn by Bobcat Goldthwait, who at one point dons a Godzilla suit! Plus, there’s also the underrated How I Got Into College (also with Franklin), which is slightly more subdued in comparison to what proceeded it, but still pretty fun.

18. Pretty Persuasion (2005)

Pretty PersuasionAnother warped one–hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here–this film is darker than dark to the point that it might turn off some viewers altogether. Unlike the previous entry, which is way too wacky to take seriously, this is some pretty vicious stuff, almost like a mash-up of Cruel Intentions and Wild Things, only played more overtly for laughs.

Sexy Evan Rachel Wood, of True Blood and Thirteen fame, plays mean girl Kimberly Joyce, who, along with her minions, Brittany (Elizabeth Harnois, CSI) and Randa (Adi Schnall), accuse a teacher (Ron Livingston, Office Space and The Conjuring) of sexual misconduct. But did he even do anything? Does it even matter, once the accusations are made?

Local reporter Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock) picks up on the story, hoping to use to it to make a name for herself, while Kim’s father (James Woods, “Ray Donovan”) worries about the adverse effect it might have on his business. Things admittedly get pretty nasty, and it does not end well for most of the characters in this biting satire.

Perhaps needless to say, this one will not be for everyone, what with the warped plotline and a subject matter that many might not find so funny. But I really admire how brazen it is in its targets and how fearless it is in taking no prisoners. If your teen movie tastes are along the lines of Jawbreaker and Heathers, you should love this one. For Wood fans, it’s a can’t-miss.

 

17. Say Anything… (1989)

Yep, it’s yet another one starring John Cusack–last one, I promise! (I did have to restrain myself from including The Sure Thing, though.) However, this one is easily his best in terms of teen movies. The main reason being the presence of talented writer/director Cameron Crowe, here making his directorial debut, after bursting on the scene as the screenwriter for Fast Times at Ridgemont High and a former writer for Rolling Stone magazine, a story he’d later detail in the superlative Almost Famous.

Anyone for Fishbone? Anyone? Dobler? Dobler? John Cusack frets about his jam being repleaced by Peter Gabriel in "Say Anything..." Courtesy of imdb.com

Anyone for Fishbone? Anyone? Dobler? Dobler? John Cusack frets about his jam being replaced by Peter Gabriel in “Say Anything…”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Crowe really came out swinging with this one, an unusually well-observed tale of an aspiring kick- boxer (Cusack), Lloyd Dobler, and his relationship with valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye, also of the excellent, underrated River’s Edge). The mismatched couple is the first love for both concerned parties and is not without its complications, not in the least the fact that Diane has an impending scholarship in England at the end of the summer and will obviously be leaving town; and that her father (John Mahoney, “Frazier”), thinking she can do way better, highly disapproves of the relationship.

This is a sharply-written story, with some keen observations and the expected killer soundtrack from the rock music fanatic Crowe, including the now-canonical Peter Gabriel song, “In Your Eyes,” which figures in the memorable scene in which Dobler holds up a boom-box blaring the song outside Court’s window. Fun fact: Cusack was actually playing the ska-punk band Fishbone during the filming of the famed scene. Fun fact #2: Pearl Jam member Stone Gossard has a cameo as a taxi cab driver. Crowe would go on to direct the documentary PJ20 about the band, and feature various members in his film Singles.

Keep an eye out for Cusack’s sister Joan, real-life pal Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Lili Taylor (The Conjuring), Chynna Phillips (of Wilson Phillips fame), Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction), Kim Walker (Heathers), and the motion-picture debut of Mahoney’s then-future Frazier co-star, Bebe Neuwirth. It has also been spoofed or alluded to in everything from The Simpsons to The Vampire Diaries to Lost. In short, it’s a fantastic film, and an absolute must for fans of Cusack or Crowe.

16. Easy A (2010)

Even tramping it up, Emma Stone is a pocketful of sunshine in "Easy A." Courtesy of imdb.com

Even tramping it up, Emma Stone is a pocketful of sunshine in “Easy A.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Another of the aforementioned films that alludes to “Say Anything…,” this film proved that star Emma Stone could ably hold her own as a headlining star in her own right, after the enormous success of Superbad, another film on this list. Here, she plays Olive, a student that uses negative gossip to her advantge to increase her social standing in high school in a kind of reverse version of The Scarlet Letter. Instead of running away from accusations of being a slut, she embraces them and runs with it, duping most everyone in the school in the process, though her actions are not without repercussions.

The cast is unusually fantastic for a movie like this, especially among the adults, including Lisa Kudrow (Friends), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Thomas Hayden Church (Spiderman 3), and Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under). There’s also Amanda Bynes, before she went off the deep end; musician/former Disney girl Aly Michalka (2 and ½ Men) as Olive’s insanely-hot bestie; Gossip Girl Penn Badgley as Olive’s love interest; and Twilight-star Cam Gigandet as an oversexed teen that gets a little too up-close-and-personal with Kudrow’s character.

Given that impressive cast, it’s no surprise that the film is also exceptionally well-written with some clever overturning of typical stereotypes and a winning turn by the always likable Stone. I completely adore that sequence in which she finds herself powerless to resist Natasha Bedingfield’s Pocketful of Sunshine–or at least part of it! But the entire movie is fun and very re-watchable. If you lumped it in with the typical teen movie stuff before, now’s the time to give it another shot.

15. The Last American Virgin (1982)

Somewhat unfairly lumped in with films of the “Porky’s” horny-teen variety, The Last American Virgin admittedly has its fair share of that sort of thing, but it also has a lot more going for it as well. For one thing, it absolutely nails the fair-weather friend aspect of high school relationships, and for another, it delves into places few teen movies dare to go, including adultery (think Loverboy–the movie, not the band!), prostitution, STDs (some of the boys have a bout with some creepy-crawly critters), and even abortion. As such, this is hardly your typical teen comedy, despite featuring a lot of the typical tropes of the genre. And that ending! In a word–devastating.

Lawrence Monoson (far right) stares longingly at the object of his desire, Diane Franklin (far left) in the bittersweet "The Last American Virgin," also with SteveAntin and "Twin Peaks"-vet Kimmy Robertson. Courtesy of imdb.com

Lawrence Monoson (far right) stares longingly at the object of his desire, Diane Franklin (far left) in the bittersweet “The Last American Virgin,” also with Steve Antin and “Twin Peaks”-vet Kimmy Robertson.
Courtesy of imdb.com

Gary (Lawrence Monoson, later of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) is the titular virgin, who, along with pals Rick (Steve Antin, The Goonies), a ladies’ man type; and David (Joe Rubbo), a chubby loser; seeks to try to de-virginize himself asap. While the others fare better in their efforts, Gary becomes smitten with Karen–understandable, as she’s played by teen movie fave Diane Franklin (see also #19). This leads to some unexpected issues, as Karen ends up instead falling for Gary.

Things go from there, and the film goes into unusually dark places and becomes less of a comedy than a drama, which is absolutely what makes this film stand out from its fellow teen-com brethren. This might have something to do with it being a remake of, of all things, an Israeli flick called Lemon Popsicle!

Also of note is the amazing soundtrack, one of the best in a teen movie you’ll ever hear, including tracks from U2, The Cars, Devo, Blondie, Journey, and the Human League, among other 80’s-era favorites. In every way, this is a cut above most of the typical teen movie fare, and well-worth checking out for those looking for something a little more off the beaten path.

14. American Pie (1999)

Speaking of horny teen movies, this one is like the ne plus ultra of that sort of thing. I mean, how can you top a teen so horny, he bangs a cherry pie? I’m not sure that’s the kind of cherry your friends were talking about, dude. Yikes! (Oh wait, was it actually an apple pie? Whatever, the joke stands, people!). I don’t know about you, but if I caught my kid doing that–not that I have one–I’d send him straight to a therapist or at least a sex education class because he’d be doing it wrong on every level.

Eddie Kaye Thomas chats up the original MILF, Jennifer Coolidge, in "American Pie." Courtesy of imdb.com

Eddie Kaye Thomas chats up the original MILF, Jennifer Coolidge, in “American Pie.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Spawning an ongoing franchise–eight movies and counting!–American Pie was a massive hit that came out right around the turn of the century, showing that things had indeed come a long way since some people were kids. Though tame by today’s standards, perhaps, some of the stuff going on here definitely got people’s attention–notably the infamous “band camp” story, delivered in a priceless fashion by former Buffy-star Alyson Hannigan, later of How I Met Your Mother. To say nothing of the “Pale Ale” scene, which has steered me clear of anything offered up as such ever since.

Though critics were not kind to the film, it made a whopping $235 million plus worldwide and made most of its stars famous overnight, including Jason Biggs and Natasha Lyonne (both of Orange is the New Black), Seann William Scott (Role Models), John Cho (who popularized the “MILF” terminology in the film, and went on to play Harold in the Harold and Kumar series), Jennifer Coolidge (2 Broke Girls), Chris Klein (Election), Shannon Elizabeth (Scary Movie) and Tara Reid (does Sharknado count?). Remarkably, it still holds up today, even though many of the sequels leave something to be desired. If you don’t laugh at something in this, something’s wrong with your funny bone…though not as much as Biggs’ character’s. That’s just wrong.

13. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1976)

One might think that teen comedies and punk rock don’t mix well together, and one would be right, save this notable exception, which takes what was easily the most fun punk rock band, The Ramones, and builds an amusingly silly movie around them that’s like a bizarre mix of an old-school 50’s JD film (i.e. The Blackboard Jungle) and a warped version of Grease. Even more impressive, it was before teen movies really became a thing, as they would in the early 80’s. In short, it establishes a lot of the tropes that continue to this day–and does them better than most, I might add.

The totally rocking Riff Randall (PJ Soles) rocks out with the legendary Ramones in "Rock 'n' Roll high School." Courtesy of imdb.com

The totally rocking Riff Randall (PJ Soles) rocks out with the legendary Ramones in “Rock ‘n’ Roll high School.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

Helping immeasurably is the absurd plot conceived by director Allan Arkush (who went onto direct the excellent biopic about the Temptations of the same name) and Joe Dante, of Gremlins and Piranha fame. It revolves around obsessive Ramones fan Riff Randall (an unforgettable PJ Soles, of Halloween and Carrie fame) and her quest to land tickets to their concert so she can pitch her song ideas to the band, including the title track, which both Soles and the Ramones perform in the film. Standing in her way is the equally-obsessed principal Togar (Warhol Factory vet Mary Woronov, also of the cult classic Death Race 2000), who is determined to put a stop to the evils of rock music any way she can, including burning the teens’ entire record collections! The horror!

There’s also some supreme silliness involving rats, the incriminating loudness of various rock groups as ranked by relative heaviness, a too-cool-for-school science teacher (actor/director Paul Bartel, who also appeared with Woronov in various projects, notably cult classic “Eating Raoul”), and what is arguably Ron Howard’s brother Clint’s defining role, as the boys’ advisor Eaglebauer, who has an office in the boy’s bathroom!

There’s also the original pretty-ugly girl (see She’s All That, among many others) Dey Young as the lovelorn Kate, Riff’s bestie, a role which she later reprised in Arkush’s Shake, Rattle and Rock! (also with Soles); and the rare dorky jock character, Tom, played by Vincent Van Patten, also of the slasher movie fave Hell Night, with Linda Blair, of The Exorcist fame.

The soundtrack is fantastic and, in addition to a host of Ramones tunes, includes the likes of Paul McCartney, Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, Devo, and Fleetwood Mac. The legendary Roger Corman produced and the whole thing ends with an impressive riot, as it should. Who says punk rock and musicals don’t mix? Not this movie, though you should avoid the sequel at all costs, which substitutes the Ramones with…shudder…Corey Feldman? What the what? Stick with the original, you’ll be a lot happier.

12. Bring It On (2000)

How funky is your chicken? How loose is your goose? Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku aim to find out in "Bring It On." This is not a cheer-o-cracy! Courtesy of imdb.com

How funky is your chicken? How loose is your goose? Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku aim to find out in “Bring It On.” This is not a cheer-o-cracy!
Courtesy of imdb.com

Another film that inspired an ongoing franchise, Bring It On is another one of those films that certain people will look down their nose at, even if they haven’t seen it. While I wouldn’t claim to vouch for any of the direct-to-video sequels (though All or Nothing boasts Hayden Panettiere, Solange Knowles and a cameo from Rihanna and In It To Win It features Pretty Little Liars-star Ashley Benson, for whatever that’s worth), the original is worth defending, as it really does change the way you might think about cheerleaders in a good way, as bona fide athletes, not half-baked gymnasts not good enough for the real thing.

To wit, it revolves around the travails of newly-elected team captain Torrance (Kirsten Dunst, in one of her most winning performances), who tries to lead her cheerleading squad to another winning championship- their sixth, if successful. Unfortunately, she discovers late in the game that their primary routine was stolen from a competing squad by their former team captain. Can she come up with a new one in time to win?

What sets this film apart from most is the script, which cleverly tweaks most of our notions about makes a cheerleader- check out the hilarious opening musical number, for an great example- and makes a solid defense for the practice as an actual sport and not just, as one character terms it, “dancers gone retarded.”

Even better, there’s the fantastic casting of erstwhile vampire slayer Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse) as the more rebellious squad member not afraid to call everyone on their BS. She alone elevates the film to a higher level, but the script is genuinely funny, and filled with eminently quotable dialogue, which I still hear to this day- notably the call to “bring it!”

There’s a reason this one rarely stops playing on cable and probably never will- the rewatchability factor is off the charts. So, if you still haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a shot- it’s a winner. Cheertastic!

11. Juno (2007)

Our final entry is the rare teen film to actually win an Oscar, as former stripper Diablo Cody did with this surprisingly tender flick about a girl who unexpectedly finds herself a teen mom to be. Will she go through it or take another route? If she does go through with it, will she keep it or give it up for adoption? Not exactly the typical material for a comedy, to be sure, but Cody really knocks it out of the park with her clever script, which features more made-up teen jargon than you can shake a Joss Whedon at. Obviously, the Academy agreed, because Cody won the Oscar for her efforts.

Ellen Page feeds the food baby, while Olivia Thirlby looks on in horror in "Juno." Courtesy of imdb.com

Ellen Page feeds the food baby, while Olivia Thirlby looks on in horror in “Juno.”
Courtesy of imdb.com

The film was a massive hit for all concerned, making Ellen Page (X-Men: Days of Future Past) an overnight star, and extending to the quirky soundtrack, which inspired its own movement of “Twee” musicians, for better or worse.

Director Jason Reitman, son of the legendary Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Caddyshack), went on to another Oscar-nominated film, Up in the Air, before reuniting with Cody for the underrated Young Adult. Cody herself did well with the cult hit TV show The United States of Tara, before moving into directing herself, with the endearing Paradise, all of which are well-worth checking out.

This is another of those rare teen films where the adult cast is just as crucial as the teen one (see also #16), including the likes of Allison Janney (Masters of Sex, Mom), Jennifer Garner (Alias), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Rainn Wilson (The Office) and the indispensible J.K. Simmons (the original “Spiderman” films). But Michael Cera also nails his role as the super-awkward would-be father to Juno’s child (her dad hilariously sums it up when he says, “I didn’t think he had it in him.”), and Olivia Thirlby is adorable as her best friend. I’m surprised that Thirlby’s career didn’t take off more than it did, but give it time.

All of it adds up to one of the all-time best teen films, IMHO, and that’s why it makes the list, though not quite the top ten. For that, you’ll just have to wait until next week’s big finale! See you then, and be sure to leave your comments below!

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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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