Thanks to the oral surgeon who extracted four wisdom teeth from my college daughter’s mouth and the 20-minutes-on-20-minutes-off ice pack schedule, we were tethered to our TV. I hovered and pampered, thrilled to have the chance to dote on my nearly-grown daughter. Armed with meds, smoothies, Netflix, and the DVR, we whiled away the day looking for the best teen movies to watch together. These movies (from the 1980s and beyond) made it onto our list.
Good movies to watch with your older son or daughter
Academy award-winning good
Blind Side (2009)
The true story of Michael Oher’s (Quinton Aaron) journey from homeless teen to college graduate and NFL standout is inspirational on every level. Sandra Bullock (Academy Award, Best Actress) and Tim McGraw are Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy, who became Oher’s legal guardians and helped him move beyond his troubled boyhood. His presence in their family is also transformative for the Tuohys and their children.
Football fans will love the cameos by college coaches. Based on The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis, this is an inspirational story and a fantastic movie.
Forrest Gump (1994)
In terms of award winners, this title on my best teen movies list has the most accolades earning Best Picture, Director, Actor (Tom Hanks), Adapted Screenplay, Visual Effects, and Film Editing.
Based on the novel by the same name by Winston Groom, the story is about intellectually challenged and incredibly sweet Forrest Gump who manages to be on the scene in memorable moments of American history (1944 -1982.) Bonus is watching gorgeous Robin Wright, way before her Claire Underwood/House of Cards days.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
The movie that put the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (Academy Award, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay with Affleck) on the map also stars Robin Williams (Academy Award, Best Supporting Actor). Damon plays a brilliant but misguided dropout working as a janitor at MIT and Williams is the therapist who works hard to reach his troubled patient.
To watch now-superstars Damon and Affleck acting in their mid-twenties in this excellent movie is a thrill. Boston lovers will soak up the scenery and the accents.
We love every word that writer Michael Lewis has put on paper and highly recommend Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The movie, based on his book, won an Academy Award for Best Picture as did Brad Pitt (Best Male Actor) for his soulful depiction of Billy Bean, general manager of the Oakland A’s, and Jonah Hill (Best Supporting Actor) for his performance of Ivy-league stats-smart Assistant General manager Peter Brand.
This true story of how an underfunded baseball team could win 20 consecutive games, an American League record, by inventing a radical approach to scouting talent is remarkable and the movie, unforgettable.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The great tragedy and extreme violence of war that Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg created here is a graphic view of the battlefield. For an older kid who has studied WWII, this movie will vividly bring to life classroom lessons. Set during the Invasion of Normandy, it depicts the search for a paratrooper, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) who is the surviving brother of four servicemen. The movie won four additional awards.
Clueless won 6 awards. Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is a high school student in Beverly Hills who struggles to navigate adolescence. At first glance, she appears to be completely vapid but all is not what it seems as she helps the new girl Tai. The movie is worth a watch if you are a Paul Rudd fan, and to be honest, who isn’t?
On the edge of your seat good movies
The Giver (2014)
This young adult dystopian book was amazing and so is the movie. This one is sure to keep you glued.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
True confession: I am from Texas and have a life-long affinity for any well-done film about small-town football in the Lone Star State. Regardless of where you live and your taste for football, this movie is remarkable in its depiction of high school sports friendships, and the families that are woven into the community’s fabric. Based on the book, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger, the movie later spawned a TV series so if you get hooked on the movie and need more material, check out the show, also starring Connie Britton.
Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman play the roles of prison inmates in Shawshank State Penitentiary in Maine. Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, who was sent to jail for two life sentences in 1947. While there he meets Red (Morgan Freeman) who excels at importing contraband into the prison from the outside world. Over time, their fortunes rise and fall within the prison but their friendship holds steady. It should come as no surprise that the movie is filled with suspense, given that it is based on a novella by Stephen King, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.”
Our favorite teen movies
Eighth Grade (2018)
If you’re having trouble remembering what it’s like to be in eighth grade, here you go. Kayla is so shy that she mostly connects through social media. It’s Kayla’s final week in the eighth grade and she vows to make it as great as possible before she moves on to high school.
Legally Blonde (2001)
I love Reese Witherspoon’s depiction of Elle Wood, a shopping-focused, pink-clad coed whose determination to prove her intelligence to her ex-boyfriend leads her to a spot in his same class at Harvard Law School. Improbable? Of course! But who cares as we watch Elle overcome prejudice and sexism and transform into a legal star while still maintaining her values, loyalty, and sense of style. What’s not to love about a young woman managing all that?
Men in Black (1997)
I am not sure if there’s ever been a better comedic duo than Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black. Described on Wikipedia as a “science fiction buddy cop action comedy,” the fusion of genres and abundance of talent in the lead roles makes me want to watch this one over and over.
Two agents (Jones and Smith) supervise extraterrestrial life on earth and basically try to save the world, looking very cool in their dark sunglasses while doing so. If you and your teen are loving this one, take the plunge and watch the two sequels, MIB2 and MIB3.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo star in this rom-com fantasy where they are irresistibly adorable as grown-up versions of their 13-year-old selves. Portraying next-door neighbors and best friends, Jenna Rink (Garner) and Matt Flamhaff (Ruffalo) weather the trials of middle school together until Jenna’s 13th birthday when she is humiliated by the mean, cool kids she invited to her party.
In the next scene, she emerges as a 30-year-old, confused about how she got there and why her life is so very different than the one she dreamed of. The movie’s soundtrack includes hit songs from the 1980s-2000s, in particular, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, the tune featured during my favorite scene of the entire movie.
On a personal note, Legally Blonde and 13 Going on 30 were two of my daughter’s favorites growing up and we watched them over and over during her middle school years. Since she is temporarily grounded from her life as a college student, we have the chance to curl up together and watch these favorites from her childhood. While these moments come with some discomfort for her (hoping that will pass soon) for me, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Romance is never a bad choice
The Perfect Date (2019)
A fun rom-com: See what happens when a high school student played by Noah Centineo creates an app to offer his services as a fake date to make money for college. Of course, nothing goes as planned.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
In this Netflix original movie, we are presented with every high-schoolers nightmare when a teenage girl’s secret love letters are exposed and wreak havoc on her love life. this is the original of the To All the Boys franchise of America including three feature films and a spin-off television series starring Lana Condor as Lara Jean and Noah Centineo as Peter Kavinsky.
Love, Simon (2018)
Another teen rom-com starring Evan Goldberg a high school student who falls in love with an anonymous classmate via email. Another student finds the emails and Simon must face the truth about his identity.
The Kissing Booth (2018)
The film follows Elle (King), a quirky, late-blooming teenager whose budding romance with bad boy Noah (Elordi) puts her lifelong friendship with Noah’s younger brother Lee (Courtney) in jeopardy.
Sierra Burgess Is A Loser (2018)
A modern take on Cyrano De Bergerac.
La La Land (2016)
This is just a fun movie, the colors, the songs, and the relationship between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Tom Hansen reflects on his relationship with the girlfriend who has just dumped him. He tries to figure out where things went wrong and how he can win her back.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, this one stars the late Heath Ledger.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Remember when you’d dial into your modem and hear, “You’ve got mail.” I’ve seen this film at least 20 times but would watch it again anytime, anywhere. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love in a wonderful, fun, romantic way.
If you and your teen need a good cry
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Described as funny, touching, and poignant, Hailee Steinfeld’s acting gets rave reviews. This film tells the story of Nadine who is a troubled teen struggling because her only friend has started a relationship with her brother.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
A coming-of-age romance between two young cancer patients. Bring the tissues, a whole box will be needed.
Classics you should NOT miss
Lady Bird (2017)
A deep, thoughtful dive into mother/daughter relationships is so worth watching if only for the excellent acting of star Saoirse Ronan. Makes you laugh and cry all at once.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
This movie is just plain fun. Okay, fine it’s a little hokey, but so much fun watching Anna Kendrick do her thing and that thing is fabulous acapella.
A coming-of-age comedy produced by the amazing Judd Apatow. The film’s stars Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are about to graduate from high school but before graduating, the boys have plans.
Mean Girls (2004)
Starring Tina Fey, this comedy tackles high school drama, bullying, and romance.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
And there can be no list that doesn’t feature this John Hughes classic starring Matthew Broderick who spends the day playing hockey in Chicago.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Yes, you’ve seen it a thousand times but watching it with your teen is a whole different experience and a great opportunity to discuss what high school was like back in the day. A group of five high school students spends the day in detention learning a lot about themselves and each other. The five actors who became known at the Brat Pack are Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Anthony Michael Hall.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
A coming-of-age comedy-drama film based on the book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story. The author went undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego and wrote about his experiences. The film chronicles a school year in the lives of high school sophomores and their older friends.
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
If you want to see the OG of coming-of-age dramas, this is it. The more things change the more they stay the same. This movie is as iconic as the acting of its star the legendary James Dean.
Who doesn’t love a comedy?
This is a coming-of-age comedy starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as graduating high school girls who set out to finally break the rules and party on their last day of classes.
John Tucker Must Die (2006)
A teen romantic comedy in which three girls learn that high school basketball star John Tucker is simultaneously dating all of them. Hilarity ensues.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
You need to watch this movie with your teen. Our family quotes lines from this movie every day. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but also poignant. The characters in this movie are quirky, none more so than Napoleon’s friend Pedro and his bizarre older brother Kip.
A dark comedy starring Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer ends up embroiled in a series of violent deaths.
More Movies to Watch with Your Teen 2022
Can’t Buy Me Love
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Mr. Holland’s Opus
Pay it Forward
Stand By Me
If You Could See What I Hear
The Good Lie
Miracle on Ice
Million Dollar Arm
The Power of One
Eddie the Eagle
Perks of Being a Wallflower
God’s Not Dead
Akeelah and the Bee
When the Game Stands Tall
5 People you meet in Heaven
The Emperors Club
The Way, Way Back
Bridge of Spies
The Finest Hour
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl
The Ultimate Gift
The Ultimate Life
Life of Pi
When the Game Stands Tall
More Great Reading:
Six Sleeper Movies You Might Have Missed To Watch With Your Teens
Note to Self: on Parenting Teens