17 Classic Movies No One Should Graduate Without Watching

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17 Classic Movies No One Should Graduate Without Watching

Classic Teen Movies

Movies are a great way to open dialogue with your teenager, all while having some fun sitting in the dark. Even if your kids aren't into a post-movie roundtable discussion wherein you deconstruct themes and survey a literary analysis of the film's overarching imagery, they still make a great springboard for talk. (Seriously; teenagers are like, no fun these days.)

The Evolution Of Teen Musical Movies

Go ahead and arrange a sleep-over for any littles in the house, whip up your teen's favorite treats, and settle in for some quality movie time this weekend. Or why not make it a weekly date? Bookmark this list for reference and work your way through it because there is something for everyone here—- some of the movies on this list are fun, some are serious, and some are just plain nuts (I'm looking at you, Donnie Darko). Having teenage kids presents a new set of parenting challenges, but one thing that I've found satisfying about life after 13 is the fact that I no longer have to watch brain-melting drivel. Take advantage of the great movie viewing the teenage years presents, and say good-bye to emergency cyanide capsules in your purse at screenings of "Yogi Bear."

Let's do this!


9 to 5

Theme/Message: Working sucks, so enjoy high school; Sexual harassment is best dealt with swiftly and with rope
Synopsis: Hard-working, underpaid women trapped under a glass ceiling are subject to abuse in several forms from a jerk boss. Also, smoking.
When to watch: Before your kid gets their first job

See 9 to 5 clip on YouTube

Pretty in Pink

Themes/Message: Unrequited love; thrift shop shopping is just plain smart
Synopsis: Boy likes girl, but girl likes other boy who has jerk for best friend; boy #1 must learn to accept sorta-jerk boy who girl likes while serious-jerk boy gets eaten by bear, all against a backdrop of fabulous thrift shop clothes and record "albums." (The bear part is a secret ending I made up just now but would like to see implemented if anyone has some rad Photoshop video editing skills.)
When to watch: In the weeks leading up to prom

See Pretty in Pink clip on YouTube

Girl, Interrupted

Theme/Message: Mental illness; friendship; suicide; feminism is "crazy," y'all
Synopsis: Growing up in the late 1960s was hard, despite our current notions of the "Summer of Love" and our parent's old Beatles albums. After 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen declares she is not willing to turn out like her mother and attempts to overdose on aspirin and alcohol, she is admitted to a mental institution, or, as it was called in the dark ages, "The Looney Bin." This terminology is of course completely unfair, as the movie demonstrates how the people on the inside seem sanest of all. #TeamAngelina
When to watch: As a threat, when your daughter says she's not going to college

See Girl, Interrupted clip on YouTube

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Theme/Message: You can still be overwhelmingly successful even if you're born poor and marry a coal-miner at age 15, but hey, maybe still don’t do that
Synopsis: Coal Miner's Daughter is based on the real-life events of country music legend Loretta Lynn and follows her rise to fame. Watch Loretta and "Doo" as they travel from Kentucky to Nashville and from poverty to riches. Also, the accents are fun. Bonus: Squirm in tandem with your child when Loretta finally discovers the true meaning of "horny."
When to watch: When your kid threatens to quit guitar lessons

See Coal Miner's Daughter clip on YouTube


Theme/Message: Do not piss off the weird girl
When to watch: Anytime, except perhaps not the week before prom


Cooley High

Theme/Message: Racism; don't cut classes
Synopsis: An amazing movie which, thanks to iTunes, can now be seen, because goodness knows Blockbuster carried shit when it came to classic films. This movie is set in a Chicago high school in 1964, and not only is the acting superb, but the soundtrack? Good god the soundtrack GO TO ITUNES RIGHT NOW AND BUY.
Cooley High is like "Ferris Bueller" in that it all starts with cutting class to spend the day at the Zoo, but takes a sharp left somewhere around car-jacking, murder, and prison time. No one has a great parade float musical number about that day. Fun fact: Cooley High provided the basis for What's Happening! the TV show. Yeah; seriously.
When to watch: If your kids ever say "things were different back then."

See Cooley High clip on YouTube

Over the Edge

Theme/Message: If you don't give bored kids a goddamn roller rink, they're probably gonna kill someone
Synopsis: New Granada is supposed to be the perfect planned community, and it would be, except something seems off...oh yes. Here it is. The town's teenagers are not too happy and run on drugs and violence. Don't let the Breck Girl feathered hair and tight t-shirts fool you; these are no "Brady Bunch" kids.
Matt Dillon stars in his first movie role as Richie White, the quasi-leader of a pack of bored kids. We all know what happens when teenagers get bored — they eat the toilet paper and barf all over the clean laundr...no wait, that's puppies. Basically, Over the Edge is a great movie for watching with your teenagers because there are no completely "good guys" in this movie, so it's like real life.
When to watch: Any time you’re tempted to attend a parent council meeting

See Over the Edge clip on YouTube

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Theme/Message: Abortion; Don’t date a dick
Synopsis: Fast Times was written by Cameron Crowe, who went undercover in a California high school for an article in Rolling Stone, and came out with this screenplay. Crowe is also the real-life protagonist in the movie Almost Famous which almost got listed here except I'm afraid my daughter would run away with One Direction if she saw it. What this also means is that Cameron Crowe has lived the most awesome life ever and I'm cutting this synopsis short to see if he's on Twitter so I can begin the process of a modern-day mating ritual.
Chances are you've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, probably while high the summer after eleventh grade. Remember the famous diving board and pizza delivery scenes? Nope? Yep; you were higher than Spicoli, weren't you? This one may be best for older teens, but it's got a great abortion story sub-plot with relatively little judgement, and it also incorporates some male characters who don't come off as complete dicks, as they do in so many other "teen" movies in this genre. 
When to watch: Right before you explain why your child can't choose a California campus at college time

Ghost World

Theme/Message: Racism; female friendship; growing apart
Synopsis: Based on the comic book of the same name, Ghost World follows Enid and Rebecca during the months following their high school graduation. They both graduate with 4.0 GPAs and get full scholarships to Ivy League schools, where they quickly become Sorority leaders and date the smartest future doctors on campus. (None of this happens.) That's a movie no one would watch because producers understand that we'd hate those people and possible stage a theatre wide-mutiny. Have you tried to get fake butter grease stains out of a 100-foot movie screen? It's damn near impossible.
So, for safety sake, this movie focuses on the less savoury moments in that sliver of time between the end of childhood and the scary new frontier of being an adult. Enid and Rebecca struggle to follow dreams they're not even entirely sure are worthy of having.
When to watch: As a graduation gift

See Ghost World clip on YouTube

The Virgin Suicides

Theme/Message: Suicide; family; religion
Synopsis: Grosse Point Michigan is home to Ronald and "Mrs." Lisbon — seriously; they don't even give her a name although the actress who portrays her (Kathleen Turner) is a force to be reckoned with. The Lisbons have five beautiful, blonde daughters. Everything looks pretty good on paper until you get down to the way bottom and there's an asterisk that says "Wackado religious fanatics who practically imprison their offspring because EVIL WORLD OUTSIDE and penises." After the youngest of the sister's attempts suicide, the Lisbon family goes all alarm bells Defcon One, forcing a near-imprisonment of the family teen contingent because, as I said earlier, penises.
When to watch: When you're tempted to impose stricter rules and an earlier curfew

Donnie Darko

Theme/Message: Um, don't trust a guy in a rabbit suit; airplane safety
Synopsis: Can someone please explain this movie to me? Because I watched this a decade ago and I am seriously still all WTF with this thing.
When to watch: Right now would be good. Then come back and give me a run-down because my daughter loves this movie and I just can't even.

See Donnie Darko clip on YouTube


Theme/Message: Teen pregnancy; love and relationships; adoption
Synopsis: Juno MacGuff is sixteen and pregnant. Uh oh. But wait! It's totally cool you guys because she has a dad and step-mother who aren't wieners about it and her friends and boyfriend are pretty sweet, too. In some ways the movie isn't even about the pregnancy itself, but rather how Juno and boyfriend Paulie will navigate life A.B — After Baby.
Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner also star, and spoiler alert! You're a real dick in this one, Bateman.
When to watch: Anytime you want to drive home the sex talk

See Juno clip on YouTube

Rebel Without a Cause

Theme/Message: Cause? CAUSE? Rebels don't need no cause; Fathers and sons
Synopsis: Another "new kid in town" movie, Rebel Without a Cause examines similar themes as some of the other movies here, like mistaken identity, and the time-tested classic "Parents just don't understand." Rather than a catchy rap and move to Beverly Hills, this story of parent/child conflict has dark undertones and even if you've seen it several times you'll be surprised how deeply it delves into family dynamics in your re-watch.
If you thought teenagers in the 50s were all sock-hoppin', malted soda drinking virgins, hahahahah no
When to watch: When your kid asks, "Who is James Dean?"

See Rebel Without a Cause clip on YouTube


Teen Wolf

Theme/Message: You're probably going to end up just like your parents; Never run out of razors
Synopsis: Scott Howard has a secret, and it's not one of those "fun" secrets like he's having an affair with his Gramma's senior home janitor, or that he eats couch cushion foam. Scott Howard has a serious secret, and well, I guess I can tell you since the movie title sort of gives it away: he's a vampire.
When to watch: Any time your kid complains about not having to shave yet

See Teen Wolf clip on YouTube



Theme/Message: Want a boyfriend? Get some tight pants
Synopsis: Sandy moves from Australia to attend Rydell High in California? Florida? I dunno; I see palm trees and there's a beach. Let's go with California. At any rate, teens will love this movie because it confirms the long-known truth: you need to change who you are to be popular. I'm not saying that's good; I'm just saying it's there.
Sandy and Danny traverse the ups and downs of teen romance, including car racing, the intricate politics of drive-in movie viewing, and how 1950s teenagers with no money can afford matching personalized satin jackets. No one said being a teenager was easy. 
When to watch: 2 hours before you tell the kids you’re moving to a different continent for senior year

See Grease clip on YouTube

Rock ‘n Roll High School

Theme/Message: Grown-ups hate rock n’ roll; You gotta fight for your right to party
Synopsis: Riff Randell is a senior at Vince Lombardi High School — a school famous for its inability to hang on to a school Principal. The school has seen a revolving door of replacements, each more prone to stress-cracks and breakdowns than the last.
Randell — the biggest Ramones fan in her school/town/county/possibly Universe — goes head to head here with new Sheriff in town, Principal Togar. When Togar stands in the way of Riff seeing her beloved Ramones in concert, things get, um, explosive.
When to watch: Now, because it's about time your kids knew who the Ramones were

See Rock n' Roll High School clip on YouTube

The Outsiders

Theme/Message: Haves vs. Have Nots/This book was written by a 16-year-old, seriously what have you done?
Synopsis: Greasers + Socs x tension in 1965 Oklahoma = EVERYBODY DIES. You should watch anyway, because this gritty film stars a great cast of future superstars, including pre-wackadoodle years Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Emelio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, C.Thomas Howell and The Price is Right's Bob Barker in his first non-cameo movie role.*
*I threw that last one in there to see if you were still paying attention 17 movies later. Congratulations; you passed!
When to watch: When you’re feeling decidedly not gold.

Lists like these are never complete, because great movies are made every year, and so are great kids. So, YMC Parents, tell us which movies we've missed and why. Let’s start a database of great flicks to watch with your teens here!




Parenting a teen? It's sort of a "best of times/worst of times" scenario, no? Here; read these while we wait it out until these kids reach age 20:

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6 Ways to Bridge the Generation Gap