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Top 10 Unconventional Teen Movies

VO: Lisa Yang
Script written by Savannah Sher These are the most unconventional teen movies! We’re looking at coming-of-age flicks that may or may not have achieved massive success, but don’t follow the typical narrative of the teen movie genre Donnie Darko, Brick, Election, Ghost World, Rushmore, Napoleon Dynamite, Heathers, Rebel without a Cause, Carrie, Thirteen, The Virgin Suicides and Juno are some flicks we recommend!
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Top 10 Unconventional Teen Movies


Being a teenager isn’t always easy, especially when you’re not like everyone else. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for Top 10 Unconventional Teen Movies.

For this list, we’re looking at coming-of-age flicks that may or may not have achieved massive success, but don’t follow the typical narrative of the teen movie genre.


#10: “Donnie Darko” (2001)


While most teenagers daydream of their crush, this film’s hero has night terrors about a man in a rabbit costume named Frank. More of a psychological horror movie than an everyday high school flick, “Donnie Darko” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a teenager plagued by Doomsday visions after he narrowly misses death when a jet engine crashes into his bedroom. It dabbles in familiar teen movie tropes, like rebellion against authority and first love. By incorporating quantum physics and time travel into the complex plot, however, this cult success proves that teenager or not, we all truly inhabit a “mad world.”

#9: “Brick” (2005)


Before traveling to a galaxy far, far away, Rian Johnson first cut his moviemaking teeth with this low-budget murder-mystery. Centered on Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a high schooler uncoiling the twisted web of his ex-girlfriend’s death, “Brick” draws heavily upon hardboiled detective fiction and writers like Dashiell Hammett. Such dark subject matter being placed in such a familiar setting only amplifies the unsettling and suspenseful atmosphere of the film, as Gordon-Levitt’s Brendan stumbles through the rumor mill of high school. Oh, and “brick?” That’s slang for a block of heroin. How’s that for dazed and confused?

#8: “Election” (1999)


Elections have gotten pretty ugly in the early 21st century, which probably makes it tough to remember the innocent old days when student council posters lined the halls. That’s where filmmaker Alexander Payne transports you back to with this quirky comedy’s rivalry between a go-getter student played by Reese Witherspoon, and the social studies teacher who can’t stand her, played by Matthew Broderick. While it’s filled with the tropes of the genre, like the dim-witted jock and elaborate sabotage missions, “Election” is actually a lot deeper than that, satirizing the game of democracy in general. In fact, the author of the book the film’s based on admitted his novel was inspired by the 1992 Bush vs. Clinton campaign.

#7: “Ghost World” (2001)


Whenever a comic book movie comes along, we suspect it will feature special effects and superpowers, but the only power Enid and Rebecca possess is the ability to make deadpan observations about the vapid consumer culture surrounding them. Based on Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, “Ghost World” isn’t your standard teen fare. It takes place over the summer after graduation, where the best friends are no longer girls, but not yet women. They still act like children, though, prank calling a personal ad and shamelessly getting fired from their jobs. For its unerring ability to capture the anxiety and ennui of being stuck between two points in life, “Ghost World” is almost the anti-high school film.

#6: “Mommy” (2014)


Teenagers often struggle to relate with their parents, and this conflict is blown up in “Mommy,” the tale of a mother, Diane, trying to raise and homeschool her son Steve, who suffers from extreme anger issues. Made by young filmmaking genius Xavier Dolan, who rose to fame after helming an autobiographical film about his own teen years, this modern masterpiece puts a spin on the coming-of-age story by telling it through the mother’s perspective, and the future she envisions for her son that’ll never become reality. Shot in a squared, Instagram-ready ratio to emphasize the characters’ enclosed existences, the film also has moments of pure freedom, and like all great teen movies, a spot-on soundtrack.

#5: “Rushmore” (1998)


For some, being a teenager involves sexual discovery and lots of partying. Max Fischer, on the other hand, is concerned about going down as one of the greats in history. While he participates in an exorbitant amount of extracurricular activities at his private school, everything changes when Max falls in love with Rosemary, a first-grade teacher who doesn’t return his feelings. Co-written by Owen Wilson, who was also expelled from prep school for having a lot of ambition that didn’t exactly fall in the academic arena, it was audiences’ first intro to Jason Schwartzman, and a reintroduction to Bill Murray in a “second career” as a respected indie actor.

#4: “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004)


Gosh! It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what’s so special about “Napoleon Dynamite,” from its endless lineup of unforgettable quotes to its final dance sequence, but the indie comedy shows the awkward underbelly of adolescence. One thing that makes it so different from other teen flicks is its lack of plot: it’s mostly made up of scenes of Napoleon and his friends that don’t go anywhere, but maybe that’s because that’s what being a teenager really feels like. Either way, it started from a shoestring budget, worked its way into modern popular culture, and became an instant classic that would never get out of our lives and shut up!

#3: “Heathers” (1988)


If you thought the Ashleys from “Recess” were scandalous, just wait until you meet the Heathers. When Winona Ryder’s Veronica and Christian Slater’s J.D. attempt to get back at this clique of girls, one of the Heathers accidentally winds up dead. Their suicide cover-up transforms killing yourself into the hottest new trend at Westerburg High School. Mischievous and ultra-violent, the screenwriter actually wanted Stanley Kubrick to take on the project, even paying homage to “Full Metal Jacket” with the opening cafeteria scene. But even if it likens high school lunches to Vietnam war barracks, “Heathers” struck such a chord with audiences and remains an 80s classic.

#2: “Carrie” (1976)


Prom night is meant to be the magical grand finale of high school, but it becomes a bloodbath in “Carrie.” Based on Stephen King’s novel about an outcast with telekinetic powers, Sissy Spacek broke into the mainstream with her spine-chilling portrayal of the tormented classmate who eventually snaps. The movie makes horror sequences out of rites of passage in a young woman’s life, like a first period or being crowned prom queen, and has been mimicked in popular media many times since. A stark message underlies the horror classic, however: being cruel in high school came come back to haunt you.


Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Thirteen” (2003)


“The Virgin Suicides” (1999)

“Juno” (2007)


#1: “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)


This iconic movie captures just how savage life as a teenager can be, and stars James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo as three teens from broken homes that form a bond with one another. Their friendship doesn’t last long, however, as Dean’s character is forced to hide after involvement in a drag race that kills a student who was bullying him. This is sadly ironic given the film’s posthumous release following Dean’s death in a car crash. Although it’s titled “Rebel *Without* a Cause,” the picture has been widely studied for its depiction of the moral decay of American youth and their clash against the former generation in the decade following World War II.
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