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100 Men and a Girl (1937) indicated the enormous charisma that Deanna Durbin could command on screen as a teenage singer and actress. With the Great Depression dragging on, her movies, and those of other child stars, brought cheer to the wary nation.
With America on the brink of entering World War II, Mickey Rooney continued his successful teen series that began in 1937, here in Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) with frequent costar Judy Garland. He would make 15 films as Andy Hardy in just over a decade.
Dead End (1937) introduced a troupe of boys whose plights spoke to concerning urban conditions of the time, and the Warner Bros. studio capitalized on their appeal by featuring them in further films until other studios promoted them in additional series.
Maternal Judy (Natalie Wood) pats Plato (Sal Mineo) while paternal Jim (James Dean) looks on in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The film would become one of the most influential of the entire teen genre for many decades.
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) was a progenitor of teen horror films that would proliferate in subsequent years, depicting adolescent bodily transformation at an absurd level while stoking fears of teens unleashed to act on their most primal urges.
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon represented a slightly sexual but still safe teen ideal in their beach movies, starting with Beach Party (1963) and continuing in four more films over the next two years.
The other kids shun Rhoda (Catherine Burns) in Last Summer (1969) until the sexual tensions that arise among them culminate in brutality against her, exposing an unprecedented depth of adolescent depravity.
Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) gives Danny (John Travolta) a thrill when she dons tight clothes and a cigarette in Grease (1978). Boys would enjoy sexism in the postwar era and girls were directed to endure it.
Halloween (1978) created a sensation with its creepy chills and moral lessons about teens stalked by a psychopathic killer who eliminates those of lesser moral stature until “Final Girl” Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the last one left alive.
The Breakfast Club (1985) is an exploration of the basic high school stereotypes: the delinquent (Judd Nelson), the jock (Emilio Estevez), the rebel (Ally Sheedy), the popular girl (Molly Ringwald), and the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall).
Veronica (Winona Ryder, right) realizes she does not really fit in with the title snobs of Heathers (1989). The film portrayed suicide and murder as the absurd culmination of adolescents’ angst and lust for popularity in a caustic indictment of the high school caste system.
Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) slowly discovers his future is brighter with Brandi (Nia Long) than with his hardened friends in Boyz N the Hood (1991). He would be an honorable archetype in the cycle of African American teen crime films during the early ‘90s.
After the suicide of Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis at far left) in Girls Town (1996), her friends Emma (Anna Grace), Angela (Bruklin Harris), and Patti (Lili Taylor) endeavor to overcome the abusive conditions they have endured as teenage girls.
The six friends in Totally F***ed Up (1994) represent a small yet vibrant community of queer youth who share their sexual curiosities, romantic frustrations, and emotional discord. The industry would remain measured in introducing further queer teens over the next two decades.
Among the numerous revisions to the teen horror “formula” that Scream (1996) skewered, the Final Girl’s boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich, right) and his friend Stuart (Matthew Lillard) are revealed to be the killers rather than an unknown stranger, and they do not come back to life after being killed in the end.
In the Twilight films (2008-12), bewitched Bella (Kristen Stewart) falls in love with vampiric Edward (Robert Pattinson, right), though she sure enjoys the attention of werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The five films combined fantasy, romance, action, and horror elements for extremely profitable success.
Trans actress Michelle Hendley plays Ricky in Boy Meets Girl (2014), who has an affair with a girl before her male best friend finally declares his love for her, a trans twist to a classic romcom triangle.
Moonlight (2016) follows Chiron (Ashton Sanders) as he grows up under traumatic domestic conditions and slowly comes to terms with his identity as a gay Black man. The film’s artistry and poignancy made it one of the few movies about a teenager to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Amandla Stenberg plays Starr in The Hate U Give (2018), becoming an activist against racial violence after her unarmed Black friend is killed by a White cop. The epic story further confronts class privilege, educational exclusivity, drug trafficking, family cohesion, and urban gentrification.
The first American film in 30 years that depicted a teenager terminating her pregnancy safely at an abortion clinic: in Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020), Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) travels to another state due to restrictive laws where she lives, and then faces further obstacles as she persists in her need for discreet medical care.