What Happened To The High School Movie?

After a weekend spent rewatching an old favorite (Some Kind of Wonderful) and seeing a cult classic (Dazed and Confused) for the first time, I find myself asking: Why is no one making good teen flicks anymore?

In 2006, Entertainment Weekly published a list of the Best 50 High School Movies. Almost half of them were made in the 80s. It’s hard to compete with the decade of John Hughes, but even the 90s told some pretty amazing coming of age stories. Dazed and Confused is a good example, and another movie that comes to mind is the 1999 hit 10 Things I Hate About You (young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, anyone?).

Some of these movies paint high school as the best years of your life and some of them paint those years as the worst. As Dazed and Confused‘s Dawson says, high school is about being able to say “I had as much fun as I could when I was stuck in this place.” The 1970s teens in Dazed and Confused spend the majority of the movie driving around, doing nothing. And isn’t that what most of us did between the ages of 14 and 18–nothing?

We didn’t do anything interesting, so every friendship or relationship became the biggest deal in the world. In high school, most of us had not learned to filter our emotions, so we felt everything. Cynicism was around the corner, but we hadn’t reached it yet. And that is why high school is maybe the best setting for movies. You’re dealing with people who aren’t yet afraid to take risks and be stupid. Where else is it possible for someone to fall for someone in the course of one night? Only in high school.

So why have those movies been reduced to formulaic drivel (this is not unlike my rant against the decaying romantic comedy a month ago)? Where is the John Hughes of my generation? The movies they make about teens nowadays are about cyber-bullying and teen pregnancy. Where getting high was just something kids did in the 80s, movies about teens now have to make it a platform against drugs or go so extremist that drugs become all the kids do. Do kids not care about who they take to prom anymore?

Perhaps the cynicism that is supposed to hit us in our 20s has leaked down to the teens (and teen movies) of today. Gone are the days where people made bets with their friends on if the ugly duckling could get a date or when a boy would blow all of his college savings on a pair of earrings for his dream girl. The simpler times are gone, and with them went our simple pleasure teen movies.

I have to say though, we might keep getting older, but the high schoolers of the classic teen films stay the same age. If you ever need a night without cynicism, you can still turn to them.


One thought on “What Happened To The High School Movie?

  1. I really like this post.
    Definitely agree with your thoughts on how we were in high school and things of that sort… and I think that might indeed have something to do with the decline (or merely slump?) of the high school movie.
    Looking back on it, yes, a lot of those movies were cheesy rom-com’s… but they do have that wonderful simplicity and innocence about them, an innocence that, even as a 22-year-old looking back, might no longer exist.
    And that’s a damn shame.

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