Trends in teen movies – an ongoing study

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Assalam alaikum wr wb.

‘Sup, peeps.

I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL. I finished up a third draft – dropped 70 pages on a 185-page script. I’m going to say that’s a good indication that I have learned something about screenwriting.

I’ve also been researching and prepping a teen movie tentatively titled:


A retired general creates a fake Facebook profile to snoop on his teenage granddaughter, only to have his mission compromised when she falls in love with him.

What do you guys think?

I have been taking in as many teen movies as I can. These are the ones I’ve seen so far:

  1. Off and Running (documentary)
  2. Clueless
  3. Daydream Nation
  4. Can’t Hardly Wait
  5. Billy Elliot
  6. Attack The Block
  7. Battle Royale
  8. The In-Betweeners (TV show and movie)

I’m sure a lot of people will decry the lack of John Hughes movies in the above list. The reason: I’ve already seen most of them and I’d like to get a fresh perspective before re-watching them.

I’ve seen a few trends.

  1. Divisions are the main engine of conflict –jocks, beauty queens, geeks, stoners, band geeks, etc .
  2. The dork is always lusting after the prom queen. Rarely if ever gender-bent (Princess Diaries being a notable exception.)
  3. Unusual genres – noir (Brick), sci-fi (Attack the Block, The Faculty), slasher (Battle Royale)
  4. Common genres – drama (Daydream Nation, Perks of Being a  Wallflower); comedy, often frustration comedy (Clueless, Can’t Hardly Wait).
  5. The geek often gets a dance scene and in so doing, impresses all the chicks.
  6. The jock (or villain) often gets his come-uppance.
  7. Customary last kiss.

I’ve written extensive notes on each of the teen movies I’ve recently watched. But I’ll try and distill them into a few sentences.

Off and Running

Verdict: Loved it.

What I liked:

  • Liked that their family was non-traditional (lesbian parents, trans-racially adopted kids).
  • I liked how the camera stayed with her as she went through perhaps a severe identity crisis.

What I didn’t like:

It all seemed too neat. It seemed like there was real conflict there but the filmmaker was too scared to put that in the film. But then I don’t know what goes into documentary filmmaking – perhaps there were privacy concerns. So I can’t really criticize.

Daydream Nation

Verdict: Hated it.

What I liked:

  • I loved the way this movie started. Great set-up of the town with the industrial fumes wafting in. The serial killer. The handsome teacher. The out-of-town loner and the pothead.
  • I love the alternative structure and the use of titles and flashbacks.

What I didn’t like:

  • Essentially this movie is about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Sure, she’s the main character, but she is also still reduced to her sexual function. In this case, she has sex with two men and in so doing, changes both of their lives.
  • There is no indication that she is actually in love with either of them, even [SPOILER] Thurston, though she claims it by the end.  Just because a sex scene is filmed lovingly with a beautiful soundtrack, it doesn’t mean I believe the two characters are in love. [END SPOILER]
  • And that’s another thing. The whole blasted movie was like one long music video.
  • I got gosh-darn sick of shots of Kat Dennings looking beautiful riding a bicycle. What is up with the director and bikes? Either he loves bikes or he loves Dennings.
  • The flashbacks I initially loved just turned out to be lazy writing so that the director could conveniently horse-shoe in an explanation for Caroline’s need to ‘reinvent’ herself this summer.
  • The serial killer angle is never fully explored.  [SPOILER] I was hoping that they were going to fulfill the promise that Barry was/could be/might be the serial killer. But no, he’s just a screwed up dude. I think the writer looked at that possibility and decided to look away. Weak, weak choice, in my opinion.  [END SPOILER]


Verdict: Didn’t like it.

What I liked:

  • Very 90s! God, the music, the fashion and the wonderful Paul Rudd who had not even come into his own yet.
  • The kids acted weirdly privileged like they owned the school and could do whatever they wanted – an interesting stylistic conceit.

What I didn’t like:

  • The very thing that I liked ultimately alienated me. It was too stylized. Too ‘90s.
  • The characters were un-sympathetic and the story-lines unrealistic. A major character change from driving on the freeway? They’ve obviously never driven in Dubai.
  • And everything was just too obvious. I could see what was going to happen a mile away. Maybe because this was the ‘90s.

Can’t Hardly Wait

Verdict: Didn’t like it.

What I liked:

Can’t think of anything I liked.

What I didn’t like:

  • The divisions. It’s always about the divisions. Jocks, nerds, stoners, etc.
  • The teenage wish fulfillment. By a bit of movie magic (lazy writing), What’s-His-Face’s letter came to Hotty McHotty Pants a.k.a Jennifer Love Hewitt.
  • As usual, never any nerdy girls.
  • Could see most things coming a mile away, except perhaps the Seth Green hook-up. Though as soon as they got locked in the bathroom together, I knew they were gonna get it on. Sigh.
  • Utterly boring and predictable characters.
  • Everybody alive in the ‘90s was in this movie.

Billy Elliot

Verdict: Loved it!

What I liked:

  • The ‘save the cat’ moment right at the beginning when he guides his grandma back home to tea.
  • How intensely visual the film is – we already know he’s motherless from the state of the kitchen and the quietness of the house.
  • The gruff heart-broken working-class men – my dad’s a bit like that. It made me bawl. Gosh, it’s bringing a tear to my eye now.
  • The quiet grief Billy had – he wasn’t heartbroken like his father. He just missed her. And that was bad enough.
  • The artistic spirit – have you ever seen anyone dance like that, like their lives depended on it? When they’re sad, happy, angry, frustrated?
  • The amazing subplots – the frustrated teacher, her cute little girl, his friend Michael.

What I didn’t like:

  • Really very little not to like. But if I had to pick on something, it would be the stereotypical snooty upper-class who judged him when he went to the Royal Ballet School. But even with that, I’m nitpicking really.

Attack the Block

Verdict: Loved it!

What I liked:

  • The unusual cultural milieu – you would think from sci-fi movies that there’s no other city in the world except LA and New York
  • The first alien died quite easily – usually it takes forever to kill one of these things. But this one died quite easily and came to play a pivotal part in the movie.
  • An expertly planted expert – usually the expert just ‘happens’ to be there and that restricts the number of milieus you can have an alien attack on – military, academic, etc. Here the expert character rose quite organically from the environment. Clever stuff.
  • An interesting protagonist set up as a mystery box – We learn about the families of the other kids, but Moses’ door closes quite pointedly in our faces. Later when we learn his history, it’s not schmaltzy or overwrought. It’s just satisfying and again, a necessary revelation for the task at hand.
  • Teens, not adults.
  • Wicked action sequences.

What I didn’t like:

Could have been more background on the other kids, but this is Moses’ story, obviously, so I’ll allow it.

Battle Royale

Verdict: Loved it!

What I liked:

  •  Exaggeration of high school dynamics
  • Specificity of character histories – dad killed himself, he played guitar with his truant best friend.
  • Multiple stories told.
  • Non-violent message, though it’s a really violent movie.
  • Couldn’t tear my eyes away, even though I was sleepy and it was the middle of the night.

What I didn’t like:

  • Not enough characterization of the lead girl.

The InBetweeners

Verdict: Loved it.

What I liked:

  • Very disparate band of dudes, but with pretty much a one-track mind – booze and girls. But mostly girls.
  • The characters didn’t change – everyone from the major to the minor characters had rules of behavior that remained very consistent. Neil’s father was a very polite cultured and therefore gay man. Neil’s sister was a rude bombshell. Simon’s father and mother had a bonkers sex life, one his father never stopped talking about. Etc.
  • When there were changes – for example, when Jay got a girlfriend – it was shocking and rather sweet.
  • For all of their crudeness, they were, all things considered, rather sweet young men. Far too few of those in the adult world. Quite enough jocks.
  • Their desperation to be loved and accepted pretty much came to a head in the movie.

What I didn’t like:

  • There are never any nerd girls. It’s as if women are born looking like Pamela Anderson and are never awkward.
  • The only slight bit of characterisation oddly enough was given to Charlotte Hinchcliffe when the jock James Donovan angrily tells Simon that she’s ‘fragile’ or something of that nature. That suggests a relationship that went beyond the physical and a heart underneath the pot ash for Donovan. An angle never explored though. Which is a bit disappointing.
  • And don’t get me started on the movie’s ending. Dude. I mean, yes, the boys have to grow up at some point. But just because they’ve matured a bit, it doesn’t mean that they are going to get ‘fit birds’ the next minute. Which is exactly what happened in the movie.  Again, geeky girls just don’t exist in this universe, though Neil’s second girlfriend, the slightly vapid one, seemed a little geeky and awkward. The happy ending seemed like a sop to an American audience. Or maybe they just wanted to give these poor guys a break. Sigh. Didn’t seem consistent with the characters though. And I loved the consistency.

Questions I’d like to ask of my own concept:

  1. How do I take them away from the irritating clichés of teen movies?
  2. I seem to really love genre movies. What kind of genre experiments could I make with this concept?
  3. I also seem to love movies with heart. What’s the heart of this movie?
  4. This is a trend I’ve seen in all my writing and all of the movies that excite me. A group of people in a pressure cooker situation. How do I best explore that dynamic in this concept?

I thoroughly recommend this process to anyone tackling a new project. It’ll give you unexpected insights and help you steer away from the beaten path.

The Black Board has been instrumental in helping me choose movies but I would welcome any more suggestions.

Fee Amanillah and wassalam. Peace and love to you,



2 thoughts on “Trends in teen movies – an ongoing study

  1. My goodness I have a lot of catching up to do. The only one I watched was Clueless. Which I loved… But it came out while I was a teen… In the 90’s.
    I think some of the things you didn’t like about it were the things the writer was doing to keep it as closely tied to Jane Austen’s “Emma” as they could.
    Maybe that’s why I liked it, despite its cheesiness. I’ve loved the story of Emma for so long and this was Emma in my day and age.
    I’m trying to remember what I didn’t like about it back then… I’m sure there were things… But as a teen, overall, I loved it and watched it with friends over and over again. I’m sure I’d have a very different view if I hadn’t watched it until today.

    All that to say… Are concerns and tastes change so much as we enter adulthood, that in order to have an accurate view of what works and what doesn’t for a teen audience, we have to spend time with a teen audience. I work with teens everyday (as a teacher and mentor) and even when I think I really get them… Can remember what life was like etc. I don’t. Not fully. Because I can’t unlearn and unexperience the things that I have… Learning and experience change us, intrinsically. Just food for thought when writing for teens and/or kids.

  2. I see what you’re saying. Doing what I can to get around teens – without coming off as a creep! I might have liked Clueless myself if I’d seen it when I was a teen. But as it was….:-( Irritating.

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