Valley Girl (1983)
The first name to pop in your head at the phrase “romantic teen lead” probably isn’t Nicolas Cage, but here he is in this early-80s romcom as Randy, an edgy, party-crashing Hollywood punk. When quintessential Valley Girl Julie (Deborah Foreman) breaks up with her boyfriend Tommy, she meets the out of place Randy at a friend’s party.
Though the two might as well be from different planets, they become immediately smitten with each other. However, Julie’s shallow friends look down on Randy, and pressure her to get back with her bad news ex.
This fun 80s SoCal time capsule of a film pulls inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And for viewers who can’t get enough of this Valley Girl, a remake is scheduled for release in 2020, starring Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
This 1985 John Hughes classic is still a feel-good watch today. Five high school students from different cliques arrive at school for an all-day Saturday morning detention.
Their principal instructs them to sit in their seats without moving and write an essay about their identities. As the day progresses, the group begin to warm towards each other and share the aspects of their teenage lives which they feel most vulnerable about.
Claire (Molly Ringwald) is perceived as a spoiled good-girl from a wealthy family but, as she reveals to the other teens, she has struggles of her own. Claire's parents manipulate and verbally abuse her in their own arguments. John Bender (Judd Nelson) also has an unhealthy home life.
Bender and Claire bond throughout the day, as Claire reveals that she's more than just her good-girl image, and Bender shows he has a heart underneath the tough exterior he's cultivated. It's super fun to live vicariously through Claire and Bender as they discover each other over the course of one day; as anyone who has seen The Breakfast Club can attest, it's hard not to pump your first in the air like Bender and sing along to the final credits once the movie ends.
Like many films of the era, the movie is notably dated in its depiction of gender and consent, as Molly Ringwald herself wrote for The New Yorker in 2018. Still, when viewed through a critical modern lens, it's still possible to thoroughly enjoy this funny opposites-attract romance. Ringwald starred in several other high school movies directed by John Hughes, including Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink.
Say Anything… (1989)
Diane Court (Ione Skye) is a “brain in the body of a game show host.” Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), a wannabe kickboxer, has fallen for her. When Lloyd calls Diane and asks her on a date, she initially protests but then gives in and goes to a party with him. Diane’s overprotective father is not a fan of the boy, but it doesn’t stop the teens from falling in love.
After her father pushes her, Diane breaks up with Lloyd. In one of the most iconic romance scenes in movie history, Lloyd shows up at her house at dawn, holding a boombox playing “In Your Eyes.” Cue tears and an emotional reunion.
Don’t start buggin'! Of course this list includes the coming-of-age rom-com based off of Jane Austen’s . A popular Beverly Hills high school student, Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), meddles in the love lives of others, but soon finds herself in over her head.
After a head to toe makeover of the new girl, Tai (Brittany Murphy), blows up in her face, Cher starts to feel like romance has left her behind in the dust. Come for the transcendent 90s slang, but stay for Paul Rudd’s particularly dreamy portrayal of Cher’s ex-step-brother Josh.
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
In the midst of a wild high school graduation party, the beautiful and popular Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) has just been dumped by her meathead boyfriend. After pining for Amanda for years, outcast nerd Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) sees this as his chance—he’s finally going to confess his feelings.
When Amanda discovers a letter Preston wrote to her, she becomes determined to find the sweet, genuine guy who feels these things for her. The only problem is, she has no idea who Preston actually is.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Kat (Julia Stiles), a high school senior, couldn’t care less what everyone thinks. She’s happiest on her own and truly lives up to the title of shrew in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Most of the school is terrified by Kat’s coldness and her willingness to speak her mind.
Kat's younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is her total opposite: She’s popular and vain, and eager to find a boyfriend.
Their father is an overprotective OBGYN whose biggest fear in life is teenage pregnancy. Consequently, he’s forbid his daughters from dating. But after quite a bit of whining on Bianca’s part, he tells his youngest she can date if her older sister does as well.
Kat is entirely antisocial, but her sister has a plan to make her fall in love. It involves the resident school bad boy, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). At first Kat has no interest, but Patrick has charms to which no woman is immune.
Watch this one for Heath Ledger's charmingly terrible rendition of "I Love You Baby," which he delivers to Kat from the school bleachers in an attempt to woo her.
Drive Me Crazy (1999)
Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart) is popular and fashionable. Chase (Adrian Grenier) organizes protests and hangs out with his friends in coffee shops. The only thing they have in common is their neighborhood, since they live next door to each other in single-parent households. When they both get dumped, the mismatched pair find one more thing they have in common.
Desperate to make their exes jealous, Nicole and Chase pretend to date one another. Their plan is a smashing success, but when they go back to dating other people, something feels off. Maybe there was something more to their fake relationship…
She’s All That (1999)
In this modern-day Pygmalion, Zack Silver (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is the most popular guy at school, but is crushed when his beautiful cheerleader girlfriend dumps him for a reality TV star. Pushing off the hurt, he claims that he could get any girl her wanted and enters into a bet that he can transform any girl into prom queen.
His assignment is Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), an antisocial and unusual artist. He has six weeks to befriend Laney and make her into the most popular girl in school. But when she resists his charms, he’s thrown for a loop. Zack realizes that this is going to be a lot more work than he initially bargained for.
Save the Last Dance (2001)
Aspiring ballerina Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles) is thrown for a loop after the tragic death of her mother. Forced to move from her quiet suburb to her father’s South Side Chicago apartment, Sara feels displaced and angry.
However, things start to turn around when she strikes up a friendship with Chenille (Kerry Washington), and meets her brother with a troubled past, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas). Despite the endless differences that should keep them apart, Sara and Derek come together over their love of dance and the kindling feelings between them.
A Walk to Remember (2002)
An adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name, A Walk to Remember is the story of Landon (Shane West) and Jamie (Mandy Moore). Landon is a popular student who is caught drinking at school and must do community service as penance. Jamie is the quiet, loner daughter of the local minister. She has very few friends, and a passion for astronomy.
One of Landon’s assignments is to be in the school play. Jamie is in the play as well, and when Landon struggles to learn his lines, she offers to help him. She just has one stipulation: He cannot fall in love with her.
He laughs it off, but Landon falls head over heels for Jamie and is devastated to learn that she’s dying of leukemia.
Love Don't Cost a Thing (2003)
This remake of the 1987 film Can't Buy Me Love stars Nick Cannon and Christina Milian. Alvin Johnson is a high school geek with a passion for designing car engines and a deep desire for popularity.
When cheerleader Paris Morgan wrecks her mother’s car, Alvin agrees to fix it in exchange for Paris posing as his girlfriend for two weeks. A real connection is forged between the two, but as Alvin’s popularity begins to soar, his ego becomes his own worst enemy.
How to Deal (2003)
Based on Sarah Dessen’s books That Summer and Someone Like You, How to Deal follows Halley Martin (Mandy Moore), a seventeen year old who doesn’t believe in love. Her parents are divorced. Her mother doesn’t date, and her father is seeing a much younger woman. Her sister is obsessed with the details of her upcoming wedding. The sex-crazed kids at school don’t help either.
Despite Halley’s protests, Halley’s best friend, Scarlett (Alexandra Holden), is dating Michael Sherwood (John White), the star of the school soccer team. When Halley meets his friend Macon (Trent Ford), her cynicism softens. Macon just may show Halley what love really is.
A Cinderella Story (2004)
With a very unappealing stepmom and two painful stepsisters, Sam (Hilary Duff) truly is a real-life Cinderella. Sam and her dad, the owner of a local diner, were the best of friends. When he was killed in an earthquake, Sam became the responsibility of her vile stepmother who put her to work and forced her to live in the attic.
Her only consolation is Nomad, a mysterious boy she met on a chat room who just might be her Prince Charming.
Sam is sick of people walking all over her, and stands up for herself in the most iconic way. She removes all of the negative people from her life and in the process makes a life-changing discovery.
A Cinderella Story is nothing like waiting for rain in this drought. It’s not useless, and it definitely isn’t disappointing — particularly since it stars 2000s-era Chad Michael Murray as the prince himself.
John Tucker Must Die (2006)
When new girl Kate (Brittany Snow) arrives in school, Carrie (Arielle Kebbel), Heather (Ashanti), and Beth (Sophia Bush) learn that they’ve all been dating the same boy—the duplicitous and cocky John Tucker (Jesse Metcalf).
Kate joins forces with the three scorned women to teach John a lesson, planning to make him fall for Kate so she can humiliate him and break his heart. Things get complicated when Kate builds a friendship with John’s brother, Scott (Penn Badgley). The more the girls’ twisted schemes escalate, the less Kate knows how she feels.
High School Musical (2006)
For some 90s children, this extremely wholesome made-for-TV movie was the defining teen romance of their generation. Troy Bolton (a very young Zac Efron) and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) are two high schoolers from opposing cliques. She's a brain, he's an athlete.
When they both defy expectations among their groups by auditioning for the high school musical, Troy and Vanessa face a backlash. But peer pressure doesn't deter them from finding their passion...particularly when each of them has the other to lean on.
The first installment in what would ultimately become a trilogy, High School Musical was a bigger phenomenon than anyone could have ever expected. It's also the only musical on this list, and therefore ideal for a re-watch before karaoke.
Just My Luck (2006)
Ashley Albright (Lindsay Lohan) may be the luckiest girl in New York City. Everything always goes her way. Jake Hardin (Chris Pine) has the worst luck in the world. He’s the manager of a band called McFly, but can’t seem to get them any gigs. When they meet at a masquerade ball and share a kiss, their luck is flipped.
When Ashley’s life begins to fall apart, she decides she must find Jake to switch their luck back. But somewhere along the way, they fall for one another and realize that some things are more important than luck. With great music and the perfect combination of Lindsay Lohan and Chris Pine, Just My Luck is bound to delight.
She’s the Man (2006)
In this 21st century Twelfth Night, Viola (Amanda Bynes) is a classic tomboy, so impersonating her twin brother Sebastian (Robert Hoffman) is a breeze. He’s supposed to start at a new school, Illyria, but went to London with his band instead, leaving Viola to fill his shoes. Viola isn’t just the best sister ever. Her goal is to play for the boys’ soccer team at Illyria to prove to her ex-boyfriend that she is as good a player as any guy.
Her roommate is Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum), on whom she instantly develops a crush–the first of many complications. Then, when the guys find “Sebastian” weird and the soccer coach is far from impressed by “his” performance, Viola is rejected by the team and assigned to the second string.
Unaware he’s living with her, Duke starts to fall for the real Viola. She struggles to live a double life, and the illusion starts to fall apart. Will everything be ruined when everyone finds out the truth?
Sydney White (2007)
In a modern-day Snow White, Sydney White (Amanda Bynes) leaves for her freshman year of college planning to rush Kappa, her late mom’s sorority. But before she even gets a chance, she captures the eye of Tyler Prince (Matt Long), the president of a top fraternity.
Rachel (Sara Paxton), the president of Kappa, is extremely jealous that Tyler is into Sydney and sets out to make Sydney’s life impossible.
Sydney makes it past recruitment due to her legacy status, but is unable to complete the pledging process and ends up living in “the Vortex,” a rundown house occupied by seven dorky guys. Sydney and the seven dorks work together to prevent their house from being condemned by the university.
Along the way Sydney is saved by a kiss from Tyler, her prince, and it’s truly a happily ever after.
Easy A (2010)
Pulling inspiration from , this film follows Olive (Emma Stone), a girl whose pristine reputation takes a nosedive as a fudged truth about losing her virginity spirals into the subject of wild rumors. When she helps a friend by pretending to sleep with him, other high school losers flock to her for the boost in popularity.
Olive jumps at the chance to financially profit from her new accidental business venture, but her faux promiscuity wreaks havoc across the school.
Between the crumbling relationship with her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), the judgement from her religious zealot classmate Marianne (Amanda Bynes), and the reemergence of her old crush Todd (Penn Badgley), Olive struggles to regain control over her life.
The Last Song (2010)
Based on Nicholas Sparks’ book of the same name, The Last Song is a tragic teen love story. Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) is an extremely angsty teenager. She consistently rebels against her parents, and being shipped off to spend the summer with her father in a small North Carolina beach town is literally the worst thing she can imagine.
But when Ronnie finds a nest of turtle eggs that need protecting and falls for Will (Liam Hemsworth), the wealthy pretty boy that helps her protect them, she begins to soften up.
Just when she has finally found happiness, Ronnie’s world is rocked by a devastating revelation. The Last Song is a tale of love and loss that will capture your heart and never let it go.
The First Time (2012)
Dave (Dylan O'Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson) become friends when they’re bored by a run-of-the-mill high school party. Aubrey tries to help Dave move past his obsession with Jane (Victoria Justice), a girl who has no interest in him. Dave finds his affections shifting to Aubrey, but is discouraged by her older boyfriend.
Over the course of the weekend, Dave and Aubrey grow closer, developing a connection neither of them expected. Together, they embark on a series of firsts.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a party boy cruising through his senior year of high school. After his girlfriend dumps him, he gets extremely drunk and wakes up on the front lawn of Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley). Aimee and Sutter are in the same year at school, but they’ve never spoken. When Aimee finds Sutter in her yard, they develop an unusual bond.
Sutter goes on Aimee’s paper route with her, and they continue to spend time together at school. As they help each other to figure out their future plans, something more develops between the eighteen-year-olds.
Their lives are heading in very different directions: Will their feelings for one another be enough to keep them together?
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
John Green’s bestselling novel became a beautiful yet tragic film. Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) is a sixteen year old with terminal cancer. She’s struggling to come to terms with her diagnosis. When her mom sends her to a cancer patient support group, Hazel Grace is skeptical. But there she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a boy who lost his leg to bone cancer, who charms her instantly.
Hazel Grace and Augustus form an instant bond, excited to share their passion for the author Peter Van Houten. They embark on an unbelievable journey to Amsterdam to meet their hero. But the bliss of their trip can’t last, and everything comes crashing down when cancer takes its toll.
Love, Simon (2018)
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is way, way in the closet. No one, not even his best friends, know that he’s gay. But when he starts emailing with Blue, another closeted boy at their school, he reveals the truth about himself. Though their identities remain a secret, Blue and Simon, who uses the pseudonym Jacques, fall for each other.
Related: 15 Books for Fans of Love, Simon
But when another student discovers Simon’s emails, he blackmails him. Simon is terrified that if the emails get out, everything will fall apart, but he wants to meet the boy he loves so deeply. Love, Simon is a heartwarming tale of self-discovery, life-altering realizations, and life-long friendships.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
This Netflix original is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Jenny Han. It follows Lara Jean (Lana Condor), a sixteen-year-old with a deeply secret crush on her older sister's boyfriend Josh. Lara copes with all her crushes the same way: by writing a deeply heartfelt letter which she'll never actually send to the object of her affections.
But after her older sister leaves for school, all of Lara Jean's past crushes suddenly receive the letter she wrote them. Desperate to hide the crush she had on Josh, Lara Jean agrees to enter a fake relationship with another letter recipient: jock Peter (Noah Centineo).
But what is Lara Jean supposed to do when some very real feelings start interfering with her very fake romance?
Featured still from "A Cinderella Story" via Warner Bros. Pictures