Every couple of months another half-baked, moderately insulting depiction of teenage life hits movie theaters and usually quickly disappears, until five years later when you see it in a $5 bin at Target. Because of this never-ending wheelhouse of inept coming-of-age stories, the entire genre has developed a bad reputation. So let’s set the record straight: yes, there is a glut of piss-poor teen films out there, but that’s only because so many people want to replicate the magic that these five films have conjured for generations of film-lovers.

Breakfast Club
You can’t go wrong with John Hughes. This touching story of a slew of teens forced to spend a Saturday together in detention is full of heart and insight. Hughes exquisitely captured the trials and tribulations of high school.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
This ridiculously fun film hit so much of the angst, recklessness and sexual discovery of high school on the nose. And of course, we can’t forget the infamous pool scene…

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This is perhaps the best role Matthew Broderick has ever had. The film (also by John Hughes) plays out like every high school kid’s fantasy of skipping school and having an insane adventure instead. But that doesn’t mean it is lacking in heart. And who can forget when Cameron sends his father’s prized Ferrari through the window.

Dazed and Confused
Featuring more than a few classic scenes and terrific lines, this tale of incoming high school students in May 1976 is a lively depiction of the atmosphere in high school in the 70s. This film also brought an actor named Matthew McConaughey to acclaim as a smarmy laid-back womanizer. A character both loathsome and lovable that has viewers coming back for more, again and again.

American Graffiti
Before George Lucas took audience on a journey to a galaxy far, far away, he sought to capture the chaos and joy of high school. Told in a series of vignettes, the film explores the misadventures of a pack of teenagers in Modesto, CA in 1962. The film features muscle cars, milk shakes and more than a few poodle skirts. It’s loud, it’s obnoxious and it captures youth in America beautifully.

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