Whether coming of age tales or not, movies aimed at teens shoulder the task of speaking to the viewer at an important time in their life. Between identifiable characters and relatable scenarios, these movies can hold a special place in the hearts of audiences growing up at the time of their release and, if especially timeless, for years to come.
Beyond the visuals, teen movies are often most memorable for their zeitgeisty soundtracks, from John Hughes’ classic The Breakfast Club to slumber party staple 13 Going on 30. However, in a genre typically overlooked by cinephiles, there are even more underrated movies that deserve more credit for their undisputably great soundtracks.
10 How I Live Now (2013)
With war often fading into the background as Daisy’s internal struggles and her ill-advised relationship with her cousin are amplified, each song from the short but superb soundtrack is chosen to underline the volatility of life in the face of disaster, as angsty Daisy is introduced to the sound of Amanda Palmer, and the family enjoys the calm before the storm with Nick Drake.
9 Empire Records (1995)
Every music fanatic’s dream is represented in this day-in-the-life of the young employees at a record store, where they face becoming adults and the possibility of losing independence to a chain store, all set to a masterfully diverse soundtrack to incorporate the differing tastes of the characters and almost any viewer.
For a movie in which music is the plot’s lifeblood, the soundtrack is filled to the brim with no room for stretches of silence, and each song choice is applaudable. From The Cranberries to Cracker to Dire Straits, there is something for everyone in Empire Records‘ soundtrack, just as there would be in the shop itself. The film’s diverse soundtrack defines every character, from rebel Debra’s “If You Want Blood, You Got It” by AC/DC to goofy Mark’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.
8 Adventureland (2009)
While working at a minimum wage job at an amusement park, James (Jesse Eisenberg) is surprised to make memories with an unlikely group who will leave a lasting impression on him, aided by an interesting soundtrack to see him through the summer.
Though Adventureland has become a favorite among movies that honestly represent the working lives of teens, not least due to its modest yet impressive cast including Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart, it does not receive enough recognition for its soundtrack. Between The Rolling Stones and The Cure, the musical choices at once ground the story in the ’80s and brand it a timeless depiction of teenage reality.
7 We Bought A Zoo (2011)
In a story that is as much about fresh starts as it is about facing the painful past, a layer of poignancy lies beneath the charm and heart-warming fun of life at the zoo for Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), his kids, and the employees. As Benjamin builds a new life for his family after his wife’s death, the soundtrack carries them along an emotional journey to acceptance.
Surrounding classic picks from the likes of Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan is a moving soundtrack from Sigur Rós vocalist Jónsi, whose lilting melodies and ethereal falsetto blend Benjamin’s grief and inner turmoil with renewed hoped for his family and the zoo that they restore against all odds.
6 Charlie Bartlett (2007)
An underrated gem starring Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr. that viewers should watch if they like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Charlie Bartlett documents the eponymous Charlie’s surge in popularity at a new school when he assumes the role of psychiatrist and pharmacist for his fellow pupils, frustrating the Principle in the process.
Alongside the exploration of serious issues in teens and adults such as Principle Gardner’s alcoholism, the light-hearted sides to high school are also displayed, resulting in a balanced soundtrack for hard-hitting scenes of pain, light-hearted piano duets, and an uplifting performance of Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” in the school play. The soundtrack is reflective of the movie itself: sometimes sad, but often uplifting.
5 It’s Kind Of A Funny Story (2010)
Indie and rock music are at the heart of this 2010 dramedy from the get-go, with young Craig’s (Keir Gilchrist) time on the adult psychiatric ward set to the sounds of The Drums and The Damned amongst a wide variety of others.
Following in the footsteps of other unconventional romances like Before Sunrise, it is not surprising that It’s Kind Of A Funny Story has a soundtrack to rival the mainstream, especially as music is so important to the protagonists, given Noelle’s (Emma Roberts) answer to Craig’s question of whether she likes music: “Do you like breathing?” Music is the chief way these two connect when “regular” words fail to convey how they feel about one another.
4 Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
The spiritual sequel to Richard Linklater’s classic Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a college baseball team in the 80s as they find their feet on campus and prepare for school to begin. Like its predecessor, great music is not only in the movie’s title but embedded in every hilarious scene.
The standard for the rest of the flawless soundtrack is set in the movie’s opening, with smooth shots of freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) in his car on the way to college, blasting “My Sharona” in a sequence to perfectly set the tone for his time at the baseball house, picking up girls, and hanging out with his teammates.
3 Submarine (2010)
This British indie favorite from comedian Richard Ayoade is beloved by both film and music buffs alike for its quirky take on teen romance and memorable soundtrack created by none other than Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner.
While Turner’s music could be enough to brand Submarine the ultimate indie flick of 2010, the soundtrack does not only cater to the taste of Arctic Monkeys fans. Each song is gentle, graceful, and beautifully encapsulates young Oliver’s (Craig Roberts) feelings, which are usually conveyed less than elegantly through often deadpan dialogue.
2 Bandslam (2009)
Though the movie may have slipped into near-distant memory since the name Sa5m took the world by storm, the soundtrack of this underrated story lives on as one of the greatest in 21st-century teen cinema. Nothing less than a fantastic soundtrack could be expected for a movie that features David Bowie as prominently as this one does.
Given the musical genius of protagonist Will (Gaelan Connell), the standard of songs that feature is incredibly high, with classics from The Velvet Underground and Peter Bjorn and John. With a musical contest at the heart of the plot, the original songs that are included are able to match the anthems from Will’s personal taste and round out the soundtrack as one that certainly deserves more credit for its variety and brilliance.
1 Sing Street (2016)
Another movie focusing on the journey of a fictional band, Sing Street blends 80s-inspired original songs with hits of the 20th century to create one grand soundtrack that sticks in the memory and keeps this charming comedy from flying completely under the radar.
As Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is introduced to music by his brother, from Duran Duran to The Cure to The Jam, his new inspirations are reflected in his own band’s evolution, originally formed to impress a girl but quickly coming into its own. The soundtrack’s progression is key to the movie’s changing aesthetics and, ultimately, Conor’s character development, as he gains the confidence to face his issues head-on and eventually escapes Ireland to pursue his musical dreams.