Teen films is a film genre targeted at teenagers and young adults in which the plot is based upon the special interests of teenagers, such as coming of age, first love, rebellion, conflict with parents, teen angst or alienation. Often these normally serious subject matters are presented in a glossy, stereotyped or trivialized way. For legal reasons, many teenage characters are portrayed by young adults. Some teen films appeal to young males while others appeal to young females.

Films in this genre are often set in high schools, or contain characters that are of high school age. Sexual themes are also common, as are crude forms of humor.

Codes and conventions
Codes and conventions of teen films vary depending on the cultural context of the film, but they can include proms, alcohol, illegal substances, high school, parties, losing one’s virginity, social groups and cliques, interpersonal conflict with peers and/or the older generations and American pop culture.

The classic codes and conventions of teen film come from American films where one of the most widely used conventions are the stereotypes and social groups. The wide range stereotypes most commonly used include:

  • The Jock/Cheerleader
  • School Diva
  • The Geek/Nerd
  • The Rebel
  • The Misfit/Outcast
  • The Boy/Girl next door
  • The New Girl/Boy
  • The Loner
  • The Band Geek
  • Class Hottie
  • Class Clown
  • The Stoner

Apart from the characters there are many other codes and conventions of teen film. These films are often set in or around high schools as this allows for many different social cliques to be shown. This is different in hybrid teen films, but for the classic romantic comedy teen film this is almost always the case.

Common Archetypes
A good example of the use of archetypes in teen film were displayed in the film The Breakfast Club in the 1980s. These archetypes have since become a larger part of the culture. The Jock, cheerleader, social outcast, among others, become a familiar and pleasurable feature for the audience. However genres are dynamic, they change and develop to meet the expectations of their target audience, teenagers, films such as Fun Size have most of the basic archetypes that one would expect, the jocks and cheerleaders, the outcasts and geeks, the older and younger sibling disagreements, etc.

George Lucas pioneered the genre by writing and directing the 1973 film American Graffiti.

The genre gained more credibility during the 1980s with the appearance of writer/director John Hughes. His legacy of teen films (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.) proved to be popular not only with audiences, but also with critics.

One of the faces of the rise in Independent film productions in the 1990s was Gregg Araki. His films, particularly the “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy” (consisting of Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation, and Nowhere) are notable for capturing the disaffected attitudes of suburban teenagers of Generation X.

Eric Rohmer, a pioneering director from the French New Wave, was notable for focusing on young adults or youth and their complications with love in a number of his films. Some of such works include La Collectionneuse, Claire’s Knee, Pauline at the Beach, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, and A Summer’s Tale.

Noteworthy Actors
Popular actors in teen films have included Annette Funicello, Hayley Mills, and Sal Mineo, in the 1960s and 70s, members of the Brat Pack, John Cusack in the 80s and early 90s, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Seann William Scott, Eliza Dushku, Kirsten Dunst, Shannon Elizabeth, Gina Ravera, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Jason Biggs, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Emma Stone and other teenage sensations in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s, who were either pre-teens or teens at the time of the movies themselves.