Drew Barrymore in 'Scream'

The Ultimate ’90s Nostalgia: 12 Teen Movies That Defined a Generation

Ready to relive the ’90s? Dive into these iconic teen movies that defined a generation.

Ah, the ’90s, a time when flannel shirts were the height of fashion and pagers were our smartphones. It was a decade that brought us some of the most memorable teen movies ever made. So, lace up your Doc Martens and journey back to the neon-soaked, slap-bracelet-wearing, dial-up-internet days of the 1990s with twelve teen movies that defined a generation.

‘House Party’ (1990) | Max

High schooler Kid (Christopher Reid) wants to go to his friend Play’s (Christopher Martin) house party, but his strict dad isn’t having it. As he tries to outsmart his Pops (Robin Harris) and get to the party, Kid ends up having an epic night filled with music and mayhem. 

House Party epitomized the vibrant hip-hop culture of the early ’90s. The film’s soundtrack is a who’s who of early ’90s hip-hop and R&B, and includes tracks like “To da Break of Dawn” by LL Cool J and Marley Mar and “Fun House”  by Kid ‘n Play. 

The film perfectly mirrored the spirit of youth rebellion that was just starting to brew. And remember those scenes with the pagers and huge phones? They gave us a glimpse of a world on the brink of a digital revolution.

‘Clueless’ (1995) | Paramount+

Dive into the glamorous world of Beverly Hills with high schooler Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), her fashion-forward friends, and her former stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd). This modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma explores Cher’s matchmaking endeavors and personal growth.  

Clueless was a reflection of ’90s materialism. Cher’s journey from a self-absorbed teen to someone who genuinely cared about others resonated with the era’s growing emphasis on authenticity.

Cher’s high-tech closet gave us a sneak peek into the future, while her fashionable outfits became ’90s style benchmarks. Her iconic yellow plaid outfit is still celebrated and worn as a Halloween costume. And her phrases like “As if!” and “Whatever!” became part of the ’90s lexicon.

‘Scream’ (1996) | Paramount+

Wes Craven’s meta-horror masterpiece introduces us to the town of Woodsboro, where a masked killer terrorizes a group of teens, including Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell).  

Scream was a cultural phenomenon that etched itself into the ’90s.  It was self-aware — like a horror movie within a horror movie — and it was high concept in its deconstruction of genre tropes. Sidney Prescott was more than a scream queen; she symbolized the ’90s spirit of empowered women.

‘The Craft’ (1996) | Hulu

Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) moves to a new school and befriends a group of outcast girls who practice witchcraft. As they harness their supernatural powers, their newfound abilities come with unforeseen consequences. 

The Craft emphasized themes of female empowerment and the importance of strong, supportive friendships. It was a reflection of the era’s growing emphasis on women’s rights and camaraderie. The film’s success may have contributed to the rise in supernatural teen dramas, laying the groundwork for shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ (1997) | Hulu

In the coastal town of Southport, four friends — Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe), Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) — find their lives forever altered when a tragic accident shatters their carefree summer night. 

I Know What You Did Last Summer embodied the decade’s appetite for teen thrillers and contributed to a wave of similar movies, including Urban Legend and Final Destination. The film indirectly touched on themes of secrecy and exposure, reflecting our growing concerns about the digital age, where privacy was becoming a precious commodity. It also brought together ’90s power couple Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr.  

‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ (1998) | Max

After dumping his long-term girlfriend, Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), popular jock, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) throws a raging pre-graduation house party. Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry), a love-struck outcast, seizes the opportunity to finally confess his feelings to Amanda. Meanwhile, the party unfolds as various characters, including Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose) and Kenny Fisher (Seth Green), navigate their own romantic and personal dramas throughout the night.  

Can’t Hardly Wait perfectly captured the ’90s fascination with epic teen parties, with a soundtrack including tracks from Blink-182, Third Eye Blind, and Smash Mouth. The movie’s depiction of a chat room romance served as a nod to the growing influence of the internet on our social lives.

‘She’s All That’ (1999) | Showtime

High school heartthrob Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) accepts a bet to transform the artsy and not-so-popular Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) into the prom queen. As Laney undergoes a makeover, unexpected feelings and genuine connections develop.  

She’s All That dove into the themes of transformation and authenticity, mirroring the era’s quest for personal growth and genuine connections. Some of the film’s iconic moments, like Freddie Prinze Jr.’s hacky sack performance, were quintessential ’90s pop culture experiences.

’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999) | Disney+  

This modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew follows the headstrong Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) and her sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) as they butt heads on the idea of high school romance. Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) tests Kat’s disdain for conformity when he charms her enough to get her to attend senior prom.

10 Things I Hate About You embodied ’90s teen rebellion and individualism. It celebrated grunge style and popular ’90s music, including tracks like Letters to Cleo’s “Cruel to Be Kind” and Save Ferris’ “I Know.”  Kat Stratford’s unapologetic attitude was inspiring and influential. And Heath Ledger’s magnetic performance as Patrick Verona solidified his status as a Hollywood heartthrob. 

‘Varsity Blues’ (1999) | Prime Video 

In the small town of West Canaan, Texas, football is everything. Star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) faces tremendous pressure from the community and his coach, while backup QB Jon Moxon (James Van Der Beek) questions the town’s obsession with the sport. 

Varsity Blues tapped into the ’90s obsession with sports and showcased the pressures high school athletes faced, exploring themes of coming of age and self-discovery.

‘Cruel Intentions’ (1999) | Prime Video

In the seductive world of Manhattan’s elite, step-siblings Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) engage in a twisted game of sexual conquests and manipulation. Their intricate web of deceit takes an unexpected turn when a virtuous girl, Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon) arrives to challenge their cynical views on love.

Cruel Intentions helped the genre evolve by proving that teen romance stories could be complex and dark, laying the groundwork for shows like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. The movie was a reflection of our era’s fascination with complex relationships and moral dilemmas. It delved into themes of power and manipulation, mirroring our growing cynicism. It was a defining film that combined a decadent lifestyle with moral introspection, truly capturing the essence of the late ’90s. And with hits like “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve and “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim, the soundtrack serves a perfect dose of ’90s nostalgia.

‘Drive Me Crazy’ (1999) | Prime Video

When their respective romantic plans fall apart, neighbors and former childhood friends Nicole Maris (Melissa Joan Hart) and Chase Hammond (Adrian Grenier) decide to pretend to date. But what starts as a charade soon leads to real emotions. 

Drive Me Crazy is set against the backdrop of Y2K, a time when the world was bracing for potential chaos as the new millennium approached. It captured the anticipation and excitement we all felt in 1999. And it also showcased the growing influence of the internet on relationships, with the characters engaging in online chat room romance, subtly mirroring the era’s budding digital age.

American Pie’ (1999) | Prime Video

Four high school friends make a pact to lose their virginity by prom night. This raunchy yet heartwarming comedy explores their comical mishaps and the bonds of friendship during this pivotal moment in their lives.  

American Pie brought a new level of raunchy humor to the teen comedy genre. It was unapologetically bold, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on the big screen at the time. 

The film’s iconic moments, such as the infamous pie scene, have become emblematic of ’90s comedy. American Pie symbolized the era’s willingness to embrace a new level of irreverence and authenticity in storytelling. It also set the stage for a wave of raunchy comedies in the 2000s, including the American Pie sequels and movies like Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

About the author

Mishal Zafar

Mishal Zafar