A ten-point manifesto for the Teen Movie New Wave

Monday October 1st 2012


As regular readers of this blog may already have ascertained, I have a sincere, boundless, undying love of teen movies. And just as horror fans consume a large quantity of slasher, zombie and torture porn films but are nonetheless exceedingly hard to please, I have considerable standards where the teen genre is concerned. In fact, I think this is particularly true of teen fandom — after all, it’s a genre beset by inadequacy, half-arsedness and lengthy periods of inactivity. It’s also a genre that tends to come in waves, which is great news if your adolescence happens to coincide with one, and bad news if — like me — your teen years fell in a fallow period.

Though teen films have, in one way or another, existed since the 1930s, the ‘wave’ system didn’t really kick off until the eighties. Since then, we’ve experienced two major periods of teen movie production.

You’re probably familiar with the first:

The Teen Movie Golden Age (1982-1989)

This is the one closely associated with John Hughes, the Brat Pack, lists of teen movies ‘to see before you die’, middling synth pop and the sort of people who go to 80s movie marathons at the Prince Charles Cinema. It began in the year of Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Porky’s and concluded at the end of the decade with Say Anything and Heathers. After that, teenage cineastes would have more than half a decade to wait before…

The Teen Movie Renaissance (1995-2004)

Beginning with Clueless and ending with Mean Girls, the second wave ran slightly longer than the first and produced a considerably wider range of films, both in terms of quantity and breadth of subject matter. The era was characterised by short-lived stars like Jason Biggs, Neve Campbell, Natasha Lyonne and James Van Der Beek, blockbuster hits like American Pie and Scream, and weirder, artsier fare like Freeway and Ginger Snaps.

Since 2004, the teen movie landscape has been a largely barren place — its target demographic instead satisfied by teen-fronted blockbusters like Transformers and Twilight. The late-noughties saw a brief revival of interest in teen movies, thanks to what we’ll call…

The Michael Cera Blip (2007-2008)

… but essentially, the teen genre is now seven years into an extended sabbatical. I’m here to tell you that that sabbatical may be coming to an end. Over the last six months, a number of films have emerged that suggest the burgeoning of a new era of teen cinema, which for the ease of communication I shall refer to as…

The Teen Movie New Wave (2012-)

Because the first few months are a tender period for any escalating cinematic movement, now might be a good time to lay down what we consider to be the governing principles of the New Wave. A manifesto, if you will. So without further ado, I present to you ten criteria that the films of the Teen Movie New Wave should endeavour, wherever possible, to fulfil:

1. The film should not cause the average 16-year-old to cringe.

2. The film should employ teenage characters and situations because it is appropriate to the story, not because it will increase box office projections.

3. The film should understand that the social cliques of today’s teenagers are considerably different (and generally speaking, more amorphous) than they were in the 1980s.

4. The film should comprehend the significance of technology to today’s teenagers without going completely overboard and depicting all adolescents as semi-professional hackers.

5. The film’s script should not have been hanging around in studio store cupboards for more than, say, five years.

6. The film doesn’t have to be about actual teenagers, but it should feature characters in some state of adolescence, either physically or mentally.

7. The film should not stand a good chance of winning any major Oscars.

8. The film should not be rated below PG-13.

9. The film’s budget should not have been in excess of $50 million.

10. The film should elicit at least some degree of derision from audience members over 40.

As I see it, four of this year’s films have so far satisfactorily fulfilled the majority of these conditions, and shall henceforth be considered New Wave canon:

(21 Jump Street is a good example of a film that might not immediately seem like a teen movie, but does comfortably fulfil all of the requirements above.)

As for talent, several names are already emerging as possible candidates for the stars of the New Wave. Some are ex-child stars hoping to negotiate the next stepping stone on the way to a fully-fledged adult acting career, others are relatively new faces thrust into the spotlight by a particularly choice role. Here are sixteen such potential stars:

Brie Larson Cameron Bright Chloë Grace Moretz Chris Mintz-Plasse
Dakota Fanning Dane DeHaan Dave Franco Dax Flame
Emma Roberts Ezra Miller Jacob Wysocki Josh Hutcherson
Logan Lerman Selena Gomez Thomas Mann Vanessa Hudgens

All that remains is for me to implore Hollywood to recognise, encourage and take a chance on this new breed of teen movies, rather than slipping back into complacency when Pitch Perfect inevitably fails to make as much money as Skyfall at the international box office. Believe in the Teen Movie New Wave, and give today’s teenagers a cinematic upbringing that isn’t based on a handful of films older than they are.