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Female Trouble: 10 Best Teen-Girl Movies

From proto riot-grrls to prom nightmares, here are the greatest female-teen flicks

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New World Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Screen Gems; Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ten years ago today, Mean Girls hit theaters and, within a few months of its release, proved that child star Lindsay Lohan could establish a post-Disney career (how said career would turn out is, of course, a different story). It also demonstrated that its screenwriter, Tina Fey, had a singular comic voice that wasn't confined to her SNL "Weekend Update" desk and gave audiences an introductory glance at future stars Rachel MacAdams, Amanda Seyfried and Lizzy Caplan. 

'Mean Girls' 10 Years Later: Where Are They Now?

But above all, Mean Girls reminded us that movies about teen girls aren't always just for teen girls — you don't have to be wrestling with adolescence, peer pressure or who you're going to the prom with to appreciate the wit and wisdom that a great femalecentric teen flick has to offer. The anthropological breakdowns of clique mentalities and class struggles, the damage done by trash-talking (and this was before Twitter, people), the way someone who doesn't conform to the norm becomes a social pariah: all of the things that Mean Girls satirized and shined a light on don't go away once you get a diploma or turn 20.

So, in honor of the film's aluminum anniversary, we've singled out Mean Girls' peers in teen-girl filmdom and picked out the 10 best. These are movies which say something about being a young woman and give us heroines who can delight you, make you laugh, break your heart and/or scare the living crap out of you no matter how young or old you are. By David Fear

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10. ‘Ginger Snaps’ (2000)

Before he'd go on to make the world's greatest TV clone drama Orphan Black, John Fawcett would co-write and direct this tale of two Goth sisters — one of whom, Ginger, is bit by a strange creature roaming their suburbs one evening. Quicker than you can sing a verse of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," the sibling with the teeth marks starts to exhibit some strange behavior, from sprouting a tail to aggressive sexuality. As a metaphor for the girlhood-to-womanhood changes of puberty, this werewolf film may not be subtle. But the way it portrays the bond between these misfit sisters and mines the sense of not belonging for dark humor and horror puts this head and hairy shoulders above most girl-in-trouble monster movies.

Fox Searchlight

9. ‘Juno’ (2007)

Yes, Diablo Cody's script nearly overdoses on the snark-talk, but get past the honest-to-blog-isms and what you'll find is a portrait of the teenage years as one big ball of confusion. Courtesy of the mighty Ellen Page, the unexpectedly pregnant Juno is the smartest, pop-savviest person in any room; also courtesy of the Canadian actress, this character uses those traits to hide her vulnerability, her bewilderment at the immature adults in her life (though not her exceedingly cool parents) and the sense that she's surfing an emotional tsunami thanks to her situation. The movie initially makes teen pregnancy seem like a quirky punchline; by the end, Juno's condition just feels like part of an extreme take on how growing up is hard to do, even when you're forced to do it quick.

Screen Gems

8. ‘Easy A’ (2010)

Behold, the power of great casting: Will Gluck's breezy comedy about a goody-two-shoes student who, in order to further her social status, lets nasty rumors circulate about her "purity" might have worked with another actress in the lead role. But you can't underestimate what Emma Stone brings to the role; even viewers who remembered her from Superbad were surprised that she was this deft of a comedienne. More importantly, Stone sells you on the conflict and the rush that her character, Olive, experiences: No one wants to be slut-shamed, but what if you could use your fake bad-girl rep for the benefit of others? At what point do good intentions start souring everything else? Somehow, she balances the dramatic aspects, the broad comedy and the film's take on a puritan obsession with sexuality do's and don'ts into one seamless screwball performance that sets the pace — and makes it look easy.

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7. ‘Time Square’ (1980)

After a meet-cute in a New York mental ward, a troubled rich girl and a tough street kid decide to live la vie de boheme and start a punk band. While the uppercrust girl's dad — the same guy who's trying to mount a clean-up-the-Forty-Deuce campaign — is searching for his daughter, a Times Square DJ (played by Tim Curry) turns the female duo into folk heroes. A cult hit thanks to its New Wave soundtrack and documentation of a vintage sleazepit midtown NYC, Allan Moyle's movie pits its heroines against a Horror-City landscape and lets them win. The studio's toning down of the more sapphic elements doesn't dilute the girls' deep friendship, however — a bond that, along with fighting Gotham bureaucracy, gives these teen rebels their cause.

Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

6. ‘Clueless’ (1995)

People recast Shakespeare plays in WWII-era London and Fifties New York — so why not update Jane Austen's 1815 novel about a busybody matchmaker to mid-Nineties Beverly Hills? This spunky adaptation hits the standard teen-comedy beats (House parties, shopping-mall trips and high-school hallway summits? Check, check and check), yet it does it with such energy and verve that you never feel like you're watching a typical story of upspeaking Southern Cali kids crowing over their outfits, boys, etc. Alicia Silverstone became a star by playing the film's teen queen Cher Horowitz, but this is no solo act; the way she plays off her fellow students (big up Brittany Murphy and Stacey Dash!) and babyfaced romantic interest Paul Rudd is what gives this farce voltage.

Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

5. ‘Bring It On’ (2000)

Cheerleaders — they're always the resident snooty, rich-bitch villains of teen comedies, right? Peyton Reed's teen romcom-cum-sports movie flips the script and makes them the heroines, playing off the stereotype of the blonde pom-pom shaker even while it gleefully explodes it. Having found out their old captain stole a bunch of routines from an African-American squad, their new leader (we miss you, Kirsten Dunst) has to inspire her teammates in time to win the semifinals. The movie would be a giddy pleasure even if it didn't have those adrenaline-rush cheer routines and Buffy's Eliza Dushku doing her street-smart sassmouth routine. But we'll single out that moment when Dunst is listening to the mixtape hunky Jesse Bradford made her and she starts to slowly give in to the music…before dancing like a maniac all over her bedroom. That's what teen abandon looks like.

Atlantic Releasing/courtesy Everett Collection

4. ‘Valley Girl’ (1983)

You wouldn't have high expectations for a film named after Frank Zappa's 1982 novelty hit about his daughter's SoCal mall slang. But anybody who braced for a disposable, faddish cash-in was stunned by what director Martha Coolidge delivered instead: a funny, energetic, surprisingly sensitive comedy about a popular California teen (Deborah Foreman) who falls in love with a punker from the wrong side of the tracks. The fact that the guy with the spiky hair, soulful eyes and skinny ties is played by a young Nicolas Cage would make it easier to choose him over the young woman's douchebag preppy boyfriend, but you know how peer pressure works. The oh-my-gawd dialogue and KROQ-friendly soundtrack make it a period piece; the film's ability to go from totally rad to real in a blink (see the what-should-I-do conversation with her hippie parents) makes it timeless.

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

3. ‘Carrie’ (1976)

It starts with one of the most humiliating sequences in any teen-girl film (those horrid locker-room taunts of "Plug it up! "Plug it up!") and goes out with the greatest prom massacre ever. In between those two nightmarish set pieces, however, is one of the most astute takes on what happens when you land on the losing scale of the teen social pecking order. Sissy Spacek's Carrie White would be considered fair game for senior-year predators even if her ability to move things with her mind didn't make her different by default; the genius of Stephen King's novel is that he makes her high school experience hellish even before the rage gets unleashed. Even if Brian De Palma's pomo baroque stylistics aren't your cup of pig's blood, you have to give him credit for trusting Spacek to run the gamut in that climactic scene. Watch how her look of unbridled joy at finally living out the prom-queen dream curdles once she realizes she's a) covered in Type O and b) suffered the worst campus prank ever. And that's when the screaming starts.

Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

2. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains’ (1982)

No less than Kathleen Hanna and Kurt Cobain pledged allegiance to this story of a disaffected young woman whose band, the Stains (think the Slits minus the reggae influences), become unlikely role models. It's the ultimate punk-rock-empowerment film, anticipating the riot-grrl movement by almost a decade and giving Diane Lane the role of a lifetime as the skunk-haired singer Corinne Burns. (Yes, that's Laura Dern as the band's bassist.) Like the Velvet Underground, this film made a small impact upon its release but its feminist teen spirit inspired almost everyone who came into contact with it. Fabulous doesn't even begin to describe its effect. 

New World Pictures

1. ‘Heathers’ (1988)

There are dark teen comedies, and then there's Michael Lehmann's cult classic about the ultimate HBIC clique; name another teenagercentric movie that rips into bulimia, date rape and suicide, and still makes you laugh through your gagging. (Of course they turned this into a Broadway musical!) Really, what young lady stuck with a pack of too-cruel-for-school friends wouldn't secretly wish them dead, or fall for a Jack Nicholson-esque new kid who doesn't flinch when it comes to making such murderous dreams come true. The bitchiness and the quotability factor here is off the charts ("Fuck me gently with a chainsaw"), and Winona Ryder and Christian Slater have never been better. You don't think this is one of the most acidic, absolutely enjoyable teem movies ever made? Like, what is your damage?!? 

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