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The Best Teen Characters In The History Of Movies

Whether we're talking about serious family dramas or lighthearted high school comedies, teenagers have been making their mark on film for quite some time. In fact, there have been so many amazing teen characters in the history of movies that crafting a list of the top of the tops was an arduous task. But don't worry, we were up for the challenge.

A good adolescent character is one who stands the test of time — a character people still talk about five, 10, 20 years after their debut. They're typically funny or courageous or deliciously cruel (or all of the above), with their defining traits and memorable shenanigans earning them a significant place in pop culture. And not only do the best characters have name recognition, but they also make us feel something. We remember not just their bio but their iconic lines, scenes, and arcs. Though this is not an exhaustive list by any means, here are some of the best teen characters in the history of movies.

Cher Horowitz from Clueless

As if we could have a list of the greatest teen characters and not include "Clueless" fashion queen Cher Horowitz. Played by Alicia Silverstone, Cher has been a pop culture icon for over 25 years now. She is also perhaps one of the most quotable movie characters of all time. "She's my friend because we both know what it's like to have people be jealous of us," she famously says about her bestie Dionne, portrayed by Stacey Dash. Cher is so iconic that rapper Iggy Azalea even drew upon the character for her video for the song "Fancy," in which she recreated and refashioned many "Clueless" scenes, including Cher's famous high school debate where she is decked out in her legendary yellow plaid skirt suit.

Funny, stylish, and popular, Cher could have been written as your typical movie mean girl. But while the character may start off a little snobby and a lot "clueless" — making well-meaning mistakes like falling for a gay guy and trying to make over a friend in her image, for instance — she proves that she has a good heart and a capacity for growth. In the film, when Cher realizes her life is not meaningful, she makes changes to become a better person. She also starts dating her former step-brother, which is kind of icky, but we are going to ignore that part — lest anyone call us "way harsh," as Cher calls her friend Tai (Brittany Murphy) when she refers to her as "a virgin who can't drive."

Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is a fantastic '80s flick, and titular character Ferris Bueller is, hands down, the most famous school ditcher in cinema history. In the 1986 John Hughes film, high school senior Ferris pretends to be sick so that he can stay home from school. All sorts of hijinks ensue on his day off — especially because he has many doubters, including his sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) and the dean of students at his high school, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones).

Perhaps it's actor Matthew Broderick's innocent looks, or the fact that Ferris breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience, but it's nearly impossible not to root for him, despite the fact that he is a smug and crafty liar. Dishonesty and arrogance aside, Ferris is charming and lovable in a Dennis-the-Menace type of way. For instance, when an accident destroys his friend's father's Ferrari — that he, his friend, and his girlfriend have "borrowed'"– Ferris offers to take the fall.

He also gives us a model movie quote with his observation that "Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Sadly, the character didn't translate well when Hollywood attempted to make the movie into a television series back in 1990 ... but we will always have the classic film.

Juno MacGuff from Juno

On paper, a pregnant teenager could have been a total cliché, but in 2007's "Juno," Juno MacGuff is not your basic teen mom stereotype. She is incredibly strong-minded but also in touch with her feelings in a way that most teens are not. A wisecracking spitfire, her brand of sarcasm and snark lights the movie on fire as well. It's no surprise that Elliot Page was Oscar-nominated for the role of Juno, because there's never been a character like her.

"Juno" was a smash hit, which is not surprising, because writer Diablo Cody gave the character a voice that resonated with young audiences. You didn't need to be a pregnant teen yourself to identify with Juno's heartbreak at finding out that her baby's soon-to-be adoptive father (Jason Bateman) is a creep, or to understand her complex feelings for the baby's biological dad Paulie (Michael Cera). Her orange-striped shirt was used for many a Halloween costume in the late-aughts (and still today), but it's her sardonic wit that makes people want to dress like her in the first place.

Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything...

You would be hard-pressed to find a teen movie or romantic comedy montage that doesn't feature "Say Anything..." sweetheart Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holding his famous boombox outside ex-girlfriend Diane's window. (The boombox is playing "In Your Eyes," the song that played the first time they had sex.) The scene is imbedded in the cultural landscape and, because of that, so, too, is Lloyd. There's even a band named after him.

Lloyd is a high school senior, and while he's something of an underperformer — especially next to Diane (Ione Skye), the class valedictorian — he's also extremely endearing. He wears a trench coat, has a healthy sense of self-esteem, and seems beyond his years. He's the kind of character that Esquire raves about 25 years after his inception. And while the movie's tagline states, "To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him. Diane Court is about to know Lloyd Dobler," Diane isn't the only one who fell in love — we all did.

Frances 'Baby' Houseman from Dirty Dancing

If you've ever seen "Dirty Dancing" – and, come on, who hasn't? — you know that Frances Houseman, or "Baby" as she's known to most, is the heart of the movie. The climactic dance at the end of the film is wonderful, but it's the smaller moments where Baby (Jennifer Grey) really wins the audience over. Who can forget Baby carrying the watermelon or cracking up when her dance partner Johnny (Patrick Swayze) grazes her armpit in rehearsals?

Perhaps the reason the character is so great is because many of us can identify with that feeling of being boxed in by others' expectations. As sheltered, spoiled Baby blossoms into a grown-up Frances — finding romance with Johnny and interacting with those outside of her upper-crust circle for the first time — we're with her for the ride. Throughout the movie, Baby finds her confidence, sultriness, and sensuality — showing us that, truly, "Nobody puts baby in the corner."

Sidney Prescott from the Scream franchise

From "Scream" to "Scream 4," all of the franchise's films were successes, and it would be easy to give all the credit to the infamous Ghostface killer, but lead character Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) deserves her fair share of credit as well. Not only has she outrun and outsmarted numerous killers, but she's consistently proved that she won't be mentally broken by the twisted people around her — most of whom turn out to be friends, boyfriends, or family members.

Beginning with 1996's "Scream," when she is targeted by her boyfriend and his friend, Sidney has not been allowed to live a typical life — and yet, she has somehow persevered. While she starts off somewhat shy and reserved, by "Scream 4," she has become a badass self-help writer. Campbell is set to reprise the role in "Scream 5," and we're excited to once again see Sidney kick some butt on the big screen: Let's not forget that Sidney herself has killed a fair number of people, proving that she is no damsel in distress.

Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High

As far as movie stoners go, surfer dude Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" sets the mold. Future potheads like Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer) in "Clueless" and Ron Slater (Rory Cochrane) in "Dazed and Confused" have Spicoli to thank for making it cool to be a burnout in teen movies. His relaxed vibe and rebellious nature are as memorable a part of "Fast Times" as his glorious blonde locks.

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" came out in 1982, and people still talk about Spicoli today. A lot of the credit belongs to Sean Penn, who, according to the filmmakers' commentary track, improvised many of the scenes where he clashed with history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). And of course we must credit writer Cameron Crowe, who based the screenplay on a book he wrote, which itself was based upon his real-life experiences. Spicoli wasn't just a stoner — he actually taught us something: namely, that "People on 'ludes should not drive."

Simon Spier from Love, Simon

"Love, Simon" was not the first film to focus on a gay teenage character, but as the first distributed by a big Hollywood studio, it made quite the cultural impact. For once, sexual minority teenagers were able to see a character like them take center stage in a teen movie, navigating the coming out process in a relatable way. As Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) explores his queer identity, his grace and humor keep us invested in his story at all times. The character of Simon Spier originated in a book entitled "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda," written by young adult novelist Becky Albertalli, on which the film version is based. 

By the time Simon starts the coming out process, it's well-established that he's a good, wholesome guy. He's the kind of character you want to befriend, regardless of your own sexual or gender identity, and the kind of character you root for. We want him to track down "Blue," the other closeted student he covertly begins communicating with online. And we want him to find acceptance, not just from others, but from within. For most of the history of teen stories in mainstream movies, heterosexual romance has taken center stage. Simon Spier allowed a generation of kids to see that love = love.

Carrie White from Carrie

"They are all going to laugh at you," warns Carrie White's mother in the 1976 classic horror flick "Carrie," based upon the Stephen King novel of the same name. And, yup, they do laugh at Carrie — and also humiliate her by dropping pig's blood on her at the prom — but it's Carrie who gets the last laugh. Played by Sissy Spacek in the original film (there have since been multiple other productions featuring the character), Carrie is a character audiences can't help but cheer on as she uses her supernatural powers to seek revenge on her enemies.

Carrie comes from an overly sheltered upbringing at the hands of an overprotective, hyper-religious mother (Piper Laurie). When, because of how naïve she is, she doesn't know what is happening after getting her period in the school showers, she's brutally mocked by her classmates. So, yeah, viewers don't really blame her when she goes haywire and uses her powers to take down her bullies (and everyone else at prom) –- or even when she uses them on her critical, evil mother.

Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice

The age of Michael Keaton's Betelgeuse (pronounced like the film's title, "Beetlejuice") is never fully established in the 1988 Tim Burton movie, but Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) is very much a teenage character. Ryder was only 16 herself when she stepped into moody Lydia's black shoes — maybe that's why she was so wonderfully able to capture her teenage angst and mocking humor. We know what happens when you say "Beetlejuice" three times in a row (he appears), but what happens if we shout for Lydia three times instead?

With her jet-black hair and gothic wardrobe, Lydia doesn't look like many other girls in the teenage movies of her day — and she doesn't resemble many that have followed since (movies like "The Craft" notwithstanding). Unlike her appearance, however, Lydia's personality boasts many traits with which teens of all eras can identify. Lydia is irritable, brooding, and introspective. She is wise beyond her years — partially because of parental neglect and partially because she's just a sensitive, old soul. She writes poetry. She takes photos. She makes friends with ghosts. Lydia is the poster child for outsiders and weirdos, and we love her because she knows it. "I, myself, am strange and unusual," she famously asserts.

Jim Levenstein from the American Pie franchise

Name a funnier, more shocking, and more memorable teen movie character moment than Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) "making love" to an apple pie in the first "American Pie" film — we'll wait. The ultimate dorky movie virgin, Jim has only one goal in the first film: have sex before graduation. This sex-focus persists somewhat in the other films, though the character is also able to branch out, fall in love, and find other ways to embarrass himself, like getting caught pantless in a kitchen and hiding his privates behind a see-through pan. It would be really easy to laugh at Jim, but his ability to self-mock allows us to laugh with him instead. Audiences love to see Jim get into crazy, awkward scenarios — his sex talks with his father (played by Eugene Levy) are highlights — but they also want to see Jim succeed.

Jim isn't the cool guy in the group, but he is the one with the best sense of humor (by far), who displays the most accurate self-perception, and who has the most growth. The scene in which he broadcasts Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) nude on webcam in the original "American Pie" was despicable and would probably be met with a lot more scrutiny if the film were released today. That said, though Jim may be a sleazy, sex-crazed teenager — like so many other boys in teen movies — he has numerous redeeming qualities and tops the list for characters of his ilk.

Tracy Flick from Election

Look, it's not just us who think that Tracy Flick — expertly played by Reese Witherspoon in 1999's "Election" – is a pop culture icon. Think pieces on the character have appeared in numerous highbrow, esteemed publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair and New York Magazine. In "Election," the straight-A overachiever is set on becoming student body president. The biggest obstacle is cranky teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who has it out for Tracy and will stop at nothing to see her lose. The character was first developed in Tom Perrota's 1998 novel, also called "Election," but Witherspoon blew the role completely out of the water.

Tracy Flick's ambition is virtually unrivaled by any other teen character, especially female ones from the 1990s. At the time, we'd never seen such a determined, cutthroat young woman on screen. Elisabeth Donnelly wrote in a 2019 Vanity Fair piece that, "In some crowds, the term 'Tracy Flick' has become a pejorative term for a woman who is just too much — too accomplished, too hardworking, too ambitious." While this is true — and speaks to how we see ambitious women in our culture compared to determined men — Tracy wasn't displeasing to everyone. "The movie is not mean-spirited about any of its characters," wrote critic Roger Ebert. "I kind of liked Tracy Flick some of the time, and even felt a little sorry for her." But there's no need to feel sorry for Tracy Flick because, in the end, she wins.

Ren McCormack from Footloose

You know a movie character is special when people remember them nearly four decades after they first graced the screen. That's the case with Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), the teen at the center of 1984's "Footloose." When Ren moves from Chicago to small-town Bomont with his mother, he must deal with the uber-conservative town's ban on dancing and rock music. And deal with it he does, turning the town upside down in the process.

Bacon was actually in his mid-20s when he filmed "Footloose," but that didn't stop him from fully inhabiting this teen role. While there's a lot of content in "Footloose" that younger teens might not have picked up on – especially back in the '80s, before social media — they certainly picked up on Ren's cool, rebellious vibes. The character was revived for a 2011 remake (in the remake, Ren is from Boston), and actor Kenny Wormald recaptured the magic once again.

Regina George from Mean Girls

Regina George is the ultimate teen villain, and no list would be complete without the character who puts the "mean" in "Mean Girls." With or without her army of "Plastics" in tow, Regina is utterly terrifying in the way only a true queen bee can be. Whether she's asking Cady (Lindsay Lohan) if she thinks she's pretty, telling Karen (Amanda Seyfried) she's stupid, or assuring Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) that her catchphrase "fetch" is never going to happen, Regina's manipulative, punishing ways are a pleasure for audiences (who are at no risk of ending up in her burn book).

Teen movies work best when the protagonist has a worthy adversary, and while it's satisfying to watch Cady take her down a peg, Regina is such a strong antagonist that she always leaves us wanting more. With insults like "you can go shave your back now," she has some of the best lines in the movie. And even though she seems to have reformed by the end of the film, it's the dark and devious Regina George that we will forever remember.