There’s nothing quite like young love. The teenage romance has been a genre staple ranging from musicals (“Grease”) to supernatural dramas (“Twilight” saga). First loves contain seismic emotions as teenagers discover how to navigate love for the first time. This lends itself well to both melodrama and comedy in equal measures.
This week sees the release of “Five Feet Apart,” a member of the teen romance weepie that has produced hits like “The Fault in their Stars.” The film stars Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson as two teens with cystic fibrosis, which prevents them from being closer than six feet from each other. As romance blossoms between them, they decide to take a foot back, hence the title.
In honor of the film, let’s take a look at ten of the best teen romances of all time.
There’s a lot about “Grease” that doesn’t age well. There are some cringe-worthy lyrics (hello “Summer Nights”). The essential message that one needs to change themselves for a man really doesn’t work today. Still, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are the most iconic portrait of a teen romance, even though both look like they’re approaching 30. The nostalgia-laden musical gets stuck in one’s head, no matter what. Who doesn’t sing “You’re the One That I Want” or “Greased Lightning” in the shower the next day? Still not convinced the movie belongs here? Then watch “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and convince yourself the movie is a love story between Stockard Channing and her blonde wig.
9“Pretty in Pink” (1986)
Let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, Andie (Molly Ringwald) should have picked Duckie (Jon Cryer). Though Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy) was more of a dreamboat, he was a shallow one at that. The movie drops lower on the list for that. However, “Pretty in Pink” remains a classic due to Ringwald’s powerful leading performance. Andie’s first love is fashion. The real love story is between her and that amazing pink prom dress at the end of the film. That alone makes “Pretty in Pink” worthy of this list.
8“To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018)
One of the hardest things to do in high school is to put oneself out there. Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) particularly struggles with this, opting to write love letters she never sends about each of her crushes. This wallflowers profile goes way up once her sister finally sends these letters to their intended recipients, one of which is the ex of her sister, Margot. To play this off, Lara Jean pretends to date one of her past crushes, Jake (Noah Centineo), who is trying to make his ex jealous. The two develop incredibly sweet chemistry that can’t be denied. Netflix’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” is an incredibly charming and sweet high school romance that’s anchored by Condor and Centineo’s winning performances. We can’t wait for more installments to come.
7“Your Name” (2016)
“Your Name” combines many genres – teen romance, body switch comedy, disaster flick – and manages to stick the landing on all fronts. The film follows a rural high school girl, Mitsuha (Stephanie Sheh), and city high school boy, Taki (Michael Sinterniklaas), who switch bodies. As they start to piece together why they switched bodies, a romantic connection develops between them. This only gets further complicated when they learn Mitsuha’s town is in grave danger. The stakes of the romance grow with the stakes of the film. This leads to an emotionally affecting climax that pays off all the emotions generated throughout the film.
6“The Princess Diaries” (2001)
Director Gary Marshall sure knows how to spotlight a movie star. The “Pretty Woman” director catapulted Julia Roberts to the top of the A-list in 1990. With “The Princess Diaries,” Marshall casts an unknown Anne Hathaway as a gawky high schooler who finds out she’s the Princess of Genovia. Hathaway possesses the same star quality here that has served her well so far throughout her career. The best moments of the movie involve Hathaway bouncing off the great Julie Andrews as her polished Grandmother. However, her romance with Michael (Robert Schwartzman), her best friend’s older brother, proves that even as Mia ascends the throne, her heart will always stay true to who she is. The romance charms with the warmth, magic, and sincerity of a perfect high school movie.
5“10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)
Adapting Shakespeare can be a big undertaking (just as Kenneth Branagh). However, turning “The Taming of the Shrew” into a high school rom-com was a stroke of genius. “10 Things I Hate About You” encapsulates a 90s high school while still remaining true to the spirit of the Bard. The plot gets fired up when new guy Cameron (an adorable young Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to date Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik). However, he can only do so if her older sister, Kat (Julia Stiles) finds a boyfriend of her own. Cameron approaches bad-boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to see if he can be the one to break through to the tempestuous Kat. Ledger and Stiles make the movie with their acidic chemistry. Ledger proves early on he would be a true movie star. He seals the deal as he serenades Kat with a rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”
4“Love Simon” (2018)
It’s remarkable that it took until 2018 for us to get our first high school gay rom-com. However, the first through the door, “Love, Simon,” is a really great one. Simon (Nick Robinson) struggles with his sexuality, opting to remain in the closet to not upset the status quo of his life. However, when a fellow student, Blue, on an anonymous message board confesses they’re struggling with coming out, Simon strikes up a friendship that turns into a crush. Simon searches for Blue, culminating in a swoon-worthy meet-up on a carnival Ferris Wheel. Consider yourself outdone, “The Notebook.” “Love, Simon” means a lot as a starting place for queer representation outside of tragic storylines. Watching two men come into their truth and find love at such a young age sends a tremendous message of hope.
3“Say Anything” (1989)
The image of Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) standing outside Diane Court’s (Ione Skye) house with a boombox blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is iconic for a reason. “Say Anything…” celebrates the rejection of reason in favor of the heart. Dobler and Court have graduated from the same high school but had completely different high school experiences. Dobler was a charismatic underachiever, while Diane graduated Valedictorian with a fellowship in England waiting for her after the summer. The two begin a romance no one thinks can last. Both actors are perfectly matched. In addition, Ione Skye creates a unique, lived in relationship with John Mahoney, who plays her protective Father who is under investigation by the IRS. The final moments suggest a calm future amidst the bumpy road the couple has had. Everything is going to okay, you just have to wait for the beep.
2“Dirty Dancing” (1987)
Who didn’t dream of a summer romance? Baby (Jennifer Grey) travels with her family for a summer-long vacation at Kellerman’s resort. It’s here she develops a friendship with the staff and finds that dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) needs a replacement partner for an upcoming dance contest. Johnny agrees to train Baby for the competition. However, their work relationship soon turns to romance. Jennifer Grey gives an incredible performance as Baby, a girl coming into herself as a woman. She wrestles not only with her attraction to Johnny but also whether to do the right thing when Penny procures an abortion. Meanwhile, Patrick Swayze shows what it’s like to be a sensitive and emotional man, on top of a great coach. It’s hard not to have “the time of your life” watching “Dirty Dancing.” The ending truly makes one soar like Baby mastering the climactic lift.
When you think about it, is it weird that Cher (Alicia Silverstone) falls for her ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd)? Yes, but its a testament to director Amy Heckerling’s masterpiece “Clueless” that one root for the relationship by the end. Silverstone’s Cher stands as perhaps the best teen protagonist. Her label obsessed Beverly Hills denizen fancies herself a matchmaker around her school. She sets teachers up with each other – Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Ms. Geist (Twink Caplan) forever – and takes in new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) under her wing almost immediately. However, the “those who can’t do, teach” adage readily applies to Cher, who can’t sustain a relationship herself but feels qualified to advise everyone around her.
Cher spars with her ex-stepbrother Josh throughout, him being a seemingly woke college student with law school aspirations. He finds her concerns trivial and superficial, while she thinks of him as pompous and no fun. Yet, as the two spend more time with each other, they see the kind, giving heart they both possess. The movie is less about finding Cher a perfect match, but about her discovering the good in herself the same way she sees the good in others. Cher brings out the best in Josh, which is why their relationship works. By the end, it’s a great joy to see them together with their matched friends at Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist’s wedding. Love truly wins.