Teen Romance Movies Too Controversial for Today
Have you ever sat down to watch a teen romance movie you loved years ago, only to realize just how poorly it aged? Perhaps you’re already aware of how problematic it is, but it’s a guilty pleasure you can’t give up. We understand.
Some teen dating classics, love stories that made us cry or laugh loudly, might not be so popular now. They seemed timeless, but these teen romance movies would struggle with all sorts of controversy if released today.
15. A Walk to Remember
Release date: Jan.25, 2002
Director: Adam Shankman
Box-office earnings: $47,494,916
Bottom Line: A Walk to Remember
Did "A Walk to Remember" make us cry the ugliest of ugly tears? Yes, yes, it did. But even as we sniffled, we knew the Nicholas Sparks-based teen romance had a few details that might cause some nitpicking if it were released today as is.
While some might raise eyebrows at trying to pass off an obviously gorgeous Mandy Moore as homely or plain, the bigger concern would no doubt be the message that being a good girl and loving a bully enough will inspire him to change.
This type of love story kind of worked for the early 2000s, but there’s a good chance it would have led to quite the debate across Twitter.
14. 10 Things I Hate About You
Release date: March 31, 1999
Director: Gil Junger
Box-office earnings: $53,478,579
Bottom Line: 10 Things I Hate About You
We couldn't take our eyes off the late Heath Ledger during his still iconic singing performance. And though "10 Things I Hate About You" is often lauded as a more feminist-friendly take on the highly sexist Shakespeare play "Taming of the Shrew," it's hard to ignore just how much gets borrowed from the source material.
Namely, the fact that sisters Kat and Bianca are controlled and manipulated by virtually every guy around them. Definitely not romantic or empowering.
Things work out by the end, but it's hard to ignore how much of the film's problems could have been worked out if Kat and Bianca were treated with respect, and communication was more open and honest.
13. She's All That
Release date: Jan. 29, 1999
Director: Robert Iscove
Box-office earnings: $103,166,989
Bottom Line: She’s All That
In the '90s, it was still perfectly acceptable for the male lead to be an entitled jerk with the full expectation that the female lead would fall for him anyway. This was the case with "jock" Zack and artsy outcast Laney.
Sure, Zack manages to quickly mature and feel some remorse for his behavior by the film’s end. But the initial "bet" setup was admittedly gross, and as the spiritual successor "He’s All That" demonstrates, modern audiences have little patience for entitled, vapid characters who we’re supposed to like.
In fact, they may tune out long before we get to their change of heart.
12. Rebel Without a Cause
Release date: Oct. 27, 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Box-office earnings: $199,963
Bottom Line: Rebel Without a Cause
Forget the 1950s. How many teenage guys want to be James Dean today? Effortlessly cool and yet (tragically) forever young. "Rebel Without a Cause" certainly spoke to the youth of the time, but there are some aspects of the story that might leave today's teens a little put off.
As cute as Jim and Judy's budding teen romance was, Natalie Wood was actually a minor while Dean was very much an adult. Perhaps more disturbing was Judy's father's never-quite-explained reaction to his daughter daring to be something other than a pre-teen.
In a world where Zoomers routinely release makeup tutorials on TikTok, the dad's overreaction to red lipstick would be hard to sell if "Rebel Without a Cause" came out today.
11. Never Been Kissed
Release date: April 9, 1999
Director: Raja Gosnell
Box-office earnings: $84,565,230
Bottom Line: Never Been Kissed
We'll forgive Drew Barrymore's character, Josie, for thinking she could go undercover as a convincing high school student, considering Hollywood's propensity for casting people in their 20s and 30s to play adolescents.
Still, were "Never Been Kissed"released today, we doubt a younger millennial would be able to convincingly pass the sniff test of Gen Z classmates.
Additionally, it's unlikely a movie today that has a student romance with a teacher, even if that student is an adult woman pretending to be young, would avoid some form of backlash and debate across social media.
Release date: June 13, 1978
Director: Randal Kleiser
Box-office earnings: $396,271,103
Bottom Line: Grease
It's hard not to be hopelessly devoted to the 1970s musical classic that is "Grease." But as fun as it is to sing along to "Summer Loving" and "Grease Lightning," the movie's teen dating messages did not age nearly as well as the music.
Both Danny and Sandy were prepared to change who they were as people to be with the person they loved, which might seem admirable until you realize these characters have yet to graduate high school.
When you have your entire life ahead of you, how much sense does it make to completely abandon your identity to be with someone who knows just as little about the world as you do?
The romance in "Grease" didn't age well, but we still love the soundtrack.
9. Teen Witch
Release date: April 28, 1989
Director: Dorian Walker
Box-office earnings: $27,843
Bottom Line: Teen Witch
This 1980s teen musical turned cult classic is mostly inoffensive aside from the predictable teenage stereotypes. Mostly.
But we cannot overlook the fact that the film was so lacking in ethnic diversity it led to one of the most painfully awkward rap/dance battles in movie history.
Don't believe us? We challenge you to watch this scene and not cringe at least once.
8. Say Anything
Release date: April 14, 1989
Director: Cameron Crowe
Box-office earnings: $21,515,196
Bottom Line: Say Anything
Even if you never heard of the 1980s teen romance movie "Say Anything," there's a good chance you've seen the now iconic image of a teenage boy holding up a boombox outside a girl's house.
For as much as some people love the scene where Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" plays, others have since criticized the moment as kind of "stalkerish."
If released today, "Say Anything" might leave modern audiences wondering why the lead character didn't at least do some heartfelt texting instead of just passively blasting music outside someone's home.
7. Save the Last Dance
Release date: Jan. 12, 2001
Director: Thomas Carter
Box-office earnings: $131,706,809
Bottom Line: Save the Last Dance
Released at a time when positive depictions of interracial couples on screen were rare, "Save the Last Dance" tried to push the issue in a way that probably would have gotten the film a lot of criticism if it debuted now.
The movie makes Black struggles and stereotypes the backdrop to a white girl's fish out of water story, including painting Black girls as bitter and jealous because the lead landed a "great black guy," as if there is an inherent shortage of datable Black males in the world. Yikes. All the way around.
Fortunately, if released today, it's likely no one would care about the interracial teen romance at the heart of "Save the Last Dance," and that's a great silver lining.
6. Pretty in Pink
Release date: Feb. 28, 1986
Director: John Hughes
Box-office earnings: $40,479,480
Bottom Line: Pretty in Pink
Long before there was Team Jacob and Team Edward (more on those two later), there was Team Duckie and Team Blane. And if we're being entirely honest, were "Pretty in Pink" a modern teen movie release, we wouldn't be surprised if most of social media rose up to declare themselves #TeamNobody.
Poor Andie. Director John Hughes had Andie running into the arms of low-key stalker Duckie, only to then conveniently reconcile with Blane, who was ultimately too ashamed to openly date her due to her working-class roots.
As beloved as this '80s classic remains, we still wish Andie had a viable third option that didn't send all the wrong messages about teen dating.
5. Romeo + Juliet
Release date: Oct. 27, 1996
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Box-office earnings: $147,554,998
Bottom Line: Romeo + Juliet
A rose by any name may smell as sweet, but Baz Luhrmann's decision to set his film "Romeo + Juliet" in the 20th century created plot holes that would turn into plot sinkholes if he released his reinterpretation of the Shakespeare tragicomedy today.
Instead of putting young Juliet in a temporary coma, many would wonder why the priest didn't just call for an Uber. So many issues raised at a time when airplanes and text messaging didn't exist would make it impossible to sell a truly modern adaptation of the film. Especially one that ends with a pair of teens taking their lives over a romance that was barely a week old.
That said, we will never be over Clare Danes' angelic aesthetic.
4. Sixteen Candles
Release date: May 4, 1984
Director: John Hughes
Box-office earnings: $23,686,027
Bottom Line: Sixteen Candles
"Sixteen Candles" would like us to believe that the greatest tragedy in the film was having your family forget your birthday. But Samantha's teen angst was actually not nearly as painful as the cringe-worthy xenophobic and racist Asian stereotype that was Long Duk Dong. Or the idea of dating a Black person as somehow horrifying.
Even these details pale in comparison to what could be construed to be a nonconsensual encounter between the very intoxicated Caroline and nerd Farmer Ted.
These types of things flew in 1980s Reagan America, but if "Sixteen Candles" was released as is right now, everyone involved in the film would probably end up #canceled across Twitter.
Release date: March 31, 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
Box-office earnings: $1,163,969
Bottom Line: Heathers
There's a lot to love about this dark '80s teen romance comedy, which has since become an easily quotable cult classic. For instance, you could argue that the film's depiction of clout-obsessed youth and "fake wokeness" giving way to ulterior motives and a shallow understanding of the world was somewhat ahead of its time.
But in an America where school shootings and violence are far more common and painful, Veronica's willful participation in murder after murder might make it harder for anyone to stand up for her as a protagonist. Even if she eventually thwarts the psychopathic plans of her twisted boyfriend J.D. when he tries to blow up the school.
While "Heathers" might raise a ton of issues if it dropped today, the Broadway musical version of the film is doing very well.
Release date: Nov. 21, 2008
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Box-office earnings: $408,430,415
Bottom Line: Twilight
Although "Twilight" wrapped up several years ago, the series still is weighed down by more than just terrible writing. There's also the attempt to romanticize stalking, being harmed by guys who "love you too much," self-harm as a way of coping with romantic abandonment, and a grown man imprinting on a newborn baby with the understanding she'll be his love interest in the too near future due to rapid aging.
"Twilight" still has a loyal and loving following, and with such good-looking people giving life to such controversial characters, it's hardly surprising. That said, we can only hope that whenever they inevitably remake and release in this series — aside from having done so with "50 Shades of Grey" — they will perhaps find a way to erase the many teen dating red flags featured throughout this teen romance movie.
1. Endless Love
Release date: July 17, 1981
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Box-office earnings: $32,492,674
Bottom Line: Endless Love
If you're wondering how any film could beat out "Twilight" as the list topper, it is clear you have never seen "Endless Love." Although there's a very good chance you heard the movie's love theme as it became a massive hit.
While the Diana Ross and Lionel Richie duet might have been the height of romance, it's unfortunate that the song is forever linked to a movie where "love" ultimately means obsession, and obsession means burning down your girlfriend's home so her family likes you.
Tying blatantly dangerous and upsetting behavior to the idea of love just wouldn't work with a modern movie release of "Endless Love," although to be fair, it shouldn't have worked in the '70s either. The novel was far less ambiguous about how deranged the situation was.
Conclusion: Not All Teen Romance Movies Age Well
At the rate public opinion is changing and social dialogue evolves, even movies released several years ago could become problematic in retrospect. And while no one wants to wake up to a film they loved growing up getting "cancelled," there is a positive side to all of this.
Ultimately, it means our society a move in a more progressive direction, one where sexism isn't the norm, nobody is surprised by interracial dating and teenagers are encouraged to see themselves and their peers as whole human beings worthy of love and respect.
The films on our list will definitely not cease to be beloved classics, but it's safe to say we've moved on from them accurately defining teen dating life or romantic expectations.