6 Films That Smell Like Teen Spirit


Remember when your biggest worry in life was how to sneak out of the house when you were grounded? Or how to get into an 18-and-over show to see your favorite band? Ah, those were the days. Whether your adolescence was in the swinging ‘60s, the decadent ‘80s, the era of grunge, or if you’re just coming of age now, you can probably remember or relate to the adrenaline rush that is teenage rebellion. It’s not only one of the most exhilarating times in one’s life, but the formative period provides rich inspiration for poignant and angsty storytelling. We’ve rounded up six titles that spotlight various youth in revolt. If you had band posters plastered all over your bedroom, logged more hours skateboarding than studying, and frequented punk shows over football games, then these stories will take you right back to your teenage years.

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This is the ultimate teen story—because it’s the origin story. There was a time when teenagers didn’t exist, when people transitioned from kids to adults, ready to fight and die for their country. There was no in-between period to learn to understand themselves, explore their desires, or rebel against anything. This documentary traces the shift of American culture around the middle of the 20th century and how it gave rise to the teenager. Without the threat of a forced draft, teens could go on dates, get in trouble, and just be teens. And along with this new demographic came a whole new perspective, one that challenged the status quo. While teens will inevitably grow up, their perspective remains timeless. As the film’s tagline says, “Rebellion never gets old.”

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum, Shia LaBeouf, Rosario Dawson. No, it’s not a blockbuster superhero movie; it’s a gritty coming-of-age drama about 1980s Queens, NY. Based on director Dito Montiel’s memoir, the drama unfolds through flashbacks to the summer of 1986 in Astoria. Though present-day Dito is a successful writer in LA, back in the ‘80s young Dito ran with a rough crowd that was heavily caught up in gang activity, drugs, and murder. The film is at once a vivid snapshot of a very distinct time and place and a transformation story that documents how director Montiel broke out of the cycle of violence he grew up in.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

This one’s for every kid who owns a board or two, or five. Directed by skateboarding icon Stacy Peralta (who also directed “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and wrote “Lords of Dogtown”), “Bones Brigade” documents the skate team of the same name and the members’ awe-inspiring rise. In the 1980s, Peralta put together a ragtag team of scrawny neighborhood kids who each had an undying passion for skateboarding. Their names were Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill, and Tommy Guerrero. As you can guess, these kids went on to become some of the best pro skaters in history. It’s an inspiring documentary that will make you want to pick up your old board again, or for the first time.

Only the Young

They don’t have much, but they have each other. “Only the Young” follows three friends living in a small desert town in Southern California with nothing to do except skate, bike, and just hang out with each other. But the raw emotional depth that each teen reveals is more than enough to hold your attention, and maybe even transport you back in time to your first crush, first love, and first heartbreak. Though the cinematography of the vast desert landscapes is extraordinary, the real beauty of the story is how natural, unforced, and even mundane the interactions are. If you want to see how the average American teen lives, this documentary is as real as it gets.

Dog Pound

When rebellion goes too far, there’s usually a price to pay. For these three teens, that price is a dangerous, testosterone-fueled juvenile detention center that is scantly different from a maximum-security adult prison. Butch, Angel, and Davis, who were friends on the outside, must protect themselves and each other from ruthless antagonists and malicious guards, and endure mentally straining stints in solitary. Amid the incessant violence are hopeful moments of friendship, loyalty, and resilience, but you’ve been warned: this thriller is brutal, unrelenting, and completely absorbing.

The Geneva Convention

It all starts with one kid who wants to fight, and soon the whole crew is hyped up. In this short film, two groups of teens battle over a petty debt between two boys from each side. Some seem bloodthirsty and eager to throw punches, some are just there to spectate, and some desperately try to talk sense into their warring classmates. Viewers come away alarmed by how quickly things can spiral out of control but relieved by how equally quickly a situation can be diffused. You might be left wondering, “Are teenagers really that susceptible to mob mentality or are they actually resistant to it?” Or maybe everything is dictated by their short attention spans.