These selected films explore the teen experience, and that jungle known as high school, with humor and compassion. Many of them feature queer characters and/or queen bees that LGBT viewers love to see get shot down (or emulate). Some of them explore the minefield of gender identity, with teen characters swapping genders. But whether they explicitly deal with LGBT characters, or simply question and challenge the teen world’s cultural status quo, there’s something in each of them that should resonate with queer viewers.
In this candy-colored comedy from director Darren Stein (Jawbreaker), an out gay kid is fought over by the high school queen bees, each of whom wants him as their “gay best friend.” The United States of Tara’s Michael Willett stars with Paul Iacono as his geeky gay buddy, with a fun cameo by Megan Mullally as a much too gay-friendly mom.
Geography Club (2013)
A group of queer kids form a secret after-school club to share their feelings and experiences in this LGBT variation on The Breakfast Club. The film stars Cameron Dean Stewart as a closeted jock, and the cast includes Scott Bakula as his dad, Hairspray’s Nikki Blonsky, and Glee’s Alex Newell.
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Joyce Hyser stars as an aspiring teen journalist who goes undercover as a boy at a rival high school to win a summer internship at a local newspaper. Gender-bending romantic tension, an R-rated reveal, and various high jinks ensue.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Natasha Lyonne plays an all-American cheerleader whose parents send her to a gay “rehab camp” when they suspect she’s a lesbian. The strong cast includes Michelle Williams, Melanie Lynsky, Clea Duvall, and an out-of-drag RuPaul.
Struck by Lightning (2012)
Glee’s Chris Colfer wrote and stars in this film about an ambitious teen who challenges the high school status quo by blackmailing his classmates into contributing to his literary magazine. The cast includes Pitch Perfect's Rebel Wilson, Allison Janney, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, and Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland.
She’s the Man (2006)
Amanda Bynes and a very young Channing Tatum are both delightful in this update of Shakespeare’s classic sex farce Twelfth Night. This tale of a girl posing as her twin brother to attend an elite boarding school remains faithful to the Bard’s gender-bending play as it hits all the time-honored high school comedy notes.
The Curiosity of Chance (2006)
Tad Hilgenbrink stars as an out-of-the-closet gay teen who earns the support of an eclectic group of friends while contending with a homophobic bully at an international high school.
It’s a Boy Girl Thing (2006)
Samaire Armstrong (of TV’s Resurrection and The O.C.) and Kevin Zegers (Gossip Girl and Transamerica) play sworn rivals who magically find themselves living in each other’s body in this gender-bending comic fantasy.
As gay filmmaker John Waters once told this journalist, “The musical version of Hairspray was really my most subversive work. It tricked families into embracing two men singing a love song to each other, and believing that it’s a great thing for your daughter to fall in love with a black guy.” Nikki Blonsky plays the chubby teen who strikes dual blows for big girl power and racial equality in 1960s Baltimore.
Skip the 2009 remake and see the gritty original from director Alan Parker (Evita) about talented teens coming of age at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts. Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Barry Miller, and Maureen Teefy star along with Paul McCrane as a sensitive gay actor. The film earned Oscars for original score and for its infectious title song.
Alicia Silverstone stars in this clever update of Jane Austen’s Emma that informed every ditz-girl comedy that followed, including Legally Blonde and Mean Girls. Justin Walker plays the adorable boy she sets her sights on — without realizing that he’s gay.
Jena Malone stars as a teenager who finds herself pregnant by her gay boyfriend and is then ostracized and demonized at her Christian high school. The wicked satire features Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Fugit, and out actress Heather Matarazzo as it skewers fundamentalist Christian hypocrisy.
The Adventures of Sebastian Cole (1998)
A pre-Entourage Adrian Grenier plays a high school student who must contend with the typical teenage challenges — as well as his recently transitioned transgender father, played by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Clark Gregg.
Lost and Delirious (2001)
In this sexual coming of age drama, The O.C.’s Mischa Barton plays a shy freshman at a posh boarding school who discovers that her roommates — Piper Perabo (of TV’s Covert Affairs) and Jessica Pare (Mad Men) — are lovers.
Winona Ryder and Christian Slater star in this dark comedy cult classic as teenagers who plot to kill the high school’s evil queen bees (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker), all of whom happen to be named Heather. Ryder and Slater's characters off two football players and then trick everyone into thinking they were gay lovers — leading to the infamous line "I love my dead gay son!"
Mean Girls (2004)
Tina Fey wrote this tale of an innocent teen (Lindsay Lohan) grappling with her high school’s reigning mean girls (Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried). Looking’s Daniel Franzese plays her gay buddy, Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) is her allegedly lesbian pal, and out gay actor Jonathan Bennett plays the hunky object of her affection.
Easy A (2010)
Emma Stone shot to stardom as a teenage virgin who tries to increase her social standing by pretending to have sex with her bullied gay friend (Dan Byrd). Rumors of her fictitious promiscuity spin out of control in this sly nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter.
With no gay characters or storylines, this is one of the most queer-friendly, socially subversive teen movies of all. Two siblings (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are magically transported into the black-and-white world of a 1950s sitcom, where they challenge and transform the sexually puritanical community into living, breathing life — and color. William H. Macy and Joan Allen are outstanding as their sitcom parents in this modern masterpiece.
Get Real (1998)
Ben Silverstone and Brad Gorton star as two British schoolboys discovering love in this tough but tender romantic coming-of-age story.
The Way He Looks (2014)
This sweetly naturalistic Brazilian film about a blind teenager yearning for independence, his best girl buddy, and the new boy in town who changes their lives is a subtle, charming, and totally winning tale of first love.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson, Noah) proves to be the best young actor of his generation as a troubled freshman who blossoms under the friendship of two seniors. The glorious Emma Watson plays the object of his affection and Ezra Miller is outstanding as his edgy gay friend in what may be the most evocative coming-of-age film ever made.