Movies about youth & rebellion: The 50 best youth-gone-wild films

Piss off your parents with our countdown of the most ferociously fun movies about youth and rebellion.

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  • Even the most helicoptering Brentwood parent will admit that some children, adorable though they are, must simply be born bad. Not their children, of course. But these other barbaric youngsters—rebellious, foul-mouthed, sometimes just pure evil—always make it to movie screens, from James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause to the NYC hellspawn of Kids (and all manner of demonically possessed tykes in between). Time Out has collected the most shocking of these movies about youth and rebellion and ranked them in a countdown of atrocious behavior. Our only parameter: They must be teens and younger, not twentysomethings. Thankfully for all audiences, these wayward children make the rest of us look good.

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  • 50. Footloose (1984)

    We’ve got plenty of irresponsibility in store, but let’s begin our list with the gentle, denim-clad rebellion of kicking off your Sunday shoes and dancing to Kenny Loggins. Religious elders are infuriated by all the rock & roll strutting, but everybody comes several degrees closer to Kevin Bacon by film’s end.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 49. The Hunger Games (2012)

    As winning as Jennifer Lawrence is with that bow and arrow, remember that this movie is about kids fighting a gladiatorial battle to the death. Stabbings, slicings and cliquish pack hunting are the activities of a futuristic breed of youth, so desperate for survival that common mercy falls by the wayside.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 48. Rumble Fish (1983)

    Francis Ford Coppola’s dreamy b&w teen drama centers on a pair of delinquent brothers (Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke) for whom knife fights and motorcycle riding are the norm. Makes perfect sense, considering their dad is played by easy rider Dennis Hopper.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 47. The Ring (2002)

    The 1998 Japanese original triggered a wave of evil-technology movies—this was the one about a haunted videocassette that kills you. When Hollywood got around to its unusually excellent remake, the true villain was in our face: ropy-haired Samara (Daveigh Chase), an abused child drowned in a well, intent on ghostly revenge.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 46. Dead End (1937)

    The famous fictional gang the Dead End Kids had their first outing in a 1934 stage play, but it was William Wyler’s film version that turned them into the standard-bearers for screen delinquents, whatever names they’d go by over the years (the Bowery Boys, the Little Tough Guys).—David Fear

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  • 45. Pretty Poison (1968)

    Given his onscreen past, you’d be forgiven for thinking Anthony Perkins’s mental-institution parolee was this comic thriller’s psycho protagonist. But the real crazy turns out to be Tuesday Weld’s beaming high-schooler, who manipulates her fragile new friend to achieve shockingly murderous goals.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 44. Cruel Story of Youth (1960)

    Nagisa Oshima referred to his second feature as a story about teens “as the victims of contradictions” in postwar Japan. The more the film’s young-punk lovers rob and extort the local middle-aged men, the stronger the film’s conceit that criminal behavior is a flipped bird to society.—David Fear

  • 43. The Good Son (1993)

    Macaulay Culkin’s head-conking Home Alone antics were just a warm-up: In this memorably vicious boy-gone-bad thriller, America’s favorite child star goes full lunatic, growling at an attack dog, nonchalantly causing a freeway pileup and making life hell for future Frodo Elijah Wood.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 42. Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

    Not content to simply belch out a typical Warner Bros. social drama, William A. Wellman went the extra mile with this landmark tale of Depression kids who take up the hobo life—and didn’t flinch from showing these tough youngsters losing limbs, stealing food, and mixing it up with railroad cops and everyday citizens.—David Fear

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  • 41. Benny’s Video (1992)

    Long before Michael Haneke concocted the ultimate naughty-little-fascists tale, The White Ribbon (2009), the Austrian filmmaker made this movie about a 14-year-old who murders another kid—and films the whole thing for posterity. Haneke’s clinical take on how media desensitization creates underage monsters makes this torn-from-the-headlines drama that much more disturbing.—David Fear

  • 40. High School Confidential! (1958)

    New-kid-in-class Russ Tamblyn has been on campus for only a few days, yet he’s already taken over the school’s greaser gang and hooked up with the local dope pushers. A hyperventilating cautionary tale, this exploitation classic imagines a student body beset by the evils of “Mary Jane,” rock & roll and beatnik poetry slams.—David Fear

  • 39. Kick-Ass (2010)

    Most superheroes have a tinge of arrested development to them, with their tights and jumping around and stuff. But this comics-based action movie makes that connection uncomfortably explicit with the character of Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), a foulmouthed 11-year-old who gleefully wastes henchmen with the best of them.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 38. Boyz n the Hood (1991)

    John Singleton’s feature debut dives headfirst into South Central L.A.’s ghetto culture, as best friends Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr. are tempted by the neighborhood’s seedier aspects. Drug deals and drive-bys are the norm—and once one of them goes down the wrong path, you find out how truly unforgiving the streets are.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 37. Poison Ivy (1992)

    Beloved by trash connoisseurs, this late-night-cable perennial (actually a Sundance competition film when it debuted) stars Drew Barrymore, still in her little-girl-lost phase, as a scheming teen who insinuates herself in a well-to-do family. First, Ivy befriends the dowdy daughter, then seduces dad Tom Skerritt with foot-to-crotch forwardness.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 36. Margaret (2011)

    Already going through the usual adolescent trials, Upper West Side teenager Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) becomes even more screechily self-righteous after witnessing a horrifying bus accident for which she may bear some responsibility. This emotional drama from Kenneth Lonergan is a sharp-eyed portrait of a juvenile convinced that her bad behavior is the only way to make things right.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 35. Christiane F. (1981)

    What’s a dour West Berlin 12-year-old to do, in all her fashionable ennui, but start going to nightclubs, become a raging heroin addict and fall into the sex trade? A cult movie of frightening honesty (and with a David Bowie cameo, playing himself), this drama pays unflinching attention to the paraphernalia of needles, scarring and bodily waste.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 34. Foxes (1980)

    Girls just wanna have fun—which, according to Adrian Lyne’s coming-of-age time capsule, means lots of drinking, drugs, casual sex and hanging out with skateboarding vandals. Thanks to the cast (including Jodie Foster, Runaways singer Cherie Currie and Scott Baio), there’s a sense of camaraderie that makes all the late-’70s bad behavior a bit more palatable.—David Fear

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  • 33. West Side Story (1961)

    Rival teenage street gangs go head-to-head in Manhattan, hurling insults, slashing switchblades, and…singing songs! This epic film version of the massively influential Broadway musical meshes dance and destruction with heartrending mastery.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 32. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)

    Rarely do punk movies get it as right as this snarling, spiteful satire, written by an Oscar-winning screenwriter (Coming Home’s Nancy Dowd) and injected with real rock attitude. Holding central court like a female Johnny Rotten, skunk-mopped Diane Lane “never puts out,” but does steal songs, attacking with her nails bared.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 31. Reefer Madness (1936)

    This ridiculously campy antidrug movie has now become a stoner-cinema classic (you can practically hear the toked-up giggling after every line), largely due to the idea that the devil’s weed will turn good kids into hellions. Watch as clean-cut students take a single puff and instantly turn into rapists with a penchant for cavorting with sleazeballs and [Gasp] spastically dancing to jazz!—David Fear

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  • 30. Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

    If our countdown teaches you anything, please let it be that even the most innocent among us can’t be trusted. A low-budget thriller from Spain, this unforgettable bit of nonsense has a vacationing Brit and his pregnant wife chased by an island full of sullen, vicious children. The rest of the adults are mysteriously gone.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 29. Lolita (1962)

    A nymphet (Sue Lyon) seduces a stuffy old college professor (James Mason), with ruinous results, in Stanley Kubrick’s blackly humorous adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s incendiary novel. Not even vulgarian mom Shelley Winters is safe from this wily, gum-snapping adolescent’s destructive tendencies.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 28. Pixote (1981)

    Hector Babenco’s drama about a ten-year-old favela criminal is one unsparing character study: This baby-faced boy who becomes a pimp, pusher and killer represents every Brazilian slum kid hardened by street life. Tragically, lead actor Fernando Ramos da Silva would be gunned down by the police at age 19.—David Fear

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  • 27. The Omen (1976)

    Every child has a bit of the devil in him, but Damien (Harvey Stephens), the grave young protagonist of this deliciously sanguine horror film, has more than most. Accordingly, the people around him drop like flies, whether by hanging, impaling or, most memorably, decapitation by glass.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 26. The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

    Anyone unfamiliar with L.A.’s hardcore punk scene should take a look at Penelope Spheeris’s definitive documentary: As crowds of underage concertgoers violently riot to Black Flag, X and Fear, you understand the moment when out-of-control adolescent anger found its ideal soundtrack.—David Fear

  • 25. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

    Anchored by the frayed memories of a guilt-ridden mother (showstopping Tilda Swinton), this suburban tragedy chronicles the growing willfulness of a dark-haired boy, who matures from messy preteen intractability into an intense high-school predator. Some kids shouldn’t be trusted with archery.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 24. The Outsiders (1983)

    It’s a blissful life of posturing machismo and constant rumbles for the Greasers, Oklahoman delinquents who run wild in Francis Ford Coppola’s visually bold adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s teen-lit classic. An accidental stabbing brings a hard dose of reality to the punkish fun and games.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 23. Wild in the Streets (1968)

    With hippie mistrust of the over-30 crowd blooming, this timely comic satire threw the generation gap into nightmarish relief, as young rock star Max Frost (Christopher Jones) instigates a national movement to lower the voting age to 14. Successfully elected President, he sends the “elderly” to camps and doses the water supply with LSD.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 22. Lord of the Flies (1963)

    Director Peter Brook doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to adapting William Golding’s novel of class-conscious ruthlessness. Stranded on an island, British schoolboys replicate the social hierarchy they knew back home; soon, a primal pecking order starts to weed out the weaklings, and the movie’s Darwinian metaphor reaches its logical, shockingly brutal conclusion.—David Fear

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  • 21. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

    Just for its iconic image of the Ramones cruising down a locker-lined hallway, as blissed-out P.J. Soles pogos in front of them, this must be the most euphorically irresponsible youth movie Roger Corman ever signed his name to (which is saying a lot). Overrun by students, Vince Lombardi High School is ultimately demolished.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 20. Carrie (1976)

    She’s shy, an easy target for bullies and secretly psychic. But high-school pariah Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) can be pushed only so far before she telekinetically throws her peers’ cruelty back at them. Brian De Palma’s lurid horror film appeals to all those vengeful adolescent feelings we’re taught to keep in check.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 19. Battle Royale (2000)

    Kinji Fukasaku’s gloriously gory action film takes the concept of academic competitiveness to another level: Students must participate in a government-sponsored game that requires them to kill their fellow pupils or go home in a body bag. Not surprisingly, the sight of uniformed kid-on-kid violence earned the film both angry op-ed pieces and pop-cult status in its home country.—David Fear

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  • 18. The Blackboard Jungle (1955)

    The rise of juvenile delinquency was a hot topic in the ’50s, and this story about a teacher facing down a multiracial gang of troubled, knife-wielding kids (including Vic Morrow, Sidney Poitier and…Jamie Farr?) was the first to cash in on the trend. Throw in some rock music and voilà: A genre was born.—David Fear

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  • 17. River’s Edge (1986)

    “He had his reasons,” spits a pissed-off Crispin Glover in this bruised teen film, about a clique that combusts when one member brags about killing a girl in the woods. (They go out and confirm his story.) Many of these movies show the immoral side of minors; this one ranks highly for vividly depicting peer pressure.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 16. Less than Zero (1987)

    Los Angeles is hardly a city of angels in this loose adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s exposé about decadent, drug-addicted youth. Robert Downey Jr. is particularly scintillating as a down-and-out junkie whose high cost of living takes him down some very dark paths.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 15. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

    A staggering film from a director who would go on to bigger (though arguably not better) things, Peter Jackson’s drama takes its cue from the real-life story of two New Zealand teens who killed one of their mothers. As played by up-and-comers Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet, the girls are maniacally in love and lost in fantasy.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 14. The Bad Seed (1956)

    Eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is the most adorable pigtailed moppet in her small town. But this teacher’s pet turns out to have more than a few malicious desires (quite a coincidence that her schoolyard rival was found facedown in a lake), and no one—child or adult—is safe. This cheeky thriller helped pave the way for almost every psycho-kid movie to follow.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 13. Heathers (1988)

    Generation X was perfectly pegged in this vicious comedy about two outsiders, a Nicholsonian loner (Christian Slater) and an appeaser (Winona Ryder), who wage war on the cool kids via poisonous drain cleaner, slander and bullets. The final sequence, staged around a bomb plot at a pep rally, is still disturbing.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 12. The Four Hundred Blows (1959)

    François Truffaut’s influential, semiautobiographical debut feature introduced the world to Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a troubled youth as adept at stealing and swearing as he is at forever antagonizing his adult guardians. (Pawning his father’s typewriter is the final straw—he’s taken to jail for a night.) Few films have captured rugged adolescent experience with such clear-eyed compassion.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 11. Village of the Damned (1960)

    There are creepy blond kids, and then there’s the pale, towheaded army of telepathic mutants that make this British sci-fi classic such an unnerving pleasure. Once these glowing-eyed prepubescents force the town’s elders to purposefully crash their cars and shoot themselves in the head, not even a group time-out can keep them from potential world domination.—David Fear

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  • 10. Elephant (2003)

    Everyone was looking for answers after the 1999 Columbine school shooting. In his moody, mesmerizing take on the event, writer-director Gus Van Sant eschews pat explanations, opting instead for elliptical immersion. The film unfolds from several different vantage points, shifting enigmatically between victims and killers, observers and participants. Well-adjusted kids mingle with the bullied and the bulimic. (Actions as diverse as a casually thrown spitball or an anorexics’ vomiting session are presented with a self-same etherealness that is chilling.) And even after the guns come out, the brutality remains queasily banal. No moralistic judgment is passed on what we see. The true horror comes in reflecting on Van Sant’s Inferno-like depiction of youth at its most vulnerable and volatile.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 9. Over the Edge (1979)

    With the exception of feral, feather-haired Matt Dillon (making his screen debut), the kids in Jonathan Kaplan’s youthsploitation flick don’t start out as bad seeds. They’re just restless suburban adolescents stuck in a planned community, policed by a petty-tyrant cop and treated as pariahs by adults. Of course, these put-upon kids will get pushed past their breaking points and use a PTA meeting to show their persecutors who really runs things. Based on an actual incident in Foster City, California, this story of underage revolt served as a warning to parents: Treat the children well or you’ll pay the price. Kurt Cobain claimed that the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was directly inspired by this movie’s climax, and the act of school vandalism that ends the tale is delivered with a cathartic ferocity that remains shocking.—David Fear

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  • 8. The Exorcist (1973)

    Demonic possession was never more shocking than in this powerhouse, a fear film that turned an innocent 12-year-old girl into a roiling, bed-bound monster. The evil is supernatural, but step away from the original context and William Friedkin’s movie, based on the 1971 best-seller by William Peter Blatty, is even more subversive: an oblique, deeply conservative comment on a younger generation’s unruliness. These kids swear, they disrespect their parents, they vomit all over us, and they abandon law, order and God. Can’t the power of Christ compel them to at least get a haircut? Regan (Linda Blair) is nothing less than the counterculture on trial, and as with all good horror movies, her story speaks to tensions that were already ruffling households worldwide.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 7. If… (1968)

    Burning with rage against authority and championed in a season of radical protest, Lindsay Anderson’s fantasy about violent rebellion at an English public school captures the darkest adolescent instincts in a blaze of gunfire. Our hero, Mick (fresh-faced Malcolm McDowell in his screen debut), submits to the humiliations and blood-drawing canings of upperclassmen and master professors. Punishments are ritualized; indeed, the atmosphere of the movie is so thoroughly depressing that your heart leaps into your throat when Mick escapes campus and steals a motorcycle, absconding with a waitress for a fling. The best is yet to come: In a climactic sequence that may be a daydream, the beaten-down students break out a trove of machine guns and take positions on the roof, mowing down parents, teachers and a visiting general. Don’t call the British a repressed people without seeing this wonderfully misbehaved movie.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 6. Los Olvidados (1950)

    Given carte blanche after directing the popular comedy El Gran Calavera, the great Luis Buñuel turned to the Mexico City slums for his next project. This devastating social-realist tract—spiced throughout with a few imaginative surrealist touches—focuses on a group of young hoodlums who prowl the ghetto with animal determination. They beat up a blind musician, punch an amputee, and the vicious leader of their gang, Jaibo, rules over all with an iron fist. But then Jaibo’s ambivalent right-hand boy, Pedro, rebels, and things go from very bad to much, much worse. The film is unflinching in its presentation of these outcasts’ grim existence, and hypercritical of the surrounding society that would toss them onto the trash heap.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 5. Scum (1979)

    British director Alan Clarke’s gritty look at life inside a U.K. youth detention center courted plenty of controversy for its graphic, nonchalant depictions of violence. No one is innocent—not the boys who engage in bullying and frequent beatdowns, nor the wardens who are often as cruel as the troubled youths they’re supposed to be watching over. A charismatic Ray Winstone memorably portrays the tough-as-nails protagonist who initially wants to keep a low profile, but eventually ascends to the top of the borstal hierarchy by assaulting a fellow inmate. Clarke’s indictment of this corrupt rehabilitative system—with its preponderance of racism, rape and murder—is an eye-opening exposé about the corruptibility of the young.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 4. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

    By the time this tale of disaffected teens was released in October 1955, it had been beaten to the punch by The Blackboard Jungle and James Dean was dead. But it was Nicholas Ray’s movie that posthumously made Dean a star and, more importantly, gave youth defiance its first poster boy. Though it’s full of antisocial acting out, switchblade fights and hot-rod games of chicken, Rebel actually lays the blame at the feet of parental misguidance. These kids are bad because they’re misunderstood by an adult world ill-equipped to meet their needs, and thanks to the sensitive portrayals from Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dean, you could almost believe it’s true. Dean’s insolent pose would launch a thousand moody tough guys; the movie would help kick-start a youth revolution.—David Fear

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  • 3. Kids (1995)

    The behind-the-scenes story is legend: Scripted by a then-18-year-old Harmony Korine, a Washington Square skate rat; directed by observant photographer Larry Clark, keen to make the ultimate teen movie; and sold by distributor Harvey Weinstein, who consciously courted outrage—the movie is an emblem of indie provocation. But unlike many of the films on this list, Kids leaves an especially bitter aftertaste: Its rebellion is self-destructive. No one partied as hard as these untended NYC teens, and, it was implied, no one would suffer as much. With AIDS tearing apart the fabric of the city, these high-schoolers splash blithely in the pool of shared fluids—that is, when they’re not partaking in copious drug use, random acts of violence, homophobic slurs and rape. A normal day in the life? Audiences cringed. But the commitment of all involved (especially debuting actors Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson) was undeniable.—Joshua Rothkopf

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  • 2. Zero for Conduct (1933)

    The French director and artist Jean Vigo was at a low point in his career when a rich businessman agreed to finance his semiautobiographical tale of four rebellious boys at boarding school. What resulted was anarchy in its purest form: This 41-minute wonder feels timeless in its presentation of disobedience, perhaps because it embraces childhood’s quotidian and fanciful aspects with equal fervor. You get as much of a charge out of a boy talking back to his teacher as you do the students’ exhilarating, storm-the-barricades uprising, in which the patronizing adults (who Vigo brilliantly caricatures as stiff-backed, overweight or dwarfish tyrants) are tied up, pelted with sticks and driven into hiding as the children come to power. Though it now seems to occur in some nebulously ideal dreamworld, the film was banned by the French Ministry of the Interior, fearful of the dissidence it might incite. Vigo died of tuberculosis shortly after, but his defiance lived on: François Truffaut cited Zero as a major influence on his own tale of troubled adolescence, The Four Hundred Blows.—Keith Uhlich

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  • 1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

    His name is Alex and his hobbies are rape, home invasions and a bit of the old ultraviolence. Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, about a dystopic Britain overrun with rampaging teens, used extreme behavior to examine freewill. So does Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation—but not before turning Alex into a cinematic icon and stylizing his gang’s criminal activities in the most impossibly exciting, epically irresponsible manner. The result directly influenced the aesthetics of punk and was eventually withdrawn from circulation in the U.K by the director himself. But what makes A Clockwork Orange such an exemplary kids-run-wild film is the way it distills youth culture’s low points—from mods-versus-rockers rumbling to Manson-family terrorizing—into one nightmarish worst-case scenario and then forces you to share in the rush. No other movie has made youthful immorality seem so dangerously wanton, even as it criticized a society that could produce such a scourge. Thanks to a master filmmaker and his charismatic lead, the vicarious thrill of wallowing in Alex’s bad behavior still has the power to awaken the inner droog in all of us—whether we like it or not.—David Fear

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Even the most helicoptering Brentwood parent will admit that some children, adorable though they are, must simply be born bad. Not their children, of course. But these other barbaric youngsters—rebellious, foul-mouthed, sometimes just pure evil—always make it to movie screens, from James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause to the NYC hellspawn of Kids (and all manner of demonically possessed tykes in between). Time Out has collected the most shocking of these movies about youth and rebellion and ranked them in a countdown of atrocious behavior. Our only parameter: They must be teens and younger, not twentysomethings. Thankfully for all audiences, these wayward children make the rest of us look good.

Click the right arrow on the image above to see our 50 best youth-gone-wild films.


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