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The 100 best romantic movies: 16 teen romance films

Re-visit your youth with 16 of the best teen romance movies

By Cath Clarke, Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston and Alim Kheraj
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Given that we've already counted down the 100 best romantic movies of all time, there's one thing we've realised: we love films about teen romance. Whether it's revisiting our own experiences as teenagers (or, in some cases, lack thereof), celebrating the exuberance and drama of first love or just because they're excellent films, we love a romantic teen movie. 

So, whether you're after a modern take on a teenage love affair with ‘Call Me By Your Name’ or something a bit more classic like ‘The Notebook’, we've got all your teen romance needs covered right here. 

RECOMMENDED: The 50 best romantic comedies

best romantic films: teen

Harold and Maude (1971)

Film Comedy

Director: Hal Ashby

Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort

Best quote: 'Oh, Harold, that's wonderful. Go and love some more.'

Defining moment: In a field of daisies overlooking a vast military cemetery, Maude explains her philosophy of life.

Age shall not wither them
The hippy era was full of movies that attempted to confront square society, to shock viewers into some undefined form of action. How many of them are still effective today? But ‘Harold and Maude’, the gentle flipside of the revolutionary dream, is every bit as charming, affecting and surprising as it must have been on its first release. Partly this is because none of its themes have gone out of date: we still live in a world of empty privilege and rigid hierarchy, petty authority and relentless conformism. So the idea of a teenage boy (Cort) shacking up with a batty old woman (Gordon) is still a challenge to social norms. Best of all, ‘Harold and Maude’ is also still devastatingly romantic: a story of soulmates, in the most literal sense. TH 

Buy, rent or watch ‘Harold and Maude’

Badlands (1973)

Film Thrillers

Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek

Best quote: 'Little did I realise that what began in the alleys and backways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.'

Defining moment: Kit sees Holly ‘standin' on her front lawn, just a-twirling her baton’, as Bruce Springsteen put it in the ‘Badlands’-inspired song, ‘Nebraska’. 

There’s a killer on the road
Here’s where the brilliant career of Terrence Malick begins – and even with such epics as ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘The Tree of Life’ on the horizon, many still hold the director’s first film as his most perfect. Loosely based on a real-life Texas crime spree perpetrated by young lovers, the movie features a smouldering Martin Sheen as frustrated greaser Kit, and Sissy Spacek as his teenage girlfriend Holly. Malick swaddles their exploits in a sheen of soft-focus sunsets and the twinkling music of Carl Orff, but the most romantic element of ‘Badlands’ is Spacek’s narration. It’s the naïve and often heartbreaking account of a lonely girl getting a taste of adulthood, sex and the rush of being bad (and in love). She’s wised up by film’s end, yet for most of the journey, we’re seduced alongside her. JR

Buy, rent or watch ‘Badlands’

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Film Drama

Director: Jacques Demy

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Best quote: 'People only die of love in the movies.'

Defining moment: A sad, bittersweet meeting in the snow, two lovers seeing each other for the first time in years.

All things bright and beautiful
You'd need to have a sliver of ice lodged in your heart not to be moved by ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ – a musical that has even hardened musical-haters melting into puddles. Not that it’s a musical in the belt-‘em-out tradition. Instead, every word is sung rather than spoken as 17-year-old Geneviève (Deneuve) falls sweetly and madly in love with car mechanic Guy (Castelnuovo).

‘Umbrellas’ is one of the most ravishing films ever made, wrapped in candyfloss colours to match the blush of first love. When Guy is drafted to fight in Algeria, Geneviève is certain she will die of grief. But time passes and Geneviève doesn’t die. Love fades. And that’s the bittersweet message inside this exquisitely sugar coated pill. CC

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes

Best quote: 'A plague on both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me.'

Defining moment: DiCaprio and Danes making loved-up eyes at each other through the glass and water of a fish tank.

From the Globe to the ghetto
Baz Luhrmann had some cast-iron source material to work with in the form of Shakespeare’s story – but the Australian writer-director took the playwright’s romantic tragedy to another place entirely with this ultra-modern reworking. At the same, he never lost sight of the essence of Shakespeare’s tale of two young lovers doomed from the first time they lay eyes on each other.

The moment that Romeo (DiCaprio, so young!) and Juliet (Danes, so young too!) meet at a wild fancy-dress party is pure bliss to watch, just as Luhrmann’s staging of the final death scene is almost impossible to bear. There are guns, hip-hop, open-topped cars and characters so larger-than-life that the whole thing now, in retrospect, feels like Tarantino directing a season-finale episode of ‘Dynasty’. It’s mad, musical and immensely moving. DC

Buy, rent or watch ‘William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet’

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Film Comedy

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray

Best quote: 'It's possible I may wet the bed, by the way.'

Defining moment: Sam and Suzy kiss an awkward kiss on the beach.

Children, behave
Romance isn't the first thing you expect from a Wes Anderson film, but in this delightful 1960s-set tale, the American auteur employs all his usual tricks – hip soundtrack, arch dialogue, super-careful production design – in the service of a story about the chaos and madness of young love.

Sam and Suzy are 12-year-olds on the run. Suzy is precocious and independent; Sam is nerdy and serious. They don't get very far, but a mile's a long way when you're 12, and danger is never far away. What's lovely is how seriously Anderson takes Sam and Suzy's adventure, while also laying on the humour and the irony. By the time the pair steal a smooch on a deserted beach, we're totally smitten. DC

Buy, rent or watch ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Romance movie: Dirty Dancing
Photograph: Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Film Drama

Director: Emile Ardolino

Cast: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey

Best quote: 'Come on, ladies. God wouldn't have given you maracas if He didn't want you to shake 'em.'

Defining moment: Nobody puts Baby in a corner. When even Ryan Gosling has scored using your defining moment (in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’), you know it’s a good ’un.

Sir Patrick of Swayz
She dreamt of studying the economics of underdeveloped countries and volunteering for the Peace Corps. He just wanted to dance the night away. Until one day she manhandles some watermelons into his backstage area (not a metaphor), and falls in love at first sight.

Filmed at the peak of Patrick Swayze’s handsomeness, with a healthy dollop of none-more-’80s style and a cracking jukebox full of irresistibly catchy numbers, a thousand clip shows would have us remember ‘Dirty Dancing’ as something of a minor classic. And, for once, they would be right on the money. CB

Buy, rent or watch ‘Dirty Dancing’

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West Side Story (1961)

Film Drama

Directors: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Cast: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn

Best quote: 'There’s a place for us, somewhere…'

Defining moment: It’s as camp as Christmas, but Maria (Wood) singing ‘I Feel Pretty’ while anticipating her next date with Tony (Beymer) is a magical moment of romantic exuberance.

The song of the streets
Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ may have made all the tweeners’ hearts melt (and scored a higher place on this list), but the real hep chicks and finger-poppin’ daddies know which version of Shakespeare’s play is the real leader of the pack.

‘West Side Story’ is like no other musical: sure, it’s sappy (‘Mariaaaaaaaaaa’) and slightly ridiculous, but it’s also brazenly political (‘if you’re all white in A-me-ri-ca!’), sneakily self-mocking (‘Hey, I got a social disease!’) and ferociously, aggressively emotional: the operatic finale is a masterclass in three-hanky audience manipulation. Also, the film contains perhaps the single best song ever written for the musical theatre: ‘Somewhere’, the ultimate romantic ballad for trapped and dreaming lovers. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘West Side Story’

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Film Fantasy

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder

Best quote: Kim: 'Hold me.' Edward: 'I can’t.'

Defining moment: Kim dances in the ‘snow’ Edward makes from an ice sculpture in sunny California.

Cuts you up
The scariest thing about Burton’s gothic fairy tale is reading the list of actors who were considered for the part of Edward, the man with scissors for hands created by a scientist. The studio insisted Burton meet Tom Cruise (who believed the story needed a ‘happier ending’). Michael Jackson badly wanted the part. Tom Hanks turned it down.

Finally, Burton got his way and cast Johnny Depp, who, like a Camden goth Charlie Chaplin, plays Edward with a dash of slapstick and sad-eyed loneliness (watch Edward’s scissor fingers twitch when he’s nervous). It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Depp and Burton, who’ve made seven films together since. Not such a happy ending for Depp and his co-star and then-girlfriend, Ryder. They split in 1993. CC

Buy, rent or watch ‘Edward Scissorhands’

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Show Me Love (1998)

Film

Director: Lukas Moodyson

Cast: Rebecca Liljeberg, Alexandra Dahlström, Erica Carlson

Best quote: 'We must be out of our damn minds. But we are so fucking cool.'

Defining moment: An impulsive snog in the back of a car as Foreigner’s ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ cranks up on the soundtrack.

I know you can show me

Romance and social transgression go hand in hand in Lukas Moodysson’s gorgeous and empathetic story of two high-school girls whose love affair scandalises the small Swedish town of Åmal. Concerns about distribution and awards probably explain why the original title – ‘Fucking Åmal’ – got changed to the cosier and less confrontational ‘Show Me Love’. But in no other area does Moodysson compromise: the emotions are raw, the romance giddy, the truths it exposes impossible to ignore. TH

Gregory's Girl (1981)

Film

Director: Bill Forsyth

Cast: John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan

Best quote: 'Hard work being in love, eh?'

Defining moment: Gregory (Sinclair) realises that the women in his life have all ganged up to get him into the ‘wrong’ girl’s clutches.

The beautiful game
Figuring out who we’re in love with is, of course, a key part of the romantic process. Too many films feature lightning-bolt moments, where the rightness of a match is obvious and irrevocable – cue happy ending. So it’s nice that there are a few movies out there saying, well, hang on a minute. Love at first sight is all very well, but isn’t that a rather shallow and reckless way to select a mate?

‘Gregory’s Girl’ starts with the lightning bolt – gangly Glaswegian Gregory spots leggy keepy-uppy expert Dorothy (Hepburn) – then patiently explains why, for someone as irrational and irregular as Gregory, that kind of perfect love probably won’t work. So why not try someone a little closer to home? The result is pragmatic, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less romantic. TH

Buy, rent or watch ‘Gregory's Girl’

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