The 2010s might have been one of the last opportunities for students to have a “normal” high school experience before the COVID-19 pandemic made a major impact on the world as we knew it. From 2010 to 2019, the decade’s creative trends, vibrant self-expression, and surge in technological capabilities pushed people of all ages toward a more plugged-in world.
To be a high schooler during this time was to grow up with Tumblr, Twilight, and smartphone games like Flappy Bird. As audiences, we often relive our glory days and toughest times through the media we consume, no matter what decade defines our coming-of-age experiences. Here are 10 movies that perfectly encompass high school life in the 2010s.
10 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Lara Jean has a hidden box in her room filled with letters she’ll never send “to all the boys [she’s] loved before.” When her passionate words find their ways to each of the boys themselves, Lara Jean finds herself in a predicament. The situation turns from devastating to promising as she confronts her feelings and the people involved within them, making her tumultuous school year so much better.
The Film Shines on High School Love
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a hopeful teen romance that illuminates both the happiest and most complicated parts of falling in love while you’re young. It’s refreshing to see a more modern high school movie that doesn’t fully revolve around flirting through texts and Snapchats, but instead the outpouring of emotion through physical love letters. This difference makes the movie feel somewhat timeless, despite it coming out towards the end of the 2010s.
9 The DUFF (2015)
- Release Date
- February 20, 2015
- Ari Sandel
DUFF stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” and high schooler Bianca becomes aware that her whole school sees her as one. As a senior, she doesn’t have much time left to convince them otherwise, so she takes full advantage of the opportunity to become someone else. Going up against queen bee Madison and her own popular friends, Bianca sets out to reclaim her reputation.
How This Movie Captures the 2010s
The idea of a “DUFF” screams the 2000s, when fatphobia was even more rampant than it still is today. In this way, the film echoes more classic high school stereotypes and a general vibe somewhat similar to Mean Girls, yet this story takes place halfway through the 2010s. The DUFF brings this age-old feeling into a more modern-day setting, challenging the stereotypes that tend to be a typical part of high school. TikTok’s predecessor, the six-second video app Vine, even makes an appearance – an integral part of teen life during the last decade.
8 Easy A (2010)
- Release Date
- September 16, 2010
- Will Gluck
Starring Emma Stone as high schooler Olive Penderghast, Easy A is a fan favorite for many reasons. After lying to her friend about losing her virginity, Olive’s fibs are broadcast throughout the school by another girl, encouraging everyone to discuss her “easy” reputation. Olive starts wearing a red letter “A” around school and showing ownership over her situation, which starts to turn things in favor of herself and her true friends.
The Power of Rumors
The inclusion of Hester Prynne’s iconic calling card from The Scarlet Letter – a giant letter “A” pinned to the chest – reminds high schoolers and graduates of the famous Nathaniel Hawthorne story they may have had to read in English class. The existence of slut-shaming, the power of rumors, and the role that sexuality plays in identity as we grow up are all captured through a high schooler’s point of view. The fashion and set design of the film combine the end of the 2000s with the promise of the 2010s.
7 LOL (2012)
- Release Date
- February 10, 2012
- Lisa Azuelos
As main character Lola, Miley Cyrus takes a break between her Hannah Montana era and her self-titled music career to bring audiences a movie about the intersection between high school and social media. LOL follows Lola’s story after parting ways with her ex-boyfriend Chad, introducing her relationship with her new guy, Kyle. Lola’s connections with her mother and her friends also come into play, complicating everything – a feeling that is all too familiar to high schoolers.
Social Media Played a Massive Factor in High School Life
Watching LOL really feels like you’ve stepped back into 2012. The complex nature of the social statuses and friend groups feels palpable and real, especially from Cyrus’s perspective, which will probably feel nostalgic to anyone who grew up following her talents. Lola’s typical teen attitude takes her through a Ferris wheel of emotions, which remains relevant to today’s teens, no matter what decade they’re growing up in, social media continues to play a factor in their growth during that pivotal time.
6 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
The Twilight movies clearly defined the 2000s and the early 2010s and the franchise’s fan bases – were you and your friends Team Edward or Team Jacob? Eclipse is the third installment in the saga, which continues to tie the tails of the vampire-versus-werewolf epic together. As Bella and Edward’s relationship continues to develop, so does her connection to Jacob and the Quileute wolves. While killings begin to crop up in Seattle, Bella’s ultimate choice comes closer.
Team Edward or Team Jacob?
In Eclipse, Bella’s connection with the supernatural world around her deepens even further, severing her even more from the high school experiences she’d had up until that point. Her graduation nears, and so does the potential of college, bringing about all of the natural concerns that teens have about their futures. But Bella’s obviously looks much more different – most students aren’t considering the concept of being turned into a vampire.
5 Booksmart (2019)
- Release Date
- May 24, 2019
Booksmart follows high school seniors Molly and Amy, who have done everything right academically as their graduation looms closer, except to let loose and have fun. With the earth-shattering comprehension that they’ve essentially thrown away their youth in favor of scholastic success, the two bookish besties decide that they need one last hurrah to make up for what they missed. The night before they receive their diplomas, the girls gallivant through their city to make truly unforgettable memories.
A 2010s Feminist Staple
This movie epitomizes the growing awareness of social justice among high school students, especially for the time during which the movie was released. Third-wave feminism became more embedded into the life experiences of young women following the 2016 election and the Women’s March. These historic events inspired students, like Amy and Molly in the movie, to look up to feminist figures of the decade, like Malala Yousafzai – the characters reference her name to find unrefusable support in one another.
4 Nerve (2016)
- Release Date
- June 27, 2016
Nerve follows a girl called Vee, whose friends tell her about the popularity of the titular real-world game and its monetary incentive. As game players take on dares (like kissing a stranger), social media watchers donate money to make their prizes possible, which continues the system. This premise turns Vee’s world into a night of neon and danger as she works hard to win.
The Internet Obsession
In part, Nerve portrays the obsession with adrenaline that so many teens have – day-to-day life is so boring, so let’s crawl across a ladder from tall building to tall building! The social media aspect of the game of Nerve itself was released at the perfect time in real social media history, coming after the popularity of Instagram, Vine, and other platforms. Who wouldn’t want to tune in, if there are unbelievable stunts posted all over the Internet?
3 The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower remains a classic account of high school hardships, capturing the coming-of-age journey of freshman Charlie as he begins the four years that will lead to the rest of his life. Based on Stephen Chbosky’s unforgettable novel, the film adapts the story into a heart-wrenching visual event that combines growing up, discovering yourself, and coming to terms with traumatic events.
An Early Focus on Teen Mental Health
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an unforgettable teen tale, not just because of its cast and visual aesthetic, but the unavoidable and immense sense of loss and change that so often underscores the experience of being in high school. As Charlie goes through the year, he experiences mental health issues alongside moments that make him feel “infinite” – like the famous tunnel scene when he’s riding in a car with his senior friends, Patrick and Sam. Check trigger warnings before watching.
2 Cyberbully (2011)
In Cyberbully, Taylor Hillridge (Emily Osment) is overjoyed when she receives her own laptop for her birthday. After making an account on the website Cliquesters, the growing connection between Taylor and the familiar faces hiding behind her computer screen turns sour. Taylor begins to experience cyberbullying, which tanks her own mental health and her relationships with the real people in her life. The line between the online world and the real one begin to blur as the cruelty she faces bleeds into her day-to-day activities.
Highlights Social Media Bullying
Cyberbully showcases the darker side of the Internet and the influx of teens in online spaces as social media became more popular as the 2010s continued. Cyberspace has changed dramatically since 2011, but this story remains a cautionary tale that really hits home for certain audiences, and cyberbullying still continues to exist. Be sure to check trigger warnings for this one, too.
1 The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
In The Edge of Seventeen, Nadine’s had a hard life already, but her situation devolves when she discovers a budding relationship between her older brother, Darien, and her best friend, Krista. Reeling from what she’s seen, and angry at everyone and everything, Nadine’s high school year becomes more of a solo adventure. As she struggles to confront what it means for her bestie and brother to be in a relationship, she takes the opportunity to find out what she really wants out of her life, which includes her desperate attempts to get into a relationship.
Glorious, 2010s Fashion
Losing your best friend, or even just having a falling-out with them, can completely derail your life. The Edge of Seventeen gives viewers a glimpse of what that feels like, especially since Nadine’s family is involved. This movie really captures what it’s like to go through school after an experience like that, and (to borrow from that current TikTok trend), to realize that “the world didn’t end when I was 17.” Fashion in the film, particularly Nadine’s, incorporates 2010s trends like skater skirts and oversized jackets.