Top 10 Teen Movie Adaptations of Classic Novels

My recent review of Easy A made me reminisce on modern teen movies that put a spin on classic novels. There is always something delightful about a teen movie based on classic literature. Maybe it’s my love of books as a literature major enveloped in my obsession with film that makes me a sucker for these, but what I really admire is the screen writers adaptation of a classic story with the tropes of comedic farce, romance, and awkward situational irony and hyperbole. Yes, these stories relate to the everyday high school drama, so why not easily disguise them in modern day high school with some up-and-coming cute actors/actresses and make some money too.

Now, I’m not saying these are as good as their predecessor. You just can’t be too serious when it comes to these movies. Just sit back, relax, and use them as an excuse to much on snacks and popcorn on a Friday night. (Don’t try to pretend you’re too cool or too social to stay in on a Friday night. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to say no to the comfort of the couch after the work week!)

So over the years, there have been many of these subtler sub-genre teen movies created and found success with a younger audience, but I’d like to argue that they can be enjoyed by adults who have previous exposure to the material too! So here are my top 10 teen films that you may not know were based on classic novels:

1. Clueless (1995)

Any girl from the mid 90’s understands that Clueless is one of the most popular teen movies of all time! But what is less likely known is the elite matchmaker plot was taken from the most popular Jane Austin novel, EmmaAlicia Silverstone breaks out as the modern day “Emma”, Cher.  This teen romantic tale follows the rich and spoiled Cher and her friends as she meddles in other people’s love lives (most of the time unsuccessfully). Not only is it a staple teen movie, but it effortlessly adapts Austen’s Emma to Beverly Hills in the 90’s without succumbing to becoming contrived.

2. She’s All That (1999)

Although it isn’t a direct adaptation of Pygmalion, or the more well known version My Fair Lady, She’s All That is a modern take on the transformation of a socially awkward girl to the popular esteemed lady. In this case, the story is set in high school where a bet takes place that Freddie Prinze Jr. must try to transform an artistic but awkward Rachael Leigh Cook prom queen. While the transformation story is a huge portion of the teen movie genre, many fail to redeem their lead characters intentions and virtues. One thing that I admire in She’s All That is that Cook’s character Laney continues to stay true to herself, but the mild physical transformation only helps to accentuate and bring out the self confidence she lacked. Unlike most teen movies, She’s All That gives a positive message to teenage girls about popularity and self esteem.

3. Cruel Intentions (1999)
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From positive messages, we do a complete 180 with the classic french novel adaption of Dangerous Liaisons. As with most teen movies, Cruel Intentions begins with a bet. But this dark and manipulative movie centers between wealthy and bored teenage step siblings who find amusement in  wagering a girl’s virginity for sex and a car. Cruel intentions isn’t your average “teen movie” but it’s found itself on my list because of it’s interesting adaption of the corruption, seduction, and revenge of Dangerous Liaisons into the high school environment. With a brilliant cast of dynamic characters (the redeemable bad boy Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s twisted step sister, and the good girl next door Reese Witherspoon) and their tragic  adult performance, this sordid teen movie make the perils and drama of high school much more palatable. And this was the film that brought Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon together (although they have since split), so you get some real emotion from the two in their loving performance. You’ll be wanting someone to wait at the top of the escalator for you too, I promise.

4. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

This heartwarming movie might be my favorite adaptation. It introduced the teen female population to an almost unrecognizable dark-haired Heath Ledger and made him a star in the U.S.  With Julia Stiles playing the prude older sister of Bianca and a young Joseph Gordon Levitt as a nerdy but cute Cameron. Adapted from one of my least favorite Shakespeare novels The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You gives a fresh and funny perspective on dating in high school. The movie centers on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Cameron who is desperate to date the popular Bianca, but she’s not allowed to date by her strict father until her older, abrasive sister, Kat, starts dating. So Cameron then hires Heath Ledger’s bad boy character to woo her. Filled with witty repartee and powerful women, this teen adaptation is a must see!

5. Whatever It Takes (2000)

I know what you are thinking. Is that a young James Franco? Why yes, it is. A more contrived and campy teen film on the list, Whatever It Takes is a high school adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. This movie made me want a balcony in my room so bad, but I also needed a hunky neighbor like Shane West to go with it please. This teen comedy involves a deal between Shane West‘s Nerdy Ryan (Please. I wish real nerds were this smoldering) and James Frano‘s popular jock Chris (Yes, before Franco became a hipster, he was typecast as a popular jock) to help one another woo their friend/cousin based on their knowledge and experience of what the girls like. (Are you laughing yet? Doesn’t this movie ALREADY sound funny?!?) So unlike Cyrano de Bergerac, this adaptation involves TWO men trying to con women into liking them by “saying the right things”. Of course, nothing goes right in this “flawless plan” and ultimately Ryan begins to realize he may actually like his best friend and neighbor all along in helping Chris get close to her. This movie has cheesy written all over it, but I PROMISE there are a few moments worthy of watching.

6. Get Over It (2001)

Like many teen comedy’s, Get Over It centers it’s story around the basis of it’s adaption with a High School Play of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Get Over It uses the core love triangle from Midsummer, but that’s as far as the adaptation goes. The talented ensemble includes Kirsten Dunst, Colin Hanks, Martin Short, and my personal teen heartthrob Shane West. The movie also brings a wonderful campy musical adaption of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to life while exploring the perils of our teenage lovers. If you love campy/silly comedy and musical numbers, then you will enjoy it as much as I do. And honestly, I enjoy Get Over It far more than I should.

7. O (2001)

Not all teen adaptations live up to their novel counterparts. While O is a good movie, Shakespeare’s Othello can not be outdone. In O, the story of Jealousy that leads to tragedy is told through a high school basketball star and the coach’s jealous son. Rated R, this is the darkest teen movie on the list, but Othello isn’t a lighthearted read. Filled with drugs, sex, corruption, and violence, O offers some pretty heavy acting skills from Makhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Josh Hartnett. With the current light on non-violence campaigns, this movie helps to resonate that message to teens.

8. She’s The Man (2006)

Oh the days when Amanda Bynes was quirky and comical and it wasn’t her personal life! Quite possibly THE campiest of movies on this list, She’s The Man is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The gender-bending comedy stars Amanda Bynes as Viola, a high school girl who wants so badly to play soccer that she poses as her twin brother to play at his school when the girls’ soccer program is cut from her own.  Hilarity ensues as Viola must learn how to fake being a “dude” and begins falling for her teammate Duke (Channing Tatum). Filled with romantic shenanigans and introducing Channing Tatum to the female populace, She’s The Man is a light, enjoyable comedy that also playfully addresses gender politics.

9. Easy A (2010)

Ironically, while studying The Scarlett Letter, Emma Stone‘s witty character Olive mistakenly becomes the publicly shamed Hester Prynne of her high school in Easy A. This movie is winning with it’s numerous John Hughes and pop culture references. It doesn’t try to be too serious as many failed teen movies try desperately to do. I have nothing but glowing things to say when it comes to Emma Stone, and this role was made for her. Also starring Amanda Bynes as the strictly religious Marianne Bryant, Penn Badgley as the dorky love interest Todd and least we forget Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s quirky loving parents. This movie is a great comedy and a great teen adaptation of Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter. For more about this film, refer to my movie review in my post “EASY A”.

10. Warm Bodies (2013)

The latest adaptation of a classic novel is riding on the coat tails of the recent zombie trend. Warm Bodies is a romantic zombie comedy that brings together our star crossed lovers. R is a zombie who doesn’t remember his name other than it starts with an “R” and Julie is a post-apocalyptic survivor. Although it sounds cheesy, Warm Bodies is a surprisingly clever movie. This Romeo and Juliet adaptation begins with death, instead of ending with a tragedy. Instead of waring houses, we have the zombies and then there are the humans who of course want to kill the zombies. With witty narration and strong performances, it’s no wonder Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer will be breakout stars.

Easy A

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Year: 2010
Genre(s): Comedy, Romance
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 92 mins

Yes, my first review is on a teen movie that is 3 years old. (Judge if you want). So this weekend I had some free time and happened upon Easy A while channel surfing. I struck gold! Not your typical teen comedy filled with the usual campy high school tropes, Easy A is a hilarious and smart film even for adults. Filled with gut-busting quirky humor, endearing characters, brilliant quotable dialog, and (my personal favorite) loads of pop-culture references.

A modern adaptaion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, Easy A centers on Olive Penderghast played by the adorable Emma Stone. Olive is a smart, funny, and virginal high school girl who lies about having sex in an effort to get her persistent friend off her back. Unfortunately for her, the conversation is overheard and the rumor spreads like wildfire across the school solidifying her reputation as “easy”. She is soon approached by outcast boys at school asking her to “enhance their reputations”. Feeling obligated, she agrees to help then in exchange for money, coupons, and gift cards. Olive gets labeled a slut and decides to embrace it by dressing provocatively and sewing an ‘A’ on to her clothing in a nod to ‘The Scarlet Letter’. Thing escalate when the stories get out of hand and begins to get treated like a real prostitute. Olive eventually loses friendships and realizes she needs to set the record straight.

Easy A is loaded with acting talent. Emma Stone brings sass and intellectual wit with every one liner while staying charming and warm. Amanda Bynes (Pre driveway hobo bonfire and disturbing wig-wearing crazy episodes) plays Olive’s nemesis Marianne, a preachy crusading Christian, without being too cliche and sterotypical. (And really it’s quite funny and ironic to watch given her recent behavior.) Penn Badgley plays the John Hughes-esq love interest Todd. He isnt the jock, but the school mascot who is a slightly goofy and respectful heartthrob who is for once an approachable/realistic match for our female lead. I think the best performance of the bunch goes to Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson who play Olive’s well-meaning laid-back parents. They bring some priceless scenes and unconventional parenting to the film. Still, unlike many high school movies, her parents are fun and quirky all while still maintaining a parental support system and not being completely oblivious to their daughters obvious issues.

This movie is way above average for the lowly high school comedy genre. I definitely think if you are turned off by this film because it’s PG-13 and set in a high school, you are being WAY too picky. A comedy is suppose to be fun, right? It’s an added bonus when the comedy delivers something smart and original in addition. I highly recommend Easy A for a good laugh! It will be a great addition to my movie collection.