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The dark side of high school movies

To mark the tenth anniversary of Tina Fey's Mean Girls, we get our claws into the darkest teen flicks

It seems impossible that it was only a decade ago that Tina Fey penned the slumber party staple and pop culture phenom Mean Girls. Since its release, the teen movie has inspired everything from BuzzFeed quizzes to a jewellery line, and frequently gets voted one of the most quotable films of all time (fetch, anyone?). It could have been a different story. The movie’s iniquitous and sexual content meant it struggled to get its PG-13 rating. With its bitching, backstabbing and unbuttoning, the teen world of North Shore High is an extreme one.

But Mean Girls only scratches at the sinful surface of the high school experience. Dig deeper in the post-Clueless canon and you'll find students spinning convoluted webs of lies, taking drugs, chasing teachers and even plotting a little calculated murder. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Mean Girls, we've picked our top ten teen movies that take the dark themes of North Shore High to a whole new dimension.

FOXFIRE (1996)

Watch Foxfire to see a young Angelina Jolie sporting an impressive Brit-pop mullet. In this mid-90s comedic adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s novel, a leather jacket-clad newbie, played by Jolie, tears up a conservative high school with devastating effect. While she disrupts lessons, this new girl proves more than just a welcome distraction to their beige school lives. She helps a group of girls stand up to their creepy teacher (played by Ian Matthews) who is sexually harassing them. The film proceeds to follow their rebellious escapades from joint smoking to joy riding. The film never got the recognition it deserved and has since been usurped by the 2012 remake directed by Laurent Cantet.

SWIMFAN (2002)

The erotic teen flick might not have been popular with critics – it scored a devastating 14% on Rotten Tomatoes and was what one reviewer fondly called a “Fatal Attraction rip-off” – but in terms of evaluating the dark adolescent psyche, it’s a comprehensive guide. Jock protagonist Ben (Jesse Bradford) has it all: popularity, a supportive girlfriend, and college scouts coming to watch him swim. All this is threatened when Madison Bell (Erika Christensen), his hot, blonde seductress, comes onto the scene. After much coercion, Ben succumbs to a one-night stand – a decision which has serious consequences. This is a teen thriller that positively plunges into a pool of teenage jealousy.


On the subject of swimming, Wild Things features many pool scenes – one of which has to be the genre’s most gratuitously explicit between Neve Campbell and Denise Richards (you only have to Google the movie to get an idea). In fact, Richards spends a large proportion of the film naked or in swimwear. She and Campbell star as Suzie and Kelly, two unruly girls out to stir up trouble. The pair accuse a high school teacher (Matt Dillon) of rape as part of a money-making scheme. As the manipulation escalates, it becomes harder to follow the sex, deceptions and double-crossings that eventually culminate in Suzie’s murder. Sex and manipulation are common ground in teen movies but none pushes these themes more relentlessly than Wild Things.


If the knowledge that Sabrina-era Melissa Joan Hart is in a Lifetime movie hasn’t made you want to watch Twisted Desire, then the fact that it’s based on the true events of a 1990 murder of a Virginia couple by their daughter just might. The Nickelodeon star plays Jennifer, a student sick of her overprotective parents. She decides to use her boyfriend, Nick (Jeremy Jordan), in a plot to kill them. After Nick bumps them off, Jennifer ditches her devoted boyfriend and starts dating the football captain, Brad. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t get away with it. In a delightful twist, her best friend discovers her guilt in her secret diary – and gives her up. This low budget flick explores dark adolescent themes of female sexual awakening, betrayal and homicide. Who knew MJH could be such a mean girl?


In this black comedy, Rose McGowan stars as Courtney, the original Regina George. She’s head of her own venomous clique who decide to kidnap their girlfriend as part of a birthday prank. In a strange turn of events, they accidently kill their girlfriend with a jawbreaker. Speaking of this unusual weapon of choice, director Darren Stein said, “The jawbreaker just came to represent the duality of the poppy sweetness of the girls, of high school and of youth, versus the whole idea that this thing could break your jaw.” Tasty. This is a must see dark teen movie, if only for the infamous sex scene between Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan and its sensational 90s soundtrack.

SUGAR & SPICE (2001)

Unusual for the movie industry, women are at the helm of Sugar & Spice. This is an adolescent account about girls written and produced by girls. Sugar & Spice is narrated by Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), the bitter and jealous cheerleader and arch-rival of Diane (Marley Shelton), the movie’s protagonist. Diane is popular, beautiful, head of the ‘A’ squad and dating the high school quarterback; life is perfect, at least until her sweetheart knocks her up and the question of how to pay for pampers while staying in school plagues her. Enter the ‘A’ squad. The cheerleaders help her devise a bank heist scheme and together they practice their choreography for the winter ball alongside their robbery routine. Sugar & Spice is Bring It On plus James Marsden and minus the spirit fingers.


Watch Pretty Persuasion to see Rachel Evan Wood take inspiration from her own high school experience. Wood plays Kimberly Joyce, a manipulative private school princess based on a girl at Wood’s own high school who “stabbed you in the back with a smile on [her] face”. In this sophisticated black comedy, Kimberly and her crew take out their high school angst on teacher Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston) by accusing him of inappropriate touching. It doesn’t take long for her lies to escalate. Kimberly even manipulates lesbian journalist Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski), who is covering the case, to support their cause in the media. Roxbury High School provides the darkest high school backdrop since Westerburg High in Heathers. This film explores the power of being an attractive fifteen-year-old girl – especially when the girl has the deadpan stare of Evan Wood.


Coupled with a winning punk rock soundtrack featuring The Go-Go’s and The Amps, Lick The Star is an indie classic. Chloe (Audrey Kelly) is the original Queen Bee in the debut short from Sofia Coppola. The high school clique, led by Chloe, plot a (quite literally) poisonous revenge for their useless male contemporaries. The plan is to weaken the boys with arsenic through their school lunches – an idea inspired by Chloe’s obsession with the V.C. Andrews novel, Flowers in the Attic. Don’t expect a happy ending: if we’ve learnt anything from Mean Girls, it’s that all Queen Bees must fall. With its dreamy pace and ethereal Virgin Suicides visuals, Lick The Star is not to be missed be any Coppola fan.


In the opening of this dark teen comedy, Debbie Strand (again played by teen movie sweetheart, Rose McGowan) has been sent to live with her grandmother, a elderly woman who forces her to wear an outdated, dowdy wardrobe. Quickly, Debbie has enough and decides to kill her. This sinister but comical must-see scene features McGowan bludgeoning her grandma to death with her own cane. Free of her control, she undergoes a typical zero-to-hero image transformation to become the popular new girl. What better way to enjoy your attractive new persona than to seduce your teacher? Confident Debbie laughs at her classmates who say he’s too old for her, but getting the attention of Mr Rinaldi (Alex McArthur) proves more difficult than first thought. He repeatedly rejects her advances and her attraction turns to obsession. As Debbie’s irritation mounts so do the dead bodies.

CARRIE (2013)

The list wouldn’t be complete without the remake of the original dark teen movie. Dazed cover star Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Carrie, daughter of disturbed and domineering Margaret White (Julianne Moore) in this Steven King novel adaptation. The transition from homeschooling to high schooling is a difficult one for Carrie, who puts up with abuse and torment from all sides. Forget the passive aggression of the Burn Book. These mean girls bully the real way, throwing tampons and hurling pigs blood. But with telekinetic powers, she doesn’t remain the cowering underdog for long. Carrie responds to her teenage tormentors by wrecking total havoc at prom. Move over, Mean GirlsCarrie will go down in high school history as the darkest teen tale since its 1976 original.