Teen comedies have been a box office hit for decades, entertaining generations of moviegoers with their mix of humor, hijinks, and heart. While the plots and characters change, the best teen comedies share an enduring spirit of fun and rebellion that resonates with audiences young and old. From the slapstick shenanigans of Porky’s in the 1980s to the laugh-out-loud lines of Superbad in the 2000s, teen comedies continue to draw big crowds to theaters. Many achieve impressive box office takes, showing the genre’s widespread appeal and ability to attract viewers. Even decades-old teen classics still perform well today in rentals, downloads, and streaming services.
In this list, we’ll explore some of the highest-grossing and most iconic teen comedy films of the past few decades. While humor and box office success don’t always align, these five movies managed to deliver both in spades. From nerds to jocks, prom queens to class clowns, they feature some of the most memorable teen characters and uproarious scenes in cinema history. So read on for a look back at the teen comedies that ruled the box office charts.
Superbad is one of the most iconic and beloved teen comedies of the 2000s. Directed by Greg Mottola and written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the film starred Jonah Hill and Michael Cera as Seth and Evan, two best friends about to graduate high school who hope to party and lose their virginity before leaving for college. The film follows Seth and Evan on a quest to obtain alcohol for a party and impress their crushes, navigating typical high school hijinks along the way. Superbad struck a chord with audiences through its raunchy yet heartfelt humor and the authentic, relatable dynamic between its two main characters.
Beyond being hilariously funny, Superbad also won praise for its talented young cast, with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera becoming stars after its release. Their natural comedic chemistry brought Seth and Evan to life on-screen in an endearing way. The film grossed over $170 million worldwide on a $20 million budget, launching it to pop culture phenomenon status. Superbad captured the essence of the teenage experience in a fresh, unfiltered way. Its massive success showed the marketability and appeal of R-rated teen comedies. The iconic one-liners, crass humor, and sheer hilarity of Superbad solidified its status as a defining teen comedy of the 2000s.
American Pie is a 1999 teen comedy film directed by brothers Paul and Chris Weitz. Written by Adam Herz, the film follows a group of five high school friends in Michigan, who make a pact to lose their virginity before their high school graduation. The film stars Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Eugene Levy. American Pie was a sleeper hit, grossing over $235 million worldwide against a $11 million budget. It is considered one of the defining teen sex comedies of the late 1990s.
American Pie launched a multi-billion dollar film franchise, spawning three theatrical sequels – American Pie 2 (2001), American Wedding (2003), and American Reunion (2012) – as well as four spin-off films. The original film’s premise of a high school quest to lose one’s virginity resonated with audiences and has inspired countless coming-of-age teen comedies since its release. Critics praised American Pie for its witty and raunchy humor. Roger Ebert called it “wonderfully cheerful and ribald” while other reviews highlighted the film’s crude gags and sexual content. American Pie paved the way for future hit teen sex comedies like Road Trip, EuroTrip, and Sex Drive.
Mean Girls is one of the most iconic teen comedies ever made. Directed by Mark Waters and written by Tina Fey, the film follows Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan, who is a new student trying to fit in with the ruthless popular clique known as “The Plastics.” Despite coming from a background of homeschooling in Africa, Cady finds herself immersed in the strange world of high school cliques when she befriends Janis and Damian, the self-declared outcasts. To get revenge on queen bee Regina George, Janis convinces Cady to infiltrate The Plastics. But Cady soon finds herself caught up in the extravagant lifestyle and “Girl World” rules dictated by Regina.
With razor sharp wit delivered by Tina Fey’s brilliant script, Mean Girls is a hilarious yet scathing social commentary on high school hierarchies. The fetch quotes and instantly iconic scenes, like the cafeteria showdown and Regina getting hit by a bus, make Mean Girls one of the most quotable teen films ever. Lohan delivers a breakout performance that balances wide-eyed innocence with cunning manipulation. Rachel McAdams is wickedly funny as the vain and villainous Regina George. And the comedic chops of SNL veterans Fey, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer and Amy Poehler add to the laugh-out-loud humor. Upon release in 2004, Mean Girls earned over $129 million at the global box office and gained status as an instant cult classic. It remains one of the most beloved and rewatchable teen comedies with its mix of sly satire, ridiculous laughs, and a killer early 2000s soundtrack.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the most iconic teen comedies of the 1980s. Written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, it starred Matthew Broderick as the charming and mischievous Ferris Bueller, who decides to skip school for a day of adventure in Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck). Unlike many teen comedies of its era which focused on things like sex and partying, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off offered a more innocent, coming-of-age story as Ferris outsmarts authority figures like his high school principal Mr. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and lives life to the fullest for one epic day. Matthew Broderick was perfectly cast as the quick-witted and free-spirited Ferris, delivering witty monologues directly to the camera that broke the fourth wall. The film highlighted Chicago landmarks like the Art Institute, Sears Tower, and Wrigley Field.
John Hughes had become known as the foremost director of teen comedies in the 1980s thanks to earlier films like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Ferris Bueller solidified Hughes’ reputation for understanding and portraying teen angst and rebellion in a humorous yet thoughtful way. Though a somewhat minor film compared to Hughes’ other work, Ferris Bueller endures as one of the most enjoyable and rewatchable teen comedies of its era. Its tale of playing hooky resonated with younger audiences, while also presenting characters that older viewers could relate to as well. Ferris Bueller captured the freewheeling fun of being young through Broderick’s magnetic performance and Hughes’ perceptive writing.
Bring It On was directed by Peyton Reed and starred Kirsten Dunst as Torrance Shipman, the captain of the cheerleading squad at Rancho Carne High School. Gabrielle Union played Isis, the leader of rival squad the Clovers from East Compton. The film focuses on the rivalry between these two cheerleading teams as they both aim to win the national championship. Torrance is inspired to shake up her squad’s stale routine after discovering that their previous captain stole all their best cheers from the Clovers. This leads to an epic showdown at the national competition.
Bring It On earned over $90 million at the worldwide box office, making it one of the most successful teen comedies of its era. It became a pop culture phenomenon, inspiring real competitive cheerleading squads and introducing many iconic catchphrases like “Spirit fingers!” and “That’s alright, that’s okay, you’re gonna pump our gas someday!” The film featured impressive cheerleading stunt work and choreography, while also combining the dance movie genre with a classic underdog sports story. With charismatic leads, witty dialogue, and portrayals of the social dynamics within cheerleading squads, Bring It On captured the high school experience in a hugely entertaining way. It remains one of the most iconic and beloved teen comedies of all time.
The teen comedy genre will likely continue to evolve in tandem with changing youth culture and generational sensibilities. As Gen Z and younger millennials come of age, we may see teen comedies that push boundaries even further with edgier humor focused on topics like gender identity, technology, social media, and mental health. More inclusivity across race, religion, sexuality and ability is also likely. Upcoming films seem poised to showcase greater diversity in casting and explore the teen experience across intersections of identity. Mainstream teen comedies still predominantly feature white, able-bodied, cisgender protagonists. But hits like Booksmart, with a lesbian lead character, and Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, focusing on an Indian American teen, may signal a shift.
Some highly anticipated films that could shape the future of the genre include Booksmart director Olivia Wilde’s next movie, Don’t Worry Darling, described as The Matrix meets Inception, set in a utopian community in the 1950s. There’s also an adaptation of the graphic novel Heartstopper coming to Netflix, which follows a gay teen romance. Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids, also has some new comedies in the works focused on female empowerment. As technology transforms how we connect, date, and come of age, we’ll likely see more films exploring online relationships and dilemmas amplified by social media. While paying homage to the classics, the teen comedy continues reinventing itself for each generation.