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Remembering Movies We Loved Too Much as Teens

The good, the bad, the stuff that stuck with us over the years

Teens are raging hormone piles filled with sugar and vape smoke whose judgement about music, movies and life should not be trusted, and yet they are our society's ultimate arbiters of taste. Did you like good things when you were a teen? Probably not! Teens mostly love complete trash, or at least wonderful poppy trash, but occasionally good things slip through the teen cracks, and your little teen brain freaks out and declares this work of substance to be the Best. Thing. Evar. Movies and music understand you when you're a teen. Art gets you in ways your parents, teachers and sometimes your closest friends don't understand. And that's why you overvalue this art's worth, because your brain doesn't level out until you're well into your twenties.

The things we listen to and watch during our formative years shape us in profound ways we can only hope to understand later. Some of it is good. Some of it sucks. We made a list of the good-bad movies we loved as teens, the stuff that stuck with us over the years, even though we realized that movie's flaws after clear-eyed viewings later in life. Donnie Darko is the perfect example of the phenomena we're trying to describe here. Pretty much every teen watches Donnie Darko, convinces their friends they understood it, and then watches it a thousand more times to impress other people, even though it's deeply flawed and mostly dense mumbo jumbo. That's why we're calling this The Donnie Darko Hall of Fame. So to fit with the season, this is the inaugural graduating class.

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is an adolescent wet dream with time travel. Think about what Jake Gyllenhaal does over the course of the movie: he gets the girl (check), tells off a creepy authority figure played by Patrick Swayze (double check), throws a party without his parents (triple check), and turns himself into a martyr to save the girl/world (quadruple check). He also partakes in a bit of psychotic arson – of course I loved this movie when I was 14 years old. Donnie was brooding, complicated, smarter than his peers. In short, he was everything I had ever wanted to be. I’m pretty sure he’s what every high school freshman wants to be. Let YouTube user Phantasm Dusk explain in the description for a clip titled “My Favorite Scene” (it’s the one where Donnie calls Swayze “the fucking antichrist”):

Let's face it, Donnie is an asshole, but it's this scene that makes me like him. Somehow I just feel admiration for this guy when he stands up for common sense and says what we only wish we had the courage to. This is an odd one but a good film worth seeing at least once.

On top of all that, I thought Donnie Darko was a cinematic wonder. I actually watched the director’s cut version first (this movie taught me what a director’s cut actually was) and the interspersed pages of The Philosophy of Time Travel blew my freaking mind. On my second viewing (which immediately followed my first) I paused the screen at each page so I could figure out what the hell was going on. It was the first film I had to "figure out." Along with the way the film cuts back to the beginning at the end with the twist, I thought this was the most technically and thematically complex film I’d ever seen. There's a reason I spent hours trying to decipher this website, thinking there were hidden clues.

I never did get around to seeing S. Darko, though. And thankfully I never got that “cellar door” tattoo. — BC


I loved Clerks so much when I was a teen. SO much. I watched it the night before my SATs because I was like, just because I spent all this time studying for this test that will determine where I go to college and therefore where I get a job and therefore the financial and social quality of my adult life it doesn't mean I have to just give in to societal standards, you know? I could still be an independent spirit who lived in black and white, right? That was probably the third time I saw the movie. Here are the reasons I loved Clerks:

1. It was low budget. I thought that was cool. I especially thought it was cool that they incorporated how low budget it was by making the store being dark a plot point -- in the film, the store's shade is broken because some deadbeats jammed the lock with gum (could Dante's day get any worse?) but that was just because they were filming in a Quick Stop at night, when the store was closed, where Kevin Smith actually worked. So resourceful.

2. Jay and Silent Bob. Who among us did not irrationally love Jay and Silent Bob in our teenage years? I liked when Jay would sing.

3. Speaking of singing, I really liked that song "Berserker." That was a great song.

4. Even though they were obvious losers, the characters seemed to have things weirdly together. Dante's girlfriend did things like bring him food on the way to class, which seemed very adult, and they all had jobs that they cared enough about to show up for but not enough about to actually do very well. They also had lots of big ideas about the world and morality and Dante even decided to charge people using the honor system because he presumably had read the Prince and knew that we are all driven by fear of punishment. This appealed to teenage me.

Presented by

Connor Simpson is a former staff writer for The Wire. His work has appeared in Business Insider and City Lab.

David Sims is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers entertainment.

Ben Cosman is a former staff writer for The Wire. His work has appeared in Mic and Salon.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a former staff writer for The Wire. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post and Reuters.

Allie Jones is a former staff writer at The Wire.

Abby Ohlheiser is a former staff writer for The Wire.

Philip Bump is a former politics writer for The Atlantic Wire.

Eric Levenson is a former staff writer for The Wire.

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