In some ways a genre of film that has to overcome some people’s perception that it's solely made for younger viewers, teen drama films need to do everything they can to have broad appeal. As a result, finding the right group of young actors who can do a good enough job in one of these movies to make adults, teenagers and youngsters want to watch them is extremely important.
No matter how easy it may seem from the outside looking in, getting a film’s cast right takes a lot of skill and an ample helping of luck. After all, a performer can be marvelous in the audition process and fall apart on the set. On top of that, some talented performers are talented by themselves but they share zero on-screen chemistry with their co-stars. With all of that in mind, it is time to look at this list of 15 casting decisions that saved teen drama movies and 5 that were total flops.
In order for a casting decision to be considered for possible inclusion on this list, it first and foremost needs to relate to a notable teen drama movie. The actor in question also needs to have either been a welcome addition to the film as a whole or had a negative effect on it for one reason or another. On top of that, it should be noted who played supporting film roles were in the running as long as their involvement in the movie was notable enough to really make a mark.
20 Flopped: Taylor John Smith – You Get Me
Released on Netflix in 2017, You Get Me failed to become a sensation like other teen movies released on that streaming service. Focused on a young man who betrays his girlfriend after a major fight only to be stalked by the new lady in his life, the movie’s plot is far from groundbreaking. However, You Get Me does have one thing going for it: Bella Thorne’s compelling performance as an unhinged person who feels she has been spurned.
Unfortunately, the person who plays the object of her desires, Taylor John Smith, does such a mediocre job that it is hard to relate to what he is going through. In fact, his emotional range feels so limited that it is hard to feel like his character is in any real peril.
19 Saved: Molly Ringwald - The Breakfast Club
Long considered to be among the best teen movies of all time, The Breakfast Club featured a group of teens from very different social groups who were all are going through similar difficulties. Starring several members of the group of actors who came to be known as the Brat Pack, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, and Judd Nelson all helped to make the movie work. However, for our money, there is no doubt that Molly Ringwald’s performance as Claire, the so-called princess, was the movie’s best feature.
Her pitch-perfect delivery of a speech about feeling ignored by her parents helped viewers realize that no matter how things seem from the outside, everyone has their struggles.
18 Saved: Mandy Moore – Saved!
Unfortunately, a film that came and went without making much of an impact, very few people seem to realize how great Saved! is. Mostly focused on a group of outsiders at a Christian high school, Mandy Moore plays the movie’s main antagonist, a self-righteous young woman who judges everyone around her. If you are a teen movie fan, you would likely know that the way we described Mandy’s character Hilary could apply to many other villains from this genre of film.
Thankfully, Mandy managed to make Hilary a much more nuanced character since she imbues most of her lines with a hint of insecurity that informs everything she does in the movie.
17 Saved: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Basketball Diaries
As much as we love teen movies, the fact remains that the vast majority of them feel unlike your average high school experience since everything has a Hollywood sheen to it. The polar opposite of that, The Basketball Diaries pulls no punches and becomes mired in so much emotion that it can be very hard to watch.
Focused on a promising high school basketball player whose potential is decimated by addiction issues, it took an actor as talented as Leonardo DiCaprio to pull the character off. After all, he was able to make his character’s fall from grace believable and even though he was still a young man at the time, he was able to embody the complicated nature of that kind of dependence.
16 Flopped: Paul Rust - I Love You, Beth Cooper
The kind of thing that almost all of us have gone through at one time or another, harboring a crush for a long time can be a painful experience. Therefore, a movie like I Love You, Beth Cooper, in which a young man professes his adoration for the apple of his eye and things end up working out well for him, can be a lot of fun to watch.
Unfortunately, Paul Rust’s performance as the movie’s main character is so awkward that it is hard to believe that his high school’s most popular girl would fall for him. Worse yet, he is so hard to relate to in the movie that when most people think of this film it is Hayden Panettiere, the actor who portrays Beth Cooper, who comes to mind.
15 Saved: Reese Witherspoon – Cruel Intentions
Cruel Intentions is focused on a young man who bets that he can seduce a teenage girl who wrote an article about intending to stay pure. In the movie, Reese plays the object of the bet. First appearing to be almost cartoonishly innocent, over time Reese’s character becomes more mature while also softening the attitudes of the teenage boy who attempts to win her over.
Able to believably portray her character’s transformation and also seem charming enough to inspire a change in someone who’d previously seemed robotic, Reese is the linchpin to Cruel Intention’s success. She's certainly one of her generation’s best actors, so her appearance on this list shouldn’t surprise anyone.
14 Saved: Evan Rachel Wood- Thirteen
Just like The Basketball Diaries, Thirteen is an unflinching film that shows how easily someone in their teen years can make bad decisions and end up on the wrong road. Focused on a mother’s difficulty as she watches her daughter go from a mild-mannered honours student to someone who takes part in all manner of dangerous behaviours, the movie easily could have failed. After all, if the performances weren’t convincing the film as a whole could have felt melodramatic.
However, Holly Hunter as the mother and Evan Rachel Wood as the daughter were so spectacular in their roles that it seemed like they truly were related and going through something difficult together.
13 Saved: Matthew McConaughey – Dazed And Confused
An ensemble film that takes place on the last day of school, Dazed and Confused shows a group of high schoolers letting loose and having a good time. Considering the movie features a long list of celebrated actors, including the likes of Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Anthony Rapp and Parker Posey, stealing the movie’s spotlight is an impressive feat.
Despite that, there is no doubt that when this movie comes up, most people first think of Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Wooderson. The funny thing about that is that Wooderson is an extremely strange character. Yet, somehow McConaughey is so charismatic in the role that many people still love the character.
12 Flopped: Kristen Stewart – Twilight Franchise
Quite possibly the most divisive film franchise of all time, a lot of people love the Twilight movies while many other folks passionately dislike them. Cast as the franchise’s main character, in all five Twilight films Kristen Stewart plays Bella Swan, a teenager who befriends vampires and werewolves. Even though Bella has found herself in a mind-boggling situation, Stewart’s version of the character shows such a small amount of emotion that you’d think she was leading an unremarkable life.
One of the worst side effects of her bad acting in these movies is that for a long time people thought that Kristen Stewart was a bad performer overall. Fortunately, in recent years she has been fantastic in movies like Still Alice, Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria.
11 Saved: Hailee Steinfeld - The Edge Of Seventeen
Able to garner an Oscar nomination for her stellar performance in the Coen brothers' version of True Grit, at the time it seemed like Hailee Steinfeld may never surpass that achievement. However, she was so entertaining as The Edge of Seventeen’s main character that we’ve come to believe that her career will only continue to get better from here. Cast as a socially awkward teen who feels betrayed when her best friend starts dating her popular brother, Steinfeld’s character begins to act out in really bratty ways that should make viewers dislike her.
Fortunately, Steinfeld sympathetic portrayal of her character allows us to understand her internal struggle and loneliness, and relate to it.
10 Saved: Tom Holland - Spider-Man: Homecoming
Ever since comic book films have taken Hollywood by storm, a seemingly endless array of actors have portrayed characters with superpowers. For example, Spider-Man has been embodied on the big screen by three actors so far and even though Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are talented actors, their portrayals pale in comparison to Tom Holland’s.
In fact, it almost seems like Holland was born to play Spidey since he looks young enough to portray a high schooler. On top of that, he pulls off Spider-Man’s sense of humour perfectly while being believable as a bookworm who has a history of being bullied.
9 Saved: Shailene Woodley - The Fault In Our Stars
Not exactly the feel-good movie of the year, The Fault In Our Stars is a film that is likely to leave viewers with a tear in their eye, if not outright sobbing. Focused on a pair of teenagers who are grappling with cancer when they fall in love, right from the start it is obvious that their story is destined for an early end.
As a result, it could have been easy for viewers to opt out of investing in their relationship in order to stave off the inevitable sadness that will come about when they are torn apart. However, Shailene Woodley is so great in the movie that even after things have taken a turn for the worse, viewers love her and take solace in feeling like they’ve seen a love story for the ages.
8 Flopped: Chloë Grace Moretz– Carrie
Widely considered to be a classic of the horror film genre, when a remake of the 1976 film Carrie was put into production everyone involved had a very difficult task in front of them. Probably the person that was given the hardest job of all, when Chloë Grace Moretz signed on to play the titular character in the 2013 remake she had to follow in the footsteps of Sissy Spacek.
Unfortunately, Moretz never came even remotely close to making Carrie feel like a fully fleshed-out character the way Spacek had decades earlier. Instead, her version of the character felt hollow since we never really believed her as an outcast so her anger at the end of the film felt completely fake.
7 Saved: Tupac Shakur – Juice
Deservedly remembered as a legendary rapper, if you thought that performing music and writing lyrics were Tupac Shakur's only skills then you have another thing coming. A talented actor, in Juice he played Roland Bishop, a youth who gets involved in a world of crime and ends up turning on his friends in an attempt to save himself (and for the fun of it).
As Juice’s main antagonist, if Tupac had failed to seem like a real threat the film would have collapsed around him. Fortunately for everyone involved, he comes across as so menacing in the movie that it is a shame he wasn’t given the opportunity to portray more movie villains.
6 Saved: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
An actor who feels poised to be one of the most acclaimed ever, at only 24 years of age Saoirse Ronan has already earned three Oscar nominations and a long list of other trophy wins. Most recently celebrated for her stunning work in the movie Lady Bird, Ronan’s performance as the titular character is bound to speak to anyone who has felt stifled by everyday life.
Largely focused on the difficult relationship that Ronan’s character has with her mother, she and her co-star Laurie Metcalf manage to make it seem like they’ve loved and hurt one another for years.
5 Saved: Elsie Fisher - Eighth Grade
Every year there are movies that take the world by storm. In 2018, no film surprised us more than Eighth Grade. Directed by Bo Burnham, someone who was famous for his YouTube success and comedy stylings, we never expected him to helm a movie that arguably features the most accurate depiction of teen life ever. While we were stunned by his achievement, his efforts may have gone to waste if he hadn’t hired Elsie Fisher to lead Eighth Grade’s cast.
Amazing in the movie, Fisher radiates insecurity in every scene and she shows flashes of brilliance when her character attempts to entertain others while filming YouTube videos.
4 Flopped: Britney Spears – Crossroads
As big of a star as Britney Spears was in the early 2000s, whoever it was that decided to green-light the idea of her starring in her own movie should've reconsidered. As the star of Crossroads, Spears was asked to play out several dramatic scenes in which she travels across the country to seek out the mother who left her behind.
To say that Spears lacked the ability to portray deep emotions like that on the big screen is a huge understatement. In fact, Spears won the Golden Raspberry award for Worst Actress for her work in Crossroads and the movie wasn’t even bad in an entertaining way.
3 Saved: Nick Robinson - Love, Simon
The kind of movie that immediately seems destined to go down as a classic, Love, Simon inspires anxiety in its audience in one moment and overwhelming joy in the next. Focused on a young man who struggles to come out of the closet, when someone finds out his secret and uses that information to blackmail him, his fear feels palpable. Pushed to do some bad things, his selfish behaviour could have inspired viewers to turn against him, but Nick Robinson played the role with such humanity that we go on the ride with him.
Even more importantly, once he finds someone to possibly love and he once again connects with the important people in his life, we adore the character so much by then that our hearts swell with his.
2 Saved: Reese Witherspoon – Election
The only actor to appear on this list twice, this time we are looking at Reese Witherspoon’s amazing portrayal of Election’s Tracy Flick. An incredibly hardworking and competitive person who seems to see everything as a stepping stone to greatness in life, Flick is so intense that she easily could have seemed too over the top. That is why it is such a great thing that Reese Witherspoon landed the role since she fully committed to the role and gave the character the subtlety it desperately needed to work.
After all, we totally bought her single-minded determination and when her façade of confidence occasionally faltered it was very telling.
1 Saved: Ezra Miller - The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
A coming-of-age film that is chocked full of interesting characters, The Perks of Being a Wallflower stars many talented actors including Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman and Paul Rudd. Despite all of them playing important parts in the film, whenever Ezra Miller appears onscreen as Patrick it is hard to look at anyone else.
An outspoken high schooler who seems true to himself at every turn, Patrick could have seemed like a cliché but Miller makes it clear that his boisterous ways cover up his internal insecurities. As impressive as that nuance is, we have to admit that it is just a joy to see Miller seem to be having a lot of fun playing a sometimes giddy character.
Sources: E! News