7 overlooked 2000s teen movies
Truly a golden age for cinema.
Cherry Falls (2000)
For every cinematic gem of the 2000s, there’s a million forgotten, overlooked classics waiting in the wings to be rediscovered by a new audience and memed to death. Well, okay, not a million, but in the Y2K era there were a lot of teen movies. In the pre-streaming days of studio execs throwing hot young stars and love triangle plots at a wall to see what sticks, it’s inevitable that some of these will have been overlooked.
For every Jennifer’s Body, there’s a Swimfan. For every Mean Girls, there’s a Drop Dead Gorgeous. And for every Juno there’s a Sugar and Spice. But with the 2000s back in (dubious) fashion, thanks largely to TikTok and Depop, and with our thirst for nostalgia more desperate than ever, there’s never been a better time to discover (or fall back in love, if you’re old enough) with the gems of noughties cinema that haven’t re-entered the trend cycle yet. Dig out your hot pink Motorola Razr, invest in some chunky crimped highlights and buy overpriced low rise Tammy Girl jeans from a child on Depop. Let’s dive in.
Sugar and Spice (2001)
Before all-girl heist movies like Hustlers and Springbreakers could run, Sugar and Spice had to walk, based on a true story of teenage girls robbing a bank in Kentucky. The suburban teens plan and carry out this armed robbery because their leader, head cheerleader Diane, has become pregnant by her high school sweetheart and star quarterback boyfriend. Shunned by her family and desperate for money, Diane and the squad decide on a theft is the only viable option. Despite some stellar Y2K casting (Mena Suvari and Buffy’s James Marsters both make appearances), the black comedy received mixed reviews and didn’t nail it at the box office. It’s a shame really — Sugar and Spice’s darkly satirical commentary on teen pregnancy, politics and crime went over the heads of audiences, who basically just preferred Election.
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Carrying on the theme of violent crime carried out in teenage girl world is Drop Dead Gorgeous, arguably Oscar-nominee Kirsten Dunst’s greatest yet most often forgotten role. Kirsten stars as the ambitious Amber Atkins, a tap-dancing part-time mortician who lives in small town Minnesota and dreams of one day winning the Miss Mount Rose beauty pageant, which would catapult her to stardom. The only problem is that the other girls in the pageant, run by resident Momager Kirstie Alley, keep dying or being grievously injured. Caveat: this satirical mockumentary was released at the tail end of 1999. But technically it gained cult status in the 2000s, partially because it marked a departure from the sweeter, much lighter teen movies that defined the 90s. Writing about Drop Dead Gorgeous’s impact for The Independent, Adam White said the movie marked a radical shift in tone for teen movies; that it "was made for a generation of freaks and outsiders, whose ambitions, oddities, queerness and poverty were otherwise ignored by anything similarly mainstream or funny." He added that it was "acidic and truthful about beauty, class and ambition, satirised all-American moralism and blew up Denise Richards, then fresh from Wild Things, as she rode a giant paper-maché swan."
Material Girls (2006)
Before she was the star of How I Met Your Father or a pioneering soft-choreo dancer on TikTok, Miss Hilary Duff was a movie star. And, charitable queen that she is, she was determined to bring sister Haylie Duff along for the ride. That’s how we ended up with 2006’s Material Girls, which is – yes, really – a Y2K adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Updating the setting from oldie worldie England to modern day Los Angeles, Material Girls stars Hilary and Haylie as spoiled Hollywood socialites and heirs to their late father’s cosmetics business. When a company scandal leaves them penniless, the pair are forced to grow up fast to save their fortune. Truly a movie of the girlboss era, sadly the poor little rich girl narrative didn’t capture audiences of the 2000s, and thus Material Girls is forgotten for everything other than its Rotten Tomatoes status as one of the 100 worst reviewed films of the decade. Nonetheless, for Lizzie McGuire stans (or Jane Austen enthusiasts) it’s worth a watch.
Cherry Falls (2000)
It may surprise you to learn that Jennifer’s Body is not the only 2000s horror movie that was forgotten about in the annals of time before becoming a cult classic. But unlike Jennifer’s Body, the weirder, less tenuously virginity-themed Cherry Falls has not captivated audiences anew in the 2020s. Starring noughties teen queen Brittany Murphy, the plot focuses on a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting teenage virgins. Salacious! So much so in fact that the movie was rejected by the Motion Picture Association several times, before eventually being telecast (but only after the director heavily cut a mass naked orgy final scene, to avoid being slapped with an X rating). Nonetheless Cherry Falls has ended up with minor cult status, which I can only attribute, due to personal experience, to everyone being banned from watching it by absolutely scandalised parents, which therefore inevitably only made you want to watch it more.
Wild Child (2008)
If all of this might make you think that the movies of the aughts were all doom gloom, violent crime and virgin sacrifice, then fear not! For a lighter respite from the horror, may we suggest a palate cleanser: 2008 comedy Wild Child, in which Emma Roberts, an LA-based terror, is forced to retire to a stuffy boarding school in the English countryside to learn the error of her ways. Hilarity – and romance! – of course ensues. Despite some pretty brutal contemporary reviews (a depressing number of which make puns about the movie being more “mild” than “wild”) there’s so much to love about this incredibly dumb little film. There’s Emma as some sort of stand-in for a PG version of hard-partying mid-2000s Hollywood starlets like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie. There’s a montage of outfits in a charity shop and one of history’s first ever selfies. The soundtrack is an absolute romp through the best and worst music the decade had to offer. All you could want in a teen movie, tbh.
Ice Princess (2005)
It wouldn’t be a true list of 2000s cult movies without a Disney Channel original in there. And there is no greater, more infinitely watchable Disney Channel original movie than 2005’s Ice Princess, a “sports dramedy” which tells the story of Casey Carlysle, a poor, overworked maths genius who wants nothing more than to sack off her university scholarship to Harvard to become a figure skater. Despite the saccharine premise, Ice Princess benefits from a who’s who of 2000s icons on cast and crew — written by Meg Cabot (the writer who gave us The Princess Diaries), the movie stars Buffy’s Michelle Trachtenberg in the lead role, with Hayden Panettiere as a rival ice dancer. Joan Cusack is Casey’s well-meaning but nerdy mother, while Kim Cattrall (yes, really) took a break from the back-breaking work of carrying Sex and the City to play the ice rink’s harsh but fair coach. Michelle Kwan does a cameo and Roger Ebert gave this film three out of a possible four stars. Yes, all of that information is true.
7 Saved! (2004)
Rounding out the list is 2004’s Saved!, another satirical black comedy (big decade for teen satirists) which became a sleeper cult hit and even inspired its own musical adaptation. The story follows a teenage girl at a Christian high school who has sex with her boyfriend in an attempt to "cure" him of his homosexuality; she becomes pregnant (also a big decade for teen pregnancy movies!) as a result and is ostracised by her schoolmates. Starring a number of the 90s and 00s biggest names – Jena Malone, Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin all appear in lead roles – the movie received good reviews after its Sundance premiere, but was hampered by a limited release. Its director Brian Dannelly said he based most of the plot on his own experience at a Baptist Christian high school, which makes the plot even more insane and watchable (and awful, of course). "I would even go so far as to say that everything in the film is something I experienced or researched," he said "I didn’t try to make up stuff.”