10 things i hate about you

It’s time for a revival of the teen girl dramedy

One of my favorite weekend past times is reliving my middle school days and rewatching some of the best movies of all time. I’m talking about films like Ten Things I Hate About You, Love and Basketball, Mean Girls, and Save the Last Dance. Basically I just miss Julia Stiles, but I digress.

The teen girl dramedy describes a genre of films that built on the classic, coming-of-age John Hughes movies, but were specifically targeted towards teenage girls and young women. There was definitely a golden age for these films: from Clueless (1995) to Step Up (2006). In that decade, nearly every must-have feature film on a slumber party playlist was released.

1995-2004 represents a powerful decade of pop culture. In addition to teen girl dramedies, it was the era of boy bands, Christina Aguilera, the original incarnation of Britney Spears, and the best ten years of Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs). For ten years, the purchasing power of girls and young women was seemingly realized, and the pop culture world turned on the desires of those of us who were at prime sleepover age…or in college.

Beyond being my favorite films for nostalgic reasons, teen girl dramedies actually did well at the box office. Bring It On grossed $90, 449, 929 worldwide on a budget of $28,000,000. Mean Girls grossed $129, 042, 871 globally compared to a budget of $17,000,000. Save the Last Dance killed it at the box office, grossing $131,706, 809 worldwide on a budget of $13,000,000.

Of course, the success of these films does not mean they were perfect. They’re all problematic in different ways. Mean Girls has some seriously uncomfortable racial humor, Bring It On casually uses homophobic slurs, and nearly all of the films that fit into this genre lack substantive roles for people of color (the obvious exceptions are Save the Last Dance and Love and Basketball).

Though this genre of films consistently made money, after 2006, they basically disappeared. The only films of note that would possibly fit the bill of a teen girl dramedy post 2006 are Pitch Perfect and Easy A, the latter being more of an update to the Hughes genre than Mean Girls.

The genre has been allowed to die, but the purchasing power of young women and girls hasn’t died at all. This demographic created Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, two of the most powerful players in the music industry. They are the heirs to the thrones vacated by the likes of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys (Beyoncé just took the Destiny’s Child throne for herself). When Julia Stiles decided to go to college at Columbia, she vacated a throne, one that has decidedly gone unfilled for a decade.

Of course, teenage girls and young women are still being marketed toward. But Bridesmaids and other raunchy female-driven comedies are focused on the stories of an older demographic of women. Meanwhile, films like Divergent, Twilight, and The Hunger Games are all derived from books that already had proven success with their desired demographic. The number of films with original plots developed to speak to the everyday experiences of teen girls through exaggerated comedy and drama so far this decade approaches zero. This matters because the “young adult book to movie” genre doesn’t provide new stories; they’re just retelling stories already in existence on a bigger screen. Plus, the number of films in these franchises falsely inflates the sense of volume being marketed toward young women and girls. Together, when completed, the three discreet stories of Divergent, Twilight, and The Hunger Games will have been spread out over 10 movies. And while I appreciate seeing The Hunger Games on the big screen, we simply need more stories.

The teen girl dramedy stands opposite to “bro comedy” (bromedy) movies, such as American Pie, Superbad, 21 & 22 Jumpstreet, Neighbors, and That Awkward Moment, which have endured over time. Male-centric comedy as a genre is not bound by a decade nor a specific niche. For every comedy about a group of teen guys figuring it out, there is a film about adult guys doing stupid things (e.g. The Hangover). More importantly, popular films about young men are not necessarily subject to what’s hot. The assumption is that guys being funny together will always be relevant.

I am hopeful that the success of taking John Greene novels to screen will awaken this sleeping giant of a genre. It is a travesty that Mean Girls was released over a decade ago and is still the dominating image of this genre. And fifteen years after Ten Things I Hate About You, I think a teen girl dramedy can be created to with a bit more diversity. Stiles was the queen, descendant from the line of Molly Ringwald, but I’m hopeful we are past that. The revival of the teen girl dramedy can and should come with a more well-rounded and expansive group of characters and stories (read: not only white). I’m tired of missing Julia Stiles. Give me more people to love.

Header image credit: ABC News 


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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