6 Best Movies & Shows for Teens/Tweens

During the tween and teen years, the media has a large influence on how people think and act. Thanks to the growing presence and handy features of technology-–notably major streaming platforms and social media—movies and TV shows are becoming more and more popular and accessible. Though they’re often scorned for being distractions, they can actually creatively stimulate the teen mind and open them up to a range of new, diverse topics in the world. They also serve as a great introduction to many brilliant directors, actors, and composers. 

I’m a long-time “cinephile” myself; for as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with stories and everything that goes into the movie-making process, from the scriptwriting down to the soundtracks. I’ve collected a list of my personal favorite movies and shows that are chock-full of valuable lessons, and have no shortage of stunning visuals, acting, and music! Most of these shows are available on various subscription-based streaming services (I’ll tell you which ones), and of course you can always purchase or rent them through Amazon or even check out the DVDs from your local public library!

Here are six of the best movies and shows for teens to check out:

1. Parasite (2019)

Director Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film tells a story unlike any other about the tensions between the rich and the poor. As one review in the trailer states, Parasite starts out as one thing and morphs into something else completely different; by the end of the film, viewers are left speechless and immobilized.

The plot follows a poor family gradually infiltrating a rich family out of desperation and greed, and all the consequences that follow as a result. Though the film is not in English, which initially sparked some controversial comments and debate, the story reflects a multitude of universal truths rather unforgivingly. Parasite urges the viewer to ask the question: who really was the “bad guy”? Was there even a bad guy at all? 

With Parasite, Bong Joon-ho truly made a breakthrough, as it was the first foreign film in Academy history to win Best Picture. This film is a spectacular experience for viewers of all ages, but serves as an especially provoking point of reflection for teens and tweens who are just beginning to discover and negotiate the ugly truths of the real world.

You can stream it on Hulu with a subscription.

2. Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight is yet another Oscar-winning film that brings the viewer through a coming-of-age story fraught with tensions, social pressures, and breaking relationships. Its storyline, which is choreographed in a very unique way, is divided into the three different “parts”, or chapters. It depicts main character Chiron’s life as a Black boy growing up in an unsupportive family while trying to navigate his gay identity. The movie actively breaks down many stereotypes and racist beliefs that have been perpetuated through the years, especially through the media. 81% of Google users reported enjoying this movie—and with good reason, as the film won THREE Oscars and was nominated for five more. Wowza!

Be sure to add Moonlight to your must-watch list for the much-needed space of solidarity and growth that it offers, particularly for teen viewers, and to watch the Oscar-worthy performances of co-stars Mahershala Ali as the father figure “Juan,” Ashton Sanders as teen “Chiron,” and rising star Jharrel Jerome as his love interest “Kevin.”

This film is available with your Showtime and Hulu subscriptions. 

3. Inception (2010)

I believe I speak for most, if not all, young people when I say: WE LOVE ACTION!!! Over the years, countless action movies have made a name for themselves, including the Mission Impossible series, The Avengers, Venom, Spiderman, other films of the Marvel/superhero variety, and more. One-of-a-kind director Christopher Nolan brings Inception into this mix, a highly unique sci-fi/magical realism movie that is, at the end of the day, really just centered around a heist mission. The film has earned a whopping 8.8/10 rating on IMDb, a 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and has spawned many theories and forums that continue to circulate today.

It also brings in themes of trauma, family, self-growth, and plenty of other interwoven messages that are both valuable and cathartic to watch for the young action-lover. “Inception” may be old—it was first released in 2010—but it brings class and flavor to the action movie genre, and tells an unforgettable story.

Inception is available on Netflix and HBO Max.

4. Bojack Horseman (2014–2020)

Bojack Horseman is another old-but-gold classic. This animated show presents some pretty mature concepts and is definitely a better fit for teens on the older side. Though the show seems, at first glance, childish—anthropomorphic animals and humans coexist in this world—the premise is anything but. The episodes follow main character Bojack Horseman through the realities of his post-fame, washed-up life, filled with drug and alcohol addiction problems, fake friends, failed relationships, and more.

According to Google, a whopping 95% of Google users reported enjoying this show! I give this show a huge recommendation to teens looking to pursue the arts and wanting an insider’s gaze to the industry lifestyle; however, watching Bojack Horseman meet and tackle his problems is extremely cathartic for viewers of any age and interest.

Stream it through Netflix!

5. The Umbrella Academy (2019–Present)

Based on Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s comic series with the same name, Steve Blackman’s The Umbrella Academy is a comic-turned-show like no other. It features seven dysfunctional siblings, each with unique superpowers, banding together to stop not one but TWO apocalypses—and along the way explores some serious themes like childhood abuse, trauma, relationships, and more. Since its airing, the show has earned an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 8/10 on IMDb.

The show stays true to its source material while still making itself enjoyable for a non-comic-book audience as well, and will have you enthralled every minute of the two-season run—especially with its co-star, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), who is a sarcastic, time-traveling, coffee-addicted assassin—oh, and he’s also a 58 year old man trapped inside his 13 year old body. With the third season just released, there’s no better time to dive into the TUA universe!

This show is available on Netflix.

6. Ne Zha (2019)

With its stunning animations, emotional storyline, and cultural motifs, Ne Zha stopped hearts when it was first released in American theaters. The film communicates the strong, touching message to viewers that we are in charge of our own fate. It is based on the story of Nezha, a figure in traditional Chinese folklore who was born special—as a flesh ball, to be precise—and later made into a protection deity and remained a notable individual in Chinese religion. However, Ne Zha decided to do a modern take on the story by spinning its eponymous protagonist into an antagonist of sorts, establishing Ne Zha as a demon child.

The many key elements and themes that the filmmakers draw from the original folklore and incorporate into Ne Zha, such as the lotus flower motifs and Ne Zha’s arsenal of unique weapons, are just icing on the cake. The film is certainly deserving of its 98% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, viewers absolutely do not need any knowledge of the Chinese lore to enjoy the film thoroughly. Watch Ne Zha, and see if you can believe that this beautiful film is actually the debut film of director “Jiaozi”!

Watch this film on Netflix!

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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