As millennials become the dominant generation in the workforce, it's time to reflect on the movies that shaped the angst that characterizes this generation. Millennials are meant to be dreamers. They're a generation defined by goals that are forced into conflict with reality. Millennial movies often highlight the disconnect between these two things. As we all know, they capture the angst of being a teen in the 2000s.
Many of the millennial movies on this list were made for and about teenagers. Now, the teens who watched them have grown up and entered the workforce. They've translated their angst into jobs in middle management. They'll always be just as angsty as they were when they were young, though, at least according to these movies.
Juno is one of the movies that defines what it means to be a millennial. Its dialogue may not be an accurate reflection of how millennials actually talk, but its story of a young girl achieving maturity in part by realizing that most men suck is a quintessentially millennial story.
The movie is a sweet look at a young girl who wants to be a rebel and discovers that being conventional isn't always the worst thing in the world. Juno is a definitive millennial movie, filled to the brim with things that millennials tend to initially love and then learn to hate hate, such as teen pregnancy stories, quirky dialogue, and lots of Michael Cera.
Like Juno, Lady Bird works hard to capture what it's like to be a millennial. The difference between the two movies is that Lady Bird feels a little bit more grounded in the real world. The movie is also a little bit more honest about the realities of growing up in a world where the middle class isn't really a thing.
Like many movies about young people, and millennial young people, in particular, the movie is a testament to the power of realizing that your story is not the only one that matters. In addition to being a moving movie, Lady Bird is a movie that is of its generation and timeless. That's why it works.
Comedies aimed at millennials are a little bit dirtier, naughtier, and raunchier than the films that came before. Superbad tells the story of a pair of high school boys who want to make the most of their final days as high schoolers. It's a hilarious, dirty movie that's filled to the brim with gags and wonderful jokes.
At its core, though, Superbad is a story of two friends learning how to grow apart. It's a struggle that every generation has gone through, but it's one that feels particularly acute for millennials who face incredibly uncertain futures after high school.
The Social Network is the best example of a movie that explains exactly how toxic masculinity came to infect our culture. The movie's action centers on the founding of Facebook, and on the petty loneliness of Mark Zuckerberg in particular. It's Mark's rage caused by betrayals of his girlfriend and best friend that lead him to the life he now leads, at least in the version of the story that The Social Network tells. The genius of the movie is the way it connects that back to Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg connected the entire world, but he ends the movie more alone than he's ever been.
Romantic comedies aren't always the most progressive or forward-looking. (500) Days of Summer offers something of a corrective to the genre, telling the story of a man who becomes convinced he's met the perfect woman, only to realize how dangerous it is to hold women to such ridiculous standards.
The movie is about what romantic comedies teach us about love. Although the movie can occasionally move into cynicism, it's also soaring and romantic. Millennials pretend that love doesn't matter, but at the end of the day, they know it does, and (500) Days of Summer communicates that feeling perfectly.
Code Red Films
Before the Netflix TV show, Dear White People was a movie, and it just might be the smartest movie on this list. It shows how relationships between different races play out on college campuses, and how those conflicts echo the broader issues that exist in America today. Dear White People is a justifiably angry movie, but it's also incredibly nuanced and sophisticated.
It highlights the false wokeness of even the most elite college campuses and the way that wokeness hides deeper issues around race. Racism is not restricted to Klan members. As millennials become more open-minded and educated about the topic, Dear White People has only become more essential as a movie worth studying.
There's nothing more millennial than starting your movie with "Yellow" by Coldplay. The rest of Boyhood, which explores the life of a millennial child from school right through to his journey to college, only reinforces the message established in that opening scene. Boyhood is a movie about growing up as a millennial, and it's a beautiful tribute to that journey.
Although the movie is moving throughout, it's remarkably smart about the way lives change and the ways they don't. It's not a plotty movie at all, but the accumulation of experiences adds up to something that's worth a lot more than any individual moment from the film.
The Marvel movies may have defined a great deal of millennial movie-going for the past 11 years, but The Hunger Games is the franchise that best encapsulates the cynicism and anger at this generation's core. Following a young girl who inadvertently becomes the spearhead of a revolution, the series is frank about the horrors of everything from capitalism to war.
It's a series about fame and the corruption that comes with power. At its core, though, the series is about the small acts of kindness that make life worth it. At the end of the day, that's all most millennials have to hang on to.
If The Hunger Games is the political calling card of millennials, then Twilight is the less progressive sister series that's much more about the heart. If you've never heard of it, (literally, how?) Twilight follows a teen girl who falls in love with an immortal vampire. It's really a story about the young woman's exploration of the world around her, and her awakening to the desire in her core.
Twilight certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's one of the defining cultural artifacts for many millennials, who were obsessed with both the books and the films when they came out. It also captures a certain angsty feeling that's hard to deny.
Garden State is the millennial movie that most millennials hate. It's about a young man who returns home, only to discover that it doesn't really feel like home anymore. The idea at the movie's center is a good one, but the movie's reputation has soured lately as more and more people realize exactly how obvious it is.
Still, Garden State works harder than any movie on this list to be angsty. In spite of the protagonist's relative position of privilege, he's still sad about a lot of things, and that sadness represents the idea of millennial angst at its most self-centered and uninteresting.
Moonlight is a movie about a millennial experience that we don't get to see much. It follows Chyron, a poor, black boy who has to reckon with his sexuality as he matures. Moonlight may be best remembered for its shocking Best Picture upset at the Oscars, which was a win the movie absolutely deserved.
Although the movie certainly depicts angst, it's founded in a set of problems that don't often get a ton of room to breathe on screen. In Moonlight, we understand Chyron on an intimate level and feel for him for precisely that reason. It's a staggering achievement that offers a perspective that's sadly absent from most movies.
Of the many high school movies on this list, Mean Girls might be the one that's most iconic today. Although its plot is actually fairly convoluted, Mean Girls is really about how awful people can be to one another in high school. It's one of the funniest high school movies ever made, and it also benefits from a real awareness of the ramifications that casual cruelty can have.
In some ways, Mean Girls represents the dawning of a new era of teen comedies. It's in that era that we get a deeper sense of the characters at the heart of the genre, and get a more nuanced look at what high school is really like.
Minding the Gap is the only documentary on this list, but it's a must-watch thanks to how it documents millennial aging. The film is really about histories of abuse, but it centers its story on three millennial kids, one of whom is the film's director, who all love to skateboard.
From there, the movie follows the three boys over a period of years. We see their highs and their lows and come to understand their economic struggles as well as their humanity. The movie is never simple, but it's always interesting. In looking at young millennial men, the film gets at the crisis of masculinity that is at the heart of this generation.
Every version of Peter Parker is a teenager struggling with his personal life, but in Spider-Man 2, we see how a millennial would deal with being Spider-Man. Basically, the movie hinges on Peter's decision to give up his life as Spider-Man, and live a normal life instead. It's a move many an overwhelmed millennial can probably relate to.
Although he ultimately realizes that he owes it to the world to put his mask back on, Spider-Man 2 is a great superhero movie about the angst that comes with over-committing yourself to your various extracurriculars, which is something many millennials can relate to.
As a filmmaker, Judd Apatow has a very millennial sensibility. That was never truer than in Knocked Up, which is about a stoner who accidentally gets a woman way out of his league pregnant. The movie sets up a pretty interesting dichotomy between its two central characters, who speak to different aspects of what it is to be a millennial.
The movie's female lead is driven and assertive, and almost entirely focused on her career. The male lead is an aimless man-boy who has little interest in developing long-term goals. Although they ultimately meet in the middle, it's interesting to consider the way this dynamic pokes at broader issues of sexism without ever addressing it directly.
Get Out is going to be remembered as an iconic millennial movie. It's a funny, yet terrifying social thriller about a black man's descent into hell after he visits his white girlfriend's family. The movie is a perfect satire of white families who think they're a lot more woke than they actually are.
Even as Get Out proves to be both thrilling and hilarious, it's also really smart about how white people with the best intentions can still be part of racist systems. Of course, almost none of the white people in Get Out are actually operating with the best intentions.
The Spectacular Now is a very millennial twist on a conventional teen romance movie. In it, the popular guy falls for the quiet, shy girl like most teen movies. The only difference is, in this version of the story, the popular kid is dealing with a mountain of issues, including depression and burgeoning alcoholism.
This movie is willing to dive deeper into its characters. It's not flawless, but it's got a sweet, sentimental vibe, even as it digs into the real traumas and issues that its characters are facing. Like most great millennial movies, it starts with tropes and then uncovers the humanity behind them.
If you've never seen The Edge of Seventeen, you should probably drop what you're doing and watch it. The movie tells the story of a young girl filled with self-loathing who spirals when her only friend begins dating her brother. The film's caustic wit is matched by its main character's sincere depression, and it's that combination of elements that makes the movie feel like more than a typical teen dramedy.
The Edge of Seventeen is sentimental without being sappy, and frank about the struggles young people have with relating to the world. It's a note-perfect look at what it's like to grow up in the world today.
Sony Pictures Classics
Although it's set in the '80s, the defining ideas in Call Me By Your Name speak to what it's like to be a millennial. The film, which tells the story of a romance between the son of a prominent professor and the professor's graduate assistant, is beautifully rendered and entirely tragic.
The movie is also an exploration of sex that doesn't attempt to define it in any real way. Instead, the movie gives in to the pleasure of its world. It's a scenic tour of Italy and a sensual movie about living life while you've got it. It's a movie with its head in the clouds.
The Big Sick is funny, romantic, and deeply sad, and it's also effortlessly diverse and just great. The movie tells the story of two people who start a relationship and then break up when she realizes that his Pakistani family will never allow them to be together. Then, she falls quite suddenly into a coma.
The movie would be totally ridiculous if it wasn't a true story, but the emotions at the center of it ring incredibly true. It's a funny movie that's also heartbreaking, and specific in all of its details. Falling in love today isn't easy, but in The Big Sick, it feels like all the heartache might actually be worth it.