John Hughes may have dominated the ’80s teen movie scene, but the ’90s weren’t so bad, either. With the exception of a few outliers — Clueless, American Pie — most of those ’90s teen films operate like they have in the aughts: They’re not big at the box-office, but they have legs in home video. A movie like Paper Towns or The Duff may not register much with us, but those are the movies that will resonate with teenagers today and, 15 years from now, they’ll be the movies they’ll call back to.
To wit: You think anyone gave a shit about Can’t Hardly Wait when it came out in 1998? Because they didn’t. It made $25 million at the box office and was quickly forgotten about, except for the fact that now everyone over 30 can identify the cast, repeat half the lines from the movie (“I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS”), and can point to it as the origin of our Jennifer Love Hewitt crushes. (Don’t let the grown-up version of yourself deny it.)
But here’s what 99 percent of you can’t do, no matter how many times you’ve seen the movie: Identity the director.
You just can’t without looking it up, and I wish I could quiz you all on this to prove it. You’ll just have to collectively trust me on this: You don’t know the names of the directors of most of your favorite ’90s teen movies.
The truth is, for the most part, they were one-hit wonders who had already been pushed out of the system by the time their movies caught on. Sure, some are still around, but they’re mostly doing television work or they’re continuing to make movies that we collectively ignore.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.
Can’t Hardly Wait — Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan actually managed a follow-up to Can’t Hardly Wait. It was another teen movie that didn’t catch on like the first. It was called Josie and the Pussycats. Now you know why you’ve never heard of them. That movie basically killed their careers. They haven’t directed anything since Josie, but they were responsible for writing a few of the worst films of the aughts: Leap Year with Amy Adams, and the movie that put the nail in the coffin of Ben Affleck’s first career, Surviving Christmas.
Angus — Angus remains one of my favorite teen movies of the ’90s (so much so that I kept tabs on its lead, Charlie Talbot), but it’s unlikely that you remember the director’s name was Patrick Read Johnson. He teased us for a few years with 5-25-77, but it came and went, as has Johnson’s career as a director (shame, too, because he was great). We’ll always have that phenomenal “What is normal” speech, though, right before Angus punches James Van Der Beek in the nose.
Pump up the Volume and Empire Records — “Jam me, jack me, push me, pull me, talk hard” is a line from Pump Up the Volume that still pops into my head three times a week. Many of us can identify and remember the lyrics to every single song on the soundtracks to both of these movies. For example, Pump up the Volume introduced a very young me to Bad Brains, the Pixies, and early Police, while Empire Records is the reason why so many of us still carry a torch for Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket. But the director? I have to look it up every single time. His name is Allan Moyle. Unless you watched the 2004 TV movie, Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story, you probably haven’t seen any of his work since Empire Records.
10 Things I Hate About You — The 1999 teen comedy was the starting point for many of your crushes on both Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon Levitt. It’s also often cited a one of the most underappreciated teen movies of the ’90s. It even spawned a short-lived television series (that wasn’t that bad). But go ahead. Try to name the director. His name was Gil Junger. He directed the television series, as well, plus a lot of the sitcoms you were probably watching in the ’90s and 2000s.
She’s All That — She’s All That launched the careers of Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook and is responsible for fully half of the pop-culture allusions in USA Network’s Psych. It’s not a great movie, but it is a guilty pleasure that most of us have seen more than once. And yet, the name of the director probably eludes you. It’s Robert Iscove. He also directed From Justin to Kelly, and that’s probably why you never see his name anymore.
Never Been Kissed — How much did you love Drew Barrymore’s 21 Jump Street without the guns and drugs movie? It was so sweet, and who could ever forget the predictable but crowd-pleasing big kiss in the finale? But how many of you have also already forgotten the director’s name. It was Raja Gosnell. He has since directed several other movies that you probably haven’t seen, but you know about them. You hate them. For instance, the Scooby Doo movie, the Smurfs movies, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. He’s what they call a director-for-hire.
Hackers — I know that many of you have a weird fondness for Angelina Jolie’s film, Hackers, which is weird, because it’s not good (though Courtney might disagree). It’s one of the first hacker films. It’s where Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller met and got married. You probably even remember that a fetal Jesse Bradford is in the movie, though you haven’t thought about Jesse Bradford in years. But did you remember the director’s name? It’s Iain Softley. He survived long enough to make K-PAX and Skeleton Key before mostly disappearing.
Cruel Intentions — How many times did you watch Cruel Intentions and justify it to yourself by declaring that it was based on a snooty French novel, Les liaisons dangereuses? That movie was so popular that, 16 years later, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair are still recreating their kiss to the delight of the Internet. You probably even watched the straight-to-video sequel, didn’t you? Did you know that it was made by the same director? And that he also directed the cult favorite The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz, and Ryan Reynolds’ Just Friends, best known for the credits sequence in which Reynolds delightfully lip-syncs “I Swear” in a fat suit? His name is Roger Kumble. He directs episodes of Suits now.
The Craft — I know you folks love The Craft, because your wailing could be heard across the country when a sequel was announced. You guys even remember Fairuza Balk, and most of you haven’t seen her in 15 years! But you probably don’t remember the director’s name, even though he also directed Dick, which you kind of loved, too, once you realized it was more satire than teen flick. His name is Andrew Fleming, and he’s still around. He made a Sundance smash (that didn’t translate to wider audiences) in 2008 with Hamlet 2. Sadly, that movie reduced him to a director of mostly bad sitcoms, like The Michael J. Fox Show and Bad Judge. It’s fitting, however, as most of these ’90s directors had a sitcom sensibility that happened to work at the time.