90s Teen Movies and the Classics

For today’s post, I have decided to take a look at a few 1990s teen films that were based on classic works of literature!    This was a unique time in the history of teen movies since some of the most fun ones took direct inspiration from the classics.   In particular, I will be looking at Clueless, Cruel Intentions, and 10 Things I Hate About You.   

Clueless was based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma.   In fact, I think it is probably the best 90s adaptation of this particular book, as I have always hated the Gweneth Paltrow version!    While names were changed, and the setting moved from Regency England to a 1995 Beverly Hills high school, the basic structure of the story remains intact for two-thirds of the film.    There are even clever references back to the novel, like the character of Mr. Elton instead having the first name Elton.   Cher, like Emma, loves to play matchmaker but does not seem to desire love herself.   That is until she encounters the right man/boy, but he is unavailable to her in both the book and film.   In the film he had him come out as gay, while in the book he was secretly engaged to another.   Cher and Emma also each end up with a man that was there all along.   Emma with her brother-in-law (their siblings were married to each other) and Cher with her ex-step-brother (which I find to be a very clever 90s spin)!

Cruel Intentions is based on Les Liaiaons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.   This one takes the setting from the decadent French court of the eighteenth century to 1990s New York.    The characters are once again brilliantly adapted to the modern age.    The two main characters are given the surname of their titles in the novel.   They are also made step-siblings instead of former lovers.   There is still a naive virginal girl that is used as a conquest to test the male lead’s ability to seduce.    There is still a virtuous young woman that the male lead falls in love with accidentally while only initially wanting to seduce her for sport.    It is all there, only twisted around a bit to make it fit the modern age.   One of the main differences is that the central characters are quite a bit younger, as they are made to be high school age.    It is a beautifully done adaptation of this book that rivals 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons!

Finally 10 Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare!   The basic plot points are still there with a younger sister unable to date until her older sister does (in the play it is marriage but this is a perfect high school change up).   There is the snarky older sister who is totally uninterested in boys and the boy that will gain her heart by first playing a game.   Boys are vying over the attentions of the younger sister, who is more compliant and sweet than her sharp-tongued elder sibling.    There is even a very strict father, who imposes this strange stricture that the daughters must date (or in the play) marry in birth order!    The film is a delightful comedic romp that trades Prom for a fancy ball but keeps the important reconciliation of the two main lovers at the end.

I hope that you have enjoyed my short analysis of how 90s teen films were inspired by the classics.   Did you know these films were based on classic literature?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! 

Further Reading/Watching

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Clueless (1995)
  • Les Liaiaons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
  • Cruel Intentions (1999)
  • The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)