The 1960s was a decade that gave us several classic movies in various genres. We have some legendary offerings from the horror genre within the 60s. However, this decade is also known as the era with the Fabulous Teen Beach Movies. Many experts even say that the beach movie genre was created at this time.
The top teen movies of the 60s don’t just stop at this genre, though. There are several classic movies made with this young demographic in mind, with some even getting modern reboots in later decades. Let’s discuss some of the best choices now:
1. Beach Party
Released in 1963, this movie starred Annette Funicello and Vincent Prince. It was directed by William Asher, and became the first of a series of beach party films released by American International Pictures in this decade. All of these were aimed at teenage audiences, but the original ‘Beach Party’ is credited with creating the new beach party film genre.
The premise of this film is about Professor Robert Sutwell, who is an anthropologist studying the habits of teenagers in Southern California. He notes how this group speaks in a strange jargon and usually hangs out at the beach. Eventually, he also gets caught up in the drama of the teenage boys and girls.
The inspiration for this movie came from an Italian film about a middle-aged man and a young woman who usually stays at a beach resort. The setting was the main inspiration, with the theme centred around the AIP policy of providing mass entertainment for the purpose of escapism. Several other loosely related movies with recurring cast members would follow this initial film, all with a decent amount of success.
2. The Parent Trap
Most of the younger generations–from the millennials to Generation Z–would remember Lindsay Lohan playing a double role in the 1998 movie ‘The Parent Trap’. However, this movie was actually a remake of the 1961 movie of the same name, starring Maureen O’Hara and John Mills. It was directed by David Swift, and starred Hayley Mills in a dual role as the twins.
This romantic comedy film follows the story of teenage twins who realize that they were separated at a very young age. They plot to bring their divorced parents back together–a plan which ultimately succeeds.
The movie was by Walt Disney Productions and grossed over $25 million at the box office back then. It was quite an influential work, spawning three TV sequels, a 1998 remake, and a direct TV broadcast as well. It also received two Academy Award nominations and has been released in LaserDisc format (1986). It also got a DVD and VHS release in 2002. If anyone liked television in the 60s, they might want to look up this movie and its sequels.
3. Bye Bye Birdie
Starring Ann-Margret and Dick Van Dyke, this 1963 movie was directed by George Sidney. It’s a musical comedy released by Columbia Pictures, and was adapted from the stage prediction with the same name. The screenplay, in turn, came from the book by Michael Stewart.
The most interesting thing about this film is probably that it was Dick Van Dyke’s debut in feature films. He reversed his role in Broadway as Albert Peterson. Several other actors were also repairing their Broadway roles here, including Bobby Rydell and Ann-Margret.
The inspiration of this story was mainly the Elvis Presley phenomenon in 1957, when he was drafted into the US Army. Conrad Birdie played the teen idol, though Presley was the preferred man for the role. However, Colonel Tom Parker (Presley’s manager) saw the role as a parody of the musician and did not allow it.
The host of the CBS variety show, Ed Sullivan, showed up as himself. What’s more, this is the film that catapulted Ann-Margret into her superstar status in the middle of the 60s. She would later appear with Elvis Presley himself in the 1964 movie Viva Las Vegas.
The promise of this movie is about a successful rock and roll musician who has to go and serve in the Army. Naturally, this is devastating news for his fans. Dick Van Dyke plays a struggling songwriter, though he also has a biochemistry degree. Van Dyke comes up with a plan along with his girlfriend, played by Janet Leigh. He wants the music star to sing to his song and then kiss a random high school girl before leaving. The girl here was played by Ann-Margret.
There are several twists and turns in this movie, but it has a happy ending eventually. Fans of romantic comedies will certainly enjoy this offering, especially with some of the major 60s fashion trends on display.
4. To Sir, with Love
Starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, this James Cavell movie was released in 1967. It’s not an American movie, but a British drama film that talks about racial and social issues within an inner-city school setup. The screenplay was based on the 1959 autobiographical novel by E.R Braithwaite that bore the same title.
The title song of the film also had almost the same name, with Lulu as the singer. It peaked at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart within the United States for no less than 5 weeks in 1967. It ultimately became the bestselling single in the whole country that year. The movie itself would rank at 27 on the 50 Best High School Movies by Entertainment Weekly. The movie also gave rise to a TV sequel in 1996, where Poitier was again cast in the main role.
The story here is about Mark Thackeray, who migrated from British Guiana to Britain. He applied for an engineering job, but took a teaching job in the meantime. His pupils are the rejects and outcasts of the school; eventually, Thackeray does away with all textbooks and decides to treat his students as adults.
While this film was criticized as being a bit unrealistic, it’s still one of the best offerings from the 60s. Teenagers and adults alike still find inspiration from this work, with even modern critics giving it an above-average rating.
5. West Side Story
Starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, this 1961 film is one of the most known works released in the 60s decade. It is a romantic musical drama, and was adapted from the 1957 Broadway musical. The main inspiration came from the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare.
The setting of this film’s story is in the middle of the 1950s, with the location being New York City’s Upper West Side. At the time, this place was a blue collar neighbourhood with several races and ethnicities living together. The main story revolved around the rivalry between two street gangs called the Sharks and the Jets. Both are from different ethnic backgrounds, but the best friend of the Jets’ leader falls for the sister of the Sharks’ leader. The overall theme is dark, with sophisticated music and long dance scenes. The focus is on social issues, which also marks a ground-breaking point within musical theatre.
The 1961 film was released by United Artists, and received a lot of praise from views and critics alike. It soon became the highest grossing movie of the whole year, receiving 11 nominations for Academy Awards and winning 10 of them. To this date, ‘West Side Story’ is said to be among the greatest musical films ever. It’s also been recognized as culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress. We might be seeing a modern film adaptation of this film by Steven Spielberg around December 2021.
6. A Hard Day’s Night
This musical comedy was released in 1964, and starred none other than the Beatles themselves. All four of them–Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison–were cast when Beatlemania was at its peak. The writer here was Alun Owen, while United Artists released the original version. The main story also follows the group, showcasing 36 hours of their lives while they get ready for a TV performance.
As was expected, this movie immediately became both a cultural and financial success. It got nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award. 40 years after it was released, Time magazine included it in the 100 greatest films of all time. It’s also credited as one of the most influential musical films to date. The premise also injured several pop music videos, spy films, and television shows.
The best 1960s teen films showcased a lot of fun in the sun, romance, family adventures, and even some horror. If you view some of the choices we’ve discussed above, there might even be some strangely familiar but younger faces among the casts. If these interest you, check out the top Disney movies made in the 1960s for more classic options.