The teen years are special but awkward for almost everyone. It’s when we come of age, when we define our own moral code, and of course, when we gain the ability to continue the human race.

That’s why young adult movies work so well. The best ones capture the essence of our teenage struggles, and translate them into epic battles for the fate of cities, countries, and even continents. These films also show us how cruel the world can be, and the depths of humanity’s depravity. Many times, the teenage protagonists struggle to maintain some semblance of morality, despite the fact that it has crumbled all around them.

Here are six of the best films that show teens coping with the cruelty of the modern world. Sometimes the worst enemy is the one within, rather than the one without.


1. Lord of the Flies (1963)

Lord of the Flies is a young adult film that existed before we even started calling them that. It’s based on the book of the same name, and sees a group of young boys stranded on an island. Left to their own devices, they soon descend into savagery, showing us that even youths aren’t immune from succumbing to mankind’s innate cruelty. There was a remake in 1990, but it wasn’t as popular as the original.

We have to admit that it would be difficult to remake it in this day and age – one of the key elements revolve around a pair of glasses that only one boy wears. If the film took place today, it’d be unbelievable that only one student in the whole class had glasses. Also, the title is one of the names of a Biblical demon named Beelzebub, a rather apt choice of title if you’ve watched the film.


2. Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale was a hit when it came out, despite its surprisingly simple premise. A class of teenagers are thrown on an island and have three days to kill each other, with the survivor winning the game and being released. They’re given random items to start them off on their quest. It’s based on the book of the same name that came out just a year earlier, in 1999.

It was horrifically violent, even for that time, but felt strangely cathartic. After all, it was the physical expression of their rage and emotions. There were some (darkly) comedic elements though – one of the items given out at the start of the movie was frying pan, much to the chagrin of the receiver.


3. The Hunger Games film series (2012-2015)

When the first film in the The Hunger Games series was released, everyone couldn’t help but notice how similar the concept was to Battle Royale. They were based off novels of (you guessed it) the same name, where the world is split up into different districts, and each has to send a chosen teenager to compete in a violent game where there can only be one survivor.

The series kicked off a huge wave of similar young adult trilogies in dystopian worlds that have met with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the saddest one of all is The Divergent Series, which started strong (it was based on a trilogy of novels), but decided to split the plot of the last novel across the third and fourth films. The third film did so badly that they relegated the planned fourth film to TV movie status, although we have heard nothing about it for the last six months.


4. Attack on Titan film series (2015)

Attack on Titan was a live-action film series (there were two films) based on the extremely popular Attack on Titan manga and anime series. In fact, Season 2 of the anime has just finished airing in Japan and in the United States! It follows the adventures of a group of young warriors as they protect the remnants of the human race from man-eating giants known as Titans.

The series shows the protagonists living in a world which is becoming increasingly unliveable (thanks to the constant Titan attacks). If you think about it, it’s pretty much like life in the modern world, where HDB prices have ballooned, COE prices have exploded, and ERP gantries are more prolific and reliable than MRT trains.


5. Mean Girls (2004)

Mean Girls was absolutely hilarious when it came out, since it depicted the realities of cliques and ostracism in high school (or secondary schools and junior college, in Singapore’s context). Who can forget that absurd parallel at the beginning of the film, where a school is compared to an African savanna, complete with commentaries on how the different students take up the role of different groups of animals?

However light-hearted it was, Mean Girls was actually pretty much like Lord of the Flies in how it showed that humans are all prone to rather mean-spirited inclinations, even young teenage girls. It’s a surprisingly deep message, given that it’s a teen comedy.


6. Mon Mon Mon Monsters 報告老師!怪怪怪怪物! (2017)

In the upcoming Mon Mon Mon Monsters 報告老師!怪怪怪怪物!, we see a quartet of students who come upon a strange monster and manage to capture it. However, they soon descend into barbarism with a helpless living creature at their mercy, and as the synopsis so creepily puts it, “everyone turns into a monster that can’t go back”.

Shudders. Just how monstrous can they become?

Mon Mon Mon Monsters 報告老師!怪怪怪怪物!Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Mon Mon Mon Monsters 報告老師!怪怪怪怪物!Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Mon Mon Mon Monsters 報告老師!怪怪怪怪物!stars newcomer Deng Yu-Kai as the protagonist of the film, Lin Shu-wei. While it may seem like a mix of genres, be ready to stifle your gag reflex as it gets really gory, really fast. It’s surprisingly like Lord of the Flies in terms of themes and message, but one thing’s for sure.

By the end of the film, you won’t know who are the humans and who are the monsters in Mon Mon Mon Monsters 報告老師!怪怪怪怪物!.


Credits: Golden Village Cinemas