The word “millennial” has become a buzzy term over the past year thanks to online outlets that have supplied readers born between the ‘80s and early-‘00s with an endless supply of nostalgic content that has allowed them — or rather, us — to relive the good and bad of everyone’s younger years. (It’s not just BuzzFeed or Vulture. VH1 has also built a brand on nostalgia with I Love the… and our own online content that has us revisiting our favorite films and albums of a certain age.)
When it comes to one film studio (and brand) that has been a pivotal part of the millennial experience, it’s MTV Films. Founded in 1996, the studio was an offshoot of the music TV channel and has since produced the big screen versions of a number of MTV programs, such as Beavis and Butt-head and Jackass, as well as original hits, such as Save the Last Dance and Napoleon Dynamite.
If there are 15 movies every millennial should watch once, they are the ones on these list.
Presented in alpha-order:
Released in 1999, the film was the original New Year’s Eve as it followed around an ensemble cast of characters on the last night of 1981 in New York City. The film is impressive — if nothing else — for its cast: both Affleck brothers, Dave Chappelle, Scandal’s Guillermo Diaz, Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffman, Kate Hudson, Courtney Love (during her good years), Jay Mohr, Martha Plimpton, Christina Ricci, and Paul Rudd. The film was a minor hit that watches better now as nostalgic fun than its initial run in theaters.
Beavis and Butt-head Do America
One of the studio’s first massive box office hits was the 1996 adaptation of the Mike Judge’s animated series. After waking up to find their TV was stolen, Beavis and Butt-head embark on a road trip of mishaps to retrieve their beloved piece of technology. The adaptation attracted Demi Moore, Bruce Willis and even Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater to lend their voices to the film and earned a “two thumbs up” from Siskel and Ebert.
Better Luck Tomorrow
After debuting at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, MTV eventually acquired the film and released it in theaters the following year. The movie, about bored Asian American overachievers who enter a world of petty crime, featured John Cho before Harold & Kumar made him a star. The film also introduced fans to Han — a character portrayed by Sung Kang who has since appeared in six of the Fast & Furious franchise films.
Before you roll your eyes at this one take a moment to go back to being an impressionable teen with plenty of spending power in the early-‘00s. Written as a vehicle for Britney Spears foray into acting, the film also starred would-be stars, Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Taryn Manning (Orange Is the New Black). Written by Shonda Rimes, it was her fourth film before she became the hit writer and producer of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal and the upcoming How to Get Away with Murder.
An adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s dark comedy, Election was part of a trio of teen flicks — the other two being Cruel Intentions and Pleasantville — that turned Reese Witherspoon into a star. While not a runaway hit, the film often ranks as one of the best comedies of the ‘90s and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Foot Fist Way
Discovered at Sundance, MTV Films hoped it would achieve the mainstream success as Napoleon Dynamite however The Foot Fist Way failed to find a massive audience at the box office. But “the story of a man who teaches people how to kick other people in the face” starring Danny McBride was always destined to be a cult movie passed around by friends or streamed on Netflix.
Hustle & Flow
Released in 2005, Hustle & Flow became the studio’s second film to earn Oscar attention — most notably Best Original Song for Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” While the movie may be most remembered for its Oscar night performance, the indie drama served a bright spot in a summer filled with sequels and repetitive big budget explosions and Terrence Howard truly earned his Oscar buzz for Best Actor.
Jackass: The Movie
Another film adaptation of a MTV series, Jackass: The Movie was a massive hit at the box office and cemented Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera and Steve-O as the kings of gross-out comedy. The film eventually spawned two sequels but nothing could top the lasting impact — and sick feeling — of the first one.
Katy Perry: Part of Me
While 3-D rock-documentaries became a popular way for megastars to cash in at the box office, Katy Perry’s film managed to capture a real look at the singer. Beneath all the candy-colored outfits and gushing talking heads, directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz managed to capture the breakdown of a marriage and defeat of the singer who is so always notably perky in front of the cameras.
An unexpected hit in the summer of 2004, Napoleon Dynamite became the ultimate example of the quirky word-of-mouth hit that studios tried to replicate with Lost in Translation and I Heart Huckabees. Much like Mean Girls, the film became instantly quotable living on largely in animated GIF form on the Internet. The film also produced several stars with Tina Majorino becoming the girl next door on every major show, including Veronica Mars, Big Love, Bones, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Probably one of the better executed MTV Films; Orange County told the story of a student (Colin Hanks) that wants to go to Stanford when a dim-witted counselor (Lily Tomlin) ruins his dreams. Unlike the Fox series with a similar title (The O.C.), the film was more about the post-high school experience and facing reality when trying to get one’s shit together.
Save the Last Dance
No other film in the studio’s production history seemed built exactly for the MTV generation other than Save the Last Dance. A modern adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas played star-crossed teenage lovers backed by a soundtrack of K-Ci & JoJo, Pink and Lucy Pearl. The film certified Stiles as the princess of modern Shakespeare adaptations — she starred in 10 Things I Hate About You, Hamlet, and O — and introduced fans to Kerry Washington. (Yes, the same star of ABC’s hit, Scandal.)
Turning 15 this year, The Wood is the perfect mix of nostalgia and romance thanks to its story about three high school friends recalling their childhood ahead of one of their weddings. The film’s stars, Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, and Richard T Jones, turn aging high school buddies into the ultimate onscreen bromance.
Another standout mix of young actors, a hit soundtrack, and plenty of teen angst, Varsity Blues became an unexpected hit of 1999. The film helped kicked off the late-‘90s resurgence in teen films that seemed to feature a rotation of CW stars that went on to appear in like She’s All That, 10 Things and American Pie. And then there’s the most quoted line of 1999: “I don’t want your life.”
Hitting theaters on September 28, 2001, Zoolander had the thankless job of providing Americans with some bit of comedic relief following 9/11. The tale of a male model losing it all then the making a comeback to defeat an evil fashion designer had all the zany comedy that became part of Ben Stiller’s formula seen in other hits, such as Dodgeball and Tropic Thunder. The film’s long-lasting appeal has even spawned a sequel set to be written and directed by Justin Theroux, an unknown when he first appeared in the original movie.
[Photos: Paramount Pictures/MTV Films]