Most teens are conditioned to think that prom is the most important event of their lives because that’s what they say in the movies. But it’s not! Then again, not all movie prom scenes are created equal: There are some that are so good because of how bad they are, like the kinds with a cheesy speech delivered by someone in their mid-20s pretending to be a 17-year-old but not pulling it off. And there are some prom scenes that are good because they mean something for the characters and the set actually looks like a terribly decorated high-school gym and not a country club that a public high school in America can’t afford to rent.
I only attended my junior prom, and I don’t remember what the theme was. All I remember is that another girl was wearing the same dress from David’s Bridal, it was too hot so I wanted to leave early, and my date made me watch Saw 2 after because all of the parties got busted by cops. And that my Latin teacher, who was a chaperone, was shocked to find out that I managed to find a date. To this day, I have not found out if one of his guy friends paid him to do this, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And I didn’t attend senior prom because all of the guys in my class threatened to pour pig’s blood on me if I did because, you know, my name is Carrie.
Anyway, I am an expert on movie proms because my experience would make a good movie prom scene, so these are the best ones, from Twilight to Lady Bird.
21. The Kissing Booth (2018)
This movie is my enemy. I hate this movie. So why is it on this list? Because I think about this movie a lot, and have watched it many, many times. I hate it so much. But this prom scene cannot leave my thoughts because it features an excruciating cover of “Don’t You Forget About Me” and a kissing booth. The production quality is bad, and I can’t tell if it’s just because the movie is bad or because this prom was put together by the least creative student council in film history.
20. Teen Wolf (1985)
Here’s yet another prom that for some reason did not want to be called prom. But it is a high-school dance in the spring, so it is a prom. This scene is an important one for the film’s protagonist because the titular Teen Wolf attends the dance happily and proudly in wolf form. He has a great time! This prom scene is also an important one for historians because it shows us what ’80s proms were really like.
19. Carrie (1976)
Okay. This one is kind of personal. While the events of this particular prom scene are interesting and necessary, it did inspire my classmates to tell me for my entire life that at prom they would pour pig’s blood on me because my name is Carrie. Wouldn’t that be so funny? Because that’s what happens to Carrie in the movie Carrie? I didn’t go to my senior prom in fear of this. But it’s still a good scene, I guess.
18. Jawbreaker (1999)
The Jawbreaker prom is incredibly special because there’s a murder and blackmail. The three popular girls accidentally kill their friend during an elaborate prank and try to cover it up. But oops: One of the nerds finds out about the murder, so they blackmail him to keep his mouth shut. Amid it all, they must enjoy prom like regular teenagers who haven’t accidentally murdered their friend and blackmailed someone! It’s dramatic, it’s silly, and it’s very ’90s.
17. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
I kind of forgot Napoleon Dynamite was a movie, so obviously I forgot that it contains a prom scene. But it does have a prom scene, and it’s sweet! After getting ditched by his date, Napoleon, Pedro, and Deb stand awkwardly, watching everyone else dance to “Forever Young.” Then Napoleon and Deb dance to “Time After Time” because Pedro feels bad that Napoleon doesn’t have a date to dance with anymore. There are stars hanging from the ceiling because that is apparently the only prom decoration there is in Hollywood, California!
16. Grease (1978)
The National Bandstand dance isn’t exactly a prom. But it clearly takes place in the spring, so I’m treating it as a prom. The whole thing is basically a dance off, and it’s kind of … hot? There is also the hand jive. The whole thing doesn’t really have any effect on the overall story besides driving Sandy and Danny apart for a bit and getting the characters to dress up, but it’s still really good. I mean, they just wanted John Travolta to dance, and honestly? Fine!
15. Prom Night (1980)
This cult classic is one long series of prom scenes, basically. It has Jamie Lee Curtis and a disco-heavy soundtrack, and a whole part where there’s a killer trying to stab teens at prom. At one point, a severed head rolls onto the dance floor. It’s a good time!
14. Back to the Future (1985)
Marty McFly only has one mission when he travels back in time to his parents’ high-school prom: fix his parents’ relationship or else he won’t be born! Those are some pretty high stakes. And also, McFly ends up inventing rock and roll, which, while problematic in many ways, is notable. On top of that, the prom’s theme is pretty high quality: Enchantment Under the Sea. I have no idea what this means. Like, is it an Atlantis thing? A Little Mermaid thing? Who knows and who cares? It’s a great time.
13. Never Been Kissed (1999)
When you allow yourself to let go of the film’s premise (an adult journalist hanging out with high-school students for the journalism), this movie has one of the best proms in history, simply because it leans on a theme. And it leans hard. The theme of the prom is famous historical couples, and the costumes vary from Barbie and Ken to Shakespeare characters, because that was a hot thing in 1999 (characters also dress in Shakespearean garb for prom in 10 Things I Hate About You). Then, as “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by the Smiths plays while the cool kids make fun of a nerd, which totally makes sense, Drew Barrymore gives a speech about how bad bullying is. I don’t really remember anything else about the movie besides this.
12. Twilight (2008)
There is no way a public high school in a small town in Washington State had enough money in its prom budget to pull of an event this extravagant, but it looks as nice as the movie is stupid. Edward “the New Batman” Cullen and Bella “the New Queer Icon” Swan talk about death and dance underneath a gazebo covered in twinkle lights. “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” by Iron & Wine, a band I totally forgot was my favorite band in 2008 until doing research for this very blog, plays.
11. Footloose (1984)
What’s so great about this prom? It’s illegal, but looks like it was planned a year in advance.
10. American Pie (1999)
Ahhh. American Pie contains, perhaps, one of the most relatable prom scenes (for me, at least). The decorations are absurd — there’s shiny gold stuff everywhere. And the guys? They made a pact to all lose their virginity on prom night. But what really sets this prom scene apart from the rest is Jason Biggs’s monologue about peer pressure. “I hate sex,” he screams. And so do I. So do I.
9. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
The prom scene in The Virgin Suicides isn’t anything close to anyone’s dream prom. But that’s why it’s so good. It’s realistic. While designing this set, production clearly kept in mind a high school’s budget, the fold-y tables and chairs they’d have in their gym, and the kind of decorations they could afford. Streamers, stars, twinkle lights, and sheer curtains give the gym a romantic feel, but you still get a sense that the whole place probably still smells like decades of body odor. The Virgin Suicides also features the best movie prom-scene trope: that moment when a teacher or principal rudely interrupts a song to talk onstage and then everyone dances passionately to “Come Sail Away” by Styx.
8. Blockers (2018)
The Blockers prom is a little too fancy. I have been to worse-looking weddings that probably had a bigger budget. It doesn’t take place in a disgusting gym, it has … catering, and the chairs aren’t the kind you fold and store underneath bleachers. But it’s still one of the best proms ever depicted on film: There’s dancing, a fedora, a sequin tuxedo jacket, a giant balloon arch, and John Cena and Ike Barinholtz making fools out of themselves, plus tons of emotional stakes for our central teen protagonists, who all have various sexual mishaps throughout the night.
7. Mean Girls (2004)
Technically the dance at the end of Mean Girls is the Spring Fling Dance, but come on — it’s in the spring, and they’re dressed up. And there is a crown that collapses into an astounding amount of large pieces. This is a prom! They just didn’t want to call it that for reasons unbeknownst to me. The Spring Fling Dance not only features some of the movie’s pivotal emotional moments, including Cady’s speech, but it is accurately decorated for a 2004 dance. It’s got an ugly poster that just says “SPRING FLING DANCE,” black-and-white cutouts of kids playing sports, balloons, and a photo station. You know it’s not the 2010s because it is not a photo booth.
6. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This is probably the only grand prom scene that makes sense. Their school is fancy as hell. I mean it is basically a mansion? So of course its prom location is basically Radio City Music Hall minus the seats. There’s a live band, everyone finds out about THE BET, Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles act hard, and Bianca hits Joey in the face twice, then knees him in the balls. This is the best prom ever. Although I don’t condone making bets about women! I love this movie, but that is bad. Don’t do it in real life, please — it happened to me in seventh grade, and I did not forgive the guy in the next scene.
5. Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
The thing about this prom scene is that Chris Evans is in it. That’s all! Okay, not really. As you’d expect for this franchise, Not Another Teen Movie sharply satirizes the prom tropes in teen movies — including many on this list — but its best line is probably when one character played by Ted Freaking Mosby (Josh Radnor) says: “It’s funny, isn’t it? You would never suspect that everyone at this school is a professional dancer.”
4. The Spectacular Now (2013)
The prom in Spectacular Now is a little dark and lonesome. The twinkle lights are really the only source of light, giving it a sad feel that captures exactly how I feel about prom and this wonderful movie. The dance itself isn’t very crowded, and sad, tired couples sit at separate tables drinking from sad, tired paper cups. It’s a good prom scene because it’s exactly like mine, except I wasn’t in love with my date who danced with another girl right in front of me. My date was also not Miles Teller.
3. She’s All That (1999)
Who wouldn’t love to have their prom in this environment? There’s an incredibly long dance-off, bets, DJ Usher, and honestly the temperature in the venue looks really nice? Not too hot, not too cold. There could have been more twinkle lights here — it’s definitely under-decorated. But I think the filmmakers almost definitely wanted Usher — and his fedora! — to be the real standout here. Mission accomplished.
2. High School Musical 3 (2008)
This movie is the best, and this may be the only prom scene in which all of the main cast were actually involved in a professional dance sequence. The song “A Night to Remember,” which follows the girls and boys getting ready for prom but lacks the self-awareness of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s “Sexy Getting Ready Song,” is amazing, and takes place entirely on a stage because, you know, it’s a musical! The sequence, within a film that is rated PG, features Zac Efron aggressively thrusting his crotch toward the camera repeatedly while wearing a very tight pair of baby-blue tuxedo pants.
1. Lady Bird (2017)
The prom scene in Lady Bird has more emotional weight than most of the scenes on this list. Lady Bird proudly accepts that she loves the song “Crash” and dumps Timothée Chalamet (ironically, I pretended to like Dave Matthews Band for years in an attempt to get the guy I went to prom with to be my boyfriend, it didn’t work). Also, creepy red décor along with the nuns looking out for inappropriate touching is hauntingly accurate, which I can attest to as someone who attended Catholic school for most of my life. But then there’s the most important part: Lady Bird reunites with her best friend, Julie, and takes her to the dance instead. It’s one of the few prom scenes in film history that is more about female friendship than hetero romance, and for that alone it goes down as one of the best of its kind.