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Plugged In Movie Awards: Best Movies for Teens (2024)

The unveiling of our Plugged In Movie Awards nominations continues today, this time with our Best Movies for Teens category.

What makes a great movie for teens? It’s a pretty broad category, to be honest. Sometimes, we might pick a movie that’s clearly designed for teens. But this is often where the year’s big blockbusters land, too—films with plenty of action but not much blood; films that might be just a little too intense for younger viewers, but a 13-year-old would totally dig. We’ve given kudos to everything from Little Women to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in this space.

Obviously, our teens nominees can be a little edgier than our PIMA nominees for kids, so it’s all the more important that you check our reviews carefully to make sure they’re suitable for your family.

And a reminder: We’ll be debating all of these categories and their nominees on the March 7 episode of The Plugged In Show and picking our own winners. It always makes for a fun, robust conversation. And, of course, we want you to tell us your picks as well—even if they’re not one of our nominees!

You can cast your votes (or submit your write-ins) in the comments section of this blog below. Or comment on the appropriate posts on Facebook and Instagram, too. You can vote for anything and everything straight through February, and we’ll let you know in our March 7 episode of The Plugged In Show not only what we selected, but what you did, too. (And if you can’t listen in, we’ll be posting all the winners on the blog as well.)

And now, with all that out of the way, here are the Plugged In Movie Awards nominations for teens, in alphabetical order. (Movie synopses written by Paul Asay, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose and Kennedy Unthank.)

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (PG-13)

Margaret Simon’s changing homes. She’s changing schools. And, being 11 years old, she’s changing, too. She could use a friend to talk to—someone who’ll be with her through thick and thin. No wonder she starts talking with God. But given how differently even folks in Margaret’s own family think about Him, God doesn’t feel that stable, either. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is (of course) based on Judy Blume’s beloved—and controversial—book. And the film, like the book, is filled with ticklish subjects dealing with puberty, romance and religion, and as such, it has its share of content issues. (Be doubly sure to check out our review.) But all of us deal with those subjects as we grow up, and Are You There God? tackles them gently and with humor. Margaret’s physical, emotional and, yes, spiritual journey will feel familiar to many of those watching. Growing up is hard—but Are You There God? reminds us that it’s a pretty special, and even joyful, time too.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (PG-13)

Yes, we all know that Dungeons and Dragons hasn’t had the best reputation within the Christian community, so it might come as a surprise to see D&D: Honor Among Thieves on this list. However, this “medieval format of Guardians of the Galaxy,” as we previously described it, comes with many positive messages about family, bravery and responsibility. Were it not for some spells and a bit of violence similar to Guardians and The Lord of the Rings, those messages might have made this film a critical hit among Christian audiences. So, perfect movie for the whole family? Maybe not. But I’d suggest that its treasure trove of positive messages keep it from rolling a natural 1.

The First Slam Dunk (PG-13)

This pic is based on an anime series, it’s in Japanese (with English subtitles) and it’s focused on a high school basketball team. But don’t let any of that discourage you from giving this gem a chance. The fact is, you don’t have to know anything about the series (or even be all that keen on basketball) to enjoy it. The First Slam Dunk is, quite simply, a brilliantly crafted film. It jumps back and forth between the events of a big game and snippets of players’ lives and delivers a story of family, a tale of tenacious effort, and an examination of loss and grief. Like the language you might hear at many a sports event, the language here (dubbed or captioned) can get a little edgy at times. And there’s a school bullying scene that’s quite rough and tumble. But none of that content is more than the sort of stuff you might grumble over at a live high school game. If you enjoy underdog tales and unconsciously sitting on the edge of your seat with sweaty palms and sympathetically flexed muscles, this pic is a, uh, slam dunk.

A Million Miles Away (PG)

Ever since he was a little boy, Jose Hernandez has dreamed of being an astronaut. To the outside world, those dreams might’ve felt unrealistic—even outlandish. Jose was the son of a migrant worker, and he changed schools more often than some people changed their jeans. Even when his parents sacrificed to give Jose greater stability, he never had the advantages that others enjoyed. When he was hired as an engineer, the receptionist mistook him for a janitor for months. But Jose never gave up on his star-covered dreams, and he never stopped working at making them come true. A Million Miles Away, based on a true story, might be one of 2023’s most inspirational films, featuring a likable protagonist who refuses to give up, and who chases his ambitions even while trying to be a good husband and father. While the story has a handful of content issues, this movie’s heart takes us on a rocket ship ride into rarefied air—reminding us that few dreams are out of reach if we work hard enough to catch them.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (PG)

We’ve seen a lot of superhero films in the last couple of years that provoke a shrug of the shoulder followed by a bored “meh.” Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse isn’t one of them. In this frenetically animated sequel, 15-year-old Miles Morales (an alternate-universe Spider-Man) tries to connect with an alternate-universe Gwen Stacy. But it turns out there are all kinds of Spider-heroes scattered throughout the multiverse, and they’ll all need to team up to defeat a new super-villain named The Spot. This sequel moves fast but succeeds in the way it depicts the struggles of two earnest teens who happen to be superheroes as well. We see some terrific lessons about family and sacrificing for others, too. The action can get pretty intense, but content here stays within the boundaries of this film’s PG rating. (A few very subtle images, such as a poster that reads “Protect Trans Kids,” turn up too—but you’d have to have your eyes peeled to even notice them.)

Special Mention:

Wonka (PG)

Were this year not nearly as competitive, Wonka probably would’ve made the list for our Kids or Teens category—and we debated heavily about it for each. While it didn’t quite make the cut, it’d likewise be unfair to ignore it entirely, especially when it was a pleasant surprise for Plugged In reviewer Kennedy Unthank. The musical takes viewers back to Willy Wonka’s early days—back when all he had were tasty chocolates and an entrepreneurial spirit. And as Wonka attempts to set up his chocolate shop, he’ll encounter a bit of violent resistance and a corrupt Catholic church that ultimately prevented Wonka from rising to the status of Pluggy winner. But at the same time, Wonka ends up a sweeter treat than most due to plenty of positive messages about fighting against corruption, helping others and the power of familial love. (And, of course, it might still earn some honors from Plugged In readers, too.)

Kennedy Unthank

Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He thinks the ending of Lost “wasn’t that bad.”

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

8 Responses

  1. My vote easily goes to Spider-Verse. Great visuals, deep family/growing up messages, AND it’s Spider-Man! (Wonka is a very close second.)

  2. It is hard to watch “The Slam Dunk Movie” – it is not available anywhere now that I can find

  3. Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse gets my vote easily. Stellar story, animation, characters and character arcs, with thought provoking ideas and themes.

  4. My vote has to go to “Across the Spider-Verse”, even though I loved the D&D film. Spider-Verse is a little like sensory overload wrapped up in a film, but the various art styles the characters are depicted in never clash and never truly feel out of place. The visual style and diverse cast of characters included, that never overpower an incredible story definitely make it the winner for me.

  5. Spider-man. hands down. Although I don’t think it gave as powerful messages as the last one, it gave ones that resonated with me personally. And I appreciate your awareness to content issues, I made a point to read your review before I went and saw it.