The 1990s and early 2000s were unquestionably one of the most definitive times in the film and television industries. Chick flicks and rom coms were booming, television was as addictive as it was campy, and everyone’s jeans rose way too low. Despite the questionable fashion choices people made in these times, the tropes and clichés of this era in entertainment have continued to inspire the movies and shows we watch today. The women, particularly the teenage girls, on-screen then were an entirely new generation of girls who were representative of the times and of the world they lived in.
These were the women our generation grew up idolizing, admiring and wishing we could be. What we saw on-screen during our formative years impacted us then and continues to greatly influence what we love and who we become. VALLEY has compiled a list of some of the best teen queens in movies and TV that our generation adored and strived to embody.
Brooke Davis, “One Tree Hill”
There is no denying that “One Tree Hill” was one of the campiest, tackiest, but undeniably best shows of the early 2000s, and serves as a prime source of nostalgia almost eight years after its finale. It would be a crime to not include Brooke Davis, the unsung hero of OTH and ultimate It Girl, on this list. The Girl Behind the Red Door was the best cheerleader and friend in Tree Hill, whose heart was secretly made of gold and lived to make the world a more beautiful place for the people she loved.
Brooke was bubbly, sweet and funny, and in spite of the hardships she endured, maintained her positive outlook and always searched for a silver lining. When her family lost their money, she got a job and worked for the things she wanted. Brooke was a lot more than what people took her for at surface level, but she continually proved them wrong.
Brooke has one of the best character developments in the history of early 2000’s television, originally she fixated solely on boys, cheerleading, partying, clothes and her rank in the social food chain which stemmed from the insecurities she masked through an outgoing and confident persona.
However, throughout the nine seasons of the show, Brooke realized how much power she held as a young woman and utilized it. She developed a work ethic and drive unlike any other stereotypical popular girl seen on television at the time, and took her love of fashion and made it into her livelihood. Brooke was multi-dimensional and defied stereotypes that have been perpetuated about young girls who identify as feminists.
Cher Horowitz, “Clueless”
Ugh, as if VALLEY wouldn’t include Cher Horowitz! Based on Jane Austen’s “Emma”, “Clueless” became a cult classic about the fabulous life of Cher and her iconic group of friends, played by Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash and the late Brittany Murphy. These girls absolutely ruled the Bronson Alcott High School social scene and lived the life every teenage girl wishes they could live.
The one-liners and clothes in this movie were what gave it its icon status, but Alicia Silverstone’s portrayal of Cher Horowitz carried the film and has inspired young girls for nearly three decades. Say what you want about Cher, but she is deeply generous and compassionate, with the best car and wardrobe on the entire West Coast.
Over the course of the film, Cher shows a lot of depth for a not-even-16-year-old girl. Her character development is unmatched as she undergoes a lot of growth in the short time span of the film. Cher originally only performed her good deeds, such as setting up her teachers and giving Tai a makeover, to entertain herself. She soon realized throughout the progression of the film that, just like that book she read in the 9th grade says, “‘tis a far better thing to do stuff for other people”.
Although much of what she did was initially done with selfish intentions, Cher finishes out her acts of kindness with a change of heart. She ends the film as the captain of the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief organization instead of stirring up her usual antics, but much like her character’s inspiration, she matures without losing her spirit and personality.
Topanga Lawrence, “Boy Meets World”
It was impossible not to love Topanga Lawrence. Topanga proved, throughout the entirety of “Boy Meets World”, that she was so much more than just the protagonist’s girlfriend or a token supporting character. In the earlier seasons of the show, she was a hippy, an environmental and animal rights activist and the queen of sustainability—all while she was still in middle school. Topanga was meditating and manifesting before it was cool, and she didn’t care what other people thought about her. While Cory and Shawn initially mocked her for these things, they later became the reasons for why they grew to love her.
As she grew up, Topanga maintained the empathy and compassion that set her apart from the rest of her friends, in spite of how ugly the world around her became. She was unafraid to speak her mind, and always stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. Topanga had a heart of gold and was always willing to do anything she could for Cory and Shawn. She was also incredibly smart, driven and wasn’t afraid to be either of those things.
Topanga excelled academically from the time she was 11 years old until she finished college. She was also, without a doubt, one of the baddest women in the history of prime time television, because she was just as beautiful inside as she was on the outside. Topanga served as a reminder that young girls, especially those on screen, can be and are multi-dimensional and can have more than one defining personality trait.
Mia Thermopolis, “The Princess Diaries”
Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo truly lived the life everyone wanted to live in 2001. Imagine finding out that after 16 drab years of life you’re actually the princess of a remote European country and heir to its throne? She had one of the most memorable makeover sequences of all time, the coolest car, Julie Andrews as her grandmother and became an actual princess overnight.
Despite all of this, Mia was just like us; she had bullies, she had crushes, she got nervous and—for the most part—she lived a fairly normal life. Mia was one of the only female leads at the time who wasn’t blonde, popular, well-dressed and seemingly perfect, which made her instantly relatable.
Mia’s life was probably the most realistic Cinderella story of all time, as she was gawkish, terribly shy, and anxious, and blossomed into a bold and confident young woman, all while under constant surveillance of the paparazzi and all the girls who harassed her. Everything about her new life made her uncomfortable, but instead of hiding or running away from it, she faced it head-on and allowed herself to tackle these new things that scared her.
Even in the face of adversity that flipped her entire life upside down, Mia stayed true to herself, her friends and her family. Mia was the kind of girl everyone could see themselves in, and that was what made her so influential. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that Mia Thermopolis was the queen Genovia deserved.
Jackie Burkhart, “That 70’s Show”
The biggest diva in all of Wisconsin could absolutely not go unrecognized on this list of young women who impacted our lives. There is a stigma that girls who are outgoing, charismatic, extroverted and talkative are loud, obnoxious, and annoying, which is exactly what people thought of Jackie Burkhart. Jackie, who carried this reputation unfairly for the entirety of “That 70’s Show”, was well-spoken, endearing and a textbook social butterfly, which bothered everyone in the gang because it wasn’t their norm.
Jackie always knew exactly what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it, which is another one of her most admirable traits. Jackie knew her strengths and used them to her advantage, and was a young woman who was aware of the power she held in this world, which was uncommon for the times she lived in. She was not the kind of girl to sit on the sidelines or let a man call the shots. Jackie Burkhart was confident in every aspect of herself and her life and didn’t care who thought she was selfish because of it.
As harsh or catty as she may have seemed, Jackie truly always had her friends’ best interests at heart—she simply struggled to convey it. Her home life was what led to her desire to be the center of attention and to take control of her world, and considering her circumstances, Jackie transformed into a pretty great friend by the end of the show. Over the eight seasons of “That 70’s Show”, Jackie went from “a pretty girl with a shrill, demanding voice”, to a deeply compassionate individual who was constantly aware of her friends’ feelings.
She was socially intelligent and could read a room unlike anyone else in Point Place. She was fiercely loyal in her own way and strived to do right by her friends. Jackie, despite everything the gang thought of her, truly only wanted the best for her friends and expressed her feelings in the most theatrical way possible, in true Jackie Burkhart fashion.
Karen Smith, “Mean Girls”
While the entire point of “Mean Girls” is that everyone is a mean girl, there was one nice girl in the entire movie; Karen Smith. Despite being a member of the Plastics, the most notoriously mean group of girls at North Shore High School, Karen was truly the only nice girl at North Shore. While Regina and Gretchen were known for being underhanded, nasty, and total gossips, Karen minded her own business and stayed in her own lane for almost the entirety of the film, and was really only worried about the chances it was going to rain. Karen was unproblematic, stayed in her lane and never even wrote anything in the Plastics’ infamous Burn Book.
Sure, Karen might have been a little ditsy, but she wasn’t conniving, two-faced or a total snob, like the others. When she knew Regina was plotting to hurt Cady and wanted her help, Karen pretended to be sick instead of further conspiring against her new friend. Even after years of abuse from Regina, Karen never once did anything to undermine or hurt Regina the way she had hurt her.
When Regina wore a tracksuit on a Monday, Karen didn’t yell at her like Gretchen did, but she stood up for herself and reminded Regina of when sje wore something that was against the rules and wasn’t allowed to sit at their table. She was the only girl willing to catch Gretchen’s fall at the North Shore intervention. All Karen ever wanted to do was cheer up her friends and go to Taco Bell. Karen Smith is the only acceptable Karen in 2020.
Jessie Spano, “Saved By The Bell”
Frankly, all of the women at Bayside were idols in their own regard, but we simply must recognize and thank Jessie Spano for her contribution to second-wave feminism. Jessie was a feminist in a time when feminists were only portrayed as bitter, ugly, burly, heinous, man-hating,\ and aggressive women. Jessie was none of these things and was one of the first positive examples of feminism in mainstream pop culture, which usually portrayed feminism with a negative connotation.
Jessie was beautiful, funny, popular, witty and deeply intelligent. She could eloquently articulate her thoughts and opinions, which she often did, no matter how intimidated or uncomfortable it made people feel. She was the first person to speak up against something she felt was unjust and stood up for what she believed in.
Jessie was the voice of reason for the group, and always had a smart idea or solution to whatever problem her friends were facing. She is also probably the reason Zack Morris made it out of Bayside High alive and with a diploma. Her love-hate relationship with Slater was as adorable as it was frustrating and relatable to any girl who wanted to be treated as an equal in her own relationship.
Jessie was headstrong, independent and committed to making a difference. She was determined to be the best and for her hard work to make an impact. This eventually led to Jessie’s stint with caffeine pills, which seemed unreal to anyone who admired Jessie, but relatable to anyone who identified with Jessie and her desire to reach perfection.
The Women of the “Bring it On” Franchise
There are simply too many fantastic women in this franchise to only name one of them! The “Bring it On” movies were pretty progressive for their time, tackling issues such as racial injustice in ways that their target demographic of teenage girls could understand. The first “Bring it On” film, starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union, features a white cheer squad that had been unknowingly stealing routines, cheers and moves from a black squad from an underfunded school.
Once a new captain is named and she finds out about her predecessor stealing from this other team, she is mortified and disgusted and tries throughout the entire movie to make amends with the other squad and to come up with something original for her own team. Similar to the first film, “Bring it On: All or Nothing”, was about a white former cheer captain, played by Hayden Panettiere, transferring to a predominantly black school and trying out for their squad, despite notoriously not getting along with their head cheerleader, played by Solange Knowles. Hayden’s character, Britney, takes this opportunity to educate herself about her new squad’s cultural differences to become a better friend and ally.
While not all of the movies in this franchise focused on major social issues, many of them, such as “Bring it On Again”, “Bring it On: In it to Win It”, and “Bring it On: Fight to the Finish”, all featured young girls who were drastically different coming together for a common goal. These movies featured strong female leads who were completely different in race, appearance and personality, but who were willing to put that aside to focus on something that was bigger than themselves—something they were all passionate about. As campy as they are iconic, the “Bring it On” movies were an early 2000’s staple, largely because of the way they portrayed young women in positions of authority fighting for what they loved.
Blair Waldorf and Serena Van der Woodsen, “Gossip Girl”
There is just no possible way to pick between the two biggest “It Girls” of the Upper East Side for this list, seeing as they’re polar opposites and two halves of the most well-dressed whole. These two girls were completely different, which caused quite a bit of their fights over the span of the show, but they eventually learned to accept that they would never be the same and matured together instead of continuing to drag one another down. They were the sisters neither one of them ever had and knew when to come together when they needed to most.
Blair, who is career-driven and motivated to achieve her goals, never allowed anyone to get in the way of what she wanted and worked hard for every achievement she earned. She was ambitious, determined and refused to take “no” for an answer. Blair always had her eyes on the prize and was constantly working toward a new goal. Serena, on the other hand, was always focused on living her life to the absolute fullest. Serena was more concerned with doing things that made her happy long-term and wanted only to live a life that lit her soul on fire.
In spite of this, Serena also achieved a lot of her goals, mainly because of the way she treated others. Serena served as a reminder that you get a long way in this world by being kind. These two drastically different women are a perfect example of growing up, learning to encourage your friends’ successes instead of begrudging them, and always finding a way to come back to one another. The dynamic of their friendship has been and will continue to be referenced for years to come—as it should be.
Elle Woods, “Legally Blonde”
Last, but most certainly not least, is everyone’s favorite attorney, Elle Woods. “Legally Blonde” was an instant classic, and is the absolute perfect pick-me-up film. Elle Woods is kind, fashion-forward, intelligent, savvy and determined. Elle wanted to prove herself to her ex-boyfriend Warner because she knew what she was worth, so instead of begging for him back, she got herself into the most prestigious law school in the world (“what, like it’s hard?”).
Upon her arrival at Harvard, Elle found she was deeply passionate about the work she would be doing as an attorney, she realized she didn’t want to do it to impress Warner, she wanted to do it for herself. Law school was not easy for Elle, but she worked harder than any other student at Harvard Law and did so while defying cultural stereotypes and breaking social norms.
Elle was also unbelievably kind to everyone she encountered at Harvard, even the ones who belittled her, including Warner’s new fianceé, Vivian. She wanted only to be a light to those around her. She taught the women at her local salon the Bend and Snap and by doing so, she boosted their self-esteem, body image and helped them learn their worth. She even stood up for Paulette and acted as her attorney to help her get her dog back from her ex-boyfriend, and helped her land a date with her dream man, Kyle.
She was the girl everyone wanted to be and to be friends with because she created an environment that encouraged all women. Elle was not what immediately came to mind when you heard the word “lawyer”, and was not considered book smart by her peers, but her strengths lied in other areas, and she used them to her advantage to win her first case in the most striking pink ensemble. Elle Woods is the friend, female and feminist we should all strive to be.