Happy 20th birthday, 10 Things I Hate About You! Some films date badly but others, like this one, hold up beautifully with time. Just how good is this classic teen movie? Jenna Guillaume counts the ways.
10 Things I Hate About You is the greatest teen movie of all time. I say this as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time (well beyond my own teen years) watching every teen movie out there and judging them accordingly.
Of course, it could be the nostalgia talking – I was 13 years old when the movie came out, and I watched it multiple times in cinemas and then rented it constantly from Video Ezy. I downloaded the soundtrack off Napster and burned it onto CDs for myself and all my friends. I dressed like Bianca and wrote my poems like Kat and swooned over Heath Ledger like everyone else in the world.
But I don’t think it’s just about nostalgia. You see, I’ve been systematically rewatching all the movies that meant something to me in my youth, and let me tell you – they have not all aged well (American Pie, I’m looking at you). 10 Things, meanwhile, is just as great now as it was 20 years ago – perhaps even more so, because I have a deeper understanding of just what makes it so wonderful. Let me count the ways…
1. The writing is smart and hilarious
Clueless is perhaps one of the most frequently quoted teen movies of the ‘90s, but 10 Things has just as many memorable lines. If you say you’re “whelmed” to anyone of a certain age, for instance, they’re going to know exactly what you’re talking about – and probably respond “I think you can in Europe?”.
Of course, some of the best lines are taken straight from Shakespeare himself – it is, after all, based on The Taming of the Shrew – but writers Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith used the Bard’s dialogue and story in such a savvy way, it made it accessible to a whole new generation. It also kicked off a slew of teen Shakespeare adaptations, most of which weren’t half as effective as 10 Things.
2. The costumes are iconic
I know I said I dressed like Bianca…but what would perhaps be more accurate is that I wanted to dress like Bianca. Her sundress and cardigan combos were the peak of sophisticated teendom to my 13-year-old self. Meanwhile, Kat’s cargo pants, army print singlet and platform thongs were much closer to what I wore on a daily basis.
Looking back now, the aesthetic of the movie really distils the essence of 1999 in all its hideousness and its glory. Nothing encapsulates this so well as Bianca’s prom dress. It’s two-piece, bright pink, made of satin and tulle, and is one of the most memorable dresses in cinema history.
3. The soundtrack is incredible
Letters to Cleo! Save Ferris! The Cardigans! The 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack is a ‘90s dream. The movie itself followed the great ‘90s trend of featuring the actual bands from the soundtrack in the movie – one-upping every teen flick that came before by including both Save Ferris and Letters to Cleo.
If you were a teen when the movie came out – and possibly even if you weren’t – the soundtrack quickly landed a spot on high rotation. For me, even now when I listen to it, it doesn’t just take me back to 10 Things I Hate About You, but to my own teen years. Because it became the soundtrack to my youth, too.
4. It’s incredibly romantic
10 Things I Hate About You emerged in the golden age of rom-coms, at a time when teen rom-coms in particular were a huge box office draw. And it is, without doubt, the best of them, with not one but two central romances to swoon over. Of course, no offense to Bianca and Cameron, but what most of us were really there for was Kat and Patrick.
They start off hating each other, as all great pairings do, but as they slowly peel back each other’s layers they learn how wonderful the other person is, and how much they care about each other. They see each other – more specifically, Patrick sees Kat. He recognises that she doesn’t need “taming”, but embracing and celebrating. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.
At least, until you add in a paintball date so sweet and fun that a whole generation is still fantasising about it (or is that just me?).
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5. It’s unashamedly feminist
Kat is one of the most explicitly feminist characters I’ve ever seen in a teen movie. At the start of the movie, she’s aggressive and unapologetic, and by the end she’s only slightly less aggressive but still totally unapologetic – and she never truly compromises on her values or who she is. The movie doesn’t punish her for her feminism, instead it uses it to expose those around her for who they are – whether that’s a progressive guy worthy of being Kat’s equal (Patrick) or a stunted and shallow toxic man baby (Joey). Beyond Kat, the overall narrative is one of girls growing up and growing into themselves, and the story gives them space to explore that without shaming them.
6. It does the family thing well
So often in teen movies, the families are entirely removed – either literally killed off, sent away for the weekend, or given no more than bit parts in the main character’s lives. But one of the most interesting aspects of 10 Things I Hate About You is the family dynamic between the Stratfords. Sure, their dad is played for laughs, but underpinning his overprotectiveness is a real sense of anxiety – and the way each girl deals with his sometimes regressive decisions is an important part of their journeys.
The relationship between Bianca and Kat, meanwhile, is one of the most fascinating of the whole movie. It’s fraught and complex and incredibly rich, as they butt heads and don’t communicate and outright fight. Underpinning it all is a deep love that neither can quite acknowledge – until they can. When they do, it’s so rewarding.
7. The characters feel real
10 Things I Hate About You exists in a heightened rom-com universe in which everyone is beautiful and wears designer clothes and the high schools look like castles (although apparently that is an ACTUAL REAL HIGH SCHOOL in the movie). But it’s grounded by an authenticity that is painfully relatable. It’s full of teen angst, exploring what it’s like to figure out who you are, what you want and just who is worthy of your time.
Being a teen is a time of extremes, where everything feels monumental – from the crushes and the friendships to the break-ups and the heartbreaks. And 10 Things I Hate About You portrays it all with a beautifully tender realness. I mean, there’s a reason I can still recite Kat’s poem off by heart – and why, to this day, it makes me cry.
8. It has a musical number
Oh yes, it has a musical number – and not just any musical number. It’s Heath Ledger, dancing across bleachers, while simultaneously serenading a girl with Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and running away from security guards. Enough said.
9. The cast are great
10 Things features quite the ensemble – with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles shining as its breakout stars, and Joseph Gordon Levitt and Larisa Oleynik making the leap into slightly more grown-up roles than they were previously known for. The supporting cast is a who’s who of “where have I seen them before?”. There’s a lot going on, but it works in no small part thanks to the chemistry and comic timing of the young cast. Plus, there’s ALLISON JANNEY!
10. Heath Ledger
Oh, Heath. He gets a number all his own, well, because he’s Heath Ledger. And as amazing as all the work he later did was, Patrick Verona endures and is the character that makes me the most misty-eyed. Perhaps because it was Heath’s introduction to most of the world, or because he’s so damn charming and charismatic, or because he plays the irresistible combination of a bad boy with a soft core, or because of the aforementioned musical number, or because he sexual awakened many a ‘90s teen – or perhaps, more likely, it’s all of the above.
There are so many things that make Patrick Verona special – and they all come down to Heath. 10 Things I Hate About You would not have been the same without him – and neither would my teen years.