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The Oldest Teenagers In Teen Movie History

Updated September 24, 2021 87.6k votes 9.7k voters 293.2k views16 items

List RulesVote up the actors who pulled off a teenage character even though they were well past graduation.

There is a long history of older actors being cast to play teenagers in films. For example, Julie Harris was 26 years old when she portrayed a 12-year-old in 1952's Member of the Wedding; James Dean and Sal Mineo were both in their mid-20s when they played high schoolers in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause; Sidney Poitier was 28 when he played a teen in 1955's Blackboard Jungle; and most of the actors portraying students at good ol' Rydell High in Grease were actually in their 20s or 30s. Tobey Maguire (25) and Andrew Garfield (27) were both well past high-school age when they were cast to play the teenaged Peter Parker/Spider-Man character. 

There are a couple of reasons why an actor well past high-school age might be cast as a teenager. One big reason is the California Child Labor Law, which limits the number of hours per day or week that a minor can work. The minor actor's unavailability can have a big impact on a production's budget and schedule. Casting an adult avoids these potential problems.

The other main reason is that the adult actor is simply the better choice, whether because they're a better fit for the character, a star with name recognition, or a better actor than a teenaged candidate might be.

Here are some "old" actors who have played teens in teen movies. Who pulled it off, and who should have acted their age?

  • 1

    Shirley Henderson In 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' And 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'

    Character Age: 15

    Actor Age: 35/38 

    How'd She Do? Henderson plays a ghost named "Moaning Myrtle," a former Hogwarts student who was 15 when she was slain by the Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets in 1943. Tiny and thin with a youthful face and a light, high-pitched voice, as well as dressed in a schoolgirl uniform and pigtails, Henderson got good reviews for her portrayal of the downcast ghost who will never age.

    Any Other Teen Roles? No.

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  • Character Age: 18

    Actor Age: 23

    How'd He Do? With his floppy hair; cute grin; easygoing, teenaged slang; and clueless slacker vibe, it wasn't hard to see Reeves as a teenager. Not to mention, he played a mean air guitar!

    Any Other Teen Roles? Yes. Between the ages of 21 and 23, Reeves played teenagers in River's Edge, The Night Before, Permanent Record, and The Prince of Pennsylvania. And at age 24, he portrayed the teenaged dad-to-be in Parenthood.

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  • Character Age: 18

    Actor Age: 29

    How'd He Do? Thin, gawky, and clad in a Detroit Red Wings jersey, Ruck looks and acts like a teen who has been stuck in a state of inertia so bad that he can barely get out of bed. After director John Hughes's passing, Ruck commented that the role of Cameron was "the best part I ever had in a movie, and any success that I've had since 1985 is because [Hughes] took a big chance on me. I'll be forever grateful."

    Any Other Teen Roles? Yes. Ruck was 26 when he played a teenaged juvenile delinquent in Bad Boys and a prep school student in Class.

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  • Character Age: 17

    Actor Age: 23/27/28

    How'd He Do? Even in the last film in the trilogy, when the baby-faced Fox was approaching 30 in real life, he still looked like he could be 17 or 18. He won or was nominated for several awards for his performances in the Back to the Future films.

    Any Other Teen Roles? Yes. Fox was 23 when he portrayed 17-year-old Scott Howard in Teen Wolf, and 21 when he began portraying Alex P. Keaton in the long-running television series Family Ties. In the first season of the show, Fox's character was 17 years old.

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