“The 30 Greatest High School Movies of All Time”© Universal Pictures
So it’s back to school time, everyone! Who’s excited?
No? Well, you should be. School isn’t so bad. You get to sit inside all day in a (hopefully) climate-controlled room, doodling in a notepad while some underpaid, overworked, middle-aged English major tells you all about the Treaty of Versailles. Things could be worse.
I get it though, summer is ending, and that sort of sucks. But if you’re anything like me, you sunburn too easily, and you sweat like you’re permanently trapped inside a low-pressure hotel shower, so you prefer to spend your time indoors anyway.
Some of you out there are likely outdoorsy types, though, and in that case you’ll need some time to adjust to the shaded, air-conditioned indoor spaces. For that, I prescribe a healthy dose of movies. What better to get you mentally and emotionally prepared for a return to your classes than a marathon of the greatest high school movies of all time?
High school films have long been a staple of cinema. You could plop yourself at any nonspecific country at any nonspecific time in the last century and likely stumble upon a movie tackling the tough issues of whether Brad will ask Tina-Marie to the big school dance, or if Andy’s mom will come home in time to catch the hordes of underage teenagers chugging beers in her garden.
High school movies hold a special place in just about everybody’s heart because just about everybody went to high school. So don’t dread the back-to-school blues. Embrace them by watching some of the funniest, raunchiest and most relatable movies around.
The following is a list of the 30 best high school movies. But before we get started, I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to three movies that did not quite make the list. Not because they’re not good enough, but because they’re not technically about high school.
School of Rock (2003)
Richard Linklater’s School of Rock didn’t quite make the cut because it’s set in an elementary school. Which is a bummer, because it would rank pretty high if it weren’t for stupid, lame rules. But since this a school-themed list, it’s best to follow rules. Got it, kids? That said, if you skip class to watch this hilarious and surprisingly touching movie, I won’t tell.
Half Nelson (2006)© Hunting Lane Films
Half Nelson is like an edgier, kind of depressing, drug-filled Dead Poets Society (spoiler alert: stay tuned for more on Dead Poets Society). Ryan Gosling plays an inner-city middle school teacher with a whole bunch of issues, but he still manages to get his students to give a damn about learning. The movie earned Gosling his first and only Oscar nom, which was highly deserved for this emotionally charged role.
Hoop Dreams (1994)© Kartemquin Films
Okay, so I struggled with whether or not to put this on the official list. Much of the movie takes place in a high school, but a lot of it doesn’t. I ultimately left it off because it’s more about how individual youngsters deal with trying to follow their dreams than high school itself. If you disagree, that’s fair. Anyway, Hoop Dreams is one of the best documentaries ever made. If you don’t believe me, let Roger Ebert tell you:
If you’re thinking “Meh, I don’t like basketball so this movie doesn’t interest me,” I have two things to say to you:
1. Basketball is awesome and you’re wrong.
2. Trust me, even though I just said your subjective opinion is wrong, you don’t need to like basketball to like this movie. It’s about overcoming adversity to achieve your dreams. Heading into a new school year, that’s a message all you youngsters should listen to.
Now, onto the real list.© Screen Gems Pictures
30. Easy A (2010)
Emma Stone is just the best. I think that’s just an objective fact at this point. Nothing showed this better than Easy A, where she plays a snarky yet charming high schooler who uses her classmates’ perpetual rumor mill to advance her social standing. Stone’s character finds her life becoming strangely similar to Hester Prynne’s The Scarlet Letter, after some gossip spreads about her losing her virginity. So naturally, she embraces the rumor by sewing the letter “A” to her shirt. If you kids did your homework, you’d know that’s a reference to the aforementioned Scarlet Letter.
In this one, Stone is hilarious, memorable, and some may even say good-looking. But Easy A is more than just the pretty face of its star, it’s an intelligent mocking of the impossible standards to which high school students (especially girls) are held. At first glance, Easy A seemed like a formulaic and forgettable high school movie, but it surprised a lot of moviegoers with its satirical bite and genuinely hilarious script.© 20th Century Fox
29. Chronicle (2012)
Chronicle released at a time when everyone was growing tired of the gimmicky found footage genre, but it showed everyone the style still had a little juice in it. The movie centers around three friends who acquire superpowers after finding a big, glowing hole in the ground. Without spoiling too much, this results in some crazy stuff happening and things blow up. Chronicle was a rare case of found footage making sense because some high school kids gaining superpowers is actually worth picking up a camera and filming. The movie committed to its premise the whole way through, unlike a lot of found footage movies that seem to forget about the mechanic half way through.
Led with a stellar performance from Dane DeHaan, Chronicle surprised everyone to become one of the more fun movies of 2012. It’s more than just a found footage movie; it’s also a superhero movie and a high school movie. It’s not just a bunch of stuff blowing up, there are real human relationships at the center of the plot. Chronicle juggles a lot of different things at once, which is what makes it worth watching more than once.© Dimension Films
28. Scream (1996)
Dude, it’s so meta. Scream knows what it is and it spends the whole movie making fun of itself. A lot of people are turned off by that, but I find it delightful. Besides, even though it’s making fun of slasher movies, Scream still manages to be a wickedly awesome slasher movie itself.
The plot isn’t too complex, it’s really your typical slasher flick: serial killer on the loose, people die, it all gets resolved at the end. What really made the film special is its humor and self-awareness. Scream is filled with memorable moments and hilarious meta-tastic quotes. Like when Tatum, played by Rose McGowan, cries out to the killer “No, please don’t kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel!” Scream piggybacked off its own success to spawn three sequels (spoiler alert: Rose McGowan wasn’t in any of them).
But whenever someone isn’t getting killed, we’re usually at school. Even though there’s a Ghostface killah on the loose, people just want to party and have sex. Scream is still a high school movie – both a hilarious and spooky one at that.© Touchstone Pictures
27. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
10 Things I Hate About You is a movie about relationships. That’s all I’m going to say about it, because to explain the plot via text is akin to mapping how World War I started in less than 150 words. It would sound something like: “This guy wants to date a girl but that girl can’t date unless her sister dates so they find a guy to date her but he doesn’t want to…” and so on. It’s a lot more clear, and a lot more entertaining, to just watch this classic.
I’ve always been drawn to the title of this movie. I’m not entirely sure why; I’ve just always found it striking. It’s drawn from the title of a poem written by one of the film’s characters. In honor of that, I now present to you 10 Things I Love About 10 Things I Hate About You:
1. It’s a timeless high school movie classic.
2. It’s so ’90s it makes me puke.
3. Young Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a better person than I’ll ever be.
4. Heath Ledger’s hair.
5. Heath Ledger’s face.
6. Heath Ledger’s ability to make me, a full-grown heterosexual male in a committed relationship, swoon.
7. The movie is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. That’s cool to me because I’m a dork.
8. This scene is probably the best thing ever filmed (spoilers):
9. I miss Julia Stiles, I haven’t seen her in anything since, like, 2012.
10. Did I mention Heath Ledger?© Park Ex Pictures
26. The Trotsky (2009)
The Trotsky is one of the most criminally under watched movies I can name. One big thing it has working against it is that it’s Canadian, which for some reason keeps people from watching movies. It stars Jay Baruchel as Leon Bronstein, a high school student who believes he’s the reincarnation of Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky. After igniting a hunger strike at a clothing factory, Leon is sent to public school as punishment, where he attempts more revolutionary hijinx.
I’ve always been a defender of Jay Baruchel, who I’ve been told by many haters is a squirrely, dweebish fellow who plays the same character in every movie. I feel like The Trotsky is his best performance, showcasing how he may still be squirrely and dweebish but he certainly does not play this character anywhere else.
A special recommendation for The Trotsky goes out to any Soviet history nerds out there. The filmmakers did their homework when putting this together, and you’ll benefit a lot more if you know your basics about the various Soviet leaders involved. Even if you’re not a nerd, it’s still hilarious, a little heartwarming and best of all, Canadian. For the glory of the motherland, watch this film.© Pandora Cinema
25. Donnie Darko (2001)
I’ve seen Donnie Darko more times than I could begin to count, but I still could not tell you exactly what’s going on, and that’s okay.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays the titular character who, after a jet engine crashes through his room, begins seeing visions of a freaky rabbit named Frank who convinces him to commit crimes.
The movie is thought of mostly as a spooky sci-fi/thriller, but it’s also very much a classic high school movie. It has teenage romance, an inspiring teacher, foul-mouthed male best friends and a coming-of-age storyline (sort of?). Then there’s the soundtrack, which in my opinion is one of the best-selected in recent film history. Because of Donnie Darko I can no longer hear “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears without feeling slightly unnerved.
If one thing could be described as ‘fun’ about this movie it’s watching real-life brother and sister Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal play siblings. When they hurl vulgarities at one another it just feels so authentic. Otherwise, Donnie Darko is dark, twisted and somewhat confusing, but it’s too good to miss.
If you’ve gone this far without seeing Donnie Darko, you should probably adjust your schedule to watch it. At the very least you’ll learn a lot about Smurf anatomy.© Fox Searchlight Pictures
24. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
This movie came out in 2004. Anybody else feel old now?
There are a lot of quotable movies on this list, but I think Napoleon Dynamite is probably the second-most quotable movie you’re going to see (stay tuned for #1). I know I personally used quotes from this movie throughout many of my younger years to the point of annoying everyone around me who wasn’t in on the joke.
Being in on the joke is actually very important for Napoleon Dynamite. I know a lot of people who didn’t enjoy the movie, finding it slow and pointless. I think the answer to that is that you need to watch it at the right time. I will admit it requires some immaturity to really enjoy. It’s not a particularly intelligent movie. Napoleon Dynamite is best enjoyed if you just lay back and let it come to you. Don’t think too hard, just laugh.
Napoleon Dynamite is just like a lot of high school movies. There’s a limited window where you’ll find them enjoyable. So, to all you high school kids reading this, do yourself a favor and watch these movies before it’s too late.© HBO Films
23. Elephant (2003)
Gus Van Sant’s Elephant is not for the faint of heart. It follows a handful of high school students as they go about a seemingly normal day. Meanwhile, two others are preparing to execute a Columbine-style massacre at the school. Only a tiny fraction of the film’s running time is used by the shooting itself. Most of the movie focuses on the other students. Elephant shows us their relationships, their priorities and their problems, all of which seem trivial by the end of the movie. This makes the film’s last few moments really devastating, putting the lives of these students in an all too real perspective.
It’s a subject that could have easily ended up being exploitative and offensive in the hands of a lesser director. Or it could have been an overtly political attack on guns and violence that tries too hard to make some sort of social point. But Van Sant handles it delicately and compassionately, straddling the line between these two extremes. The result is a stunning but disturbing movie. If you can stomach it, its essential viewing, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.© Paramount Pictures
22. Grease (1978)
Grease might get a higher ranking on the list if every time I think of it I didn’t get “You’re The One That I Want” stuck in my head.
I originally resisted Grease for quite some time. I had heard all the songs and I knew the plot and didn’t want to be held hostage by the bubblegum-sunshine-happy-go-lucky-rainbow love story spectacular. But I eventually saw the movie, voluntarily or not, and it took down my barriers. Before I knew it I was humming the songs and longing for some sweet summer nights. The movie is just too much fun. It’s perfect escapist entertainment: simple, charming and sickeningly sweet. The cars, the clothes, the music are all working together to create the quintessential late 1950s atmosphere. The whole thing just makes me want to go to a diner.
Resistance is futile.
Oooo ooo ooooooh.© Universal Pictures
21. American Pie (1999)
For those who have not yet had the immense pleasure of immersing themselves in the intense cinematic experience that is American Pie, I will share with you the story of one of the crowning achievements in American motion picture history. A film so glorious it is beyond comparison, catalyzing a paradigm shift in the way moviegoers approached film, forever altering the landscape of contemporary society. A film that dares ask the question: Will Kevin, Jim, Finch and Oz get laid before prom night?
Okay, so it might not be The Godfather, but I’ll defend American Pie to the death. It’s definitely one of those movies you need to watch at certain age, like 14-15. If you miss that, don’t bother (at least not sober). But if you see it at the right time, you’ll have a lot of fond memories and an irrational fear of grocery store-bought cream pie.
Yeah, it’s raunchy and immature, but isn’t that the point of these movies? Just because it’s disgusting doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. We were all 14 at some point.© Universal Pictures
20. Sixteen Candles (1984)
So here’s the first John Hughes film on the list. If I were a gambler, I’d put money on there being a couple more. The man knew how to make a high school movie. Sixteen Candles, his directorial debut, follows a girl on her sweet sixteenth birthday as she has a generally crummy day, which is understandable when your parents forget your birthday.
Everyone’s teen years are at least a little bit awkward, and John Hughes brought that awkwardness to the big screen in Sixteen Candles. You could pluck at least a dozen scenes from the movie to illustrate this point. From grandma clutching Molly Ringwald’s boobs, to Michael Anthony Hall asking to borrow her underpants, to a young John Cusack trying to use a water fountain while wearing some sort of evil orthodontic head-piece.
Sixteen Candles is full of memorable moments and characters, including a potentially racist foreign exchange student named Long Duk Dong. But the closing scene when Molly Ringwald finally gets her birthday cake is always remembered as the movie’s defining moment. It’s not my favorite John Hughes film, but picking a favorite of his is like picking your favorite child. It’s just not fair.© AM Associates
19. Battle Royale (2000)
If you like The Hunger Games but wish there were more blood, watch Battle Royale. he movie is set in a dystopian future society in which the Japanese government chooses a high school class and forces them to kill each other as part of the world’s worst field trip.
It’s a fun little movie.
There’s 42 students on the island, but the film focuses on only a handful of them. Some choose to accept the circumstances and fight for survival with disturbing glee, while others attempt to avoid violence and find a way to escape.
The movie earned a huge cult status for its bloody battles, but at its heart it’s a very human story. The large cast does an amazing job of showcasing a whole range of human emotion: some students are certifiably insane, others are level-headed and strategic, some are terrified, and some are heroic. There are also scores of nameless drones who just end up dead rather quickly. If I’m being honest, I’d probably be in the group that cowers in fear, but that’s what makes Battle Royale interesting to watch. You inevitably end up identifying with the students and trying to figure out how you’d do, sympathizing with the characters along the way, making Battle Royale more than just a showcase of blood and guts.© Paramount Pictures
18. Clueless (1995)
Like 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless is a high school movie adapted from classic literature. Based on Jane Austin’s Emma, Clueless is about the meddling lead character, Cher, who gives a fashion-challenged fellow student a makeover, then everyone starts having crushes on each other and jostling for popularity, you know, typical high school business. The movie became a sleeper hit and garnered a substantial cult following as time went on.
It’s a hilarious and smart script brought to life by writer and director Amy Heckerling. Clueless is filled with shallow materialism and vain obliviousness from its lead characters, giving it a satirical edge not seen in a lot of teen movies at the time. A lot of movies like Clueless came out in the ’90s, but very few have the staying power to be worth watching anymore. Not only is Clueless still worth watching, it’s worth going back to over and over again. Which I do.
Fun fact: Clueless was the main inspiration for Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” video, even going so far as to shoot the video at the same school in which the movie was shot. So, yeah, thanks for that, Clueless.© Fox Searchlight Pictures
17. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
People are always hesitant to put a brand new movie on a “Greatest ______ Movies of All Time” list. But I’m bold. I’ll do it. I don’t see any cops.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is about a guy named Greg who spends a lot time making classic movie parodies with his buddy Earl. He ends up being forced by his mother to hang out with a girl who was diagnosed with cancer. At first it’s awkward, but the two warm up to each other to the point that he decides to make a movie for her.
I firmly believe Me and Earl and the Really Long Movie Title will have a lasting legacy. It’s a sincere movie. It’s not a high school movie filled with clichéd cliques and over-the-top hijinks (unlike a different movie Thomas Mann starred in). Every character in this movie feels like a real person (unlike a different movie about a girl with cancer). It’s also just downright hilarious (unlike a different movie featuring Nick Offerman. Just kidding, everything Offerman does is perfect).© Red Bank Films
16. Carrie (1976)
Carrie is best described as freaky. It’s not jump-out-of-your-seat scary. It’s uncomfortable and just kind of messed up. In Carrie, Brian de Palma presents one of the most disturbing visions of a high school. Poor Carrie is tormented by her mother, her classmates and even her body. What does she do? What every tormented individual has always wanted to do – burn some stuff down with telekinetic power. Well maybe that’s not a super-universal sentiment, but you get what I mean.
Carrie is the most extreme coming-of-age story ever conceived. It’s also one of the wildest revenge stories I can think of. The final sequence of the movie is legendary at this point, and rightfully so. People toss around the term “edge of your seat” quite a bit, but I truly believe it’s apt in the case of Carrie. If you haven’t has the pleasure of watching it yet, I think I’ll let this classic internet meme tell you about it:© Universal Pictures
15. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
John Hughes undoubtedly dominated high school movies in the 1980s with his brand of lovable characters in embarrassing situations. But in 1982, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was paving the way for him, albeit with a lot more raunchiness.
The movie centers around a bunch of high school students, who are only loosely connected to each other, as they navigate the world of sex, pot and part-time jobs. The main characters are Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Mark (Brian Backer) and their older friends Linda (Phoebe Cates) and Mike (Robert Romanus), who give them sexual advice throughout the movie, even though they’re not the greatest at it themselves. Bottom line is that everybody just sort of ends up having sex with each other as the movie goes on. The movie was praised for the performances of its large cast, especially Sean Penn, who somehow went on from his performance as a stoned surfer bro to become a two-time Academy Award Winner.
Fast Times is vastly different from other high school movies of the ’80s. You won’t see Jennifer Jason Leigh sucking on a carrot in a John Hughes movie, but you will see it here. Fast Times brought out what high school life in southern California was like in 1982. Well, so I’m told; I wasn’t there. But if that is what it was like, it seems pretty sweet.© Columbia Pictures
14. 21 Jump Street (2012)
This movie was not supposed to be good. Nobody asked for a 21 Jump Street reboot. But as soon as we all saw it we knew never again to distrust Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
21 Jump Street follows two young cops, played by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who suck at their job, but nevertheless get recruited to go undercover at a high school to bust up a drug ring. The movie ended up, in my opinion, one of the funniest movies of the last five years, easily. There’s too many hilariously quotable lines with far too many bad words to list here. With that said, there’s a scene where the two cops take some of the drugs they’re investigating, resulting in one of the funniest drug trips ever depicted on-screen and some mean things being said about Miles Davis. This movie also convinced me Channing Tatum had value beyond being just my girlfriend’s celebrity free pass.
Its success can be directly linked to Lord and Miller, who are able to take any existing material with a large fan base and manage to not screw it up, which is very rare in today’s remake/reboot/sequel obsessed Hollywood. They managed to pay service to the original television show without making it completely inaccessible to new viewers. It’s a tough line to balance, but they managed to do it again a few years later with The Lego Movie – another film no one thought would work, until Lord and Miller got on board.© 20th Century Fox
13. Say Anything… (1989)
The thing I love about Say Anything… is its lack of clichés. It would have been easy for this film to fall into a tired formulaic plot. It’s a movie about a kind of awkward but lovable dork fighting for a girl. It’s not super original in that sense, but writer/director Cameron Crowe handles this basic plot with wittiness, awesome characters and some killer music.
Its lack of clichés is kind of ironic looking back, since the idea of holding up a radio blasting a love song has since become one of the most clichéd romantic gestures imaginable. But it is an admittedly iconic moment which I’m sure inspired a bunch of lonely, awkward guys to reach out to the girls of their dreams in a similar fashion. If even a fraction of those couples got together, then Say Anything… did its job.
Plus I’m pretty sure everyone would like to be friends with Lloyd Dobler. He has since become the spirit animal of many quirky generation X’ers. When a movie can establish a following and iconic status like Say Anything… did, you know it’s something special.© Bergman Lustig Productions
12. Brick (2005)
Quick! Name two genres no one would ever believe could be combined.
Did you say film noir and high school movies? Well, that’s an incredible coincidence, because that’s what Brick is.
Brick is a movie about a smooth-talking student, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on the hunt to discover what happened to his girlfriend. The characters all talk like they’re inhabiting the seedy underworld of Brooklyn circa 1942, and they commit completely to the idea. They play the whole thing completely straight and it’s amazing to watch, which is especially impressive for such a young cast. It would have been very easy for the film to spoof the genres it’s drawing from, but instead it pays a perfect homage to classic movies while still offering up something singularly original.
Directed by Rian Johnson, who went on to direct Looper and several episodes of Breaking Bad, the plot unfolds before you, never really clear until the very end. It may seem strange at first, but you’ll forget about that after the movie’s on for five minutes, then you’ll be hooked.© Touchstone Pictures
11. Rushmore (1998)
While I’m not one of them, but a lot of people are growing tired of Wes Anderson’s shtick. People often argue he’s making the same movie over and over to the point of self-parody. I tend to disagree; his style is so unique and so original I find it hard to complain he’s not changing it after every film. Whether you like his style or not, if you want to see him at his absolute best, I’d recommend going back and checking out Rushmore.
Rushmore centers on Max Fischer, an over-over-over-overachieving 15 year-old student who speaks like someone 40 years older but acts like someone, well, his own age. He’s failing all his classes, but he’s the king of extra-curricular activities. His world falls apart, though, when his grades catch up to him and he’s put on academic probation.
I choose to believe the current influx of socially inept, genius-like egomaniac characters (e.g. Sheldon Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock) are all derived from Max Fischer. Unlike a lot of high school movies on this list, Max loves school (or at least after school) so much he wants to stay there forever. Even though he’s a total jerk, there’s something undeniably charming about him. It might be due to Jason Schwartzman’s delivery or Anderson’s visual style, I’m not really sure. It doesn’t matter though, if everyone could just put in a fraction of the passion Max puts in, the world would be in pretty good shape.© Touchstone Pictures
10. Dead Poets Society (1989)
The king of all inspiring-teacher movies. Dead Poets Society is the story of a renegade teacher played by Robin Williams who manages to get a bunch of preppy private school-types to care about Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. Sure it’s a bit of a sap-fest but it’s impossible to escape the immense amounts of feel-good vibes that emanate from this movie. I think it’s the perfect “pick me up when I’m feeling down” type movie, most of Robin Williams’ movies are.
The really cool thing about Dead Poets Society is I actually learned while watching it. I don’t know if this is just my personal experience with the movie, but after I saw it for the first time I went out and read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. People always throw around the word “inspiring” when they talk about movies, but this is one of the few movies that literally did inspire me.
And can we all just take a moment for the great Robin Williams?© Paramount Pictures
9. Mean Girls (2004)
Remember how I said Napoleon Dynamite was the 2nd most quotable movie on the list? I don’t think I’ll get much blow-back by saying Mean Girls is #1. If you’ve been paying attention to all the quotes I’ve been adding to the “Next” buttons, you should know it took me like 15 minutes trying to decide which to use for this movie.
Here are some of the other choices:
Karen: If you’re from Africa, why are you white?
Gretchen: Oh my God, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white.
Karen: I can’t go out.
[faux coughs softly]
Karen: I’m sick.
Regina: Boo, you whore!
Student: Nice wig, Janis. What’s it made of?
Janis: Your mom’s chest hair!
Gretchen: That is so fetch!
Regina: Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!
Coach Carr: Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die! Don’t have sex in the missionary position, don’t have sex standing up, just don’t do it, OK, promise? OK, now everybody take some rubbers.
Anyway, where John Hughes movies are the quintessential teen movies of the ’80s, and movies like Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You are quintessential for the ’90s, Mean Girls defines the 2000s. While this movie is hilarious, and stars Lindsay Lohan of all people, I think a lot of viewers don’t realize the social satire portrayed in Mean Girls. Like Lohan’s Cady, this movie is a lot smarter than it lets on, and I think that’s why it’s so successful.© Paramount Pictures
8. Election (1999)
Election stars Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, an over-achieving high school student gunning to win the class presidency. Tracy has a wicked side, though. After a colleague was fired for a having an affair with Tracy, a vindictive teacher played by Matthew Broderick tries to interfere with the election so Tracy won’t win. Directed by Alexander Payne, the movie is sharp, humorous and filled with strong, believable characters.
Spoiler alert: the next movie on the list is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Which is interesting because both movies star Matthew Broderick in extremely different roles. He’s magnificent in both, but Election was a big departure from what he had been doing up to that point. In this movie he plays a total scumbag, and he’s fantastic at it.
Even though the characters of Election are somewhat insane, I think there’s a lot for audiences to relate to here. I once knew a person like Tracy Flick, the kind of person who just makes you feel crappy because they just accomplish everything. Election paints that person in a much more complex light, which is its biggest strength. Also, I really want Tracy and Max from Rushmore to meet.© Paramount Pictures
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
One of the best high school movies of all time is really about not being in high school. John Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the daydream of every kid stuck at a desk on a sunny day.
Ferris Bueller is a guy with some initiative. He decided he wants a day off, so he takes one. He develops an elaborate plan involving the theft oh his friend Cameron’s dad’s car and heads off with his girlfriend and the reluctant Cameron for day in Chicago. He and the gang do way too much stuff to possibly fit in the amount of time they have, and it’s glorious to watch. Meanwhile, the school principal is doing his very best to stop them, because he’s a total party-pooper.
Ferris is a bit of an asshole, but he’s a very likable asshole. He more than makes up for it by giving us one of the most memorable movies of the 1980s. The only thing keeping this movie out the top 5 is that I always found Cameron to be a bit of a whiner, and I’m not crazy about the Red Wings either.© Universal Pictures
6. Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future might not be the most high school-focused movie on this list, but it features enough high school scenes to qualify, and even if it doesn’t this movie’s a damn classic and deserves to be on every list ever.
For a movie about time, Back to the Future is timeless. It definitely doesn’t fit in the category of movies you have to watch at a certain time in your life. Marty, Doc and the Delorean are appealing to anyone who’s breathing and has around two of the five senses. The flick has a little bit of everything: action, romance, drama, comedy, and thrills, so I think it’s safe to say if you don’t like Back to the Future, you probably don’t like movies. Or you just have a subjective opinion of which you’re totally entitled.
I watch Back to the Future on average around once a year. It never gets tired, it never gets old. It’s pretty much perfect. The only reason it isn’t at the very top of the list is that, like I mentioned, there isn’t a ton of high schoolyness to it. But just writing about it makes me want to go have my annual viewing right now.© Columbia Pictures
5. Superbad (2007)
Superbad is another endlessly quotable movie. I’d list some of the quotes here, but this is a family website and I’m not a potty-mouth. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began writing this movie when they were 15. In a way, that kind of makes it the ultimate high school movie, because, as far as I know, it’s the only movie on this list literally written by high schoolers. Superbad is the story of three friends who just want to party and get laid before they head off on their separate ways for college. They do this by trying to get alcohol for the big party they’re heading to, because to get laid you have to get the girl drunk first, according to their thought processes.
Superbad holds a special place in my heart. It came about at the right time for me when I was trying to learn how not to be an awkward loser. This movie didn’t really help with that, but I don’t think it was really supposed to. People are often put off by the vulgar humor in this movie, which I suppose is fair. There is a lot of it. Like, a lot. But it’s also a movie about high school boys, so it would extremely unrealistic not to have that in there.
The real success of this movie doesn’t come from its genital jokes anyway. Seth Rogen & co. wrote a script that confronted an issue facing a lot people heading off for college: what happens to your friends? They did it in the only way high school boys know how to confront issues, by not taking it seriously and hiding it behind a sex, liquor and dick jokes. For that reason, I think Superbad resonated with so many people, and will continue to do so for a very long time.© Warner Bros. Pictures
4. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Not a lot of movies were being made about teenagers in the ’50s, at least nothing like the way teen movies blew up in the ’80s and ’90s. But that’s what Rebel Without a Cause is all about: blazing a trail and not playing by the rules.
It follows James Dean as a rebellious outsider in a new town. He shows up, makes some friends, and pisses some people off. The movie faces teenage troubles head on, making it a perfect movies for teenagers of any decade to watch. I know a lot of younger folks are put off by old movies. If you’re one of those people, Rebel Without a Cause is a great movie to fix that. It’s exciting, fast-paced, well-acted and filled with almost as much angst and emotion as a real high school.
Directed by the great Nicholas Ray, Rebel Without a Cause confronts teenage angst like no movie would for another 30 years. Ray treats its cast of outsiders as equal people, just as worthy of feature film treatment as the most heroic John Wayne character or the shadiest film noir centerpiece. This got it in trouble in some places, including in New Zealand, where the film was banned because the censors thought it might incite some sort of teenaged rebellion. Rebel Without a Cause is so good because it does what New Zealand didn’t, take teens seriously and told their stories.© Gramercy Pictures
3. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Sure, there isn’t a strong plot and it may seem like the movie isn’t really going anywhere, but that’s the beauty of Dazed and Confused. It’s a day in the life of a bunch of teenagers in May of 1976. Through that lens, we get a brilliant coming of age drama without really having much of a story.
Dazed and Confused is regarded as a cult classic, but arguably one its greatest legacies is launching the career of Matthew McConaughey in the most spectacular fashion possible. It’s easily one of the greatest feature film debuts ever, but there are lots of other stellar performances throughout the movie. Everything feels very natural to everyone involved, likely because they’re not being asked to step too far out of reality.
Roger Ebert called Dazed and Confused “art crossed with anthropology,” while that makes it sound a lot more boring than it is, it’s still an accurate way to describe the movie. Dazed and Confused is a reflection a specific time in a specific place. Director Richard Linklater wanted to show audiences the world he grew up in. In a way, that makes this a pretty much perfect high school movie. Most people’s high school lives aren’t filled with whirlwind romances or inspirational speeches. Most people in high school just hang around with friends goofing off. That’s what Dazed and Confused is all about.© Universal Pictures
2. The Breakfast Club (1985)
One of the great struggles depicted in teen movies, and for teens in general, is the desire to be understood by adults as well as each other. That’s what The Breakfast Club tries to depict. We have five teens from various high school cliques crammed into a room together. At first they seem impossibly different, but eventually the painful awkwardness is chipped away and suddenly detention starts becoming interesting. The Breakfast Club is easily one of the best movies ever made that only takes place in one room.
One of my favorite things about the Breakfast Club is how, at the beginning, the audience is presented with five high school stereotypes. As the film goes on, John Hughes deconstructs them, peeling back the layers to reveal that all those kids you saw in high school roaming the halls were real people. You can’t just limit your perception of the people you meet to whether or not they play sports or smoke cigarettes.
For that reason, I think this film should be mandatory viewing for all high school kids. The first day of class all freshmen should be herded into a gymnasium to watch The Breakfast Club. It’s definitely going to be more useful in the long run than math.© New World Pictures
1. Heathers (1988)
Heathers basically dropped the mic on high school movies in 1988. After a string of hits from John Hughes, the world was ready for something with a bit of bite to it, and Heathers brought that bite like the mosquitoes outside my door right now.
This movie revolves around a popular kid teaming up with a mysterious rebel in a plot to kill cool people. It’s a dark comedy, like, really dark. But it’s still extremely funny. There’s a cast of highly memorable characters and enough quotable lines to fill up a decent-sized scrapbook. Heathers dared to push the boundaries of what people expected from their teen comedies. There’s no library dancing here, just all the pressure, emotions and insecurities of high school boiled to an extreme and unleashed in a pair of fireball performances by Christian Slater and Winona Ryder.
It would have been very easy to screw up Heathers. The movie basically has the audience sympathizing with a murderer. But that’s not even the most difficult thing the movie accomplishes. At pretty much every turn, director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters draw attention to the often disgusting preoccupations and hypocrisies of teen culture. The movie tackles issues like rape, eating disorders and mental health with devastating wit, showing how society prioritizes trivialities while ignoring those in need.
If you’re looking for one movie to completely change your outlook before heading off to school this year, I’d suggest Heathers. With that said, you can’t really go wrong with any movie on this list.
Just stay in school, kids.
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