Ah, the good ol days when every fall we would strap on our backpacks and trudge off to school. Get back in the mood for the school year with our list of favorite school movies!
10) Napoleon Dynamite
The plot is insignificant, the lead character (Jon Heder) is a petulant spaz, and the pace creeps along just barely faster than a John Deere. Still, this sleeper hit succeeds because it manages to mock and celebrate high school geekdom with a bone-dry, unsentimental tone. The inane one-liners, absurd non sequiturs, and sheer stupidity of the characters don’t just bring back memories of adolescence, they make you feel like a teenager again, giggling at something idiotic without knowing exactly why.
9) Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Goodbye, Mr Chips might not be widely known today, but thanks to his lead performance actor Robert Donat beat the likes of Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney and James Stewart to the Best Actor Oscar. Donat stars as the eponymous Chips, a retired teacher who recalls his long and distinguished career just before his death. A moving and gripping film that works to endorse teaching as a legitimate noble calling.
8) The Belles of St. Trillian’s
Comedy capers galore in the first of the St Trinian’s films, dating from 1954. Alastair Sim stars (in two roles) in this riotous tale of the anarchic all-girls school St Trinian’s. George Cole pops up as the classic spiv who is just one of many thwarted by the headstrong girls. The less said about the recent ‘reboot’ the better – apart from Sarah Harding’s appearance natch.
7) School of Rock
Because the three Rs should really mean Radiohead, the Rolling Stones and Run-D.M.C.. Jack Black shines, in his definitive performance, as the hapless musician who dreams of rock’n’roll stardom, yet by a twist of fate finds inculcating receptive students with rock mythology more fulfilling.
6) Gregory’s Girl
If one were to go solely by the film’s featured on this list, parents would think twice about sending their darling little rug rats to school. Not only are all educational establishments home to vicious little cliques, there’s an undercurrent of latent violence simmering just below the surface. Praise be then for the comforting ordinariness of Gregory’s Girl. Yes, Gregory has to suffer all the indignities that every awkward teenage boy has to endure (plus lose his place in the school football team to a girl) but it’s all done with a remarkable stoical attitude. Decidedly realistic, and all the better for it.
5) Fast Times at Ridgemont High
In 2005, the venerated US Library of Congress declared that Fast Times at Ridgemont High be preserved in its nation’s National Film Registry due to its cultural, historical or aesthetical significance. And you thought it was a comedy that held a very risqué mirror up to high school politics!
Good girl Sandy and greaser Danny fell in love over the summer. When they unexpectedly discover they’re now in the same high school, will they be able to rekindle their romance?
3) Dead Poets Society
Perhaps the finest movie in a shockingly sparse mini-genre: the high school weepie. (After all, high school makes you cry sometimes.) Here, if Robert Sean Leonard’s suicide doesn’t get you (“My son! My son!”), then the ending – Ethan Hawke’s stirring “O Captain! My Captain!,” Maurice Jarre’s blaring bagpipes, and teacher Robin Williams’ “Thank you, boys, thank you” – will. Only somebody too cool for school could resist.
2) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Who didn’t want to be Ferris in 12th grade? Who wouldn’t want school to be a magical place where you could wake up and call in sick (with an awesome hacking-cough keyboard) and then see your name in a get-well-soon message painted on the side of a water tower by lunch, all while you were cruising through Chicago in a red Ferrari? Thanks to Matthew Broderick as Ferris, teenagerdom has never felt more fun or mythic.
1) The Breakfast Club
We see it as we want to see it – in the simplest terms, the most convenient definition: The Breakfast Club is the best high school movie of all time. It may lack the scope of its peers – the drinking, the driving, the listless loitering in parking lots – as well as any scenes that actually take place during school. But if hell is other people – and high school is hell – then John Hughes is the genre’s Sartre, and this is his No Exit. The concept is simple: one Saturday detention, five unhappy teens, and their scramble to prove they’re each something more than a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), an athlete (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy), a princess (Molly Ringwald), and a criminal (Judd Nelson). Following the farcical fluff of Sixteen Candles, the issues Hughes explored – sex, drugs, abuse, suicide, the need to belong to something – were surprisingly subversive and handled with bracing, R-rated honesty. “‘Kids movie’ was a derogatory term,” recalls Nelson, “and Hughes was definitely not making that.” Thus, 21 years later, the film still sparks intense debates about the trials of teen life. (Sheedy’s goth freak gets a makeover, then gets the guy: well-earned happy ending or antifeminist propaganda? Discuss!). Never mind the serious sociological stuff. The Breakfast Club rules because watching the group dismantle/ignore the authority of Principal “Dick” Vernon (Paul Gleason) is a vicarious thrill at any age. It rules because Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” is a kick-ass theme. Mostly it rules because, as Hall puts it: “In the end, you learn maybe we’re more alike than we realize, and that’s kind of cool.” Leave it to the neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie to get all cheesy.