We all have our favourite high-school movie but there’s definitely a few out there that deserve a mention more than others. As a Brit, we haven’t quite met the mark when it comes to the high school film genre over here so for now we’ll have to make do with the plethora of American academic hi jinx that so many have to come to adore.
I hate to seem so systematic but I have to clarify that this is a list compiling the best ten ‘high school’ movies opposed to films of just the ‘teen’ variety. I’ve decided to compact it down to high school because not only is it a much easier process but it’s also sharper to read. I also have to clarify that my interpretation of a high school film involves ‘said movie’ predominantly set within a high school environment. Hence, why Donnie Darko, American Graffiti, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and many more haven’t made it past the school gates. Although they all heavily feature high schools, most of the screen time is spent elsewhere. I have to underline that it’s strictly high school too, meaning no college movies otherwise Animal House would be way up on the list.
10 – American Pie
Now, I have to admit that this entry is somewhat of a sentimental decision but it has to be regarded as one of the most influential teen films of all time. It was an extremely significant film for the noughties and had played a big part in shaping Western pop culture throughout the early part of that decade especially with an incredible soundtrack, unforgettable characters like Stifler, and monumental phrases such as MILF. Please ignore the seven sequels and spin offs because this really is a classic piece of cinema. It’s a million miles away from perfect but as a standalone film it should definitely be remembered for the great impact it has had on the opening decade of the 21st Century.
9 – Heathers
Mean Girls and Clueless have a lot to thank for Heathers as it is arguably the first (and possibly best) high-school social popularity movie. A much more intellectual piece than it’s counter-parts as its satirical core sets it apart from so many other teen movies. One of Winona Ryder’s and Christian Slater’s best films – A must see for all fans of teen cinema.
8 – Brick
Easily one of the most extraordinarily unique teen high school movies of all time. A fantastic and original blending of film noir stylings with dramatic teen tragedy. It’s the theatrical introduction of promising young director Rian Johnson, and also the first pairing with Joseph Gordon Levitt. With the likes of Looper on their collaborative CV shows they obviously work wonders together. Looking at the teen high school genre, you’ll mostly find movies of the humorous or romantic variety so it’s extremely refreshing to have a film as sharply inventive as this brilliant teen detective film.
7 – Carrie
One of the best teen horror flicks out there because it’s really nothing like your usual teen movie. There’s a real depth to this Stephen King adaptation with an excellent character study contained within a chilling supernatural narrative. An incredibly unsettling central performance from Sissy Spacek really adds to the haunting feel, which is brilliantly capped off with one of the most notoriously epic endings in horror history (followed by a very unpredictably sudden sequence that gives me the shudders just thinking about it). I haven’t got round to watching the remake yet as I’m sure it has nothing on the original – plus I’m still quite miffed as to why they even bothered remaking this film. The original’s best quality is its shock factor.
6 – Election
Election starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon is Alexander Payne’s second film after the well-received Citizen Ruth. The film exhibited signs of a very promising future for the young Nebraskan filmmaker – all of which had been reassuringly met with award harvesting gems such as About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. Election is not only an excellent satire for the state of American politics but also a very darkly witty comedy. Try to look past the terrifying surrealist poster in which Matthew Broderick models as Reese Witherspoon’s tongue because this is perhaps one of the most intelligent high school movies ever made.
5 – Dazed and Confused
Not only does this film give us one of the most colourful and memorable character’s (All right, all right, all right.) of popular culture. It was also an excellent breeding platform for some exceptional talent with the likes of Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, and many more giving great youthful performances. I love the way the film has no apparent plot as it plays more like a floating window into an exciting time of the 70’s. Packed full to the brim with fun, frolicking, and pot. This is one stoner movie you can’t pass out to.
4 – Rushmore
This charming tale of an awkward love triangle, youthful exuberance, and tempestuous petulance, all set within an American prep school had been arguably regarded as Wes Anderson’s finest. Right up until the undisputed champion, The Grand Budapest Hotel, had emerged. Jason Schwartzman is fantastic as the self-assured yet adolescent Max Fischer. In my opinion, it’s his greatest performance as it comes across totally natural for him to play an enamoured young but wise-beyond-his-years teenager. It’s also a nice quirky break to swap the usual chaotic corridors of a high school film to the more orderly ones of a preparatory school.
3 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one who had considerable doubts before watching this as the marketing made it appear to be just another indie teen film. I was very happy to have all of those apprehensions swept firmly to one side. This really is wonderfully moving and heartfelt with terrific performances, a first-class soundtrack, serious themes, and a personally tender screenplay. It’s also one of those rare occasions where the film adaptation is revered just as well as the book. If at any point you thought of yourself as a bit of an outsider at school then you’ll find plenty of things to relate to in this movie.
2 – Superbad
I remember when a friend of mine said that this film reminded him of American Pie but he thought it was more realistic, funnier, and just plain better. And as soon as I started watching it, I couldn’t have agreed more. It too concentrates on a group of friends who have nothing but getting out of school, getting drunk, and getting laid on their agendas, but with more of an understated approach than the 1999 teen classic. The chemistry between Jonah Hill and Michael Cera is completely endearing and it’s a big surprise that they haven’t starred together in anything else – (You can’t count This Is The End.) This is a complete must for any teen movie fan. Without a doubt still one of Judd Apatow’s greatest film productions.
1 – The Breakfast Club
For me this has everything a high school movie deserves. It’s five main characters may well be stereotypes but it somehow avoids cringeworthy cliches throughout and instead delivers beautifully warm yet convincingly conflicted teenagers. It embodies everything great about the 80’s (and as far as I’ve been told that’s not much). It may not be perfect but it is one of the most delightfully charismatic teen films out there. A true classic.
Here’s a bunch of great films that didn’t quite make it to Prom night:
Pretty In Pink
10 Things I Hate About You
Fast Times At Ridgemont High
21 Jump Street
and here’s a few that didn’t even make it out of bed:
She’s All That
High School Musical
Bad Girls from Valley High
by Simon Garganera Price