High school can be either the best time, or the worst time in your life. Sometimes, it can be both. Either way, movies will help you get through it.
High school movies are a unique genre. They can’t just have a teenage character; they have to really explore what it’s like to be in high school, between the cliques and the bullying and the slow phase of growing up. Some movies set in high school explore social hierarchies. Others can feel like political thrillers. The ones you know best are likely the funniest and most earnest ones where the biggest problem is outrunning the cops who break up a house party.
With school starting around the country, we decided to compile the best high school movies of all time. We hope these movies are there for you like they were there for us.
Another Shakespeare-inspired teen rom-com (see 'Twelth Night'), this may have been peak Amanda Bynes. The former Nickelodeon star played a teen who heads undercover to her twin brother's school dressed as him in order to play on the boys' soccer team. There she meets and falls for Channing Tatum's character Duke. Yeah! This was one of Tatum's early roles on screen and his instant charm hinted at the larger star to come.
Plus, who can forget this scene with Bynes putting a tampon up her nose to help stop 'really bad nose bleeds.'
'Juno' is one of the most rebellious high school movies you'll see. The characters speak in a bizarre slang (at one point, you'll hear someone say 'honest to blog?') that some might find infuriating. But the movie still carries a special charm, which is why it won over both America and Oscar voters (Diablo Cody took home a statue for best original screenplay).
It's hard to call it sincere, given that it's sarcastic tone won me over when I first saw it as a sophomore in high school. Despite that, the film is still a thoughtful look at teen pregnancy, and it's to the film's benefit that nobody could figure out whether it was pro-choice or pro-life when it was first released.
This modernised version of 'The Taming of the Shrew' proves that Shakespeare belongs in a high school setting. Like any good high school movie, it launched the careers of many of its younger stars, including Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and David Krumholtz. But front and center is Heath Ledger, who belts out an unforgettable version of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You.' It's a reminder of the amazing talent lost too soon.
There's no shortage of time travel high school comedies to come out of the 1980s. But there are very few movies that show Napoleon Bonaparte going down a waterslide, or Keanu Reeves entering a time travelling phone booth operated by George Carlin. If a history teacher never played this in class the day before winter vacation, then your education was all wrong.
Rebooting a TV show from the 1980s about detectives who go undercover at a local high school into a movie is usually a terrible idea. Luckily, for directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it was a great starting point.
Instead of a pointless remake, what we get is a comedy miracle. It's a genuine surprise seeing the two characters (Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill) completely switch high school cliques. Come for Hill and Tatum's chemistry, stay for the bonkers and brilliant drug trip sequence. Then, come again for '22 Jump Street,' the rare sequel that outdoes its predecessor.
Before he completely changed the world with 'Star Wars,' George Lucas broke through with this wonderful trip down memory lane based off his experience growing up in Modesto, California in the early 1960s. It takes place over the course of just one night, and it introduced the world to Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers, and Harrison Ford. Even if you can't relate to the heavy 1960s nostalgia, 'American Graffiti' is incredibly important. Had this not become a profitable hit, then Lucas likely wouldn't have been trusted to go on and bring his crazy space saga to life.
Cameron Crowe ('Jerry Maguire,' 'Almost Famous') went undercover as a high school student and then turned it into a book which was then adapted into this classic comedy. Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh make for a great pair of siblings. And then there's Sean Penn as the stoner Spicoli, who orders a pizza to his history class. It's the kind of performance that makes you wish Sean Penn had stuck to comedy.
The modern day 'Heathers,' but with less bombs and more dieting sabotage, 'Mean Girls' has held up better than almost any movie from the 2000s, and for good reason. It's become the subject of endless GIFs and Tumblr posts. The script, written by Tina Fey, is sharp, savage, and hilarious. It doesn't sugarcoat anything, and it has no problem turning the good girl hero (Lindsay Lohan) into the villain. If you haven't seen 'Mean Girls' yet, then you don't even go here.
This is not your typical high school movie. The protagonist, Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman) is an underachieving overachiever who goes to private school and his only friends are adults. The movie seems to take place in the present, yet has a soundtrack made up mostly of The Kinks and Cat Stevens. This is a high school movie only Wes Anderson ('The Royal Tenenbaums,' 'The Grand Budapest Hotel') could make. With its precocious lead, it's the closest we'll ever get to seeing Holden Caufield of 'Catcher in the Rye' on screen.
In this pitch black comedy, an outsider (Winona Ryder) is invited to join a group of the most popular girls in school known as the 'Heathers.' Meanwhile, she teams up with a fellow outsider (Christian Slater), who has a violent streak, to take the Heathers down. The movie's relaxed take of high school-based violence might offend you and make you incredibly uncomfortable. This is the rare movie that literally feels like it could not have been made today. And something about that makes it even more special.
The outcast is ostracized first by her religious fanatic of a mother, then by an entire school of bullies. And then in the one moment in which she feels like queen of the world, she meets a bucket of pig blood. And that's when the world is introduced to telepathic Carrie.
'Carrie' is a horror movie first and foremost, but it will also feel deeply relatable, and deeply disturbing, to anyone who ever had a bad high school experience. As an added bonus, 'Carrie' includes one of the all-time great horror endings.
'Election' is a dark, painful comedy. It's a stinging satire of everything from high-school life to the political machine.
'Election' is currently more relevant than ever, given the perceived similarities between Tracy Flick, the overachiever played wonderfully by Reese Witherspoon, and Hillary Clinton. In fact, a video by Slate found heavy comparisons between 'Election' and the race between Clinton and Barack Obama. It feels relevant once again. 'Election' is the one cure for this insane election year we've been through.
There are few better high school movies than one where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is best friends with an ageing mad scientist and has to go back in time to save his parents' marriage in the 1950s, only to have his mum accidently fall in love with him. 'Back to the Future' is weird when you describe it in simplest terms, but it remains a classic for good reason. Not to mention, it has what is perhaps the greatest prom scene in movie history.
'Clueless' is both wildly dated and endlessly rewatchable, and that's not just because reruns of it on VH1 and Comedy Central were a staple of my childhood. The coming-of-age comedy is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen's 'Emma.' Alicia Silverstone nails the Valley Girl type Cher Horowitz and allows us to see a side of her character who might normally be dismissed as spoiled and hollow. Overall, if people asked me for one example of what the 1990s were really like, I would tell them to immediately watch 'Clueless.'
Over 60 years after its release, 'Rebel Without a Cause' remains a perfect portrait of teenage angst. As the red-jacketed Jim Stark, James Dean is perfect. He's both too cool for school and incredibly vulnerable at the same time.
There is a big gap between the generation that grew up on this movie, and the new generation watching it today for the first time. It says a lot that it speaks to all of us, minus the knife fights and car races.
The 1980s were the best time for high school flicks in cinematic history, and nobody did them better than the late John Hughes. It's the story of 'a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal' who all end up in Saturday detention for different reasons and end up getting past their respective cliques to bond on a deep level. The film displays a deep level of empathy for all of its characters. Yes, watching 'The Breakfast Club' will make you a better person.
This generation needed its 'one crazy night in the life of a high schooler,' and it founds its answer in the raunchy and heartfelt 'Superbad.' The movie is about codependent best friends Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) trying to get girls right before they graduate. But really, this is a movie about two best friends realising they have to move on with their lives.
The ending is both heartbreaking and highly relatable no matter how old you are. This feels like something a lot of high school comedies are missing. A lot of them are also missing a parade of phallic drawings, which 'Superbad' displays to unforgettably hilarious effect.
Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is who everyone wanted to be in high school. And he's still who you want to be today.
Ferris defies identification: he's too laid back to be a nerd and too smart to be a jock. His day off is the stuff of movie legend. And while, in reality, having a friend who convinces you to steal your dad's car and then lie about your identity in order to get into a fancy restaurant would probably be toxic, look at 'Ferris Bueller' as a fantasy. Hey, we all have dreams of singing in the middle of a parade while making your principal look like a fool.
Set on the last day of high school in Austin, Texas in the summer of 1976, 'Dazed and Confused' follows an ensemble of teenagers, some getting ready for their last year of high school, some getting ready for their high school careers, and others who graduated but never really left.
'Dazed and Confused' is completely plotless, but that doesn't make it aimless. Instead, it ingeniously captures the care-free feeling of being in high school, in that time before responsibilities felt like nothing more than something to put off.
The movie is really just an endless stream of conversations about love, drugs, and sometimes historical figures. It's the most philosophical movie about high school you'll ever see.
Watching this movie feels like the equivalent of an endless hang out with your best friends. You'll even want to keep revisiting the hazing-obsessed O'Bannon, who's played by Ben Affleck in his first big breakout role. To paraphrase an iconic line uttered by Matthew McConaughey, 'Dazed & Confused' gets older, and yet it never ages.
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