It’s that time of year. Back to school. With the Labor Day weekend upon us, kids and teens will be getting ready to head back to class in a few days. And as the school bell rings and locker doors slam, our thoughts here at Goliath naturally turn to movies about high school. A staple of Hollywood, new movies about high school life and teenage students come out every single year. And whether the movies are about a teen finding themselves, first loves or a wild night of partying, some of the best movies ever made have been about high school. And only a few of those movies can be considered classics. You know, the movies that never seem to age and you never get tired of watching—no matter how old you get. With book bags getting packed and lunches being made, we look at the top 10 movies about high school.
10. Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)
Everyone wants to be popular in high school. And this movie is about the lengths that one teenage boy will go to in order to get in with the cool kids. The 1987 movie Can’t Buy Me Love is about a teen named Ronald Miller, played by a very young Patrick Dempsey, who uses the money he earned mowing lawns in the summer to pay the head cheerleader Cindy Mancini (actress Amanda Peterson) to pretend to be his girlfriend for the first month of the new school year so that her friends will think he’s cool. Of course, things don’t go as planned when feelings develop for real between Ronald and Cindy and the two have to confront who they really are as people. Funny, sad and heartbreaking, this movie says a lot about the importance of acceptance in high school and how people in different social circles treat one another without ever really knowing who each other is. Sadly, actress Amanda Peterson died earlier this summer. This movie is a good legacy for the talented and pretty actress.
9. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Has there ever been a better movie about a social misfit than Napoleon Dynamite? This quirky independent movie became a sort of cultural phenomenon when it was released in 2004. About a weird and alienated teenager named Napoleon Dynamite who decides to help his friend Pedro win the class presidency in their small mid-western high school, this movie is seriously funny and has a big heart too. Actor Jon Heder carved out a permanent place for himself in pop culture with his performance as the weird yet interesting Napoleon Dynamite. The supporting cast, particularly the actors who play Napoleon’s super weird family, are also great. And the film captures the misery that is often inflicted on people during their high school years. Vote for Pedro!
8. Friday Night Lights (2004)
Everyone has dreams in high school, and we all remember the jocks at our school. But no film has captured the pressure that accompanies dreams of making it big as an athlete quite like the 2004 film Friday Night Lights. Based on a factual book called Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, by H. G. Bissinger, the movie is about the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa, Texas, and their run towards the Texas state championship. No other movie shows the demands, pressures and disappointments that come with being a high school athlete as well as this movie. From star football players who get injured and have their season cut short, to parents who have unrealistic expectations of their children, and the town that pins its hopes on the local high school team, Friday Night Lights shows the reality of high school sports and the toll it takes on student athletes. Consistently named one of the best books and movies about sports, Friday Night Lights packs a punch.
7. Risky Business (1983)
The movie that made Tom Cruise a star, 1983’s Risky Business is a hilarious look at the pressures high school students face to get into a good college and succeed after graduation. About a high school senior named Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) who is desperately trying to get into an Ivy League school and stressed out by his demanding parents, Risky Business features a number of classic scenes—including Tom Cruise dancing around in his underwear to the song “Old Time Rock n’ Roll.” When the parents head out of town and leave Joel alone to study for his SATs, the stressed out teen decides to blow off some steam with his dad’s Porsche and a hooker played by actress Rebecca De Mornay. Things quickly get out of hand, and in no time Joel is running a brothel out of his parent’s home just as the college admissions people from Princeton University show up for an interview. Funny, cynical and inventive, Risky Business is required viewing for all high school seniors.
6. Say Anything… (1989)
This movie starts with a high school graduation and follows two teens in love during that summer after high school when people are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. The girl in the relationship (actress Ione Skye) is off to study in England on a scholarship. The guy (John Cusack) has no idea what he wants to do and spends most of his time kickboxing. But these two opposites attract and the movie chronicles the ups and downs of their relationship as they both struggle with love, commitment and leaving home for the first time. Directed by Cameron Crowe, Say Anything is a thoughtful, sensitive and poignant look at the feelings people experience as high school comes to an end and they look towards an uncertain future. It’s also a realistic look at first love and the heartbreak it can cause. And everyone remembers the scene where John Cusack holds up the ghetto blaster outside Ione Skye’s window.
5. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Arguably the funniest movie on this list, Sixteen Candles stars 1980s “it” girl Molly Ringwald as a not-so-popular teen who is struggling to attract the attention of the boy she likes at school on her sixteenth birthday. The movie is stolen by the hilarious performance of Anthony Michael Hall as a geek who lusts after Molly Ringwald’s character. There are so many funny scenes about high school in the movie, it’s hard to name them all. From an awkward high school dance to students wearing braces and head gear, to the scene where Anthony Michael Hall holds up Molly Ringwald’s underwear in front of the other geeks in the gymnasium bathroom, to a classic house party. This movie has it all. It is one of the classic teen movies from the 1980s. And let’s not forget the super funny performance of actor Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong, the Asian foreign exchange student staying at Molly Ringwald’s house. From start to finish, this movie shows high school and teenage life in all of its awkward, humiliating, hilarious and heartfelt glory. The best movie ever about the crush who doesn’t know you exist.
4. Carrie (1976)
Has anyone had a worse high school prom than Carrie White? The 1976 movie Carrie, based on a novel by Stephen King, is the classic high school horror film. Directed by auteur Brian De Palma, Carrie is about a teenage girl, Carrie White (actress Sissy Spacek), who is tormented mercilessly by the popular girls at her high school, as well as her religious zealot of a mother at home. But unbeknownst to everyone, Carrie is telekinetic and she uses her power to exact revenge on her tormentors when they pull a truly cruel prank on her at the high school prom. This movie is for anyone who has ever dreamed of getting even with their high school bully. The final prom scene is truly scary. Nobody escapes Carrie’s wrath once it is unleashed. The movie co-stars a young John Travolta, as well as Nancy Allen and Amy Irving as the ringleaders of the mean girls. A great adaptation of Stephen King’s work that has not dated with time.
3. Superbad (2007)
A raucous movie about friendship, the 2007 movie Superbad is hilarious and touching. About two geeky friends in their last year of high school who know they will be separated after they graduate and head off to college, Superbad follows best buddies Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) as they try to score booze and bring it to a house party to impress the girls they like. Written by real-life best friends and collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Superbad contains snappy dialogue, funny scenes involving liquor stores, the cops and a house party, and some of the most awkward teenage make out scenes ever put on film. And actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse is a standout as Seth and Evan’s other friend, the ultra-nerdy Foggle, aka McLovin. One of the best movies ever about friendship and the bonds we form in high school, Superbad is required viewing.
2. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Most of us were slotted into some type of social group in high school—whether jock, nerd, metal head, and so on. The 1985 movie The Breakfast Club takes five teenagers from different social cliques and places them in a full day of Saturday detention in the high school library. Played by 1980s brat packers Emilio Estevez (jock), Judd Nelson (metal head), Anthony Michael Hall (nerd), Molly Ringwald (popular girl) and Ally Sheedy (misfit), The Breakfast Club uses its setting to explore these stereotypical characters and show how they have more in common than they realize. It also shows, in stark detail, the pressures put on teenagers to succeed and fit in at any cost. Written and directed by John Hughes, The Breakfast Club has an authenticity that resonates with viewers. This is due to a fantastic script, crisp dialogue and great performances by all of the actors involved, including Paul Gleason, who plays the out of touch high school principal who is supervising the detention. A movie that continues to speak to high school students today, The Breakfast Club is an original that has never been equaled.
1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Everyone gets skewered in this movie—teenagers, parents, teachers, the principal, even the high school secretary. The 1986 gem Ferris Bueller’s Day Off takes square aim at the entire high school experience and hits the bullseye. About a slick teenager, played by actor Matthew Broderick, who decides to play hooky with his best friend Cameron (actor Alan Ruck) and his girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off follows the trio through their day off in downtown Chicago, while also showing what they are missing back at school and the efforts of the high school principal to catch Ferris in the act of ditching class. Along the way, the movie lambasts high school with one hilarious scene after another. What makes the movie funny is how bang on it gets the mundane and boring nature of school, as well as the silliness of all the drama that is involved in high school. A classic from the time it was first released, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is another movie written and directed by John Hughes. Perhaps no other writer or director has captured the high school experience quite as well as John Hughes. He has a total of three movies on this list, including Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Sadly, John Hughes died in 2009 at age 59, but his legacy lives on in these great movies.