This season’s cooler temperatures and falling leaves also signal the beginning and end of summer holidays for children of all ages around the world, as well as the anticipated or dreaded return to school. The 10 finest back-to-school movies to watch in class, between assignments, or just anytime you need some nostalgia, we’ve compiled this list to celebrate (or commiserate).
In addition, this isn’t just a list of odd school-related films. From elementary school to college and beyond, these ten films will take you on a journey. If you’ve completed your degree requirements at Collider University, you can follow along with this syllabus, which takes you through the best school movies Hollywood has to offer, from the 2006 delightAkeelah and the Bee, to new classics and old favorites set in high school or college, to teacher-centric films likeMr. Holland’s Opus; we have not forgotten the educators in our favorite back-to-school films. So take a look at our picks and put them to good use by watching them. There’s always something new to learn, even if you’ve watched them all!
1. Kindergarten Cop
For most of us, kindergarten was the first stop on our educational journeys. This is a short list, but I would be negligent not to include Ivan Reitman’s Kindergarten Cop, which centers on a group of five-year-olds in a school setting. As a humorous protagonist, Arnold Schwarzenegger does a lot better here than he did in his sole previous comedic role opposite Danny DeVito in 1988’sTwins, which wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award.
For the first time, his co-stars are all kindergarteners, and their uncontrolled energy overwhelms the ordinarily indestructible strong-man. Although the plot of Kindergarten Cop has nothing to do with school, this movie is a terrific spot to begin your return to school revisit as any other place.
2. Akeelah and the Bee
When discussing screenplays that include terms like xanthosis,logorrhea, andpulchritude, things get a little more serious. Doug Atchison’s Akeelah and the Bee was an original film that was inspired by the Scripps National Spelling Bee’s brilliant grade-schoolers. The goal of the 2006 videos was to inspire children and parents, particularly those from economically disadvantaged situations. With its well-known cliches and predictable plot changes, Akeelah remains an encouraging story that reminds us all of the difficulties we face when we put ourselves in a position of responsibility.
3. The Breakfast Club
Take a leap into high school with John Hughes’ first masterpiece, “High School Musical.”
In The Breakfast Club, five teens from various cliques are placed in an all-day detention on a Saturday.
In this 1985 sequel to Hughes’ 1984 hit Sixteen Candles, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy formed the “Brat Pack”. As a high school movie, it’s one of the first things that comes to mind when someone asks you to name the greatest of all time, and for good reason: Furthermore, each of the key parts in the film is based on a standard high school stereotype that is twisted to blur the lines between the characters’ purportedly diverse characteristics. Richard Vernon, Paul Gleason’s assistant principal, is an over-the-top disciplinarian who unites the young cast in a united resistance. School films with anti-authoritarian themes are common, and The Breakfast Club is one of the greatest.
4. Mean Girls
Despite their cliques, people aren’t actually all that different in high school movies. They can also be humorous, like in Mark Waters’ 2004 comedyMean Girls, in which the cliques are shown to be juvenile and only exist for a short period. Because of its source of inspiration, Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction self-help book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” the movie Mean Girls is more than just a “survive high school and everything will be OK” type of movie.
With her well-rounded background, homeschooling Cady Heron (Lindsey Lohan) is ill-prepared for the chaos that is public high school. It takes Cady some time to be accepted back into her old group of friends, but she emerges from the experience with a fresh outlook on high school and life in general. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a “mean girl,” you’ve come to the right place.
With a storyline that sounds like it was made up in some Hollywood boardroom, Herbert Ross’ 1984 musical drama Footloose was actually inspired by the manner of life in an Oklahoma town that forbade dancing and rock music. Newcomer (Kevin Bacon) goes to great lengths to make friends with the local kids, extend their minds, and meet the town’s conservative council halfway by presenting Biblical verses in favour of dancing, festivities, and joyous celebration of life.
An abusive relationship is also examined in Footloose, as is the grief of losing a child and the growth of a mob mentality in even the most well-intentioned people. It’s worth a second look to see what a group of like-minded teenagers can do when they put their heads together in this movie.
6. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It’s true that school is fantastic and everything, but every now and again, you simply need a break. Your plans for a day off from work will never compare to the epic slackerdom attained inFerris Bueller’s Day Off, no matter how great you think they are. But even though it doesn’t star the renowned Brat Pack, this Hughes picture that takes place mainly outside of high school is quite fine.
Matthew Broderick had only appeared in a few films by this time in his career, but his part as the film’s title character, who frequently broke the fourth wall, remains his most memorable. Even after 30 years, this screenplay is shockingly fresh and continuously humorous for something written in less than a week. A classic among high school movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off serves as both a celebration of youth and a reminder of how quickly it passes.
Grease is a musical far above what any high school experience should be, and the students are considerably older than any high schooler in history, yet it is still a worthy addition to a list of the finest school-related movies.
In Randal Kleiser’s 1978 musical romance, the 1950s glory days glimpsed in Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs’ original drama are ramped up nearly two hours. Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko’s high school relationship is the focus of the film, which begins in the summer of 1958 and ends with the two high school seniors reuniting for their senior year of high school. Climatedrag races, anxieties about teenage pregnancy, and dance competitions are all backdrops to the film’s troubled romance as it marches toward graduation. Even if the 1950s never return, the movie Grease will always be the ultimate depiction of life as it was then.
8. October Sky
This is the list’s first true biopic, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Joe Johnston’s 1999 film, based on the story of coal miner’s son Homer H. Hickam, Jr. (Jake Gyllenhaal), follows the young life of Hickam, who took up rocketry following the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. The film is based on Hickam Jr.’s 1998 memoir, “Rocket Boys.” The film’s title is an anagram of the book’s title and a marketing choice meant to extend its demographic appeal.
When it comes to school-related films, this one tends to get neglected, but the narrative of a West Virginia schoolboy who discovers a route out of his little coal-mining town through science should cover all four quadrants. Hickam Jr.’s science teacher (Laura Dern) and his fellow Rocket Boys help him and the other Rocket Boys overcome adversity—including ridicule from family and friends and accusations from the local authorities that they started a forest fire with their rockets, strikes by the local workers’ union, and family drama—and find success (and retribution) through science. You never know what might happen if you promote an interest in the sciences at a young age; it’s a terrific motivating tale.
9. Sixteen Candles
Hughes is back! Fans of 16-year-old Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) consider his directorial debut Sixteen Candles, from 1984, to be the archetypal coming-of-age comedy. While preparing for her sister’s wedding, her family forgets Samantha’s most important birthday. Her high school crush (Michael Schoeffling) is accidentally revealed, and she has an embarrassing encounter with a persistent nerd (Anthony Michael Hall). Sam’s birthday begins as a calamitous one, but it soon turns out to be one of the best of her life.
Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to notice the overtly racist and sexist humor that was tolerated in 1984 but would be scoffed at today when watching this well-known Hughes picture. Crude comedy may still use Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) or a similar stereotype of an Asian exchange student, but the treatment of popular high school girl Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris) is deplorable. Long Duk Dong and the obviously disturbing and prepubescent dream of inebriated, off-screen rape by Miss Mulford would be much more relevant today if they were eliminated from Sixteen Candles. In retrospect, it hasn’t held up nearly as well as it should have with age.
10. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
This movie has so many noteworthy features that aren’t even connected with the plot that the story may (nearly) be neglected in favor of the film’s cultural significance: Amy Heckerling’s feature directorial debut, the first adaptation/screenplay work by Oscar-winner Cameron Crowe, and the first roles for Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nicolas Cage (as Nicolas Coppola), and Forest Whitaker. That’s beyond belief.
Crowe’s experiences as an undercover reporter for Rolling Stone at San Diego’s Clairemont High School inspired the story. On a year-by-year basis, the film follows two sophomores and their older and more experienced pals as they deal with the obstacles of finding work and dealing with the authority of Penn’s stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli. Since it premiered in 1982, it has a leg up on many of the other modern classics on this list in terms of creativity.