Our Top 15 Favorite School movies!
With August coming to a close, students are beginning their school years. Some are experiencing the trials and tribulations of high school for the first time while others are venturing to the bacchanal of college life. Both of these settings have been fertile ground for some great movies over the years. Take a look at the best of the best of the movies that take us back to our school days.
Carrie White's tortured high school life speaks to millions of kids. While most of us who have endured some sort of bullying get through it to lead a normal adult life, Carrie's dormant telekinetic powers took her to a much darker place, resulting in the deaths of her classmates. Brian De Palma's film is a stylized masterpiece and shows us that not all high school movies have to be comedies. Keep an eye out for a young John Travolta!
Sure, THE FACULTY is all about a small town being taken over by alien beings, but it is really Robert Rodriguez taking on his own version of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Much like the John Hughes film, this movie takes a diverse group of characters (jock, slacker, druggie, dropout, weirdo, etc) and forces them to take another look at themselves and whether those roles truly matter. Throw in a Body Snatchers style plot and you have this gem. With a great cast that includes Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Famke Janssen, and Salma Hayek, THE FACULTY is a good time!
MEAN GIRLS, like BRING IT ON, should not be a movie that I really like. But both films are better than you would expect. While BRING IT ON benefits from a snarky wit, MEAN GIRLS has Tina Fey bringing her trademark humor to a lighter version of HEATHERS. Lindsay Lohan and her awesome rack should have skyrocketed to box office superstar after making this movie. We all know how that turned out. At least we got Rachel McAdams out of this movie. Also, keep an eye out for Lizzy Caplan as Janice Ian.
DONNIE DARKO is one of my all-time favorites and yet I almost didn't include it on this list. While the movie is about the perils and depths of teenage angst, I almost overlooked the key roles that Donnie's teachers, played by Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle, have in the final outcome of his journey. Skip the unnecessary sequel or director's cut and watch the original cut of the film, otherwise I may doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion. See if you can spot the cameo by Seth Rogen.
Dick Wolf, creator of the LAW & ORDER television series, wrote this film inspired by his school years as the lone Jewish student at a Christian preparatory academy. The film, which takes place in the 1950s, features Brendan Fraser, Chris O'Donnell, Matt Damon, Cole Hauser, and Ben Affleck in a small role. The movie is well acted if not melodramatic, but Damon plays the stereotypical high school douche perfectly. Being Jewish myself I enjoyed seeing a film featuring a strong HeBro character.
AMERICAN PIE took this slot in the list from CAN'T HARDLY WAIT. Both films cover similar ground, but while CAN'T HARDLY WAIT took a very PG-13 route, AMERICAN PIE went for the full R rating and gave us Jason Biggs banging an apple pie, Shannon Elizabeth's gorgeous tits, and the mainstreaming of the term MILF, courtesy of John Cho in a small but memorable role. AMERICAN PIE was released the same year I graduated from high school and holds a special place for me. While the sequels failed to live up to the original (AMERICAN REUNION being the borderline exception), these characters will remain part of pop culture forever.
This movie was my first exposure to Rodney Dangerfield. Even before seeing CADDYSHACK, I saw BACK TO SCHOOL. This movie still makes me stop whenever I come across it on cable. Sure, it may not be the best of Rodney's movies, but it is still damn good. BILLY MADISON essentially used the same plot device but nobody can top Rodney's Triple Lindy. Keith Gordon and Robert Downey Jr are good in their roles but the cameos from Kurt Vonnegut, Sam Kinison, and Danny Elfman (playing as part of Oingo Boingo) complete this fun time-waster.
The older I get, the more I relate to OLD SCHOOL than I do with AMERICAN PIE. Especially the Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell characters. We all have those yearnings to return to the glory days of college where we had nothing to worry about aside from going to class and getting shitfaced with our friends. While Todd Phillips moved on to THE HANGOVER, he cut his teeth on the buddy comedy movies with this as well as ROAD TRIP. Phillips would go on to produce the high school party movie PROJECT X. Jeremy Piven finds himself completing his trifecta of back to school movies with OLD SCHOOL. He also appeared in GROSSE POINTE BLANK and one other that we will get to very soon on this list.
DAZED AND CONFUSED is part of an unofficial trilogy that also includes AMERICAN GRAFFITI and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. All three movies feel like takes on the same story in different eras. But, where DAZED AND CONFUSED sets itself apart is with the supporting roles. Sure, Jason London does a serviceable job in the lead, but it is the performances from Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, and Nicky Katt that make the movie special. Yet another Ben Affleck supporting role adds to this movie. While I still hope that director Richard Linklater will make a follow up film showing the same characters 20 years later, we can enjoy McConaughey reprising his role as David Wooderson in the music video for Butch Walker's "Synthesizers".
There is a dark side to the college life. Roger Avary's adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel THE RULES OF ATTRACTION has darkness in spades. James Van Der Beek completely shattered his DAWSON'S CREEK persona by playing the crude drug dealing college student Sean Bateman (brother to AMERICAN PSYCHO's Patrick Bateman). Throw in some super sexy scenes with Kate Bosworth, Shannyn Sossamon, and Jessica Biel. Round that out with a non-linear narrative that includes the awesome European vacation sequence and you have a movie about college that no parent should ever watch. Everyone else should definitely check it out.
While DEAD POETS SOCIETY may be a bit overrated, it is still a very good movie. Peter Weir's film focuses on a boys school in 1959 and the teacher that changed their outlook on literature and life as they knew it. Robin Williams plays the kind of teacher that every kid wants to have. Someone inspiring, a bit edgy, but also someone who can easily be related to. Julia Roberts played a similar character in the all female equivalent, MONA LISA SMILE. Both are good movies that get the message across that teachers are not just people there to parrot information but can truly teach you something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
John Hughes was the master of what high school was all about. There are so many of his movies that could have made this list (SIXTEEN CANDLES, PRETTY IN PINK, WEIRD SCIENCE) but I had to limit my choices. THE BREAKFAST CLUB is a defining movie for a lot of kids. For those who saw it in theaters, it was an absolute masterpiece. Now, you can tell the kids in high school who have seen the movie and who have yet to watch it. There are so many quotable lines that some people can just repeat the movie verbatim. Taking the stereotypical high school types and having them break each other down gave hope for every outcast who wanted to be popular and for every big man/girl on campus who wanted to be more than just a pretty face. To this day, I want to know the end of the joke Judd Nelson is telling before he falls from the ceiling. The perfect high school movie.
"These are O.R. scrubs." "O.R. they?" With that exchange and Bill Murray choking on his water, RUSHMORE cemented Wes Anderson's filmmaking career. BOTTLE ROCKET is the lone Anderson film that does not follow his current visual style, but RUSHMORE was the first. Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray cometing for Olivia Williams affections heralded one of the best filmmaker-actor relationships of all time. The twisted world of RUSHMORE gave us another glimpse into a private prep school (they sure are good movie settings, aren't they?) and the bizarre mind of Max Fischer. We have all gone to school with variations of Max Fischer. I like to think ELECTION's Tracy Flick is his female counterpart. Both are determined to rule the world by any means necessary. Owen Wilson and Anderson's screenplay is a marvel and I hope they team up again someday.
I am curious how many of you know this little movie. I discovered it while working at a Blockbuster Video in high school and recommend it to everyone I can. Jeremy Piven (before he had hair or after he started going bald? I can't tell) plays Droz, the old man on campus who must band together with his friends to save their school from political correctness. Think of it as REVENGE OF THE NERDS meets REAL GENIUS, but without the intelligence. David Spade plays his trademark douchebag and Jon Favreau has the hilarious role of the dreadlocked Gutter ("Can you blow me where the Pampers is?"). This was the movie that first introduced me to George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, as long you enjoy laughing.
Phoebe Cates boobs. Do I really need to explain anything else about this movie? Well, I guess I can share some other details. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH was AMERICAN PIE before AMERICAN PIE. Crude, vulgar, and hilarious, it showed how high school students really acted and talked. Dealing with masturbation, teen pregnancy, and drugs, FAST TIMES was the template for every high school movie that came after it. Plus, Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli is one of the characters that will forever be remembered in the annals of movies. Funny, heartfelt, and genuine, FAST TIMES is a great movie about high school.
When my family moved to Chicago in the middle of my high school years, I dreamed it would be like living in a John Hughes movie. And if you could be any of the characters from his movies, you would be a liar if you said you didn't want to be Ferris Bueller. The epitome of the anti-popular yet still incredibly popular, Ferris Bueller was my idol for years. Every time I go to Chicago, I look for landmarks from the movie. Matthew Broderick is perfect, Mia Sara is gorgeous, Alan Ruck is hilarious, and Jeffrey Jones is at his evil best. Charlie Sheen's cameo with Jennifer Grey is one of many small moments that make this the best high school movie that barely takes place in a classroom. Bueller? Bueller?
Of course ANIMAL HOUSE is number one. Do you really think we would have half of the movies on this list if it were not for John Belushi and the genius minds of Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and John Landis? Unfortunately watered down by mediocre imitators, ANIMAL HOUSE showed the less than glamorous side of fraternity life as well as the competitive nature of fraternity life. I credit ANIMAL HOUSE as not only a precursor for comedies about college but also for movies like THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Keep an eye out for a young Kevin Bacon and Donald Sutherland's ass. While National Lampoon has not had much success in recent years, VAN WILDER is the closest to a worth sequel we will ever get. Plus, it has a Tim Matheson cameo!