Top Ten High School Movies


Written by Jessica Hanlon.

As we are routinely told by well-meaning parents and knowledgeable adults, high school is supposed to be the best days of our lives. For those of you who are normal teenagers like the rest of us, high school is anything but. Thankfully, the Silver Screen has always managed to perfectly capture those awkward, hilarious and memorable years of promise and pimples. From classrooms to cafeterias, pep rallies to proms and detention to dream sequences, this honour roll captures the top 10 of what every teenager dreads; the high school experience.

10. American Pie (1999)


The high school movie that restarted it all; paving the way for more recent comedies like SuperBad and Juno, American Pie was one of the first to uniquely capture the high school experience of having sex for the first time. From watching Babestation Babes to actually doing the real thing can be quite a funny journey. While it is easy to forget how funny and fresh this movie was on release thanks to the 35 sequels that have sadly been spawned from this franchise; American Pie is a teen comedy that has left an impressionable mark. Following the story of Jim, Kevin, Oz, Finch, and Stifler who all make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation; American Pie takes us on an awkward, hilarious and at times unbelievable ride through the trials and tribulations most teenagers experience their first time. Websites like actually have a lot to thank American Pie for, as one of their most popular category titles actually comes from the film. Yep, the term MILF was actually popularized by this film. It also teaches us the dangers of webcam misuse (hey remember that scene when you next check here!) and baked goods, Pie helped to reignite the careers of its young fresh-faced cast including Jason Biggs, Allison Hanngian, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Seann William Scott and of course Eugene Levy, all the while having us squirm and giggle as we chanted in unison: “This one time? At band camp?”

9. Grease (1978)


More than just an education, high school is about music, fast cars, the opposite sex and summer nights ““ at least for the kids of Rydell High School. Still one of the highest grossing film musicals of all time, Grease takes the traditional high school formula; star-crossed lovers who risk social suicide should they date outside their clique, and sets it to catchy musical numbers and a roaring 50’s backdrop. Dealing with issues of teen pregnancy and the uncertainty of life after graduation, Grease takes a more mature look at the high school condition while propelling the career trajectory of its little known stars Olivia Newtown John (in that unforgettable leather suit) and John Travolta. Even 25 years after its release, Grease remains one of the immortal high school movies with many Pink Ladies and T Birds still rocking their leathers today.

8. Pretty in Pink (1986)


The first of many John Hughes entries in this list, Pretty in Pink has arguably one of the most talked about and controversial endings to a teen romance. The fact that people are still debating whether Andie should have chosen the preppy popular and rich Blane over the sweet devoted Ducky is a testament to Hughes’ multilayered script. Starring sweetheart of the 80’s Molly Ringwald alongside Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, Henry Dean Stanton and James Spader, Hughes’ movie crafts a story about more than just love across class lines and instead focuses on issues of social prejudice, friendship and individuality. Whilst it might not be as universal in appeal as other counterparts in the list, it certainly holds its weight in such company. Pretty in Pink boasts an awesome 80’s soundtrack, impressive costumes and a lasting testament to how high school doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.

7. To Sir With Love (1976)


Before they started to dip into romance, high school movies were about inspiring kids and teaching them tolerance through real-life lessons and tough love. Based on the autobiographical novel by E.R. Braithwaite, To Sir with Love is one such original stalwart that explores the difficulty of being a teenager in a place where nobody believes in you. After playing an insubordinate kid in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier masterfully goes from student to teacher taming a bunch of rough and unruly East London school kids by teaching them respect, integrity and morality just a week before they prepare to graduate. Dealing with social and racial issues, Poitier’s performance is supported by a student cast of relative unknowns with the exception of British pop sensation Lulu, who performed the film’s infamous and catchy title track. Whilst not so well-known and somewhat clichéd now, the film’s message is tried and true; listen, learn and respect, not just at school but in life – especially if your teacher is as cool as Sidney Poitier.

6. Clueless (1995)


Loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless is the rare high school movie that actually has you rooting for the popular girl. In her breakout role, Alicia Silverstone is the perfect combination of vapid and heart-warming as “it” girl Cher, who takes on new exchange student Tai (played by Brittany Murphy) as her latest pet project; transforming her into one of the hippest girls in school. By learning important lessons through her interaction with others, Cher’s transformation of herself and Tai is consistently smart, funny and clever. Through her characters, writer and director Amy Heckerling creates a thoughtful and reflective insight into the notion of popularity and cliques in high school and the repercussions that conforming to such ideas can have. After all, nothing says high school more than setting your teachers up with each other to improve your grades.

5. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)


A modernisation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You is a bittersweet romantic comedy that captures what all of us loathe about high school; parents and romance. 10 Things follows the story of new student Cameron James (played by child star Joseph Gordon Levitt) who must find a guy to date Kat Stratford (played by Julia Stiles), in order to date Kat’s sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) after their father makes a rule that Bianca cannot date until Kat does. Beautiful and popular, Bianca epitomises everything about high school that Kat, and in turn we, come to see isn’t important; parties, popularity and cliques. Featuring Aussie Heath Ledger in his first US film role, 10 Things shows us that social cliques really exist only to be deconstructed and broken. Its stellar soundtrack includes Heath Ledger performing “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” in one of the film’s more memorable moments and perfectly captures the teen angst and punk-rock edge of the 90’s. But mostly, we hate the way that we don’t hate this movie, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

4. Mean Girls (2004)

Mean Girls

Before Lindsay Lohan was a tabloid-dominating train wreck, she was once a young actress to watch out for. In arguably her best role to date, Mean Girls shows us that Lindsay had the comedic and acting potential to be so much more. In this updated version of the high school clique movie, Lohan stars as Cady, a well-adjusted transfer student who goes on a journey of revenge to take out the Plastics, led by Queen Bee, Regina (in a breakout role for Rachel McAdams) from the inside. Partially based on the non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, this Tina Fey scripted film creates an accurate and stinging portrayal of girl-on-girl cattiness and what effect high school cliques can have on impressionable young girls. Hilarious and honest, Mean Girls is a modern reflection of just how cut-throat high school can really be.

3. Easy A (2010)


Taking notes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Easy A is the story of finding empowerment in the most unlikely and horrible of situations. When Olive Penderghast’s (Emma Stone) white lie gets caught in the rumour mill, she decides to build on her social and financial standing with disastrous results. Funny and engaging, Easy A is a story that takes a pretty strong stance for feminism and abstinence, which is refreshing in an age where today’s generation has a fascination with documenting their every thought. As much about finding yourself as it is about learning the importance of waiting, individuality and friendship, Easy A casts a look at high school life in the age of social media. Although, as Olive reminds us that “John Hughes did not direct my life”, the movie certainly pays homage to high school films of the past, creating a relatable and hilarious depiction of just how much harder it is to navigate the travesty that is high school thanks to the Internet.

2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)


The second Hughes film in the list, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off shows just how experienced he was in capturing the teenage condition. Written, produced and directed by John Hughes himself, the film follows high school senior Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), who decides to skip school and spend the day in downtown Chicago with best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) . Featuring numerous famous landmarks including Sears Tower and the Art Institute of Chicago, this high school movie which spends very little time in high school, perfectly encapsulates the freedom that so many teenagers wish they could have. Thanks to Broderick’s turn as Ferris, being stuck in 12th grade and struggling to take it easy has never been as fun, mythic or spellbinding. After all, cruising through Chicago in a red Ferrari, and crashing the annual Von Steuben Day Parade whilst lip-synching to The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” sounds like a pretty great sick-day to me!

1. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Breakfast Club / Breakfast Club

In the simplest terms, the most convenient definition: The Breakfast Club is the epitome of the high school film. From the film genius that was John Hughes, this quintessential high school film stars Emilio Ezteves, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall as five youthful stereotypes stuck in detention on a Saturday. Scrambling to prove they’re each more than just a brain, a jock, a basket case, a princess and a criminal show us that you can’t tell teenagers who they are; in fact making them write an essay to do so will actually be quite a huge pain in the ass. More than just a movie about cliques, Hughes explores subversive and bracing ideas that teens are still faced with today, such as sex, drugs, suicide, peer pressure and the need to belong to something. It is this real, honest and accurate portrayal of the high school condition that makes the movie so memorable and allows it to spark intense debates about the trials of teen life over 21 years later. Featuring Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget about Me” as its kick-ass theme, The Breakfast Club teaches us on an important lesson; “we’re all pretty bizarre, some of us are just better at hiding it”.

– J.H.

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