It’s finally September which means kids are finally going back to school. While most of us are either college students who went back to school in August or “full-fledged adults” (as if) who are long graduated, there’s still something special about the beginning of September and the sight of new school supplies as we go to pick up our ramen at the local grocery store. And while we definitely won’t be volunteering to get back into a classroom anytime soon, we can indulge in some classic back to school movies. Some of the best films ever are based in high schools and on college campuses, giving a great dose of nostalgia. Keep reading for the best “school” movies to watch when you want to recapture your glory days.
1. The Breakfast Club
All hail John Hughes, the king of movies centered on teen angst. His hit films in the ’80s made the teen movies of today possible. The Breakfast Club brings together all the “brat pack” actors and actresses of the day, including Hughes muse, Molly Ringwald and tests the boundaries of archetypes in high school. While a group of five teens serving detention on a Saturday morning they learn there’s more to each other than their supposed personas. The jock is no bumbling idiot and the burnout is struggling at home. The movie blasts apart the idea that everyone in high school needs to be segregated into their own separate cliques — why can’t we all just get along? While that may never happen, Hughes gave us some classic scenes and dialogue with this insightful teen comedy.
The ultimate quotable teen comedy of the 2000’s. Superbad introduced the world to Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Emma Stone. So, yeah, it’s pretty important. There isn’t a teen around now who doesn’t know who McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is or doesn’t call their friends a total Steve Glansberg. The gross-out comedy showed the pursuit of all high school kids – the ultimate party and some way to get booze while underage. And your best friend going to a different college than you? Hella #relatable.
3. Mean Girls
One of the most classic high school comedies of all time. Back when Lindsay Lohan starred in movies instead of tabloid stories she played her defining role: Cady Heron. Mean Girls is about, well, mean girls. It’s much deeper than that, delving into social status in high school and how being popular can almost kill you. I mean, c’mon, Regina (Rachel McAdams) gets hit by a BUS. The film explores the teen dream of being popular, and how it’s not exactly what it’s all cracked up to be. Luckily the moral of the story is who tf cares how popular you are? Why not just try and be happy instead?
4. Dazed and Confused
Set on the last day of high school in 1976, Dazed and Confused is the quintessential teen party movie. The end of the school year means time for an epic night to kick off what’s sure to be a bitchin’ summer. The film is set in the ’70s but it feels completely timeless. The undercurrent of the film is idea that growing up and finding what you want isn’t always easy. Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) hasn’t decided if he has a future in high school football or just wants to hang with his friends. The age old battle between shirking responsibilities and preparing for your future can make or break your teen years.
5. 21 Jump Street
Based on the popular ’80s series of the same name, this comedy plops Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in high school as undercover cops. The results are hilarious as the two swap the roles they lived in high school the first time around. Hill’s Schmidt was a loser during his teen years, but now gets a taste of being popular. On the other hand, Tatum’s Jenko has never known anything but easy, breezy popularity and is now seeing the other side for the first time. Watching the two get way too invested in their fake high school lives shows just how powerful nostalgia can be. Who hasn’t imagined going back to high school knowing what they know now?
6. Sixteen Candles
Another John Hughes classic. Sixteen Candles stars Ringwald as Samantha, a teen on the cusp of her 16th birthday. And then everyone forgets it when it comes. To be fair, her birthday was the day before her super Bridezilla sister’s wedding. But when you’re 16, that doesn’t matter, all that matters is your first milestone birthday and the cute older guy in school. Luckily Sam ends the day over cake with her crush, Jake Ryan. Officially heightening 16th birthday expectations for girls everywhere.
Like, oh my god, who doesn’t love this movie? Alicia Silverstone stars as Cher, a popular valley girl driven by success and shopping. Cher takes new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) under her wing and is soon usurped in popularity by her. Cher learns that the superficiality of popularity is not the be all end all of life. And falls in love with her former step-brother… But, I mean, he’s played by Paul Rudd, so we would admittedly fall in love with him too, no matter the slightly ick-ish familial relations.
8. Easy A
Easy A shows just how important sex can be in high school. When Olive (Emma Stone) tells a little lie to her BFF about losing her virginity suddenly the whole school knows about it. She takes her new “slutty” persona and uses it to her advantage. She has fake “sex” with unpopular guys in exchange for Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift cards and the like. Unfortunately, when you mix sex and high school it can’t all be gift cards and no consequences. She soon finds herself a pariah, losing her friends and being pegged as the school slut. Sometimes rumors can bury you, especially in high school. Luckily Olive manages to shake her newfound notoriety off and slip back into relative anonymity.
Grease is the original high school musical. Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) are the good girl and bad boy who spent the summer together and realize that adapting to the high school status quo means slightly changing personalities. They try to navigate a relationship together all the same until Sandy realizes she must change to be with Danny. By the end of the film she’s leather-clad and smoking cigarettes, completely separated from her argyle sweaters and doe-eyed look. While we don’t recommend changing yourself completely for a boy, this film is a great time capsule for high school years’ past. Plus it has some of the best musical moments in film ever.
10. Grease 2
Ok — I know — controversial. But this sequel is actually good, even if Liv and John didn’t come back. The follow-up to Grease skips ahead a decade to show high school life in the 1960s. Grease 2 flips the script and it’s a good boy and a bad gal trying to make it work this time. Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) find more opposition than even Sandy and Danny did in the original. Steph’s Pink Lady status means she has to date a T-Bird despite being totally over her ex Johnny (Adrian Zmed). Luckily clumsy, British Michael rebuilds and learns to ride a motorcycle just to get with Steph. And almost dies in the process! The message of changing for someone you love is still present in this sequel, but luckily so are the amazing musical numbers.
11. She’s All That
The first in a long line of movies about “ugly ducklings” turned beautiful, despite being gorgeous all along. Rachael Leigh Cook stars as Laney, an artsy outsider and a supposed “ugly loser.” Freddie Prinze Jr. plays her movie counterpart as Zack, a jock with declining popularity who decides to take on the ultimate challenge: turn Laney into the prom queen. It’s laughable how the removal of a pony tail suddenly makes Laney ~beautiful~, but it seems to work in the film. You’ll have to watch and see if Laney actually becomes the prom queen.
12. Bring it On
A teen movie about cheerleading, morality, and when driving for success goes wrong. The Toro’s are the ultimate high school cheerleading squad, winning competitions year in and year out. When Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) takes over as the squad’s captain, she learns that their routines aren’t exactly original and have been stolen from another local high school’s team. Now she must do what’s right while still making the Toros as successful as they’ve always been. The dedication to sportsmanship in high school is admirable here and this is one of the only films to showcase it — it’s also a movie that will make you laugh out loud. There are plenty of sequels now, but the original still reigns supreme.
13. John Tucker Must Die
An underrated classic, after discovering jock John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) is dating multiple girls in his high school, his victims band together to get revenge. The girls use new girl, Kate (Brittany Snow) as bait, but it soon gets complicated when John really starts to fall for Kate right as she starts to fall for his much nicer brother, Scott (Penn Badgley). Anyone who’s ever been cheated on can relate to girls wanting to crush John Tucker. Don’t mess with a high school girl because you will get what’s coming to you.
14. American Pie
The reigning king of raunchy teen comedies is definitely American Pie. I mean, Jim (Jason Biggs) literally has sex with a pie. The film is a somewhat realistic look at sex in highschool, mainly the part where teenage boys are obsessed with it. The raunchy comedy explores the quest to lose your virginity and what to do when feelings — and flutes — come into the equation. The film has spawned several sequels of varying degrees of funny, but the original is still the greatest.
While most teen movies are focused on pretty, white high schoolers that aren’t exactly centered in reality. Dope explores teen life in inner-cities and tough neighborhoods through the lens of ’90s hip hop. The film focuses on high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) whose chance encounter with a drug deal leads him into the dealer’s life — and inadvertently away with his drugs. Rapper and star A$AP Rocky described the film as a “hood classic”, in the same vein as Menace II Society and Boyz n The Hood. The film harkens back to the hood classics of the ’90s while still playing a contemporary high school story about some kids way in over their heads.
16. Pretty in Pink
Sorry, but you can’t talk accurately about high school movies without at least three John Hughes films. It’s just not possible. One of the many, many collaborations between Hughes and Ringwald, this film explores the chasm between cliques in high school… as per usual, but each one does so in a very unique way. In Pretty in Pink, when Ringwald’s Andie is asked out by popular Blane (Andrew McCarthy), the two must reconcile dating each other while being from two completely different social classes in high school and in the world. He’s rich and she’s not. Not going to lie, though, the saddest part of the movie is watching Jon Cryer‘s Duckie pine for Andie, who’s made it clear they’re nothing but friends. The film is set in the ’80s but the themes are timeless, as battling between social status and what your heart wants is relatable even into adult life.
17. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
This 1980s set high school movie has it all: first jobs, first times, first loves, and first abortions. The film navigates sex, relationships, and the pursuit of good grades as it splits the view between several high schoolers. The film also features Sean Penn‘s breakout role as surfing stoner, Jeff Spicoli. Most people remember the film for it’s iconic Phoebe Cates scene involving the removal of a bathing suit and a dip in the pool.
18. Not Another Teen Movie
Not Another Teen Movie isn’t just one other teen movie, but about 80 wrapped in one. The film spoofs all your favs – from She’s All That to Bring it On. It even has a baby Chris Evans long before he was Captain America. The movie brings laugh-out-loud jokes, hijinks, and more than a few raunchy moments. It mercilessly lambasts the cliches of the high school movie genre, taking every stereotypical character and moment to the extreme. While the originals are great sometimes it’s fun to see them skewered.
19. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Another John Hughes classic. Who wasn’t envious of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) when they were in high school? He’s not only super cool but a total bad boy – well, in terms of cutting class and getting away with it, at least. The film follows Ferris skipping school one last time before graduation with his principal (Jeffrey Jones) working hard to catch him in the act. Ferris spends the day eluding capture and joy-riding around Chicago with his neurotic pal Cameron, (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara). The movie is a perfect romp to live vicariously through when you just really don’t want to be in school – or at work.
20. 10 Things I Hate About You
Where were you when you fell in love with Heath Ledger? Probably watching this movie somewhere. When Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) learns she can’t date until her sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does she attempts to hook her up with Ledger’s Patrick. Patrick and Kat are both strong willed and incredibly guarded, which brings them together and, eventually, draws them apart. The two end up together in the end, obviously, but only after a big fight, a stadium serenade by Heath — er, Patrick and an emotional poem.