It’s that time of year again! School is back in session, which means more books and less movies, right? Wrong! Here are some great movies that will help get you back into the academic mindset (or will at least be entertaining).
The Early Years:
School of Rock (2003)
Ok, so there aren’t too many great movies that focus on younger pupils. Nevertheless, School of Rock certainly makes you want to cheer on these kiddos to win the Battle of the Bands. Jack Black plays their crazy substitute Dewey Finn (posing as his friend, Ned Schneebly) who tries to redeem his own failings in music with the success of his newly-formed rock group of students. If you have to watch a movie with Jack Black in it, this one is the way to go.
The Big Green (1995)
Even if you never played soccer as a kid, this movie is a riot. The journey for this group of underdog kids is a great combination of hilarity and sensitivity, making you want to root for them the whole way through their athletic trials. There also is a funny chemistry between their foreign teacher/coach Anna Montgomery (Olivia d’Abo) and Sheriff Tom (Steve Guttenberg).
The High School Years:
She’s the Man (2006)
Another soccer-centric film, She’s the Man definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. The movie is pretty ridiculous and unbelievable, but that is what makes it so great. If you know Amanda Bynes (who plays the lead character, Viola), you know she is going to go koo-koo-crazy in the movie where she pretends to be her twin brother so that she can join a boy’s soccer team after her own school’s gets cut. Based off of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this film has a little something for everyone: cross-dressing, soccer skills, whacky misunderstandings, Gouda cheese, and of course, Channing Tatum.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Remember your sixteenth birthday and how special it was? Too bad Samantha Baker’s parents didn’t remember hers. Showcasing how emotionally vulnerable teenage girls can be, Sixteen Candles takes Molly Ringwald’s character, Sam, to extremely unlucky levels of embarrassment on what is supposed to be a birthday to remember. Luckily Jake Ryan gets there in time to console her at last!
Not everyone is into movie musicals, but Grease is undoubtedly a classic. The songs are extremely catchy and are on a million karaoke CDs, even though they are sung by cast members who are all way too old to be in high school. Olivia Newton-John plays the innocent Sandy, who eventually snags her man, Danny Zuko (John Travolta) once she gets a makeover for him in the end. Although morally questionable at times, this film is still always fun to watch.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
In another film adapted from a Shakespeare play (The Taming of the Shrew), Heath Ledger is magnetic as the brooding student Patrick who takes part in an all-too-predictable bet on the resident rebellious “shrew” at school, Kat (Julia Stiles). Of course they realize they are a perfect match, but that isn’t before he goes to extremes to try and stick with this girl, along with the help of, yes, that’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron (who is lovesick for Kat’s sister, Bianca).
Friday Night Lights (2004)
It wouldn’t be the beginning of school without thoughts of football tackling our brains, so Friday Night Lights is a great fixture in the back-to-school genre. While some schools prize football more than others, this is a poignant film that addresses the pressures and consequences of being fully invested in a high school sport, both for adults and kids alike. It’s based off of a true story and spawned a TV show, so it definitely holds some weight as a film.
Mean Girls (2004)
This movie always gets a laugh out of me, as the screenplay is brilliantly adapted by Tina Fey and has a great cast of comedians. The high schoolers hold their own as actresses, while Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried and Lizzy Caplan jumped onto our radar for the first time. As home-schooled Cady (Lindsay Lohan) comes to a public high school for the first time, she realizes that a social life is not as simple as she thought. P.S. You better hurry and get your army pants and flip flops for the first day of school!
Easy A (2010)
Following the redhead trend of Molly Ringwald and Lindsay Lohan, Emma Stone brings a new character to the table as Olive, the charismatic high schooler who manipulates the power of rumors to change her reputation from a squeaky-clean girl to a promiscuous one in a short amount of time by merely spreading the word herself. Filled with great throwbacks to the “Brat Pack” movies on this list, Easy A is a nice breath of fresh air when it comes to school comedies.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
As the high school movie that continuously is held upon a pedestal for all high school movies, The Breakfast Club epitomizes the genre by showing a group of outsiders coming together to try and fight the system of cliques within their school while wasting the hours away in detention. Even though their newfound friendships may not last past that one day, their minds are opened to the dangers of stereotypes forever. One of my favorites of John Hughes’ films, detention has never been so cool.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
This movie delivers laugh after laugh, with help from the ever-hilarious John Belushi. With a great ensemble cast, this film shows how life in the fraternities of 1962 can be pretty crazy, yet also tons of fun. It also makes me shake my head at how ridiculous boys can still act, even after high school… This film definitely helped pave the way for some of the other comedies on this list.
Starter for 10 (2006)
You may not have heard of this one, but it’s a great film full of clever humor and British accents. The movie follows Brian (James McAvoy) through his first year at the University of Bristol in 1985. He joins a quiz team there, as he is very intelligent, but learns how idiotic he can be when it comes to social situations. It’s a charming period film that has a great ’80s soundtrack, and is full of likable characters to which many people can relate in those uncertain years of college. Plus, if you’re a fan of Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch is great in this one!
Featuring another intelligent student who just doesn’t seem to fit in, 21 is a movie based on real events about an MIT student, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who joins a secret Vegas card-counting team so that he can earn money for Harvard Med. The group goes to Vegas to gamble, generating mass winnings along the way without getting caught. How long will the streak last once Ben joins the team? Only time will tell in this story of the power of persuasion, manipulation, and poor decision making. Bonus – it makes math look cool.
Once more for the football fans, school plays a backdrop in this movie based on a real student named Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. Sean Astin does a fantastic job playing the feisty titular character, and makes you root for him the entire way, up until everybody’s chanting, “Ruuudy! Ruudy! Rudy! Rudy!” This movie tells the tale of one underdog’s fight to play for his dream football team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It really makes you not want to take higher education for granted, and is inspiring in pretty much every way.
The Social Network (2010)
This film depicts the inception of Facebook within the dorm rooms of Harvard, making it quite the school-themed flick (yeah, that’s right – what did you accomplish in college?). It dramatizes the development of Facebook from the perspective of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and follows his path towards a legal deposition over the ownership of the website between his classmates Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer/Josh Pence). The cast is great, the Sorkin dialogue is superb, and this movie is a proven Academy Award-worthy film on this list.
Old School (2003)
Yes, this movie isn’t really about students; its central characters are three grown men who have some trouble having fun with their current lives. Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn star as the “Frat Pack” in this movie filled with raunchy fraternity fun and deliciously quotable lines (especially from “Frank the Tank”). Who ever thought school could be this much fun, as the three of them attempt to form a fraternity in order to have some raging college parties and relive good times with a bunch of misfit college kids (and elders – R.I.P. “Blue”).
St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
For those who have graduated but cannot seem to adjust to adulthood, here is a film for you. Another “Brat Pack” flick on the list, St. Elmo’s Fire explores the adjustment period of young adults who are anxious to begin new lives but can’t seem to let go of their younger, more immature selves. Despite Rob Lowe’s sweaty saxophone playing, this film hits pretty hard on the emotions, especially for the 20-somethings trying to take their places as adults in the world.
Honorable Mentions to check out: Varsity Blues (1999), Clueless (1995), Superbad (2007), Legally Blonde (2001), American Pie (1999), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), 17 Again (2009) and Pretty in Pink (1986).