The high school years are formative, unique, exploratory—and awkward. Perhaps that's why high school is so frequently a setting for films of almost every genre. Here are some of our favorites:
James Dean’s performance as the disillusioned new kid is classic. His character’s (Jim Stark) angst was emblematic of an entire rebellious generation.
The ultimate expression of a teenager's fixation on sex drugs & rock and roll, this movie also avoids easy stereotypes about jocks, nerds, and shallow girls. The movie does get away with one stereotype, Sean Penn’s raaaadical performance as the stoner Jeff Spicoli.
Ambitiously considering high school from three different perspectives (entering it, lingering in it, and leaving it) shows the gambit of emotions that high school evokes. From the fear of being paddled and hazed as a rising freshman to the nostalgia after graduation, Dazed and Confused is honest and nuanced.
The soundtrack itself is enough to get you hooked, but beneath John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s crooning lies a story that touches on serious subjects like peer pressure and teen pregnancy.
Often touted as the best high school movie of all time,The Breakfast Club sets the bar. It explores social stereotypes in a mature way, landing on an important (though cheesy) point. Hall (the “geek”) suggests "In the end, you learn maybe we're more alike than we realize, and that's kind of cool."
Ferris Bueller plays hookie in style, and every high schooler knows that’s the ultimate goal.
The original American Pie (and it seems like a new one comes out every month now), the best in the series, was unabashedly outrageous, raunchy and sex-driven. Though critics may suggest the humor is cheap, many of the jokes have become cultural staples. It will be a long time until people can look at apple pies the same way.
One of the only high school movies where the prettiest girl is not the most shallow, Cher (Alicia Silverstone) learns to see the best in others—especially her ex-stepbrother. (And isn’t that what high school is all about?)
The Tina Fey script is hilarious with great performances by Rachel McAdams and Lindsey Lohan, but Mean Girls is one of our picks because of the honest (if not brutal) portrayal of girl-on-girl cattiness.
Perhaps the most serious and devastating movie on this list, Dead Poets Society deals with serious themes: suicide, overbearing parents and challenging the status-quo. Robin Williams as the eye-opening Professor Keating gives a powerful performance.
One of your favorites not on the list?
Let us know, or check out Entertainment Weekly’s top 50 list.