Movies about high school

by Eric Ginsburg

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

Like most classics about high school, this movie is all about an oppressive school administration, but in this case the students have some unusual allies: the Ramones. The most memorable scene is at the end (spoiler alert) when the students blow up the school as the Ramones play out front. It’s hard to imagine that School of Rock director Richard Linklater didn’t draw some inspiration from this epic.

Rebel Without a Cause

I didn’t remember how drawn out this 1955 film was until I saw it again recently at the Carolina Theater. Starring James Dean as a high school tough who is new at school, Rebel Without a Cause doesn’t exactly provide a happy ending or many laughs, but is full of shootouts, drag races, teen romance and drinking.

Pump Up the Volume

A teenage reject broadcasting a pirate radio show from his basement becomes the school hero battling a corrupt administrator and system — does it get better than this? Probably the most inappropriate movie on the list, this 1990 movie ends with an uplifting battle cry from protagonist Mark, played by Christian Slater.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Cut class at any cost. Sing on a float parading through Chicago. Steal your dad’s car. As the principal says, “What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is that he gives good kids bad ideas.” I only dreamed of pulling of stunts like Bueller when I was a student, but we can all live vicariously through him.

Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams stars as the one teacher at Welton Academy for Boys who doesn’t follow the rigid regimen aimed at raising tomorrow’s leaders. With late-night poetry readings and other unorthodox teaching methods, he helps his students discover that there is much more to life than what they’ve been lead to believe, and now that they know, they won’t give it up easily.

Stand and Deliver

On the other end of the spectrum, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) is an equally inspiring teacher working with quite a different student body. Nobody believes in the down and out students at the East Los Angeles high school except for Escalante, who inspires them to engage in academics, particularly calculus, with unconventional methods as well. Stand and Deliver came out in 1988, a year before Dead Poet’s Society, and is based on a true story.


Some of these movies deal with violence, but not like Heathers. It still leaves me cold when it’s over, even though it doesn’t come across as even partially realistic. Three popular girls named Heather have no idea what their “friend” Veronica and her new interest have in store for them, and Veronica (Winona Ryder) doesn’t really either. The dark comedy did poorly when it was released but is now a true cult classic.

Sixteen Candles

Molly Ringwald stars as the lead in this coming-of-age classic from 1984, where she encounters privileged problems like everyone forgetting her birthday, trying to get a cute boy to notice her and her general awkwardness. Like many major motion pictures, I have numerous qualms with it, but it still beats American Pie.

Back to the Future

The main character is named Marty McFly. There’s a time-traveling DeLorean, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox. Need I say more? Marty travels back in time and has to avoid his then-teen mother’s sexual advances, otherwise he might never exist in the first place. Can you imagine going to high school 30 years prior, with your parents?

Breaking Away

Okay, so the main characters have graduated high school, but it takes place in the subsequent summer. Breaking Away won best screenplay in 1979 and follows a cyclingobsessed teen’s life as he and his working class townie friends go toe to toe with college jerks. The scenes of characters racing on hills with their bikes or swimming in the quarry make it the most beautifully filmed piece on the list, and a perfect end-of-summer watch.