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Best High School Movies

by George Gott 6 years ago in list / movie / pop culture / review / product review
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Relive your most awkward and loathed teenage years through some of the best high school movies. 

Hollywood insists that high school be remembered as the greatest time of your life. Yes there are tough times during those awkward years, but the American teenager has been the subject of movie fascination for a long time, and never fails to come of age in a scripted world. Best high school movies remind you of the agony and triumph of the American teenage spirit.

All Millennials can rejoice, your favorite high school movie is here! Based on the non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, which describes how female high school social cliques operate and the effect they can have on girls. The book was turned into the hit comedy movie by Tina Fey. The basic premise of the movie the covert mission to get at the most feared 'mean girls' of the school. It starts out with a homeschooled girl, Cady Heron, who lived in Africa for 15 years. Entering public school for the first time, she meets the 'worst' of her classmates, the Plastics. She joins the mean girl clique only after making a pack with the weirdos of the school to bring them down. She eventually gets assimilated into the group of three mean girls.

Based on The Taming of the Shrew, you’d think this movie would be a little stuffier. But that’s something people always forget about Shakespeare. Bawdy always played well with the crowds then and it does now too. Drunken parties, witty banter, and bad boys with a heart of gold will always go over well, regardless of the era. The chemistry between all of the major players is pretty good, and the depiction of stupid, overcomplicated teen romance is too. Apparently not much has changed between the 1500’s and the 1990’s when it comes to young folk and romantic shenanigans. The only real question left at the end of the movie for those of us a little older is “How long is all of this really going to last?” But in the world of High School in Hollywood, none of that matters.

Heathers is the ultimate 'frienimies' movies ever. Its the classic story of the outsider kid getting into the popular click and later finds out they're just really a bunch of bitches. A regular girl, Veronica, tries to survive the social jungle of high school by sticking with the three most popular girls at school who are all called Heather. As she meets a sociopath named JD, her life spirals into a continuous cycle of hate, unintentional murder and indifference, as she exacts revenge on her enemies, also known as her best friends.

The sad thing is, I can almost see this happening. In high school, sex occupies this magical spot normally reserved for the secret to eternal youth or absolute, omnipotent power. Add to that overblown, dramatic teenage bids for attention and you’ve pretty much set the stage for exactly what happens in this movie. Everyone goes absolutely nuts over simple bodily fluids and friction, when in fact, nobody is even doing it. Everything escalates, and suddenly dumb people are bullying people unmercifully and someone is making a reference to and old book that happens to be high school reading material by sewing stuff to their clothes in a doomed attempt at idealistic rebellion. And still, absolutely nobody is having sex even though this is all what this is about. Welcome to high school, folks.

Sex, cars, and rock and roll. Welcome to the most iconic, stereotypical depictions of youth in America. Despite its fluffy musical demeanor, Grease is at its heart about the things closest to the hearts of teenagers everywhere. Popularity and sex. The weird thing is, it never looks all that close at why those are so important or the fact that maybe a teen pregnancy scare should be more important than fixing up a car, but there’s tons of good music, so you can skim across a nostalgic retrospective of greasers, car races, and whirlwind teen romance. Of course, just like high school, it’s a little awkward if you stick around past graduation, so it would be in everyone’s best interest just to avoid the absolutely terrible sequel starring no one you should remember.

As if! When every adult American was fixated on such matters like the O. J. Simpson’s trial, young people of the Real World-addicted Gen X and Y generations were trying to emulate the celebrity-status-like attitude that the movie Clueless cemented into Pop Culture. Literally one of the most quoted movies of the 1990's, the timeless high school movie Clueless has been a favorite of mine since, well since I saw it in high school! It is no wonder that today this movie still hold a place in their hearts for many. The silly, but sort of relatable, Clueless starts out with Cher, a typical popular high school student in Beverly Hills who must survive the ups and downs of adolescent life. At first you think Cher is quite superficial, but later throughout the movie her wit, charm, and intelligence-ish starts to shine through only after she is on the outs with her popular crew.

I don’t care what anyone says, this is a high school movie in addition to being a horror movie. After all, not every high school movie is going to subscribe to the joyous revelry that is so often the accepted vision of the teenage years. Sometimes, Hollywood likes to turn things on its head and take a very different view. Carrie is that view. A girl from a poor, broken home with an abusive mother is relentlessly tormented by the few who have managed to amass power. She’s tricked, teased, and eventually completely humiliated at that every so important rite of passage, the prom. Then things fly off into the land of wish fulfillment as we find out Carrie has super powers and with one rage filled spat, achieved explosive, pyrokenetic vengeance.

Like Carrie, maybe this isn’t the story you think of when you think of high school. And yet, here we are. To Sir, With Love is the ur-story of every troubled teen, perfect teacher movie you can think of. A man unable to get a job anywhere takes a job working with inner city youth and changes their lives. It makes it onto the list because this is a coming of age story of a completely different from your usual drinking, romance, and drunken antics. It’s a more somber affair designed to give us a sense of hope in the face of the seemingly overwhelming new expectations. Most importantly, it tells us that adulthood isn’t found in high school ritual and popularity. It’s found in responsibility.

Sixteen Candles has not exactly aged well since its 1984 debut. Especially not the horrendously offensive Asian stereotype, Long Duk Dong. Think of Sixteen Candles more like Birth of a Nation. It’s in no way politically correct, but if you look at the direction, you can easily see the influence it has on every coming of age teen movie since. It’s one of the quintessential 80’s high school movies complete with antics, destruction of property, and a big important romance all starring The Brat Pack. Despite the madness and chaos, your everywoman teen heroine ends up with her teen crush, giving every overlooked teenager a glimmer of hope that maybe they can land their high school sweetheart in one whirlwind night of drinking and house parties.

Porky’s is pretty much a study in how much of a feedback loop pop culture can get into. Teens want sex, and so Hollywood makes movies about teens wanting sex… which reinforces the idea that teens should want sex. The entire premise of this movie is a bunch of friends trying to get laid, and the absolutely absurd lengths they’re willing to go through to do it, including drilling holes into the girl’s locker room to spy on their showering classmates, wrecking brothels after they were thrown out for still being in high school, and everything in between. That’s not to say this isn’t funny. This movie has possibly the best brothel wrecking sequence in movie history followed by some really gratifying revenge fantasy against a standing for every creepy, condescending adult rolled into one overweight redneck form.

Ah, another Brat Pack movie. A little deeper than Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink skims the surface of class struggle before diving directly into the usual coming of age teen romance drama that culminates in prom night shenanigans. I will say this movie is a little darker in its love triangles, focusing on unrequited love leaving you feeling pretty terrible for Duckie, the friend without benefits constantly there to pick up the pieces as our heroine navigates the difficulties of dating between cliques. When our hero and heroine finally make their peace and go for the big kiss, you can’t help but feel the most unrealistic part of this movie is watching a girl move in on Duckie to scoop him up and away from the heartbreak we all know he must be feeling.

Everyone knows The Breakfast Club, and if they don’t, they probably should. You’ll notice just how many movies the brat pack has on this list, and for good reason. This movie is the anti-Carrie. Everyone starts out in the standard terrible high school cliques that even thirty some years later, most people will recognize, but over the course of ninety minutes, close contact with people outside of their comfort zone forces the misfit crew to recognize each other as uniquely human. With the exception of To Sir, With Love, this is probably the most uplifting movie on this entire list, focused not on sex, drugs, and fun but on the differences high schoolers so often stress in each other and the underlying humanness of people we so often think we have nothing in common with.

The king of all high school movies, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was even inducted into the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Yep. The movie about a stoner annoying his high school history teacher is culturally significant. But it kind of is. Based on the writings of Cameron Crowe, a freelance writer for Rolling Stone who went undercover in Claremont High School in California, this movie is just one long almost disjointed sequence of antics, ridiculous situations, and drama, bouncing from one scene to the next. Keeping up with everything and watching it all collide together while ultimately coming to nothing more than an entertaining mess to be referenced for years and years to come, it honestly feels just like high school.

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About the author

George Gott

Writer & Social Media Editor for Jerrickmedia who is an avid reader of sci-fi and a fierce defender of women, minority, and LGBTQ rights.

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