For many, at least in my region in New England, the school year starts anew this week and it got me thinking about films that are perfect for the return to the classroom. There’s not much going on in the world of film this week and Labor Day weekend so I figured since students are returning to continue their education I’d examine some of the best movies for prepping for the hustle and bustle of a new school year. These are the Top 10 Perfect Films For Going Back to School.
This particular list is purely for fun and in the spirit of the new school year I took a look at any film that could act as inspiration or embrace the fun and excitement at the prospect of returning to the classroom, or the activities that can and do happen during the average school year. For this list the film had to predominantly feature interactions between students within a classroom setting OR heavily involve some aspect of school as a major plot point of their story. Hope you enjoy the list and to everyone headed back to school this week, enjoy the new year!!!!
10. “Before I Fall”
Stories about being stuck in a time loop are a dime a dozen, but when the subject of that curse is a high schooler who relives the same day over and over again with her day at school as the backdrop it makes for an interesting narrative. In this film young Samantha Kingston starts off her seemingly endless time loop as a snooty high school popular girl. As the film progresses she learns to appreciate the different outcasts in her school and while her revelations are not limited to just her high school situation, the conflicts that drive the plot are revealed in the school setting and it is here that Kingston begins to understand the errors of her ways and the downsides to the decisions she’s made in her life. Her growth throughout the film makes her a better person in the hallways, even if to her friends and classmates it’s literally a change that happens overnight. For those entering high school or even returning to the four most dramatic years of their young lives this is a blunt reminder that ones actions and the person one decides to be in the hallways are not just a reflection on you, but they can have profound unforeseen effects on your fellow students that you may not even realize until you get the chance to understand them.
9. “The Edge of Seventeen”
As you can see I’m starting of this list with a pair of newer films and while “Before I Fall” was released this year, in 2016 a very different high school experience was presented in the form of “The Edge of Seventeen”, a film that showcased the awkwardness of teen life in and out of high school. Nadine Franklin, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is show to have an eccentric relationship with her history teacher Mr. Bruner, played by Woody Harrelson, as he is her confidant for the events taking place in her still young life. Over the course of the film Nadine experiences some of the most awkward moments of any teen’s school years, including her best friend getting involved with Nadine’s brother and managing a relationship with a boy who has a crush on her as well despite her initial avoidance of his emotions. All the while she forms a bond with Mr. Bruner that culminates when she sends a text to her crush at school that turns out to be pretty graphic and revealing bringing her to another revelation about male libidos. It’s a wild ride of emotions and experiences that, while they may seem odd and hilarious in the film, are very realistic issues that high schoolers could legitimately face in their own adventures through the hallways and beyond. In a way it’s a rather profound comedy worthy of a watch for anyone who thinks their anxieties in high school are out of place.
Every boy’s wet dream is to have a hot teacher at school. It’s inappropriate, but hey puberty has its typical effects lets not deny it. In the 1998 cult hit “Rushmore” we see a beautiful first-grade teacher arrive at a prep school and a teenage student named Max becomes infatuated with the school’s newest employee. Max sets out on a mission to win over the educator but when his friend becomes the teacher’s romantic interest things get a little complicated. While some might say that a film that promotes a student-teacher relationship is a bit inappropriate, “Rushmore” does touch on a subject that is significant to any high school environment. This is the highlight years of sexual interest for many young men and while interest in cheerleaders and more age-appropriate ladies is obviously a high school cliché, interest in one’s teacher or even just a teacher in one’s school regardless of their grade specialty is an unquestionably common aspect of the school experience. I put “Rushmore” on this list not to inspire any young men to make advances on teachers, but to provide a fun and artistic film that is an honest look at one of the most complicated times for any man’s life as they mature into their own sexualities and experience an awakening of emotions and drives they probably have never experienced before. It’s normal and it’s alright to have those feelings, but just realize complications arise when you let those emotions control your life, especially for someone like a teacher.
Alright so “Grease” is admittedly about much more than just high school, but let’s face it the movie wouldn’t be what it is without the backdrop of the school playing such a major role. The entire story plays out over the course of a single school year with the cast experiencing many facets of high school life including relationships, rebellion, and a pep rally which every high school student is sure to experience in the new year. “Grease” is a story about growing up in style in an era long gone and is an entertaining and musically gifted adventure through the lives of a single clique of friends that is enough to make you slick back your hair, put on your leather jacket, and walk the halls like YOU’RE the hottest thing in town. Plus it’s a pretty neat piece of work for aspiring young actors to enjoy and, not going to lie, when I was in high school (graduated 2007) I slicked back my hair like Danny Zuko for probably six months. Don’t judge, you know you tried it too! While “Grease” may lack a bit of substance in terms of story due to the limitations of its setting and its focus on a single cast of characters in a larger world, it manages to take the cool kids and humanize them which in itself is a pretty neat accomplishment.
6. “Napoleon Dynamite”
Probably one of the dumbest cult classics of the 2000s, “Napoleon Dynamite” introduced us to the title character who, in high school, is an oblivious loser. It’s not an insult, it’s true. However, he still holds his confidence and even helps his friend run for class office while the more present and “normal” classmates around him go about their lives as if Napoleon is just a normal kid. “Napoleon Dynamite” is the perfect film for the unfortunate outcast in all of us as he is the perfect example of a high school underdog story and the unique nature that many high school students find themselves picked on for embracing. While the film is an acquired taste and for some is probably pretty stupid to watch, this is the kind of movie that was built to be strange and in doing so, intentionally or unintentionally, introduced the world to one of the quirkiest and most celebrated high schoolers in cinema. If you feel like an outcast and need a confidence boost, just watch this man push his way through the high school experience. In an odd way, it’s almost actually inspiring.
5. “Mean Girls”
From a film about celebrating your inner loser to one about trying to fit in with the “in” crowd. “Mean Girls” is a classic which sees Lindsey Lohan as a preverbal “normal” girl who somehow finds herself in the popular girl clique. The film is actually based on a self-help book about female social cliques in high school and how this can damage a girl’s personal image, both literally and figuratively. “Mean Girls” shows the risks a student takes by trying to fit in where they truly don’t belong or even want to be and applies these warnings to one of the most desired cliques in high school, the queens of the hallway. We find that Lohan’s character begins to sacrifice her dignity and self-respect as a result, a stiff price to pay for being part of the popular girls club. Parents take a note, this film is the perfect warning to young ladies that fitting in is not always worth it. Just be yourself! Oh and eventually every bully gets their just desserts, although not quite a harsh as getting hit by a bus…
4. “Easy A”
Emma Stone can do no wrong. I mean she starred in a film where the concept of the Scarlet Letter was translated to high school…seriously she’s amazing. “Easy A” sees an innocent lie spiral out of control in a tale involving identity issues and the lack of privacy and respect for others that high schoolers often experience, especially in an age of new technology. From a judgmental religious student group to a plan to fake a gay friend sleeping with Emma Stone’s character to preserve his image, lies and deceit that were innocent at first spiral out of control tarnishing a girls perfect reputation, teaching those around her important lessons about being who they are and avoiding living life by other’s expectations. In high school, or any school level really, it’s easy to judge and be judged. Everyone seems to have a scarlet letter of their own and while this film’s protagonist wears hers proudly to prove a point, the film’s central lesson is once again to be yourself no matter what others think. High school is often an introduction to the judgmental nature of humanity for many. This is the kind of movie that inspires the young generation to ignore the noise. What’s great about this film is even by the end we see Emma’s character tell everyone that her life in “noone’s goddamn business”. I wish more high schoolers lived by this philosophy.
3. “Ferris Bueller’s Day off”
It’s amazing that a film that really doesn’t show what happens in high school is one of the most iconic school films around. In this classic teen comedy the titular Bueller takes the day off from school, bringing his best friend and girlfriend with him, in a series of hijinks planned to a T so they avoid being caught. Ferris and his friends live out every school kids dream by enjoying the ultimate sick day without anyone being wise to their acts. Ferris is the guy we all wish we could be. His adventures in this film are iconic and while skipping school is not recommended it would be really neat for any of us to accomplish what these guys did in a single day right? As far as being a back-to-school appropriate film, this story is a reminder of the fun time of the summer vacation gone by and delves into a fantasy day we all wish we could enjoy rather than being in school. While it may bend the limits of this list a little bit by actually AVOIDING school rather than embracing it, there’s no way I could leave this iconic classic off the list.
2. Dead Poets Society
Coming in at number two is probably the most inspiring film on this list, the Robin Williams led “Dead Poets Society”. Filled with an endless supply of quotable lines, “Dead Poets Society” sees Williams play an eccentric English and literature teacher who inspires a group of young men to think outside the box and explore the finer subtleties of life and readings at a private school determined to keep a status quo. Throughout the film the boys mature, awakened by their teacher’s classes, and begin to explore their inner dreams and desires. In some cases this puts them at odds with school officials, and even their parents, but in the end, despite the school taking away the one person who made this growth possible, the boys show they learned their most valuable lessons from a man who chose to buck the system. A common viewing in schools during the school year, “Dead Poets Society” is a much watch for EVERY student as it shows the value of embracing one’s own nature and artistic taste and, as they say, seizing the day to the fullest! It’s not often a film comes around that so perfectly captures the true purpose of school and education while also challenging the system educational institutes often conform to. Regardless of what grade they are approaching, this film has a lot to offer any student willing to embrace its message and look at the world with a more open mind beyond the pages of a book.
1. “The Breakfast Club”
Every entry on this list has involved some aspect of school life, but this is the only one that literally spends the entire narrative inside the walls of a school. In fact most of it takes place in a single room, the library, as five students from five different cliques, a jock, a nerd, an outcast, a princess, and a troublemaker, all find themselves in detention together on a Saturday morning. Over time they get to know each other and learn each other’s quirks and stories breaking boundaries despite being total strangers at the start of the day. This film is nothing short of a classic that included some of the greatest young stars of the day turning in iconic performances that showcased the hidden demons inside every student and how the barriers that separate us are nothing more than artificial comfort zones. The best thing is these students know there’s the possibility this one Saturday experience was a lone occurrence that may not have any lasting effects in the hallways, but the impact of knowing every one of them has their struggles and moments of pride showed that they were all alike, just living in different worlds. As students enter school they will embrace their clicks, find their comfort zones, put up their bubbles, and experience struggles within and beyond the school walls. ‘The Breakfast Club’ is, in my opinion, required watching for anyone heading back to school or even to higher education as it teaches an important lesson that everyone around you is suffering from something and everyone around you has an aspect of themselves that makes them unique. Combine that with great acting, a perfect setting, and the film’s iconic dialogue and you have THE must watch back-to-school film in “The Breakfast Club”.