Movie Reviews

The 25 Best High School Movies

I don’t know if I’ve talked about my love of The Ringer here or not – but let the record show that I love The Ringer.

I love their podcasts. Their Harry Potter edition of Binge Mode was stellar. The Rewatchables is fantastic. I religiously listen to Juliet Litman’s Bachelor Party.

Their featured articles are wonderful. I’ve got to give a specific shoutout to The 100 Best TV Episodes of the Century. I was in awe. If you haven’t read it – take the time and do that (with sound on) because it is incredible.

So when The Ringer came out with “The 25 Best High School Movies” I was here for it. This is the kind of list I can get behind.

But I wanted to put my own spin on it.

They missed some of my favs and I don’t know if I 100% agree with their ranking. But using their system and their rules – I’m creating my own list of “The 25 Best High School Movies.” Happy Back to School kids.

25. Friday Night Lights

How can we talk about high school without talking about football? There are a thousand football movies out there like Quarterback Princess, The Blind Side, Remember the Titans, and Varsity Blues (Ringer’s 22) – but for me, FNL gets the ‘high school football’ movie slot for the sole reason it gave us my fav tv show

24. The Edge of Seventeen
Ringer Rating: #15

I love Hailee Steinfeld she is lovely and this movie has a great set up. What to do when your best friend and your annoying older brother get together? While I agree with the Ringer that this movie did wonders for Steinfeld’s career – this movie is not rewatchable. The ending was unsatisfying and for that – this movie gets #24.

23. Never Been Kissed

I don’t fully understand how this movie was not on the Ringers list – because Never Been Kissed is about all the things the Ringer wants in a high school movie: “fresh highs and cruel lows of teen life; the cliques, the friendships, the anxiety of what comes next, the pain of being unnoticed, the unparalleled stakes of new love.” Written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Valentines Day, He’s Just Not That Into You), this movie is a joy and one I come back to time and time again. Drew Barrymore and David Arquette are both wonderful and the kids that make up their high school friends are equally great. Sure – I don’t love the fact that the teacher is into a “high school student” and that is the reason this movie near the end of the list.

22. The Duff

This is a movie all about labels. When Mae Whitman’s character finds out that she has been labelled the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier more popular friends, she loses her mind. So obviously she recruits her hot next-door neighbour (Robbie Amell, who is 27 playing 17 in this movie…) to make her datable and less DUFF-y. With a label that focuses more on the outside tha the in, this movie tries to teach it’s viewers that actually it’s the inside that counts.  It sounds terrible, but actually, it’s kind of fun. Plus Ken Jeong is the token adult/teacher role so that counts for something. 

21. Easy A

If the Ringer puts The Edge of Seventeen on the list for launching Hailee Steinfeld’s career – then Easy A needs to be here for Emma Stone. Sure she had done some projects for this, but this was very much her movie. Easy A is like many teen movies – an adaptation of a classic with a teen twist, with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter being the classic. This movie explores teen sexuality and highlights the double standard between girls and boys during the high school years (ie. sluts vs heroes). This movie also earns its spot on the list because of it’s tributes to teen movies of past. Let me specifically draw your attention to the final scene when Stone’s character rides off into the sunset on a lawnmower with her hand up ala Judd Nelson while Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me plays from speakers that were previously held up ala John Cusack in Say Anything.  Finally, Easy A was an end of an era – it was Amanda Bynes’ final movie. She wasn’t great in this one, but it was her last and we need to tip our hat to the teen queen of the 00s.

20. Hairspray 

Speaking of Amanda Bynes… While not fully set in a high school (which is why this movie is in the bottom 5 on the list), the 2007 Hairspray remake is a teenage classic. All my favourite Hairspray moments happen in high school. I’m talking about I Can Hear The Bells, the school dance’s Ladies’ Choice, and the detention jam Run And Tell ThatHairspray tries it’s best to deal with heavy topics (ie. race relations in 1960s Baltimore) and while not being perfect, gives this musical more cred than many of the other movies in the genre. But let’s be honest we all love this movie because we get the two of best of the best teen movie musicals heroes in one place: John Travolta and Zac Efron. I can also hear the bells whenever he’s on my screen, so…

19. Step Up

In the tradition of Fame, arts high schools are high schools too! This movie had that classic guy from the wrong side of the tracks falls in love with the good girl storyline – but with a hip hop/ballet twist. The soundtrack was amazing, the dancing was incredible, and the chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan was next level. This is a high school movie focused around ambition and homework. At the Maryland Acadamy of Performing Arts, getting good grades meant being a good dancer. The senior showcase mattered to these kids and their futures so for a nerdy kid like me, I could relate. Step Up was passionate. I cried, I fell in love, I was in awe of this movie. I now watch it and cry for a different reason (RIP the Dewan-Tatum marriage) but this is a classic high school film.  From a film history perspective, two of my favourite people used this as a launch: Step Up launched Channing Tatum’s career and this was director Anne Fletcher’s debut film and she directed so many wonderful movies after this – she went on to do 27 Dresses, The Proposal, and Dumplin’. It also launched a franchise of films for years to come.

18. Princess Diaries

Princess Diaries is a classic teen makeover movie. Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a shy, invisible, and awkward 16-year-old – just trying to get through gym class at Grove High School when she finds out she’s actually the Princess to Genovia and gets a fabulous makeover thanks to her grandmother Julie Andrews. But while the makeover is definitely fun, The Princess Diaries is at its best when it focuses on Mia’s 16-year-old issues: like getting a car, your first kiss, hanging out with your best friend etc. Sure the scenes at the palace and embassy are wonderful, it’s the high school scenes that ground this movie. Between choir, debate, gym class and the cafeteria – Grove High School feels like any other.  Princess Diaries gets high school movie bonus points for owning its 00s moments: Frosted tips, Mandy Moore singing and making that guy from Rooney the true love interest.  ALSO – In my dream high school – Sandra Oh is the Vice Principal. Move over Eve and Christina, Vice Principal Gupta will always be Oh’s most iconic role.

Fun fact – it has been family lore for a long time that my step-cousin auditioned for the Mia Thermopolis role and ultimately didn’t get the part because she had cut her hair for another role. Would Lindsay have won an Oscar for Les Mis? We will never know…

17. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This beautiful film chronicles the trials, tribulations, and triumphs as Charlie (Logan Lerman) goes through his first year at Mill Grove High School. You might remember this film as the movie you first saw Emma Watson as not Hermonie.  Based on the director’s critically acclaimed novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is extremely well written – the movie feels like one iconic quote after another. If other high school movies are about “normal” kids or fitting in with the popular kids, or about the jocks, this movie is proudly about the misfits. Watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower often makes me cry. It explores LGBTQ+ relationships, mental health, and assault. It’s heavy and the soundtrack really packs a punch.

16. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Ringer Rating: #21

I love this movie so much. I wrote a VERY long post about it. You can read that here but here’s the main reason: Peter Kavinsky.

15. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Hogwarts is the high school we all wanted to go to growing up. Classes are more interesting, quidditch over football any day, and the cafeteria is what dreams are made of. While all Potter movies touch on teenage themes, none do it like the Half-Blood Prince. The kids are all 16 and dating is in full swing. We get the whole Ron-Lavender thing, a little Cormac McLaggen drama at the slugclub, and of course – the start of Harry-Ginny. If you get rid of the whole Voldemort thing – this is a full-on high school movie:

14. Sixteen Candles
Ringer Rating: #24

Ok so this is one of my ALL time favourite movies. When I was in high school this movie was my #1 pick. Everything about this movie made me extremely happy. I loved Jake Ryan more than Molly Ringwald did. It is a John Hughes classic. I will rewatch this movie – but rewatching it in 2019 is hard because this is a film that doesn’t age well…

AT ALL. The Ringer is right to point out Jake Ryan’s absolutely atrocious treatment of his passed out girlfriend and how this movie contributed to 80s rape culture. It’s also worth calling attention to the racist treatment of Long Duk Dong (which also Lara Jean Covey does in TABILB).

 
I normally don’t say this – but I want a Sixteen Candles remake. Keep the awkward high schoolers, ditch the rape culture/racism.

13. Grease
Ringer Rating: #19

This movie is well loved for good reason: Who doesn’t want to sing along with Rizzo, Sandy, Danny, the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds? John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John might hold down the main storyline – but for me, my favourite part of this movie has always been Stockard Channing. This is the kind of movie you need to watch in your PJs at a slumber party.

All that said, The Ringer is right on the money here: “It’s hard to top Grease’s final takeaway for regrettable themes: If the guy you like can’t accept you for who you are, change your entire personality to fit conventional norms of hotness he can understand!”

12. The Hate U Give

The majority of high school movies are about white high school kids. This needs to change. Thankfully people are making movies like The Hate U Give. I took a 16-year-old I mentor to see this movie and she could not contain how much she loved this film. She kept talking about how much she related to Amandla Stenberg’s character Starr Carter. This movie isn’t about high school – it’s about police brutality – but I think what makes this movie so powerful, is that it comes from an ‘average girl in high school’ perspective. Starr talks about fitting in at her school and she talks about how her boyfriend smells like Old Spice. This movie pushed the genre and gave a high school experience that many kids have a voice.

11. A Cinderella Story

All hail Hillary Duff and Chad Michael Murry… and True Queens Jennifer Coolidge and Regina King. Also, shoutout to Simon Helberg – his character Terry felt like a precursor to Howard Wolowitz. This movie had a killer cast and a fun plot. Two high school kids meet on a Princeton chat room and start texting using pseudonyms. They meet at a dance, fall in love – but he still doesn’t know her true identity. The scene when Austin Ames clues into who Sam is, still gives me high levels of secondhand embarrassment.  I don’t understand how the guy who works at his dad’s car wash can judge the girl who works at her dad’s diner – but I love this movie for too many other reasons: The stepsisters are synchronized swimmers, the costumes were amazing, and Chad was hot. I liked that this movie was about being yourself and that at the end of the day – that’s what matters. You don’t have to have a Sandy transformation to make him like you.

10. High School Musical (1, 2, & 3)
Ringer Rating: #25

This one is personal. I could accept an argument that this movie is trash. However – High School Musical premiered on a Friday night on Family Channel while I was in grade 9. I (and many others) instantly fell in love with Zac Efron. Judge me all you want, but that hair cut was peak 2006 and I loved it/still love him deeply. I spent hours learning the choreography to We’re All In This Together and can still do it all today. Then HSM2 came out summer between grade 10 and 11 and I fell in love with the whole crew all over again. You Are the Music In Me was an instant a classic.  This time we really got to know all the characters – not just our core 6. Then in my grade 12 aka senior year – HSM3 Senior Year came out… in theatres. Zac Efron and crew were debating colleges and life paths just as my friends and I were doing the same. It sounds cheesy but HSM defined my high school experience. So yeah – these movies are cheesy, but these movies meant so much more to me than that.  I still can’t watch the curtain close on our core 6 without crying.

9. Bring It On
Ringer Rating: #12

So iconic Ariana Grande put it into Thank U, Next.

As The Ringer notes – the casting in this movie is superb. But I’m going to give credit to the writer Jessica Bendinger. This movie is so quotable it is insane. If I say “Brrr… It’s cold in here..” you know the rest. You all know what Spirit Fingers are. Bendinger went on to write and direct Stick It (another Fav). The scene where Torrance (Kristin Dunst) and her love interest Cliff Pantone (Jesse Bradford) brush their teeth helped a whole generation of teen girls avoid cavities. That scene alone puts it in the top 10.

8. Clueless
Ringer Rating: #1

Clueless is a great movie. I agree that it is one of the best teen movies out there. The Ringer really sums these ups. But I’ve got some beefs with it that take it out of the top spot for me. For example, I understand that it’s “Clueless” but I don’t think it’s cute to be stupid. I think Cher is socially brilliant, but bookmarks are not her thing. (Cue – my love for Booksmart). Also – why is the big romantic reveal her kissing her ex-stepbrother?! I know it’s Paul Rudd – so she gets a pass – but still, this is ridiculous. I love this movie – it’s highly rewatchable, but I just can’t relate to Cher.  Still fun, just not #1.

7. She’s the Man

Amanda Bynes might be my all time favourite teen actress and this movie is her best. We have to note off the top, that there are a thousand things wrong with this movie making jokes about her cross-dressing. I don’t know how well this movie will age (I’ll bet not well). Despite that – there are a thousand other things right about this movie. This movie is rewatchable and quotable. I personally could probably recite the entire movie to you if asked. I adore David Cross in this movie, Emily Perkins as Eunice Bates makes me laugh every time she’s on screen, and Chaning Tatum is shirtless often. I love the pizza scene where they dump Monique, I love the kissing booth scene, I adore the soccer matches… but my favourite scene is when Duke and Viola-as-Sebastian talk about how they want more in their relationships. It’s not just about making out – it’s the little things too. It’s adorable. Like many good teen movies – this is also based on a Shakespearean classic (Twelfth Night) and has a great punk-pop soundtrack.

6. Love, Simon

So many teen rom-coms are set around hetero relationships. If there is an LGBTQ+ character, they are the best friend at best and never the focus. Love, Simon changes that. I don’t have the words to explain how much I loved this movie. I cry every time I watch it. There are so many wonderful things to say about this movie. The cast is phenomenal, the soundtrack is killer, and the writing is great. There are so many moments that feel like real, authentic high school moments. It perfectly captures that ‘no one understands me’ feeling high schoolers get. It is so well articulated in this movie that it actually creates a feeling of acceptance because “THIS MOVIE UNDERSTANDS ME”. IMO – Love, Simon should be mandatory viewing for all high school kids. Massive fan.

5. The Spectacular Now

IMO Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller are two of the greatest actors in our generation. You can fight me on this one – but these two have depth and I will bet a lot of money both will have long careers. Both have stared in their fair share of stupid teen movies (otherwise known as The Secret Life of the American Teenager and 21 & Over) but The Spectacular Now is brilliant. When I think of this movie, I think of the quote “this is the youngest we’re ever going to be”. So often high school movies/tv shows feel unauthentic – with 30-year-olds playing 15 and their high jinx activities are not even close to being real (cough Riverdale cough). But in The Spectacular Now the characters felt real and authentic – like I knew exactly who they were as people at my high school. It’s not a perfect film – but that’s also what makes it so good. It just feels perfectly imperfect.

4. The Breakfast Club
Ringer Rating: #6

When most people think about John Hughes – I bet this quote comes to mind:  “You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”

It’s a simple movie – set almost entirely in one room with five teenagers. Yet it is so iconic. Let’s be honest – every high school has cliques. While these teens might seem cliche now – for almost 35 years, teens have seen themselves in these characters. There is a reason every major teen tv show (and quite a few movies) have paid homage to this classic movie.

It’s a right of passage. You have to watch the Breakfast Club.

3. 10 Things I Hate About You
Ringer Rating: #9

Everything about it is perfection. Mostly Heath Ledger’s face. But also the writing is fire. The casting was phenomenal (baby Julia Stiles, baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt, baby Gabrielle Union, and a perky Allison Janney). The soundtrack is incredible. Let’s be honest – everyone loves a Shakespear-Teen movie. Taming of the Shrew with a teen feminist twist is phenomenal.

(Small story – This is my favourite cottage movie. I watch it almost every weekend in the summers and force my cousins to watch this. They know I love it, so for Christmas a few years ago Charlie gave me my own copy of the Feminist Mystique.)

Shoutout to The Ringer once more for The Rewatchables – their detailed analysis of this movie is incredible and way better than anything I can write here.

But ok, let’s be honest. It’s #3 because of Heath Ledger’s face and singing voice.

2. Mean Girls
Ringer Rating: #3

Ariana Grande put it into Thank U, Next. I’m putting it at #2.

How do I even begin to explain how much I love this movie. When I first saw this movie, it felt more like a documentary. No one had talked about ‘Mean Girls’ like this before. Tina Fey just got it. The expression ‘I’ve never been so seen’ would be an accurate description of my feelings as a 12-year-old. Then I read Bossypants and felt that all over again – basically Tina Fey is my god.

The cast in this movie was phenomenal – Lindsay Lohan is at her peak (however, one could argue it was in The Parent Trap and I’d take that). She wasn’t the party girl, beach club owning train wreck yet. She was still the girl next door and she played the new girl so well. This is the Lindsay we all wanted.

Rachel McAdam’s Regina George is the villain we all personally knew but never saw on screen. That passive-aggressive relational aggression. She deserved an Oscar.

I could have put this at #1 – but IMO the best part of high school wasn’t in school…

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ringer Rating: #4

The best high school movie of all time hardly takes place at high school at all.

Meeting Ferris and co in that perfect point of time and the movie feels like being an invincible grade 12. You know that feeling – no one cares about school anymore, your friends mean the world to you, and you can’t wait to get out into the real world. It’s a great feeling – and this movie perfectly encaptures that feeling. From white fringe leather jackets, to flying Ferraris – living like the sausage king of Chicago will always be cool.

We all know this perfect day and perfect point of time will have to end but the memories of it will last a lifetime. Perfect high school movie for teens in 1986 – perfect for teens in 2019.

Every character in this movie is incredible. Sloan and Cameron are phenomenal sidekicks/enablers for Ferris’s adventures. ‘Villians’ Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) and Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) are impeccable. All the kids at school fundraising for Ferris’s health are amazing. Ben Stein as the Economics Teacher… “Bueller… Bueller… Bueller” – unreal. 

The Parade Scene alone is enough to make this movie a #1 high school film.

But my big reason I want every high school kid to watch this is it’s overarching message and most memorable quote – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” – put the phones down, live in the moment, enjoy high school. It will be over soon, your friends will move on, things won’t be the same. So enjoy it. High School can be amazing.

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