High school – it’s a chapter in our lives people tend to venerate and reminisce about… or wish to forget altogether. While it may prepare you for the next step in your life, it has also established itself as the setting for the classic teen movie. There are loads with a classic coming-of-age narrative and some that celebrate the trials and tribulations of high school, so there is no better time than to celebrate (or remind!) ourselves of those hallowed hallways and tough life lessons through this selection of cinematic gems.
Two films around a group of ‘queen bees’. Each has a member whose moral compass wavers amid scandal and chaos. Both have their own way of walking, talking, and ruling high school, but both groups enjoy judging and ridiculing others–with disastrous results. While screenwriter Daniel Waters established Heathers as the quintessential dark comedy around high school, it is almost too much of a coincidence that his brother Mark Waters directs the pinker, bitchier, and more modern take to establish a cult teen classic of the noughties.
As someone who was born and raised in the UK, it is necessary to celebrate a high school Brit-flick. Based on the eponymous play, coming-of-age Our Ladies follows a group of small-town Catholic girls who go to a big city (Edinburgh, Scotland) with their school choir. But instead of hitting high notes, they hit the pubs and on any guy they meet as they relish in the attention and life outside their hometown. Delivering a personal slice of nostalgia to life as a choir girl, Our Ladies brings a poignant twang amid its celebration of sisterhood.
School of Rock
Away from the brooding hormones, catty cliques and genre tropes of the traditional teen flick, Richard Linklater’s School of Rock was the world’s highest-grossing musical comedy for almost ten years. Although Jack Black makes the most of being a bonafide rock star on screen, the real stars are its young and talented cast.
Starring John Travolta and the late Olivia Newton-John, Randal Kleiser’s directorial debut Grease is an undisputed classic. When it comes to high school, it is hard not to think of this 1978 musical–from recollections of the summer break, the school dance, and the animosity between the school jocks and the ‘cool kids’. Although its 1982 sequel didn’t fare as well critically or commercially, its fun songs and feminist icon in Michelle Pfeiffer’s Pink Lady Stephanie make it an underrated classic.
Starring CODA’s Ferdia Walsh Peelo, this Dublin-based musical premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Set in the 1980s, teenager Cosmo (Peelo) starts a band while trying to impress older girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Its coming-of-age story is made all the more endearing through the 80s costume, Cosmo’s budding romance, and the fun soundtrack, including the infectiously catchy “Drive It Like You Stole It;” one of the film’s original songs that has its own prom-style music video.
Before directing Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson quietly made waves at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with his directorial debut, cult classic Brick. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a jilted lover trying to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend, Brick is a beautifully created murder mystery – paving the way for Johnson’s Academy Award nominee Knives Out – while bridging a gap between film noir with the chaos of high school.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved series
If there is ever a quintessential high-school romance on Netflix, the adaptations of Jenny Han’s titular novels would be it. Starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, the series follows shy student Lara Jean Covey (Condor) who writes five love letters to unrequited crushes – only to have them mailed out. The budding romance between Lara Jean and one of her recipients, school jock Peter Kavinsky (Centineo) is endearing as hell while highlighting interracial relationships in the Caucasian-dominated trope of high school.
The classic high school sex comedy for millennials, American Pie has a simple premise – four friends trying to lose their virginity by graduation. Needless to say, their quest doesn’t exactly go smoothly. Over 20 years on, it continues to remind youngsters about the pressure of popping their cherries before graduating high school while bringing up embarrassing memories of apple pie, webcams, and crushing over your friend’s mom.
10 Things I Hate About You
One of the better Shakespeare adaptations, this modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew proves that the Bard can not only be taught in classrooms but help inspire an unlikely romance between two unlikely kindred spirits. Thanks to its undeniable charm and sass, 10 Things I Hate About You propelled a number of its stars into mainstream cinema, including Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the late Heath Ledger.
Pump Up the Volume
Written and directed by Allan Moyle, Pump Up the Volume reminds audiences that school can be challenging – even more so when you have no one to talk to or vent your feelings. Starring Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis in her breakout role, this comedy-drama highlights the pressures faced by high school students – but what happens when nihilism and rebellion start to kick in, as Mark ‘Hard Harry’ Hunter inspires his fellow students to not only open their eyes as to what’s going around them but to take drastic action.
Even if you’ve aged out of buying trapper keepers this time of year, there is always something to watch and bring it all back. Enjoy!