High school is the glorious time of your youth when you’ve (almost) recovered from the crippling insecurities of college and realized you can be proud of being your own person without pondering the opinions of others. It’s the age of unrequited crushes and finding places to kiss while living under your parents’ roofs, where everything seems like the end of the world.
While countless movies have captured proms and game-ending football games, only a handful truly capture the emotional impact of the changes and how not all school life is Ivys and Prom Royals.
16 Candles (1984)
A sloppy ride of missing each other, 16 Candles presents Samantha “Sam” Baker (Molly Ringwald) and Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), high school students who might just be on the verge of falling in love. Sam’s 16th birthday is a disaster when his whole family forgets about him because of his sister’s wedding the next day. A quiz at school reveals her crush on Jake, and she continues to sneak peeks at him. At the same dance that night, they keep trying to get together and run away.
As Jake and Sam eventually find their happily ever after, the ride involving underwear and battered cars is one to watch if you miss high school.
say anything (1989)
A heartfelt story of the eccentric popular guy falling in love with the shy valedictorian, say anything tells the story of Diane Court (Ione Skye) and Lloyd Dobler ((John Cusack). Lloyd falls head over heels in love with Diane, who initially agrees to go out with him, but after her father’s disapproval, is forced to break up with him. The plot twist that no one sees coming is a secret his father kept from him.
With the exception of the dad embezzling money, saving money for your “financial independence,” which isn’t as common in a high school setting, the film makes you long for the days of unrequited crushes and best friends faithful to a fault.
When we talk about high school, there’s no way clueless can be left out of the loop. The film offers immense laughs and nostalgia as it navigates the many teenage exams with disarming ease: the driving test, the constant struggle to get better grades, the temporary fallout between best friends about of a guy they both fear for, and the excruciating need to just be the most popular student.
Very loosely based on Jane Austenit is Emma, clueless is every high schooler’s life, minus (sometimes) the successful makeover and (always) the hot ex-brothers-in-law like Paul Rudd.
Dazed and confused (1993)
Dazed and confused is the perfect example of “high school kids doing high school stuff”. The film is essentially plotless, just a bunch of high school kids who plan to use their summer vacation to get drunk, stoned, and have fun. Nothing iconic happens in the film, but at the same time, everything happens.
The film is filled with football, hazing, delirium, groping in hidden corners and grounding, the ultimate definition of high school.
The breakfast club (1985)
If there were to be a film to capture the essence of the insecurities of all the different “groups” high schoolers are divided into, it would be The breakfast club. When five fundamentally different students are forced to attend a detention Saturday together, it’s a mess, but one that just might help them rediscover who they are and who they’d rather be.
The disparate five- a jock (Emilio Estevez), a princess (Molly Ringwald), a brain (Anthony Michel Salle), a thug (Judd Nelson), and a nervous breakdown (Ally Sheedy) – eventually discover common ground at the end, with sometimes awkward dialogue and random outbursts of emotion. Even decades later, it’s hard to hear Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” without revisiting that movie.
mean girls (2004)
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is set to make her Chicago public school debut after being homeschooled in Africa. She is a blank slate when it comes to cultural and social issues. When The Plastics: leader Regina (Rachel McAdams) and the courtiers Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karine (Amanda Seyfried) liken her to the group of their friends, she knows at a glance that it’s going to be a stampede in the jungle.
mean girlsperfectly captures the daunting feeling of “I want to be myself but following the crowd pays long term reward” that high school has instilled in us, encapsulating the important lesson of being your own person and not fighting to embrace where we don’t fit it.
Charlie’s world (2012)
Being a teenager is messy and complicated, and Charlie’s world seizes it to the point. When Charlie (Logan Lerman) enters high school, his brain is haunted by fuzzy memories of his early childhood and the recent suicide of his best friend. He soon meets and befriends Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two eccentric kids in his class. As Charlie deals with crippling depression, Patrick has his own heaviness of being a gay kid among hypermasculine boys.
The movie doesn’t shy away from teenage ordeals that can be both painful and tragic, and other moments that might seem like overkill in a movie but are everyday occurrences in a high school student’s life.
Veronica (winona ryder) is tired of the superficial and cruel antics of her friends, all three named coincidentally (and creepily) Heather (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falkand Kim Walker). To take a break from their crap, Veronica starts dating new kid in town, JD (christian slater). Her haze of freedom is shattered when she discovers that he makes sure the “harmless” pranks they pull on their obnoxious classmates are actually sadistic tricks leading to their deaths.
Even decades after its release, the reputation of Heathers remains unscathed and the film spawned a reboot musical and TV series.
musical high school (2006)
Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens actually looking young enough to be in high school (as opposed to 30-year-old actors – 30 out of 13…maybe?) and having the beautiful connection that can only be called high school sweetheart love. Same Troy Bolton acts like a basic teenager – scared to voice his true opinions or embrace his true self, but in the end he learns the lesson of just being himself.
Despite the huge disparity of being a musical – something high schools are only in our brains (with screaming kids and creepy music playing in the background) – musical high school was actually pretty specific about life as a teenager in high school.
10 things i hate about you (1999)
Even though their high school is just across a royal, Kat (Julia Stiles), Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), Patrick (health book), and Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are pretty much the usual high school crowd. Whether it’s crushing on a girl out of their reach or falling in love with betting, the story is a cliche that lives to entertain. The characters are as high school as they are in high school, feeling real emotions for the first time, and doing their best to survive just another day.
10 things i hate about you is such a classic teen movie that we tend to forget it’s loosely based on by William Shakespeare classic, Tame the shrew.
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