50 Best
High School Movies

Part 1

Entertainment Weekly compiled a list of the 50 Best High School Movies in their September 15, 2006 issue. Descriptions were derived from the original source.

Facts and Commentary About the List:

  • The ranked list represented a wide range of some of the best high-school films that will be enjoyable, as the magazine article described, for "reliving our worst teenage traumas, from classrooms and cafeterias to pep rallies and senior proms. This dean's list of films captures those memorable years of promise...and pimples."

  • The following are additional films that warrant placement in such a list: Blackboard Jungle (1955), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Class of 1984 (1982), The Last American Virgin (1982), Zapped! (1982), All the Right Moves (1983), The Outsiders (1983), Valley Girl (1983), Footloose (1984), Better Off Dead (1985), Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985), Tomboy (1985), Weird Science (1985), Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Three O'Clock High (1987), Lean on Me (1989), School Ties (1992), Angus (1995), Kids (1995), Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), The Craft (1996), The Faculty (1998), Cruel Intentions (1999), Never Been Kissed (1999), She's All That (1999), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Varsity Blues (1999), O (2001), and Saved! (2004).

50 Best
High School Movies

by Entertainment Weekly
(part 1, ranked, in reverse order)

50. Splendor in the Grass - 1961

Young love - especially when it's with the star of the football team - can make a girl crazy. Literally. In pre-Depression, small-town Kansas, good-girl Natalie Wood is so tortured by her sexual urges for beau Warren Beatty and conflicting pressure to be moral that she attempts suicide after a school dance and ends up in a sanitarium. It's the ultimate depiction of overwhelming first love, and - sorry, religious right - a chilling PSA against the dangers of teen abstinence.

49. Sixteen Candles - 1984

It's tough to turn 16. But when your entire family forgets your birthday, it only makes that day worse. Molly Ringwald puts on a brave face as her character endures basically the worst week of her life, whether it's having her panties taken by Anthony Michael Hall or getting groped by her grandma ("Fred, she's gotten her boobies!"). The awkwardness is all hilarious, though, especially watching a young Joan Cusack attempt to use the water fountain in orthodontic head gear.

48. Just One of the Guys - 1985

Every generation has its variant on the girl-dresses-as-boy, girl-as-boy-falls-for-boy, boy-freaks-out tale. And this immensely fun, if minor, romp from the '80s perfectly captures the decade's raunch-lite spirit and funky fashion sense. As the cross-dresser caught in the middle, Joyce Hyser's aspiring journalist learns the hard way that there's more to being a dude than just stuffing a tube sock down your pants.

47. Napoleon Dynamite - 2004

The plot is insignificant, the lead character (Jon Heder) is a petulant spaz, and the pace creeps along just barely faster than a John Deere. Still, this sleeper hit succeeds because it manages to mock and celebrate high school geekdom with a bone-dry, unsentimental tone. The inane one-liners, absurd non sequiturs, and sheer stupidity of the characters don't just bring back memories of adolescence, they make you feel like a teenager again, giggling at something idiotic without knowing exactly why.

46. Flirting - 1992

She's a Ugandan beauty in a prep school populated by blond Aussies (including young Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts); he's a gawky stutterer obsessed with Camus. Given their shared outsider status at their respective institutions, is there any doubt that Danny (Noah Taylor) and Thandiwe (Thandie Newton) end up falling for each other? Wryly tender and respectfully told, director John Duigan's coming-of-age romance is a warm and fuzzy confection that stops short of being icky.

45. My Bodyguard - 1980

There's something timeless for everyone when new kid Clifford "Peachy" Peache (Chris Makepeace) enlists the mysterious, tortured class psycho (Adam Baldwin) to protect him from the school bully (Matt Dillon). Lifelong scapegoats will cheer the underdogs' triumph, while former home-room villains of all generations will shed a nostalgic tear at Dillon's showcase of evergreen bully tactics: the locker prison, the wet toilet-paper bomb, the bathroom surprise attack. Ahhh, high school: good times, good times.

44. Can't Hardly Wait - 1998

It's the last night of high school and the only thing left to do is party - and face the skeletons in the closet. By the end of this crazy bash, everyone succeeds: The nerd gets revenge on the jock, the nice guy snags his prom-queen crush, and a pair of unlikely old friends reunite. It may be a typical teen comedy, but the underlying message always rings true: Don't let fate pass you by.

43. Stand and Deliver - 1988

Any grandiose "O Captain! My Captain!" speech would only invite a Dead Teacher's Society beatdown at dilapidated Garfield High in East L.A. Instead, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) teaches in a fast-food-worker uniform and inspires with math problems about gigolos. He gives extra textbooks to a studious gangbanger (Lou Diamond Phillips) in exchange for protection, and turns a mathematical truth, "A negative times a negative equals a positive," into a social one. That's ganas, jefe.

42. Fame - 1980

By today's standards, this Oscar-winning musical is downright gritty, with its frank and often bleak depiction of arts-inclined teenagers. Sure, they sing and act and turn lunchtime into a funk jam, but they also have abortions, fend off predatory pornographers, experiment with drugs, and contemplate suicide. High School Musical, it isn't. The potent shot of authenticity is sweetened by the memorable, soul-drenched musical numbers, which inspired millions to try and pirouette on a taxi.

41. Can't Buy Me Love - 1987

Before he was Dr. McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey won us over as the lovable lawn-mowing nerd Ronald Miller. After a failed attempt to buy his way into the cool clique, Ronny goes from totally chic right back to a total geek. Lesson learned: Sometimes performing the "African Ant Eater Ritual" at the school dance isn't enough to get you a spot at the right lunch table.

40. Risky Business - 1983

Long before Tom Cruise became a couch-jumping Scientologist, he came to prominence in this sharp satire of privileged suburban teens. The socks-and-undies dance scene is what everyone remembers, but this Reagan-era hit isn't just another teensploitation flick. It's about the soul-crushing pressure to be perfect, and the primal urges to rebel against a manicured, pre-programmed future - even if that means turning your parents' house into a brothel.

39. The Virgin Suicides - 2000

This one deserves to be on the list if only for the one terrific shot in which Josh Harnett, as heartthrob Trip Fontaine, glides down the locker-lined hall, with his leather jacket hung over one shoulder and Heart's "Magic Man" blaring on the soundtrack as all the girls turn their heads. If guys in high school don't actually walk like that, they should. The rest of the movie, about gorgeous sisters in a death pact, is shot by debut director Sofia Coppola as teenage iconography at its dreamiest and most weirdly entrancing.

38. Bye Bye Birdie - 1963

High school is definitely more fun when you add a little song and dance. Ann-Margret is all big hair and energy as a lucky small-town teen who wins the chance to be kissed on television by Conrad Birdie, a thinly veiled Elvis copy. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is a tad jealous of her swapping spit with a celeb. What follows is a gleeful parade, perfect for viewers who always wanted to meet the high school star crush whose posters adorned their bedroom walls.

37. Friday Night Lights - 2004

Is there a sight more wonderful than kids playing a sport just for the sheer love of the game? That's a vision entirely absent from Peter Berg's superbly unsparing, based-on-real-events examination of the diamond-forming pressure present in small-town-Texas high school football. A great teen movie and a great sports movie, albeit one that may prompt more than one young ballplayer to switch to darts.

36. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - 2005

No, we haven't lost our minds. One of J.K. Rowling's ingenious ideas was to blend two literary traditions, fantasy and coming-through-school fiction (à la Tom Brown's School Days). That's particularly true in Goblet, which depicts 14-year-old Harry's heightened state of adolescent anxiety, about the big (Quidditch) game, about finding a date for the big dance, and about juggling homework while saving the wizard world from evil Lord Voldemort.

35. Brick - 2006

"Nah, bulls gum it. They'd flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes, probably find some yeg to pin." The high school kids in Brick talk like this for the entire movie. With a femme fatale, a dead girlfriend, and a mysterious cape-wearing drug lord, Brick gives you a teen flick in the guise of a noir thriller where everything is all very life-and-death. Come to think of it, that's exactly what high school is like.

34. Get Real - 1999

A typical first-love-with-the-school-jock story, but with a twist. "Sex on legs" track star John Dixon (Brad Gorton) really does fall for Steven Carter (Ben Silverstone), the bright, gawky student journalist who's lusted after Dixon while tiptoeing around female classmates on platonic dates. Of course, Dixon also has an official girlfriend. But when our hero yearns for a romance that's a little more public, the baton gets dropped in a way that's touchingly, poignantly real.

33. Hoop Dreams - 1994

This documentary follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two kids who avoid the pitfalls of growing up in the Chicago slums by living, breathing, and playing basketball. As with any kid who plays ball, Gates and Agee fantasize about one thing: making it to the NBA. For all audiences, this is a purely inspirational tale. For some, it's nostalgic, bringing back dreams you once had of making it to the pros.

32. Scream - 1996

Aside from the awesomeness of seeing Henry "The Fonz" Winkler as a square principal, Scream is the supreme teen horror movie specifically because it is so self-aware of how ridiculous and formulaic teen horror movies can be - even those that are set outside of high school, in college dorms or summer camps. And if sex equals death, as fright flicks and parents alike have tried to warn us, then how cool is it (spoiler alert!) for Scream to make the killer Neve Campbell's boyfriend - the one trying to get in her pants? Scary cool, we say.

31. The Karate Kid - 1984

We practiced ''the crane'' and wasted money on a Bonsai tree. But the real reason this movie makes the cut: Rocky director John G. Avildsen understood that Mr. Miyagi (late Oscar nominee Pat Morita) had a lot to say - about finding balance, about choosing mentors wisely, about disguising defensive martial-arts techniques in home improvement (and yourself in a shower curtain, if it meant you could attend your high school Halloween dance undetected by Cobra Kai bullies). Perhaps that explains why only one of Daniel-san's training sessions is set to music: When Miyagi talked, we, like outsider Ralph Macchio, listened.

30. Bring It On - 2000

They're sexy, they're cute, they're popular to boot! Kirsten Dunst plays Torrance, the bright-eyed cheerleading captain who must save her high school's squad from a major cheeragedy: going down as the team who stole routines. In the end, we learn there's more to cheerleading than loads of hairspray, teeny halter tops, and back-stabbing: These are athletes who know how to really bring it. We give this comedy five spirit fingers up!

29. Gregory's Girl - 1982

Gregory's Girl is short on stars, long on soccer, and it sounds like a Weird Al Yankovic parody of Rick Springfield. But it is also sweetly hilarious as gangly Scottish teen Gregory (Gordon John Sinclair) falls for an out-of-his-league girl. The result is guaranteed to make viewers feel much better about their own post-pubescent awkwardness - unless they, too, ever tried to romance someone with the information that "When you sneeze, it comes out your nose 180 miles an hour."

28. Back to the Future - 1985

A.K.A. the coolest movie ever to feature a Huey Lewis and the News song. The film ingeniously literalizes high school's sexual frustration and disdain for one's parents by having Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly getting hit on over and over again by Lea Thompson as his young, future mother (thanks to that time-traveling DeLorean). It just goes to prove that the parental units were just as horny back in the day as we were.

27. To Sir, With Love - 1967

Way before Mr. Holland began teaching his opus and Michelle Pfeiffer was molding dangerous minds, Sidney Poitier was taming a room of unruly British teens with his real-life lessons and tough-love tactics (a boxing glove to the stomach, anyone?). Having himself played an insubordinate kid in 1955's Blackboard Jungle, the student masterfully becomes the teacher in this sappy but never maudlin tale of inspiration and tolerance.

26. Pretty in Pink - 1986

Perhaps the most controversial ending to a teen romance ever. (Behind Romeo and Juliet? Fine.) Should Andie (Molly Ringwald) have chased after rich, repentant Blane (Andrew McCarthy), or stayed at the prom with poor, devoted Duckie (Jon Cryer)? That we, women now in our 30s, still care is a testament to John Hughes' script about love across class lines (point for Blane); the meaning of friendship and individuality (point for Duckie); and the evil nature of wealthy high schoolers in crisp, white clothing (point for James Spader).

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