High-school years are among the most memorable of our lives; we find love for the first time, we find ourselves, we learn new things, we have fun and we experience trauma. So it’s little wonder so many movies have been made about those times. In this piece, we’ll take you through the best high school movies.
Check out our list of the best 90s and 2000s teen romance movies while you’re here.
8. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
A rom-com directed by Gil Junger, 10 Things I Hate About You stars the late Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. It’s a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, retold in the setting of a late 90s American high school.
Shot mainly at Stadium High School in Tacoma, this is a cool movie with a clever script and great performances from its leads – Ledger is particularly charming and Stiles is brilliant. It’s a very pure and wholesome movie that leaves you with a good feeling inside – and it’s pretty darn funny to boot.
7. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Sixteen Candles is a coming-of-age movie directed by John Hughes (in his directorial debut) and starring Molly Ringwald. It’s about Samantha “Sam” Baker, as her “sweet” sixteenth birthday becomes anything but special, due to her experiencing almost every embarrassment possible.
A very mature teen movie, Sixteen Candles is compassionate and respectful towards the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. It’s sweet and often very funny – and Ringwald is absolutely superb in it. It shot John Hughes to directorial stardom and set the tone for his movies to come.
6. Grease (1978)
Based on the 1971 musical of the same name, Grease is a musical rom-com directed by Randal Kleiser in his feature directorial debut. It stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as two youngsters who develop an attraction to each other – greaser Danny Zuko and Australian transfer student Sandy Olsson.
Grease is great fun and has some of the most memorable musical numbers of all time, with wonderful tunes and choreography. Travolta and Newton-John have great chemistry, which makes the movie. But it must be said, some of the actors really don’t look like high-schoolers!
5. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
Based on Cameron Crowe’s 1981 book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, this is a coming-of-age movie directed by Amy Heckerling. It chronicles a schoolyear in the lives of a group of sophomores.
With a great cast that includes the likes of Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates, Fast Times quite brilliantly captures the small details of high school life. Penn’s performance as the school stoner is absolutely fantastic and the whole thing is a great ride from start to finish.
4. Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls is a comedy based partly on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes. Directed by Mark Waters, it stars the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried. It’s about a naïve girl who moves to an American high school after being home-schooled in Africa.
Featuring some great performances – especially from Lohan – Mean Girls offers brilliant female-led humor and a fresh perspective on high school life. It’s smartly written and teeming with charisma, humor and typical high school awkwardness. You’ll love and hate the characters in equal measure.
3. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Another John Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a comedy starring Matthew Broderick in the titular role. It’s about a Chicago high school slacker who skips school for a day and regularly breaks the fourth wall to explain his techniques and inner thoughts to the audience.
This movie is wholesome, sweet, warm-hearted and effortlessly funny. Broderick is sensational, and Alan Ruck is great as his best friend Cameron Frye. It’s one of the most rewatchable movies you’re ever likely to see and is teeming with memorable and highly authentic characters.
2. Carrie (1976)
Adapted from Stephen King’s 1974 novel of the same name, Carrie is a supernatural horror directed by Brian De Palma. It stars Sissy Spacek as a shy 16-year-old who’s consistently mocked and bullied, but who ultimately uses her supernatural powers to vent her rage.
Featuring the most memorable (and disturbing) prom scene in movie history, Carrie is superb. It boasts some wonderful performances and takes a terrifying look at high school cruelty and teen angst. It still holds up to this day in terms of its scares and shock value. Just watch the harrowing scene above for a sample of the sublimely lifelike acting.
1. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The finest high school movie ever made, The Breakfast Club is another coming-of-age offering directed by John Hughes. It’s about teenagers from different high school cliques who spend a Saturday in detention with their authoritarian assistant principal.
Starring the likes of Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, it’s an utterly wonderful movie with great performances from its “Brat Pack” leads, whom Hughes had a knack of getting the best out of. It’s also very refreshing, due to its claustrophobic setting and avoidance of tropes like sex, violence and drugs.
Clueless (1995): YouTube (rental/purchase)
Scream (1996): YouTube (rental/purchase)
The Faculty (1998): YouTube (rental/purchase)
American Pie (1999): YouTube (rental/purchase)
Varsity Blues (1999): YouTube (rental/purchase)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004): YouTube (rental/purchase)
High School Musical (2006): YouTube (rental)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): YouTube (rental/purchase)
If you like movies in which high schoolers get brutally murdered, check out our ranking of the Scream movies.