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Top 10 Back to School Movies

Updated on August 31, 2012

This list would probably be different (or just longer) if I liked John Hughes movies which all seemed to take place in or around high school, but I don’t, so what you see is what you get. It seems almost like some prerequisite that a person like John Hughes films if they’re a girl, and I do like one of his movies a little--The Breakfast Club--but other than that I don’t find them particularly entertaining or enlightening in the least. Not that every movie on this list is enlightening, quite the contrary in fact. But most people are so passionate about JH movies that they’ll probably jump down my throat that I’m not including any. Also, I’m not suggesting that Hughes didn’t inspire at least half the films on this list. More than likely he did. I just like these better.

For me, the movies on this list set a certain tone and they’re timeless. There’s no moments where I feel, even looking at them now like, “Oh, that situation would’ve been so much different if it happened today…” I don’t have any of those moments when I watch these films. I still enjoy them because they were well written and thoroughly entertaining. There wasn’t so much idiocy going on just because they’re teens and none of them have a really unattractive lead actress that’s supposed to be “hot” (*ahem* Molly Ringwald ring any bells?—people, don’t kill me please). I don’t think Neve Campbell is model gorgeous or even actress “hot”, but she has that cute wholesome girl next door thing going on that you can understand why a guy falls for her all the time in the movies. I have to say, all the leads in these following movies have a certain “je ne sais quoi” going on that you can’t really breach.

Okay, alright already, I’ll shut up and get on with the list. Geez, you don’t have to yell:

10. Can’t Hardly Wait

I just watched this last night to refresh my memory because all I truly remembered was that it was a really good film. No, wait, a really really good film. The casting was perfect, the acting was natural, the script was funny--it had everything. I took a trip back in time to the ‘90s with this one when I used to watch Party of Five and Beverly Hills 90210 and never missed an episode. The music was just…perfect. And what’s better is I remembered all the lyrics and the bands from that time. I can’t think of one reason why teens today couldn’t get into this film. It’s a friggin’ classic.

9. Bring It On

If you’re trying to explain to someone how cool this movie is and they’re really not into cheerleading it’s hard. I’m not into cheerleading at all by the way, and if someone was trying to urge me to watch this I probably wouldn’t leap at the chance. I don’t remember the circumstances that led me to watch this, maybe someone brought it to class towards the end of the school year when nobody was doing anything or maybe one of the my friends just gave it to me and told me to look at it, but either way I watched it and I liked it. A lot. I still watch it every now and again. Again, this is one of those movies where anyone can get into it even though it’s over a decade old. No, no one’s running around texting or filming everything with their phone, but that wouldn’t be a movie. That would be something boring called--life.

8. She’s All That

This movie has so many classic scenes till it was the bulk of the film collage parody Not Another Teen Movie (if you’ve never heard of it, just think Scary Movie, only making fun of every popular teen movie you’ve ever seen). Rachael Leigh Cook, Freddie Prinze Jr, and Paul Walker make up the lead cast of this film and they don’t disappoint. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe played the mean girl in this and I’ve gotta say, she did her job well. This movie still holds up over the years and I understand why it was one of my favorite teen movies when I was still a teen. Please, it’s one of my favorite teen movies now as an adult.

7. Varsity Blues

I LOVE this movie! This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this, I really don’t. Again, it was one of the main films parodied in Not Another Teen Movie and it’s one of the best teen movies of all time. This is one of those Friday night teen movies when you’re trying to wind down from your week of pushy teachers, annoying peers, and too long school days. It’s the perfect cap on a hectic week guaranteed to put at least a hint of a smile on your face while you’re watching. It’s sometimes funny, somewhat dramatic, and a really decent entertaining ride. I wish I could’ve put it at number one, but I didn’t want to be biased.

6. Mean Girls

Maybe this movie is a bit of a cliché, but I thought that even with the clique of teen bitches rounding out the cast that Rachel McAdams did an outstanding job with her portrayal of Regina George. What lesson did we learn from this film? Girls can be mean. Really mean. And not just in movies, either. Yet, as much as we hate those mean girls in school, we want to be them because they just seem so…cool. I’m ashamed to say it but this movie captured the essence that makes us girls/women/female so well it would’ve been a crime to not have it on this list. Every girl should see this and walk away wanting to be herself. That’s wishful thinking, but so is thinking the mean girls are going to eventually become nice girls. I haven’t seen that happen in real life yet.

5. Grease

What can I say? This movie is just classic. I don’t even like musicals, but I love this movie so much I don’t really understand the people who don’t. What is there not to like about this film?! I wanted to be one of the Pink Ladies so badly, but then again I wanted to be pretty little perfect Sandy as well. But I gotta say, Stockard Channing stole every scene she was in and still continues to do the in the movies she stars in today. I wish I’d been a student at Rydell High during that time; it looked so cool. From the music numbers to the costumes and sets, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this movie, and I couldn’t help but putting it on this list either.

4. The Craft

Scary and also, surprisingly, somewhat realistic--at least as to how students interact with one another in high school. I like the fact that this film didn’t shy away from touchy subjects like racial prejudice and rape when so many teen movies try to just throw parties and act like those things aren’t happening or they try to pretty them up as best they can. Yes, there was a party in this film, but that wasn’t the focus point of the plot either. The script and storyline stayed focused on the girls. The friends. The witches. And then we watched the demise of what they had turn into something sinister. This isn’t just a classic witch movie, or a classic chick flick, or just a classic horror, but this is a classic teen movie that captured a lot of the angst that girls that age face on a daily basis. They just infused all the inner turmoil with witchcraft. I think the point this film was trying to make was how these seemingly normal teen girls were basically leading totally different lives right under their family’s noses. Nothing’s changed today either. It’s still happening and parents are still pretending it’s not happening. Sometimes when Hollywood is trying to make a point parents should pay attention and not just think whatever’s going on is just happening to those fictional characters. This film made the list mainly because just as quickly as you can make a friend in high school, or think you’ve made a friend, they can turn on you and make your life hell. They used witchcraft in the movie, but in real life it’s rumors, texts, Facebook and Twitter.

3. Election

Overachieving, overzealous, and just plain too much of everything was Reese Witherspoon’s character in this movie. The first time I saw it I didn’t really like it, but then I watched it again a few years later and I could appreciate it. The character she played was a bit over the top, but it’s not like you can’t find one of those same girls in most high schools around North America. And then there’s the frustrated teacher who finds himself in all sorts of trouble that probably reminds you of one of your teachers as well. It may not be the perfect film, but I think it’s a pretty darn good one. Reese Witherspoon’s character was representing those overachieving girls and trying to show you that they are indeed the ones who succeed later in life. They may not necessarily go the lengths she went to in the film, but they had that determined attitude, that spirit that drives them, and you can’t be mad at that. I’m not. And that’s why this movie made it to the number three spot.

2. Never Been Kissed

If you know how it feels to be that unpopular girl that got picked on and the last thing you want to remember are your high school years then I think you can probably appreciate this movie for what it is. Drew Barrymore, in all her cuteness, was perfect as Josie Gellar, the unpopular girl with the popular brother that actually nicknamed her Josie “Grossie” in school. In this movie she got her second chance to do it all over again, go to high school and try to hang with the popular girls. And just like the popular girls hardly ever change in real life, the same goes for the geeks most of the time as well. Sure, we grow up, we may become successes, but there’s always that insecurity that plagues us from when we were younger and Barrymore captures that so profoundly and sincerely it’s amazing. Another timeless one that may not be the best, but it’s worth checking out even if you just want a good laugh.

1. Scream

One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Sydney gets home and falls asleep on her couch when it’s daytime and wakes up a little bit after dark. It’s that trap that every teen finds themselves in, waking up disoriented and more than likely annoyed at themselves for falling to sleep in the first place, and then she gets the first phone call in a series of many that starts a chain of changing her life forever. I love this movie a lot, and I still watch it, because it shows just how normal psychos can come across and incorporate themselves into your life. You go to school with them, you go to work with them, and it’s always the least person you’d expect. It’s the boyfriend, the best friend, the mom, the guy that just looks so…normal. People try to make certain groups and individuals the villain when it’s usually not the ones you’re expecting at all. During this time, I don’t think teens really thought much about the people in their lives that could be the ones that could stab them in the back (literally) and it astounds me now that people still don’t think these things can happen. I think they said one line and it was just perfect, “Movies don’t make killers; they make killers more creative.” Yes, it’s a horror film, but they’re playing high school students and I must say that this film captured the essence of teens very well. Loved this movie and I watched it when I was still in high school. I don’t think it’ll ever really get old.


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