Hilariously human: high school movie classics


Illustration by Kupu Sumi

High school movies are not just a prime form of entertainment. They give us characters that we feel like we can relate to on a personal scale. Watching them can be funny, emotional, entertaining and, usually, all three. Sometimes they’re high quality films that explore complex characters and have deep stories, and sometimes they are made to simply entertain you and give you a fun time for a few hours. The best high school movies are a combination of all these. They’re entertaining and deep. They’re funny and emotional. They’re wacky and sophisticated. They’re relatable and ridiculous. They take the complex time of high school and turn it into something beautifully awkward and hilariously human. 

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Enter the last day of school in a suburban Texas town in 1976 and follow along with the jocks, the nerds, the potheads and the freshman as they waste their first day of summer. Director Richard Linklater creates a story so fun and human that you can’t help but feel nostalgic, even if you’ve never been to Texas and weren’t born until 2005. In one of Matthew McConaughey’s first performances, he solidified himself as an icon in the industry while Ben Affleck plays his usual role of the annoying bully. The film whips around to show students from a number of different groups as they participate in some harsh hazing, high school romances and an iconic party at the moon tower. 

Booksmart (2019)

Booksmart follows Molly and Amy, two high school seniors heading to the Ivy League who have never been to a party in their lives. On the night before graduation, they set out to pack four years of fun into one hilarious, awkward and emotional night. Booksmart is wildly entertaining, as every ridiculously exaggerated character has their moment in the spotlight as they each star in scenes that are sure to stick in your mind after the credits roll. The two leads have nearly perfect chemistry, and they don’t just create some of the funniest scenes in this movie but also the most emotional. Booksmart combines its impeccable character development, hilarious writing and emotional story to create a masterpiece. 

The Breakfast Club (1985)

While some ideas may seem outdated, The Breakfast Club boasts a bunch of relatable characters and powerful storytelling to create a tale that feels relevant now, even though it was made over 35 years ago. Five high school students, all formed from different stereotypes, talk, argue and connect during an all-day detention one Saturday. Each character has their own emotional backstory and reasons why they are in detention, and watching them become friends throughout the course of the movie is heartwarming. Each character faces a decision or has some part of their life that will resonate with viewers.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Idaho is weird, and Napoleon Dynamite might be even weirder. In the sunny farms of Preston, Idaho, socially awkward teenager Napoleon Dynamite attempts to navigate high school while dealing with weird uncles, annoying brothers and the student body as he tries to get his friend elected as class president. Napoleon Dynamite holds up as the most weirdly hilarious high school movie of all time, where all the characters embrace their unnatural personalities to create something that’s genuinely sweet. Every scene has visuals and dialogue that are not only memorable but instantly iconic, whether in your mind or to the millions who have seen the film. 

Dead Poets Society (1989)

The late Robin Williams is known for his calm and sweet nature that allow him to grow into a fan favorite and one of the greatest actors of all time. All of that is on display in Dead Poets Society as Williams plays an unorthodox teacher at a strict boarding school who becomes loved by his students and teaches them to stand up to the school. Dead Poets Society packs a heavy emotional punch and shows the importance of positive role models for kids who may not have them at home. While it may not be set in the most relatable environment, the ending is sure to give you chills and maybe bring a tear to your eye.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Not only one of the most famous high school movies out there but one of the best Chicago movies as well. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off provides an insanely enjoyable story that’s fun from start to finish. The film follows Ferris as he blows off a day of school to have a good time around the city with his untrusting friend and his girlfriend while the dean of students attempts to track him down. The film provides frequent laughs, from Ferris continually crossing paths with his father, to the dean getting attacked by a dog, knocked out and getting a mouthful of soda spit in his face. While it’s definitely over the top, the fourth wall breaks and constant fun are sure to entertain you for one hundred minutes of your life. 

Honorable mentions: 

Juno (2007)

Lady Bird (2017)

Superbad (2007)

Mean Girls (2004)

Rushmore (1998)

Risky Business (1983)

The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

Hoosiers (1986)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)