There are a lot of movies set in schools. I guess the dynamic of students and teachers, puberty, and budding adulthood is as fascinating for movie-makers as it is painful to live through. As an avid fan of the teen movie genre, I have a very difficult time picking just one favorite school-setting movie. Therefore, a list…
1. The Breakfast Club – As the one that started it all, The Breakfast Club is the ultimate at-school movie. You’ve got five kids from different social circles stuck in detention all day. By the miracle that is movie magic, they learn to understand each other, even if just for one day. It doesn’t get any better than Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and the 80s teen queen Molly Ringwald.
2. The Faculty – One of the greatest movies to come out of the late 90s teen horror surge, The Faculty is a semi-ripoff of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but at least it admits that. When all the teachers at their school start turning into aliens, a band of misfits (not unlike the kids in The Breakfast Club) has to figure out how to kill the Queen Bee to return the town to normal. Starring Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, and Shawn Hatosy, among others, and boasting one of the biggest product placement deals at the time (the entire wardrobe was Tommy Hilfiger clothes), The Faculty is a kids-fighting-back classic.
3. Grease – Ok, so this came before The Breakfast Club. But Grease has less of an emphasis on school, and more of an emphasis on being cool, wearing leather jackets, and summer lovin’. Sandy and Danny were meant for each other, and school was just an incidental plot point.
4. Harry Potter (all of them) – Hogwarts will go down in movie history as one of the greatest schools of all time. Harvard and Yale have nothing on the school of magic. The ceiling the the Great Hall changes with the weather outside. The staircases move, the portraits talk, and the kids are placed in classes based on what an ancient talking hat says. Admit it – you kinda wish you could have gone to Hogwarts.
5. 10 Things I Hate About You – This was the epitome of the teen school movie in the 90s – it’s based on a Shakespeare play (The Taming of the Shrew), it stars Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon Levitt, and it has a prom scene in it. You can’t forget the ubiquitous references to current pop culture – Bianca watching “The Real World”, the girls’ dad referencing “Dawson’s Creek”, and Bianca and Chastity discussing their love of their Sketchers.
6. The Craft – I’ll admit it – I wanted to be one of the girls in The Craft. Preferably Robin Tunney, since she was the normal one. Four girls who are hated at their Catholic school. One has horrible scars on her back. One is black at a mostly-white school. One lives in a trailer park. And one is the new girl. Despite their supposed Catholic upbringing, the girls practice witchcraft – lighting candles, saying chants, and making things happen. Horrible things. Mostly to Christine Taylor and Skeet Ulrich.
7. Half Nelson – This isn’t a member of the teen school genre, but it was fantastic nonetheless. Its star was nominated for an Oscar, after all. Ryan Gosling was fascinating in this role, and any other role I’ve ever seen him in. In this movie he’s a junior high school teacher and basketball coach who happens to have a nasty drug habit. The scenes where Gosling is lecturing the kids in the classroom are some of the weirdest, yet awesome, moments in recent movie history.
8. Murder By Numbers – Another Ryan Gosling flick. This time he’s a high school sociopath who commits the “perfect” murder with another student, only to be hunted down by a smart homicide detective played by Sandra Bullock. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the school relationship of the two boys – how others view them and the difference between the images they project at school and how they act in their personal lives.
Honorable Mention: Can’t Hardly Wait – Most of the movie takes place after the school year ends, but it’s such a great movie that I couldn’t bear to leave it off the list. It happens to have one of my favorite scenes in movie history – “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses starts playing. The drunk-for-the-first-time geek says, “Hey I know this song. I know this song…the guy I used to tutor in math made me listen to this.” He then proceeds to stand on the table and sing along – rocking out like he knows who Axl Rose is.