Ranked! Top 20 High School Movies

For this week's Ranked, we decided to rank our twenty favorite high school movies. Did we get it right? Forget any? Let us know in the comments.

20. Better Off Dead

"I've been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I'm no dummy." --Charles de Mar

Apart from being one of the funniest movies ever made, Better Off Dead is high on my list of best high school movies ever. This is one of those movies that I watched back in the day and said, "Man... I wish that was MY high school." By the time I saw the movie (I didn't catch it in the theaters), I was an avid skier. I would have LOVED to have a ski team in high school. Of course, in Maryland, it would have sucked... but, still.

Skiing and absurdities aside, Better Off Dead also fit the "geeky underdog wins in the end" theme that I tend to like in my high school movies. Nobody plays a geeky underdog better than John Cusack.--Dave

19. Can't Hardly Wait

Ah, Can't Hardly Wait. I used to go to the movies to watch this when I needed a break from my exams back in 1998. I couldn't wait for them to be over, so the title spoke to me. The central story of Ethan Embry's unrequited love for Jennifer Love Hewitt at her perky-boobed, big-haired peak was the least interesting thing about this film, considering so much happened at the post-graduation house party full of jocks, cool chicks, wannabes, and outcasts, played by an impressive roll-call of actors: Seth Green, Lauren Ambrose (no one could forget the classic line, "There's a mirror right there. Take a look. You're white."), Jaime Pressly, Melissa Joan Hart, Peter Facinelli, Selma Blair, Jerry O'Connell, Clea DuVall, Freddy Rodriguez, Sara Rue, and Jason Segel (he was the guy who offered Jennifer Love Hewitt some watermelon). In short, that’s a damn successful graduating class. Plus, I can't listen to Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City" without remembering the kid from Hook grabbing the mic and ripping off his shirt. Remember this line? "Nobody drink the beer. The beer has gone bad!" I'm so watching this movie again tonight!--Bree

18. Election

Tracy Flick is one of the greatest overachievers ever. Her win-at-all-costs attitude, coupled with her sugary sweet outward appearance, makes her a deadly foe. This satire openly mocks politics and high school.

We've got the tough principal, the dumb jock, the teacher who appears to be phoning it in, the good-two-shoes lead, infidelity, scandal, and more. If you haven't already seen it, it probably sounds pretty awesome based on the above, right? Check it out. It's awesome.

Pick Flick!--Chris

17. American Pie

My high school and college years fell smack in the middle of the golden age of the T&A Teen Movie craze. Porky's, The Last American Virgin, Porky's 2, Caddyshack... These were films that ostensibly had a plot, but were really about a bunch of horny teenage boys getting laid. In the '80s, it seemed like a new Porky's wannabe film opened every week.

This film genre fell by the wayside in the ensuing decades, and wasn't properly resurrected until American Pie hit the theaters in 1999. Light on plot, heavy on likable (if shallow) characters, and even heavier on comical sexcapades, American Pie was the first film in over a decade to get the formula right. It was a modernized take on those R-rated "gems" that my friends and I liked to rent on VHS and watch on Saturday nights back in the day.

None of the sequels quite managed to capture that lowbrow magic that the original had, but American Pie opened the door for other even better films of this type, like Superbad (which, arguably, has a great deal more substance and transcends the genre). At any rate, American Pie still stands up as a fun film 14 years after it was made. (Doesn't seem that long ago, does it?)--Dave

16. Rushmore

Out of all the movies on this list, this probably felt the least like a high school movie, which is weird because a lot of the scenes actually take place in school. Rushmore is the story of Max Fischer who, like Election's Tracy Flick, is an overachiever. He belongs to every club in school, and he started half of them. He's in love with a teacher at the school, who actually likes Max's fifty-year-old best friend (Herman Blume). This is a sweet movie with a vicious side. Watching Max and Herman go at it, laying booby traps for each other, is one of the highlights of the film.

But yes, this film is also about school. There is a secondary plot which involves Max trying to become friends with kids his own age while putting together the world's greatest high school theatrical production ever.

Max Fischer is my hero.--Chris

15. Dazed And Confused

Okay, I'll admit it: I only watched this movie for the first time because of Anthony Rapp (OBC of Rent). But trust me, it stands up far beyond just his performance. For one, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey are both in it. Okay, okay, moving beyond just the names I know too well in it now. While it might frighten some high school newbies, if you watch it after the experience is over, the film's completely worth it, at least in a dream scenario of the final day of high school. For a '90s kid like me, it's the dream on a screen. This is a weird compilation of everyone in high school, and should never be left out of best-of-high-school marathon.--J-Hawke

14. Can't Buy Me Love

Ronald (a pre-Doctor McDreamy Patrick Dempsey) pretty much buys popular girl Cindy after she spills wine on her mother's suede outfit, thereby ruining both it and her life. Ronald pays for a replacement suit, so she rubs some mousse in his hair, rips off his sleeves, and introduces him to the popular crowd. Lessons about the importance of being yourself are subsequently learned.

One of the reasons I loved this film was for Fashionista Queen Bee #3 (the equivalent of West Beverly High's Donna Martin) Darcy DeMoss wearing a red and yellow lightning bolt on her cheek to school, red fingerless gloves to the dance, and for just generally being '80s glamtastic. I also vividly remember the dance that Ronald learned from the African Culture channel, mistaking it for American Bandstand. He performed what turned out to be the African Anteater Ritual at the school dance and everyone joined in. I'm now tempted to bust those moves out next time I'm drunk on a dance floor. I have no shame on a dance floor. I wonder if any closet Can't Buy Me Love fans will join in?--Bree

13. Dead Poets Society

I love this movie. I'm also irritated by it. I've been a teacher for 20 years, and I've never had a room full of students stand on their chairs in a show of love and loyalty. Not ONCE, can you believe it? They never call me O Captain, my Captain. Even when I make it a requirement on my syllabus. What the Hell's up with that?

Parts of this movie don't quite stand the test of time. Robin Williams is a wee bit on the obnoxious side (Shocking!) as eccentric and preachy private school English teacher John Keating, who takes it upon himself to inspire an unsuspecting group of students. Each kid has some personal challenge to deal with, ranging from asking out the cute girl at the neighboring school, to convincing his dad to let him be in the school play (really?). A little Carpe Diem speech, and DING! Everyone's awesome! (Except the kid in the play, who ultimately kills himself. Sorry for the spoiler, but it's best you know.)

Still. That scene when Keating is fired, and the students stand on their chairs? Gets me every time. I swear, I'm going to MAKE my students do that on the last day of class. It's gonna be awesome.--Didactic Pirate

12. The Karate Kid

Although there are movies that better capture high school life as most of us experienced it, The Karate Kid is--in a very visceral way--the film that best captures the way I always WISHED high school had been.

As an outsider, I totally felt for Daniel as he struggled to make friends and fit in. In that respect, he was a lot like me. Although I never got the snot beaten out of me in high school, I was picked on mercilessly at times. I looked at Daniel and said, "He's me!"

That's where the fantasy takes over. Oh, how my high school experience would have changed if some kindly gentleman from Okinawa had taught me to be a kick-ass Karate-chopping machine! The first time I watched the film--and every time since--I have lived my alternate reality high school experience through Daniel Larusso--the high school experience where I kicked the asses of everyone who ever made my life hell and left them bruised and bleeding on the floor as I walked away into the sunset with the cute cheerleader.

Oh, yeah. That would have been sweet.--Dave

11. Easy A

When the credits rolled on Easy A a few years ago, I had two simultaneous thoughts:
  • I want Emma Stone to be my little sister so we can hang out because she's just the BEST
  • That's the closest thing to a John Hughes movie that the younger generation is ever going to get.
It's just a gem of a film and it rightfully put Ms. Stone on a number of people's radar. --Archphoenix

10. 10 Things I Hate About You

I was watching this movie at home with my now husband, and he leaned over to me at one point and said "If you want to put Heath Ledger on your "List," I'm okay with it." This movie hits me in all the right places: high school teenybopper flick, super talented cast, based on Shakespeare. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles are just great together. Joseph Gordon Levitt is adorable. Allison Janney is all kinds of wrong. It's one of my go to "I don't feel good" movies and I have no regrets about admitting that as a woman in her mid-thirties.--Archphoenix

9. Pretty In Pink

When I was about 16 myself, VH1 got on a kick for a weekend of John Hughes movies. Now, I had always heard of these classics, but had never seen them. Needless to say, I was hooked to my TV screen for the rest of the weekend. Now that I have a younger "sister" who's 16, I find myself planning marathons with her out of necessity of seeing these films. Near the top of that list is Pretty In Pink. At least half of the girls of the world fit Andie's character description, and just as many boys believe they are the Duckie to someone out there. The tragic end, for Duckie fans, is that she gets the boy she wants and it's not him. But for the girls out there with the crushes, it's nice to see an outcast ragamuffin win the guy.--J-Hawke

8. Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Just as Superbad is a modern film that transcends its basic premise--horny high schoolers who want to get drunk and get chicks--Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a film from the era of shallow high school T&A flicks that manages to be more than just another crass comedy.

Although there's plenty of crass and plenty of laughs, there's an undercurrent of reality that makes every character in the film, as absurd and over-the-top as they sometimes are, feel a lot more real than was the case of characters in most similar films of the time. That's probably because the movie is based on a book that was written about real people in a real high school. Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe, the author of the book, went undercover as a student and wrote about the people and experiences at the school he attended. The movie deviates in many ways from the book (which is excellent--you should read it if you haven't) and concentrates more on the comedy and the sex, but an undercurrent of what real people go through in high school makes the characters and the situations a lot more relatable than you expect.

It might be remembered forever for the line, "Hey bud... let's party!" But Fast Times At Ridgemont High remains a classic because of its clever ability to wrap its comedy crust around a tasty filling of high school reality.--Dave

7. Say Anything

This boy-meets-girl movie may not seem too original if you read its Wikipedia synopsis, but trust me... just watch it. Everyone my age knows that Say Anything has an undeniable appeal, even to the most hardhearted of cynics. There's an undeniable sweetness that flows through the entire story about a nerdy guy who gets the prettiest girl in school to fall in love with him the summer after their high school graduation. This is the movie that made John Cusack the go-to guy when it came to sincere-sensitive-vulnerable characters with slightly doughy faces. He and Ione Skye play kids who fumble through the first big love affair of their lives, and it's impossible not to be charmed by their shy chemistry. Maybe it's not realistic to believe that they stay together after the end of the movie when they take off on a plan to England together… But still, I say:

Lloyd Dobler + Diane Court 4EVER.--Didactic Pirate

6. Clueless

Just the other day, I confidently completed a "How Well Do You Know Clueless?" quiz only to discover that I had scored 14 out of 21. That is abysmal for someone like me. By that, I mean '90s pop culture obsessed with the memory of an elephant. I realized that I had neglected Clueless for years by endlessly quoting Mean Girls, and decided I should revisit what is totally the coolest makeover movie of the '90s. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is a total Betty who decides to give clueless Tai (Brittany Murphy) a makeover and, in the process, realizes she was the one who was clueless all along, having the textbook epiphany moment that she is in love with her Baldwin of an ex-step brother Josh, played by the rather cute Paul Rudd. This film dictated fashion and slang for a while back in '95, and here are some of the sights and sounds that I would love to see make a comeback: Cher's miniskirt and blazer sets with knee highs, Dionne's Mad Hatter headgear, the phrases "Totally buggin’," "She's a total Monet," and "I'm outie," and saying "Whatever" while making a "W" finger sign. --Bree

5. Mean Girls

When I first saw Mean Girls, I wished it had been made when I was still at high school. Sure, I had been brought up on a diet of high school movies featuring the obligatory clique of three popular girls, but this was the first movie I knew of (unless I count Heathers) that actually drew attention to the playground bully mentality of it all. It was a stroke of genius for Tina Fey to base her screenplay on the non-fiction book Queen Bees And Wannabes.

Anyway, I'll now take off my serious hat and declare that Mean Girls is iconic and special not only because it spoke to countless girls and women, but because it's so damn quotable. Here are just some of the lines that make this film so fetch: "You go Glen Coco,' "He's almost too gay to function," "Stop trying to make fetch happen," "Boo you whore," "Danny DeVito, I love your work," "Grool," "I want my pink shirt back," "That's just, like, the rules of feminism," "I guess it's probably because I've got a big lesbian crush on you! Suck on that!," "It's like I have ESPN or something," "I'm Kevin Gnapoor, the G is silent when I sneak in your door," "That's why her hair is so big, it's full of secrets," and my personal favorite, "She doesn't even go here!" Feel free to list all the quotes I've missed in the comments section. I'll join in!--Bree

4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

All right, now THIS one I've been watching since I was like 12 years old. Of course it's the film that made me love Matthew Broderick, and even though I loved school, an adventurous day off suddenly sounded like the perfect thing. This movie is just plain fun, and a staple in any and every person's life. I don't even know that I would lump this in with just a high school viewing audience, because I think at any age this whole thing sounds appealing. And man, hand it to the actors - who doesn't applaud Cameron's speech about standing up to his father? And Ferris's antics? It's like a slightly more grown-up version of Home Alone. There's just so much to like here, and nothing to hate. Perfect fun anytime movie, in my opinion.--J-Hawke

3. Sixteen Candles

Ok, yes, this movie has some serious problems. It's a little bit racist. It's a little bit date rapey. But when that end scene rolls and Samantha and Jake are sitting on the table with that lighted-up cake, I melt. Every single time. I think we Brats got this list right: Breakfast Club is Hughes's best, and it's the movie that leaps to mind when you ask me about high school movies. But Sixteen Candles is the solid number two pick in the Hughes canon because it's got so much heart. Molly Ringwald's angst about being forgotten rings so true every single time I see this film that I just want to hug her. I actually think this is Molly Ringwald's best work in the Hughes canon. Hell, she can even make that ridiculous pink bridesmaid dress work and THAT is saying something.--Archphoenix

2. Heathers

Look. There's no way in hell a movie like Heathers could be made today. It's a very dark comedy about the misfits getting so tired of the popular kids they decide not to try to blend in with them, but to kill them and make their deaths look like suicides. Yes, it's macabre as hell, but it's so damn funny, so damn awesome, so damn quotable, and it made the world fall in love with Winona Ryder. But seriously, how can you not love a movie that gives you life lessons like "Real life sucks losers dry. You want to fuck with the eagles, you have to learn to fly." Words to live by.--Chris

1. The Breakfast Club

Dear Whippersnappers Who Are Too Young To Have Seen The Most Important Teen Movie Ever,

I know you think you have it all figured out. You navigate your high school, identify the various cliques and archetypes that surround you every day, and think you have them all pegged. You're even smart enough to know that all that stuff is socially constructed, that people are not the roles they’re given in adolescence. You have your own shows and movies to help you, your Gossip Girls and your Scott Pilgrims and your American Pies. (And your various and sundry vampire equivalents.)

But if you want to see the movie that helped your parents out, that showed us how every single person, from outcast to Prom Queen, is connected, watch yourself some Breakfast Club. There are several John Hughes movies that will do you good (and possibly change your life), but this is the one that will chip away your angst and make you walk the halls on Monday morning feeling just a little bit better, a little bit changed.

Because everyone is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. --Didactic Pirate

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