For me, a ‘school movie’ is not a movie that has to be specifically about the academic lives of its characters, but rather a film whose central action is undertaken in the setting of the classrooms and hallways of educational institutions. Given the normal age range of the characters within these narratives, the themes of school movies often encompass tension, growing pain, teenage hi-jinx and the coming of age, all cinematic subjects of which I am a particular fan. In no particular order, and with a mixture of critical acclaim and sheer nostalgic clouded judgement, here are my top ten.
1. Dangerous Minds (1995)
Perhaps hiding in the shadow of the theme song that eclipsed it (Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’), Dangerous Minds is a gripping yet easy watch starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a marine turned teacher who embarks on a mission to change the fortunes of her school’s most troubled students. It is undeniably sentimental in parts but was a staple in my film watching rota as a child and therefore remains one of my go to rainy day pictures.
2. Heathers (1988)
A deliciously wicked dark comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater that defies nearly all of the conventions and stereotypes that came to be considered as gospel in the age of John Hughes and his teen catalogue. A pleasant change of pace and tone in a genre and setting that can more often that not be accused of schmaltz and sentimentality.
3. Dead Poets Society (1989)
A school boy drama that manages to be both heart warming and heart wrenching in equal measure. Robin Williams gives one of his finest performances as the charismatic, rule breaking teacher who inspires a group of teenagers to buck the trend of conformity and attempt to follow their dreams, a process that causes both joy and tragedy within the engrossing narrative.
4. Clueless (1995)
A classic high school film that defined a generation. Many filmmakers since have attempted to replicate the materialistic characters and kitsch tone of Clueless, but whether a case of bad timing or just downright poor quality, none have ever really been able to come close to Cher and her band of merry friends. So nineties it hurts, but oh so addictive.
5. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
Dame Maggie Smith is at her imperious best as Jean Brodie, a controversial teacher who becomes a source of fascination to four young girls whom she picks out for special treatment and favouritism. Full of humour but surprisingly sinister at times, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie is an example of the tensions that are created in the micro-environment of a classroom. One of my all time favourites.
6. School Of Rock (2003)
You will struggle to find a more joyous film than School Of Rock, one of those rare occasions where a film starring mostly young children is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for its target demographic. One of the few decent Jack Black performances, an endless playlist of classic rock songs, and a supporting role from the brilliant Joan Cusack, what more could you possibly want?
7. Cracks (2009)
Owing much to The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, Cracks takes a deeper look in to the danger of the mini universes created by boarding school communities. Eva Green is at her most hypnotic as diving instructor Miss G, who whilst being the subject of multiple school girl crushes amongst her devoted swimming class, develops an unhealthy interest in a newly transferred Spanish student. Sinister, captivating and unforgettable.
8. Mean Girls (2004)
Arguably the most beloved teen movie of the twenty first century, Mean Girls is both hilarious and scathing in its satirical take on the social structure of one’s high school years. Written by the genius that is Tina Fey, the film was always going to be of high quality on the dialogue side, but in what is essentially Lindsay Lohan’s last impressive performance, the entire cast shine and help to make the movie one of the most routinely quoted in recent cinematic history.
9. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The iconic eighties film that made everybody want to be in detention on a Saturday morning. The Breakfast Club’s magic lies in its ability to connect with all types of teenagers through the five differing protagonists. There is at least a little of one of them in all of us, and the film’s overall message of unity despite identity is one that many young people need to hear in their formative years. For the record, I am team ‘basket case’ all the way.
10. Easy A (2010)
Easy A was a film that came out of absolutely nowhere and ended up being one of my favourite comedies in recent years. A star was born in Emma Stone as a girl who pretends to sleep with boys to enhance their reputations, whilst unfortunately besmirching her own. An intelligent and witty take on the social politics of a place filled with arguably more sexual tension than any other, high school.