Not every school-related movie is good enough to stand among the all-time greats. However, the genre is broad and deep. Here are some school-related movies that almost made the cut.
(Spoiler alert: “Kindergarten Cop” isn’t on this list, either.)
Footloose. The 1984 box-office smash is the ultimate hey-let’s-put-on-a-show! vehicle. The show, in this case, is a high school prom. The requisite obstacle is a hick town where dancing and rock music are forbidden. Forbidden, that is, until rebellious Chicagoan Kevin Bacon arrives and John Lithgow’s character, a local reverend with a heart of gold, conveniently rethinks his stodgy position.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaaYU-lZ3ac
Juno. Somehow, this 2007 comedy-drama about an impregnated Minnesota high school student becomes less worthy of acclaim with each successive project full of false teen speak that Diablo Cody sends Netflix. Nevertheless, it’s a sweet little movie.
Sixteen Candles. John Hughes gave us some classic school-related movies. He was also responsible for some really crappy ones (“Flubber,” for instance). “Sixteen Candles” is the story of a high school sophomore who is sad because everyone forgets her 16th birthday, but happy because she eventually makes out with dreamy hunk Jake Ryan. It’s a near-great entry in the Hughes canon.
School Daze. You probably won’t believe it, but Spike Lee used to be a great filmmaker who created cutting-edge movies. This was Lee’s 1988 take on life at a historically black college, on South African apartheid, and on the value of hair among African-Americans. It’s also a musical.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HugWl-2TA0E
Better Off Dead. This highly underrated high school comedy features John Cusack, a Korean drag racer who learned English by listening to Howard Cosell, a psychotic paperboy, and a little brother who excels at attracting trashy women.
Brick. Speaking of underrated films, this one is a hardboiled detective story set in a modern suburban California high school. A fledgling Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars and everybody talks like a tough, bitter character from a Dashiell Hammett novel. If this premise doesn’t sound halfway intriguing to you, well, you’re boring.
Napoleon Dynamite. There are two kinds of people in the world. People who vote that “Napoleon Dynamite” is awesome and people who think it’s kind of, “meh.” The strong divide necessitates an honorable mention only.
Let the Right One In. In this little horror gem, a bullied 12-year-old boy falls for a transient vampire girl. It’s in Swedish with English subtitles. That sounds a bit daunting, but it’s definitely worth checking out. How many films in any genre have a 98 percent positive “critical reviews” rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Just don’t accidentally watch “Let Me In,” the unexceptional American remake.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZJUgsZ56vQ
Election. Matthew Broderick, the undisputed king of education-related films, stars as a popular high school history teacher in Omaha, Nebraska who desperately wants to stop overachieving student Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) from winning the student council election. It’s painful yet amusing to watch.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. A huge commercial success and a cult classic, this film features two heavy metal-loving slackers who travel back in time to bring back famous historical figures in order to pass a history class. The future of humanity is at stake. George Carlin is involved. Keanu Reeves hadn’t yet read the “Speed” screenplay.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b6Ff9Qm2FU
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. You wouldn’t think a documentary about a 1968 Ivy League football game that ended in a tie could be all that interesting. As it turns out, though, it’s a riveting commentary on not only a great game in a great rivalry, but also on the politics and culture of the entire era.
Scream. Wes Craven pulls off the impossible with a high school slasher flick that is simultaneously scary and funny while managing a clever meta-commentary on the entire horror genre. Are four sequels (and counting) really necessary?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wifEc2IzSX0
An Education. This 2009 British film set in the London suburbs of the early 1960s features Carey Mulligan in a star turn as a schoolgirl with dreams of attending Oxford. Peter Sarsgaard is the worldly, sophisticated and much older man who successfully seduces her. But all is not what it seems.
Back to School. Rodney Dangerfield plays a rich, uncultivated father who decides to go to college with his son. Hijinks ensue. It’s a fun movie with a star character perfect for Dangerfield’s shtick. Come on, though. No one can really do a Triple Lindy.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIZJ8V7Rmw8
Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams is an English teacher at a fancy-pants boarding school who inspires his students through verse, but the headmaster and uptight parents don’t approve. Or something like that. This sap fest is the most overrated movie on this list, but people like it, so what’s the harm in throwing it an honorable-mention bone?