The high school movie is an American cinema staple, consisting of great classics from the likes of American Graffiti, John Hughes’ “brat-pack” films (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Dazed and Confused and many others. This cinema tradition continues to this day, with movies such as Juno and The Perks of Being a Wall Flower making a big impression on both casual movie watchers and film fans alike.
By this point in the genre’s long and rich history, certain cliches and conventions have become the norm, and have become expected in high school films. Some of these cliches are what you want to see, abut others are simply tiresome.
However, sometimes you see that rare teenager-oriented film that mixes things up a little, giving a spin or twist on this genre and creating something of a hybrid. These films change up the norm and make things extra interesting with plot points and characters that play against cliches and serve the purpose of the film’s point and meaning.
10. 21 Jump Street (2012)
This reboot of the 80’s television series was a big success and very likable comedy in massive part due to the spot-on chemistry of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum; both of whom are on the top of their comedic games in this movie.
The Twist: This part-high school flick and part-buddy-cop comedy is one of the best untraditional films of the genre because it shows us many of the genre conventions and clichés, but through the eyes of graduated highschoolers returning to their old stomping ground, but this time on a police mission to bust a drug dealer.
The hilarity and raunchiness ensues, and while this film may not take you anywhere completely unexpected, it’s still a pleasure to see a high school movie from the perspective of these two characters who were in very different cliques when they actually went there.
9. Election (1999)
Alexander Payne’s breakout black comedy showcases the director at his best. He’s now known for his character-pieces, usually focusing on middle-aged and aging men, but his unforgettable sophomore film takes place not in Hawaii, Wine Country or Nebraska, but at a high school.
The Twist: There are romantic subplots and high school drama in plenty here, but this film is through the eyes of a teacher. Matthew Broderick stars as the very type of man that his Ferris Bueller would despise; a strict teacher who ends up getting involved in the annual high school elections. Opposite Broderick is Reese Witherspoon, who plays against type as an unlikable and power-hungry teen who’s determined to win the titular election.
Election starts out as fairly standard, above-average teen movie fare, but as it progresses it becomes more darkly funny, and starts playing completely against high school movie conventions. A wicked modern satire.
8. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
One of David Lynch’s least popular and most disturbing films, as well as one of his most indulgent. While Fire Walk with Me is not one of the director’s finest, there’s a lot to admire here, and one of the most interesting elements of it all is that a lot of it takes place at Laura Palmer’s high school.
The Twist: You could hardly call this bizarre and enigmatic movie a high school film, but the scenes that do take place there are distinct and are some of the best aspects of the film. This is a movie about the last seven days of the main character, after the sexual abuse of her father. This makes for a very dark and unsettling film with Lynch’s trademark surrealism on full display.
7. Carrie (1976)
Brian De Palma’s 1976 iconic adaptation of Stephan King’s Carrie is an unusually humane horror film that quite well captures the teen experience. Granted, this is done so through a wild plot that includes telekinesis, religious fanaticism and a pig-blood soaked finale, but all the angst and emotion in Carrie is surprisingly honest and genuine.
The Twist: While it’s not uncommon for horror films to be set in the world of high school, Carrie is one of the only that is actually about high school. Classics like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street starred teen characters and had scenes set in high school, but Carrie stands out because the vast majority of the film (including the famous prom scene) takes place within the school, and almost all of the characters either go or work there.
It goes without saying that most high school flicks don’t end with a spectacular single-handed genocide of teenagers, and that’s enough to earn Carrie a spot on this list.
6. Rushmore (1998)
Anyone who has ever had an attractive teacher in high school can relate to Rushmore, and the main character, Max Fisher, is no doubt a hero to any teenager who has checked this masterpiece out. Wes Anderson’s second film is still one of his very best, and thanks to brilliant turns from Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, Rushmore ranks among not only the best unconventional high school films, but one of the best of the genre, period.
The Twist: Nearly all high school movies feature a central romance, and of course Rushmore does too. However, in this film, it’s between a student and a teacher. Max Fisher’s infatuation with a science teacher leads to betrayal, expulsion, and general comedic and dramatic gold.
A very uncommon teen film in the way that it treats it characters, and also for Anderson’s signature aesthetic and style; it’s uncommon to see films of this genre with such personality.