5. Monsters University (2013)
Revenge of the Nerds. Animal House. Old School. These flicks define the college movie sub-genre, which seems to be the raunchier older brother of the high school movie genre. Pixar Animation Studio’s latest effort, Monsters University, is the prequel to the studio’s classic Monsters, Inc.; this is the story of how the main characters of that film, Mike and Sully, met in college and became best friends.
The Twist: They’re all monsters! Monsters University has the visual creativity and zaniness that you would expect from a Pixar film, and this time it’s applied to a college-movie background. This is a hilarious and fun animated college film, and though it never quite breaks free from the college-movie clichés that it parodies, it’s still a welcome and clever edition to the Pixar canon.
4. Ghost World (2001)
Ghost World is a post-high school story that is a rare teen comedy neither set in high school nor college. As it turns out though, this film offers up a rich setting with a real emotional core and interesting, genuine characters. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch are perfectly cast opposite one another, and Steve Buscemi is a revelation in one of his best and most memorable roles.
The Twist: There’s no real twist per-say, but it’s just this film’s sense of humor and deeply honest characterization that makes it unique. The story takes you unexpected places, and as a whole the film is both hilarious and melancholy. Based on a comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is an unexpected and endlessly watchable movie that truly stands out in the crowded genre.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
Like Carrie, Donnie Darko tells a surreal and science-fiction-y tale that also captures the high school experience rather well. While on a first viewing it may seem confusing and creepy, on a further examination Donnie Darko is very sad and deeply moving.
The Twist: Jake Gyllenhaal plays a disturbed and troubled teenager who sees visions of a giant bunny-rabbit named Frank, who foretells the end of the world. Not only does the film feature a fascinating bunny rabbit, but also time travel, tangent universes and a lot of other complicated stuff. The most fascinating aspect of Donnie Darko though, is how beautifully it all works.
2. Elephant (2003)
Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or-winning tale of a Columbine-esque high school shooting is not only unconventional as a high school movie, but as a movie in general. It’s very minimalist and sparse, and does not have a main character, a romance, or any other cliché you would expect from a film of this genre.
The Twist: Elephant is a dark and disturbing film. It is in no way a comedy, and the last act is horrifically compelling. It could have worked as a silent film, and also takes on the camera style of a documentary – slowly following the students down the halls and through the school, and quietly observing the events of the day from a perspective that takes no sides and shows no judgment.
This movie would not have been filmed any differently if the shooting didn’t happen in the third act. The camera just watches, and it is a brilliant, terrifying study.
1. Heathers (1989)
The ultimate “anti-high school movie” movie. Heathers is a towering middle finger to all of the genre clichés and expected conventions, and the result is a wild, hilarious and brilliantly black teenage comedy.
The Twist: Murder, suicide becoming popular trend, bloodthirsty acts of vengeance. All hilariously portrayed. One of the greatest black comedies of all time, Heathers is an unapologetic and fearless comedy that is truly funny and bitingly satirical.
The characters are interesting, the writing and direction is inspired, and the ultimately the film truly does have something meaningful to say. This is a colorful, unpredictable and unforgettable highschool movie that makes almost all others look tame and bland in comparison.
Bio: Gavin Miller is a teenage cinephile who keeps up his blog cinefreakdude.tumblr.com as well as a YouTube channel – both dedicated to film criticism and discussion. He is an ardent Blu-ray collector as well as the director of two short films – “A Chupacabra Afternoon” and “Coffea arabica” – the latter of which is in competition at the Johnson County Community College Film Fest. this year. Gavin models his lifestyle after The Dude from The Big Lebowski.