High school is about learning (or at least it’s supposed to be) and so much more. It is where we start to figure out who we are, what we like, how to socialize and what interests we have that will possibly shape our entire lives.
There are friendships, courtships and hardships.
There is homecoming, cheering on your school sports teams, getting your driver’s license and prom.
High school can also be a scary and intimidating place for some who don’t fit in or who are bullied by others. High school is a much scarier place for today’s teens than it was for previous generations.
They didn’t have to worry about weapon screenings, school shootings or someone posting a photo they took of me in math class on Instagram.
All teenagers (and most adults) should have to take some sort of social media class to help them learn how to conduct themselves online, cope with what others post and share and what to share about themselves. There is something to be said for restraint. You don’t need to document every random thought that goes through your head or post 20 “selfies” per day.
Most of today’s teens are an open book in that regard.
As with real high school life, high school on film has given us many memorable students, teachers and schools for us to remember and revisit often.
One theme you will notice is a lot of these films in particular were both written and directed by the same person. Those films tend to be more genuine as the director does not have to “interpret” the vision of the writer.
(Movies in alphabetical order)
1. American Graffiti
Four years before he introduced us to Luke, Leia and Han, director George Lucas gave us Curt, Steve and Laurie (Richard Dreyfuss, “Ronny” Howard and Cindy Williams) in this ‘70s classic story of a group of teenagers and their last night out cruising their 1962 California burb streets before heading off to school. The relationships and multiple stories are what is great here. How the characters interact and mix funny moments with more serious ones.
The music in the film is a character in itself. The soundtrack features many, many classics. Also cool to see a young Harrison Ford before anyone knew who he was with his trademark smirk.
2. American Pie
Apple pies are supposed to be for eating, right? This ‘90s comedy was the first in a long line of “American Pie” films. This first tale chronicles four teenage boys who make a pact with each other to lose their virginity before the end of the school year. The film has a lot of laughs of the gross-out variety, but does have a lot of genuinely funny scenes.
This movie launched the film careers of many of its young stars including Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth and Seann William Scott. You can always rely on “Jim’s Dad” (Eugene Levy) to barge in at just the wrong moment. The film gave us such popular phrases as “Stifler’s mom”, “This one time…at band camp” and “MILF”.
3. Back to the Future
If it wasn’t for Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), his mom and dad would have met after her dad hit him with the car. She nursed him back to health and then took her to the “Enchantment under the Sea” dance.
Marty himself had his own high school problems getting to class on time and drawing the attention of Mr. Strickland (James Tolkan). Once he messes things up for his parents, he has to be creative on getting his dad to get up the courage to ask his mom to the dance. I think you know the rest of the story.
4. Blue is the Warmest Color
Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) is your average teenage French girl trying to figure out how she fits into the world when she meets Emma (Lea Seydoux of the latest James Bond film “Spectre”). The two form a quick friendship, then courtship unable to control their desires for each other.
In school, Adele is teased and bullied by her classmates who can’t accept Adele’s love for another girl. Adele and Emma’s relationship grows stronger and stronger; however, will it endure? This emotional, sensual film was the Palme d’Or winner at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
5. Boyz N the Hood
This impressive first film from director John Singleton (who was also the youngest person and first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award) tells the tale of three youths in contemporary Los Angeles and their families, relationships, gang affiliations and the futures of their lives. The film was the first time we were introduced to many of the actors including Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Morris Chestnut. There is also an impressive performance by Laurence Fishburne.
The film was praised for its realistic portrayal of these types of characters and way of life that had not been seen much in film previously. Although not the central focus, Chestnut’s character is a running back for his high school at one point in the film. The film captured the mood in L.A. at the time made clear by the fact the L.A. riots broke out less than a year after the film was made in 1992.
6. The Breakfast Club
Director John Hughes had made a career in the 1980s of introducing us to teenage characters on film and showing us their friends, relationships and how they deal with life. He has more movies on this list than any other director.
In this case, we got to meet an eclectic group of five teens as they spend time in high school detention monitored by Principal Vernon and asked to write an about themselves. Although reluctant to express feelings to each other due to being in different “cliques”, eventually they find out they have more in common with each other than they thought and some even become friends.
Originally, there was an idea to revisit these characters on film every ten years (similar to the “Before Sunrise” formula); however this did not happen partially due to a falling out between Hughes and actors Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald. It’s too bad. It would have been fun to see these characters later in life and where they ended up.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek in her fantastic Academy Award-nominated role) has a lot going against her: a very religious over-bearing mother (Piper Laurie), an extremely shy personality, the ridicule of her high school classmates and a terrible secret. In the supernatural world of writer Stephen King and director Brian De Palma, she deals with these problems slowly building to the ultimate, punishing climax when Carrie is humiliated at her high school prom.
This was the first time a King novel had been turned into a feature film and he was very happy with the result. The film was remade in a 2002 TV version and in 2013 starring Chloe Grace Moretz, who was just announced as playing Ariel in the 2017 live-action Disney adaptation of “The Little Mermaid”.
“Clueless” really put star Alicia Silverstone on the Hollywood radar (unless you count “The Crush”). Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on who you ask), she never really had a successful role after playing Cher, a high school diva who has to deal with being popular, her social life and boys. No one really forgave her for playing “Batgirl”, although “Batman & Robin” would have been horrible either way.
Writer and director Amy Heckerling produces a sharp, witty script (based on the characters of Jane Austen’s “Emma”) which is what makes this film work. Style and fashion from the 1990s were displayed proudly in the film for sure. A funny, early film role for Paul Rudd adds more delight to the cast.