MoviefiedNYC heads back to school – Top Five Back to School Movies

Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Bells rang across the USA this week signifying the beginning of the school year with much reluctance to thousands of children everywhere. I’m sure, like me, you were routinely told by your parents and other well intentioned adults that our time in school would be the best days of our lives. It’s this particular subject that Hollywood is drawn to time and again with such films as Blackboard Jungle (1955), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Valley Girl (1983), Kids (1995), Cruel Intentions (1999), to name a few. The classic school film, more often than not, is the American high school or college experience where we can all reminisce on the good, the bad, and the ugly times from the most awkward years of our lives. Tonight—when your homework is done—reward yourself with some of MoviefiedNYC’s favorite school flicks. 

—Myrna Duarte

John David West: The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

They were five high school students who had to give up their entire Saturday to sit in detention. Five stereotypes who were, in character Brian Johnson’s words, “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.”

Written and directed by John Hughes, the very 1980s The Breakfast Club stands the test of time, showing us that being a teenager is difficult no matter what generation you belong to.  All characters are equally engaging with personality differences that make for some effective plot-driven conflicts. A nerd, a jock, and a crash ’n’ burn together in the same room—how can you lose? This is the Brat Pack refined and polished to the peak of Hughesian ’80s teenage semi-privileged angst. Look at the cast: Anthony Michael Hall (the “brain”), Emilio Estevez (the “athlete”), Ally Sheedy (the “basket case”), Molly Ringwald (the “princess”), and Judd Nelson (the “criminal”).  Some of them were never better as they were here.
In these days of high school shootings, The Breakfast Club teens and their problems seem pretty tame. Although it’s a very white, suburban, ’80s world they inhabit, they still effectively represent all teen generations, just as confused and anxious today as  we were yesterday in our own hormone-raging years.
Myrna Duarte: Election (1999)
Election (1999)

Election is an exceptional film that though it is set in a high school, has a take on moral corruption, political machination, adultery and seduction that is anything but juvenile. Mathew Broderick in an interesting role reversal from Ferris Bueller plays Mr. McAllister, a responsible, concerned teacher at George Washington Carver High, exhausted by his sexless marriage, and by the predicament of his best friend, fired for sleeping with the formidable, yet under age Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon).  Approaching are elections for student council president, Tracy is by far the front runner, but Mr McAllister, charged with overseeing the proceedings, is terrified by the prospect of working so closely with this budding Lolita. He discreetly sponsors a rival candidate, jock Paul (Chris Klein). Things really get cooking when Paul’s lesbian younger sister joins the race. McAllister’s narration leaves us with a bitter, chauvinist aftertaste even when director and co-writer Alexander Payne assures a certain balance by giving Tracy her say. With Ms. Flick’s pruned diction, prim demeanor and ability to see only her side of every issue, she makes a frighteningly credible up and coming despot. This may not be politically correct, but as a reflection of the malaise slinking through our democracy, the apathy, vote rigging, and character assassination all manifest themselves at Carver High, Election uses the high school experience to show us what we have or might become.

Sinann Fetherston: Never Been Kissed (1999)
Never Been Kissed (1999)
Never Been Kissed may be one of the best High School Movies of all time because it grants the wish that so many adults make: “Let me go back and do it all over”. 
“Josie Grossie” was an all time loser in her high school days with bad hair, oily skin and a shining set of braces. Worst of all she was a hopeless romantic. No matter how many times she was teased and ridiculed by her peers she truly believed she could end up with the boy of her dreams at her high school prom. Sadly, this was not the case. Luckily for her school mates, Josie did not pull a Carrie and kill them all in a fiery death; instead she graduated and became a copy editor at The Chicago Sun Times.
Josie settled herself into a lonely life of quiet work and anti-social living until she eventually gets assigned to an undercover story: go back to high school and reveal the scandalous secrets of today’s teenagers. Of course, as with any good rom-com, things do not go to plan. Josie goes back to high school hoping to do it all over again with the popular kids, cute guys and great parties only to discover that maybe she had it right the first time around.
The thing about Never Been Kissed is that it resembles its protagonist: sensitive, funny, a little naive and hopelessly romantic. It tells every adult that their wish is wasteful because the best thing about high school is that it shaped you into the person you are today and to change the experience would be to change yourself. So with that in mind, I leave you with the film’s core message: “Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.”

Ariadne Ansbro: Old School (2003)

Old School (2003)

So many films delve inside of the experience of students coming into their own.  Dead Poets Society, Goodbye Mr. Chips, To Sir with Love. However, so few of these films follow older students; those attempting to better themselves with continuing education or attempting to pass on their knowledge of life to other students, not as a teacher, but as a peer. One film that truly embodies the older student experience in all of its glory is Old School.  Basically, three friends in their late 30s (Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell) start a fraternity made up of students, their contemporaries, and one really old guy.  This is not a high quality film by any means, but it is simply hilarious. The complete ridiculousness of these three men not wanting to outgrow their college experience induces laughing fits that last for days. It is the perfect way to forget about that Bio Chem paper that is due tomorrow. Not to mention, it gave us one of the best drunk ideas ever, “We’re going streaking!”

Sue Shannon: Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Some Kind of Wonderful (2003)

My favorite film about high school revolves around teen romance, not surprisingly. What is different and awesome about Some Kind of Wonderful is that the protagonist, Keith, picks (SPOILER ALERT) the sidekick, the best friend, the odd girl who has a massive crush on him.  For me, it was a direct rejoinder to Pretty in Pink, in which Andie (Molly Ringwald) rejects the nerd cool Ducky to pick cowardly preppy jerk Blane (really – Blane?).  A year after Pretty in Pink crushed all nerd dreams, Some Kind of Wonderful came out to no acclaim, with Eric Stoltz, who had previously starred as the kid in Mask, playing Keith.  In my teen hormonal judgment, Eric Stoltz was no ugly duckling, but nonetheless, I decided to buy him as a nerd, and I rooted for him to recognize the true love of his best friend Watts, even while he was mooning over the very pretty Lea Thompson.  

What is your back to school favorite? Tweet us @moviefiednyc and let us know.

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