25 best school movies ever
With Apple busily reinventing education today, here's our look at the best school films of all time. Textbooks at the ready
School’s out, our 25 best school movies are in. Pay attention back there!
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
For the third entry in the Potter franchise, director Alfonso Cuarón conjured up a darker, grittier tone, with Harry Potter facing off against the genuinely eerie soul-sucking Dementors.
Harry, Hermione and Ron were less wide-eyed than in the first two films (and why would wizard children be amazed by magic, anyway?), behaving – and dressing – more like ordinary schoolkids.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Robin Williams plays John Keating, an English Teacher at a boys’ school whose unorthodox methods include ditching the classroom to seize the day and jumping on top of desks to see the world from a different point of view.
Things go pear-shaped however when the boys get in trouble for resurrecting a secret poetry club. Still, all we ever did was copy off the whiteboard – so fair play to you, Mr Williams.
Entre les murs (The Class) (2008)
An idealistic teacher (François Bégaudeau) tries to motivate a class of pupils in a tough inner-city school – it’s a cliche played out in dozens of inspirational Hollywood pics.
In director Laurent Cantet’s hands, the stereotype’s inverted, as teacher François struggles to find common ground with his pupils – despite, or perhaps because of, his informal, friendly approach.
This blackly comic Gen X staple stars Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as J.D. and Veronica, a pair of high school students who undermine the ruling clique of “Heathers” – by killing them off and faking their suicides.
Soon, suicide becomes a trend at the school, with the unpopular kids attempting to top themselves in a bid to join the popular clique. Darkly hilarious.
Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Glenn Ford attempts to bring order to a classroom full of juvenile delinquents. The story of the sensitive teacher winning over the class of hoodlums had yet to become a hoary old cliché when Blackboard Jungle was made – and it carefully couches its scenes of kids running wild in terms of a social problem (though that didn’t stop Teddy Boys rioting when the film was shown in the UK).
It’s chiefly known now as the first major film to use rock n’ roll music on its soundtrack, helping to catapult the genre to prominence.
Mathew Broderick stars in this novel adaptation which centres around a high school election as a teacher who tries to sabotage a vindictive student’s campaign.
It’s easy enough to hate Reese Witherspoon’s character and you’ll want her to lose as much as Broderick does – especially after she gets his buddy fired for having an affair. Not your ordinary house of learning then.
Receiving an X certification upon its release due to its disturbing portrayal of public school brutality in the 60s, this oddly titled film follows the struggle of three non-conforming students who struggle against the oppression of a bunch of nasty prefects called the whips.
Surreal (flicking between black-and-white and colour sequences due to time constraints on location) and often violent, it’s regarded as one of the best British-made films of all time.
The Children’s Hour (1961)
Released in the UK as ‘The Loudest Whisper,’ this flick sees Audrey Hepburn open a private girls’ school, only to be accused of being in a lesbian relationship with a fellow teacher.
Sounds steamy, but it’s all just a lie cooked up by a kniving student to ruin her teachers’ reputation. More than enough reason for a detention, if you ask us.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club follows five typical student stereotypes stuck in a Saturday detention at their school who are charged with writing an essay about who they think they are. After lots of arguing and a few scuffles, they realise they’re a lot more alike than they think. An 80s classic from writer-director John Hughes – the man who gave us Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty In Pink.
Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) (1959)
François Truffaut went from film critic to iconic director with his debut feature, a semi-autobiographical account of a troubled youngster who runs wild and is sent to a reform school.
Truffaut pioneered many editing techniques and narrative tricks – like the infamous, ambiguous freeze-frame that closes the film – marking the beginning of the French New Wave cinema movement.
Fame began life as an all-singing, all-dancing movie about a bunch of students at a New York performing arts school. It went on to become a cultural phenomenon, instigating the biggest spandex, leggings and leg warmers craze the world had ever seen.
Its success has since spawned a TV series, spin-off, musical, reality show and a 2009 remake. And here’s a fun fact: the screenplay was originally titled Hot Lunch, until Director Alan Parker realised there was a pornographic film with the same title.
Carrie is the mother of all teen horror movies and remains one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King novel.
Timid social outcast Carrie is tormeneted by the cool kids – not surprisingly, given that her mum’s the local loon and she doesn’t wear cool clothes. But the bullies are given an object lesson in morality after they pull a cruel stunt at the prom – learning that Carrie is not the kind of chick you want to mess with, in an infamous blood-drenched scene.
The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954)
Homebrew gin and sports betting syndicates – it’s just another day in the classroom at St Trinian’s School for Young Ladies. But there’s a problem: the school is flat broke, can’t afford to pay the teachers and is staring closure in the face. What to do? Bet the remains of the coffers on a horse and hope for the best.
Battle Royale (2000)
42 students, three days, one deserted island. A bunch of ninth-graders have been ordered to kill each other by an authoritarian Japanese government under the Battle Royale Act, in a bid to maintain order.
It gets better… or worse. Electronic collars mean attempts to escape or refusing to take part will result in head exploding death and if more than one person is alive when the egg timer runs out, class is dismissed – with extreme prejudice. All the cliques and tensions of high school are thrown into sharp focus by the raised stakes in this very different school film.
School of Rock (2003)
What do you get when you mix a bunch of smartass prep school kids with an unemployed, overweight wannabe rocker who can’t pay the rent and appears to be high 90 per cent of the time?
A ker-azy musical comedy in which Jack Black poses as a substitute teacher as he tries to turn his class into a rock band, that’s what. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Jack Black film without the usual showcase of his musical “talents.”
Rian Johnson rewrote the book on the noir genre with Brick, a gritty high school thriller that replaced the traditional whisky-drinking detective with a student called Brendan. It scooped plenty of well-earned awards on the festival circuit – not bad for a film shot in 20 days on a budget of half a million dollars.
Gregory’s Girl (1981)
Being a teenager’s bad enough without being replaced on the football team by a girl. And living in Scotland. Despite the odds, Gregory Underwood manages to make the most of the situation. Oh, and someone in a penguin costume keeps appearing, for which no explanation is forthcoming.
Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939)
Latin class, 1870. Whoa, there… this doesn’t sound like much fun. But Goodbye, Mr Chips is as good a story as you’ll see told on film. It has humour, tragedy and lashings of nostalgic warmth – so much so you’ll forget it’s been over 70 years since Robert Donat picked up a gong for Best Actor for the titular role. It was remade in 1969 with Peter O’Toole.
The History Boys (2006)
A brilliant screen adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play, The History Boys follows a group of charisamatic grammar school sixth formers as they’re prepped for their Oxbridge entrance exams. It’s full of brilliant words (gobbit), brilliant lines (“How do I define history? It’s just one f***ing thing after another”) and the warm throb of a classroom full of thinking young minds. History will remember Nicholas Hytner’s film.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Napoleon Dynamite is a man of many talents – dancer extraordinaire, friend to llamas and all-round poster boy for the 80s. In case you missed the t-shirts that are still knocking about eight years later, his mate Pedro runs for class president – he gets our vote – and there’s also the usual girl trouble and dysfunctional family obligatory in any self-respecting indie teen comedy.
To Sir, With Love (1967)
One of the first films in the genre of ‘inspirational teacher turns bad kids good’, To Sir, With Love brushes over some of the less appealing aspects of the Swinging Sixties but makes plenty of time for naughty students from rough East End homes. Sidney Poitier is the talented teach who takes the class to the museum and (surprise, surprise) treats them as adults.
You can’t get much more extracurricular than Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). Not content with heading up every wacky activity at his private school and directing the school play, he also manages to get tangled up in a love triangle involving primary school teacher Miss Cross and industrialist Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Schwartzman gives good tantrums and Bill Murray plays Bill Murray very well.
Gus Van Sant takes the Columbine High School massacre as the inspiration for Elephant, which casts pretty unknown actors to play various angst-ridden teens. Things take a turn for the dark when some of them get hold of rifles and make sure not to leave any of the cliques – or staff – out of the ensuing murder spree.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
Maggie Smith shines as the headstrong teacher Miss Jean Brodie who puts together a small club of 12 year old protégés in 1930s Scotland. It all turns sour when she gets past her ‘prime’ though, as her pupils start getting into mischief that goes against her guidance. Then again, she is having two affairs with co-workers – so she’s hardly one to talk.
Mean Girls (2004)
Remember when Lindsay Lohan was best-known for being an up-and-coming actress instead of a burned-out Hollywood casualty? This was one of the films that showed off her early promise – a biting satire of high school cliques which sees new girl Cady (Lohan) ingratiating herself with the cool kids as part of a long-term revenge plot.
The plot thickens as Cady destroys the Queen Bee starting with her love life, to her figure to exposing the “Burn Book” – a top secret notebook filled with vicious rumours, secrets, and gossip about all the other girls (and teachers) in their class. Ouch.