Yes, I know, you don't wanna. Butchya hafta!
Time to go back to school!
But it doesn't have to be all bad.
You might just find that one teacher who inspires you to be the best that you can be. Or maybe the girl who's perfect for you. Or you might find out that you're a wizard!
Ok. Maybe not. But here's my short list of the best Back To School Movies.
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Written by Cameron Crowe
Based on a book by Cameron Crowe
In the late 70s, Cameron Crowe thought that grown-ups had lost touch with their inner teenager. He decided to go back to school to find out just how far the two generations had grown apart. From that experience came a book that would be nearly forgotten, but a movie that, even after its 1982 release, is still considered one of the best and most accurate portrayals of teen life in America. It follows a group of teenagers through a full year of classes, but they never seem to really learn anything from those classes. What they really learn about is love, life, sex, responsibility and, most of all, pain.
It's always billed as a comedy (the DVD cover at least at one time said, "Hey bud, let's party!"), but it really isn't. Sure, there are funny moments, mostly provided by Sean Penn's stoner Spicoli, but it also has a lot of pretty depressing and realistic moments. (See: Stacy's loss of virginity and eventual painful realization.)
Not only is it a great film that should probably be seen by anyone going into high school, but it's the starting point of a LOT of great careers: Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, Nicholas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards…it's amazing that all of these people came together completely accidentally. And the adults are no slouches, either: Vincent Schiavelli and Ray Walston nearly steal the whole movie.
Amy Heckerling would later direct Clueless, a movie that just barely didn't make the cut for this list.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S/SORCERER'S STONE (2001)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Steve Kloves
Based on a book by JK Rowling
What could be worse than going to a brand new school? How about finding out that the entire school know who you are because of something that you have no memory of? How about being called "The Chosen One" or "The Boy Who Lived"? How about being about 10 years behind in your studies because you never knew about the powers that you apparently have?
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has all of these problems and more on his first of school at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizarding, the magical world that the Harry Potter books and films takes place in.
The first film of the series wasn't the best, mainly because of its rather slavish devotion to the source material. (It's a toss-up for me whether the third (Prisoner of Azkaban) or seventh (both parts of Deathly Hallows) is the best.) But it does show the first day of school in a way that hardly any other movie has managed to show. Everyone has felt like an outcast that everyone is staring at, especially if you're going to a new school. Harry is stuck with that feeling for his entire seven years at Hogwart's.
Luckily for him, he manages to find the best friends a guy could have on his first day. Harry, Hermione and Ron show all of the highs and lows of friendship through the years. Their trip on the Hogwart's Express on that first day is full of promise, hope and innocence, starting them on a journey that will throw a lot of hurdles in their way. Their relationship shows that love and friendship really are the answers: a lesson that everyone needs on that first day of class.
DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Tom Schulman
People often forget that Robin Williams is a great actor, so strong is his association with schlock like Bicentennial Man, August Rush and Patch Adams.
That's sad, because in the late 80s he was on a roll, culminating in this movie about a teacher at an exclusive Northeastern high school and the students that he inspires to be greater than they think they are. "Seize the day," is the mantra of the film and it became the mantra for everyone who saw the film.
John Keating (Williams) is an English teacher who doesn't want to teach the curriculum that the school board of the 50s offers to him.
On the first day of class, he tells his students to tear pages out of their books, something that is specifically banned by the school. But, really, what good is an introduction to a compilation of literature? He also tells them about a group called the Dead Poets Society, a literary club that Keating once belonged to at the school. Each student (including Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles in early roles) is touched by his non-conformist ways and they each find a way to change their lives…not always for the best, unfortunately.
The point of the film, of course, is to let your individuality fly and do what makes you happy, no matter what the "authorities" say. It manages to never be too cloying or silly while somehow retaining its inspirational message.
Much of that is due to Peter Weir's sensitive direction, but it also helps that Williams was game to break out of his "wacky comedian" role more than he had in quite a while.
SKY HIGH (2005)
Directed by Mike Mitchell
Written by Paul Hernandez/Robert Schooley/Mark McCorkle
What could be worse than going to a brand new school?
How about going to a school where everyone has super powers…except you?
Oh, Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) SHOULD have super powers to spare. After all, his dad is Steve Stronghold (Kurt Russell), on of the strongest super heroes you'll ever hear about. Will, though, is just a normal dude at a not so normal school. He does, however, make some new friends that help him get through the day to day drudgery of not having super powers. And then there's Gwen Grayson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She's Will's dream girl and the inspiration for everything he does.
When Will's parents are kidnapped, Will has to spring into action. But how can he doe that when he can't find his powers?
Much like Harry Potter, Will is a bit of a stranger in a strange land. Unlike Harry, he grew up in this world, so he knows how to work it. He just can't do it like the rest of the students can.
Sky High is a really fun family Disney flick that rises above what you would think it would be. Yeah, it's super silly, but that's part of the fun. Another part is the cast. Not only are there a lot of really talented newcomers, but just about all of the adults are played by an amazing array of cult figures: Ressell, Kelly Preston, Lynda Carter, Cloris Leachman, Patrick Warburton, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald (who have far too few scenes together). Of course, it doesn't hurt that Bruce Campbell plays the coach.
The real appeal of the movie outside of the cast, though, is the pervading feeling of an 80s high school movie. All of the tropes and story lines are here…as is the music. All of the songs used throughout the film are covers of 80s songs by current bands, and it's kinda awesome.
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Nicholas Ray/Stewart Stem/Irving Shulman
The cult of James Dean has almost forgotten that he was an amazingly talented actor. His three films show a range of talent that, despite the roles being fairly similar, tells us that he would have been a force to be reckoned with if he had had even five more years to hone his skills.
Rebel Without a Cause was his second film and the first to be released just after his death. (Only East Of Eden was released in his short lifetime.)
James plays Jim Stark, a young man just starting the school year as an outcast.
His dad (Jim Backus) is a weak man ruled by his wife (Ann Doran). At school, Jim meets up with gang members who seem to want him dead (including a very young Dennis Hopper, who would later play son of Jame's rival in Giant) and becomes even more of an outcast. That doesn't matter to Judy (Natalie Wood) or Plato (Sal Mineo), two classmates who eventually form a sort of family with Jim when they run away from home together and start to live out of an abandoned house nearby.
Jim Stark has become an icon of "cool" for just about any teenager who watches this movie.
What Jim really is is a young man who doesn't know his place in the world, so he tries to make his own place. He's an individual in a world of automatons. Yes, the movie is a bit of a stereotype these days, but in 1955 Hollywood had never really taken teenagers seriously. Nicholas Ray knew not only that there was a market here, but there was a real story, too.
Teenagers were looking for their story on the screen.
Until Rebel Without a Cause, it hadn't really happened.
If you do not own any of these movies then you could always check them out through a rental service such as Netflix or if you are in the UK then LOVEFiLM. You can watch films online or rent the DVD's for the movies, just join one of their trials to get them for free.