It’s that time of year again. Many kids across the country are already back in the classroom — while others are preparing for the official end of their summer vacation.
For many parents, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” The kids’ return to school means no more sand buckets and shovels, no more wet bathing suits and towels left on floors, no more late nights and messy houses. Instead, it’s backpacks, notebooks, sharpened pencils, and crayons galore. Nothing says “I love you” to your student more than reams of notebook paper and piles of marble composition notebooks.
Whether you’re celebrating the joys that come with returning to the school schedule or you’re dreading the end of summer, we’ve got some movies to help out with that “back to school” spirit.
1.) “The Breakfast Club” (1985). Probably the most popular of all school-set movies is the John Hughes classic. It’s everything that made the ’80s such a popular decade — the wacky fashion, goofy hairstyles, definitive pop music.
Five high school students from various walks of life enter detention on a Saturday. Each one is from a different clique — there’s the popular athlete, the weird girl, the rich girl, the geek, and the rebel. They’re all there until 3 p.m. They are not allowed to talk, sleep or move from their desk — they’re assigned a 1,000-word essay on “Who you think you are.”
During the day of detention, they argue, debate and finally get to know one another. Friendships form that never would’ve been made outside that room. It’s a film that still makes the rounds at various theaters across the country, as its themes of youth and cliques are as relevant today as they were back then.
Fun fact: In 2016, the Library of Congress preserved “The Breakfast Club” in the United States National Film Registry.
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2.) “Clueless” (1995). If you’re looking for an upbeat high school comedy, “Clueless” is the right pick. Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone, pictured above in character, with Stacey Dash) is a pretty, rich, popular and totally “clueless” almost 16-year-old who loves playing matchmaker with her best friend, Dionne (Dash).
With the success of making a perfect match between two high school teachers, Cher and Dionne decide to spread their “goodness” by taking in an unpopular transfer student named Tai, giving her a makeover, and finding her a boyfriend. Cher comes to understand the meaning of caring for others, friendships, and living beyond her shallow world.
You may not know: Stacey Dash is now an outspoken conservative who has appeared on Fox News and written the memoir, “There Goes My Social Life: From Clueless to Conservative.” She not only appeared in the original film as the character Dionne, but reprised the role for a sequel TV series that ran for 62 episodes from 1996 to 1999.
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3.) “Dead Poets Society” (1989). For those looking for a little more substance about the school years, look no further than this film.
Starring the late Academy Award winner Robin Williams, this is one of the most inspiring films of all time. Williams stars as John Keating, an eccentric English teacher at a prestigious prep school in New England. Keating brings a passion to the otherwise lackluster educational atmosphere, challenging his students to “Carpe Diem!” — seize the day — and his unconventional approach to teaching not only inspires his students to learn, but to revive a secret society that Keating was once part of: the Dead Poets Society. The movie shows the bonds of lasting friendships, the sometimes troubled relationship between parent and child, and the inspiration and motivation a teacher can bring to students.
Note: Actor Ethan Hawke dropped out of college to star in this film. You can see him tell the story below.
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4.) “Election” (1999). Tracy Flick (played by Reese Witherspoon) is an overachiever. She’s an obsessed “perfect” student who is determined to win class president, but her civics teacher, Jim McAllister (played by Matthew Broderick), has other plans.
In an attempt to take out his angst on Flick and try to bring a little democracy to the school, McAllister persuades a popular but daft football player to also run for student-body president. When Flick goes up against McAllister and his surrogate, it’s a battle of the minds that leads to unforgettable hilarity and chaos.
While it’s set in high school, there are many uncomfortable parallels drawn between the deceptive election in this film and our own actual political elections.
Cool detail: “Election” didn’t make much of a splash at the box office when initially released, but it was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award. The script was written by director Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor and based on a novel by Tom Perrotta.
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5.) “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). This film always brings a smile.
Determined to skip one more day of school before he graduates from high school, Bueller (played by Matthew Broderick, pictured above on the left in character), his best friend, and his girlfriend visit the city of Chicago and take in all it has to offer in a prized Ferrari they most definitely are not supposed to be driving. Bueller, meanwhile, is targeted by a paranoid principal named Rooney, a man determined to take down the student, who has mastered the art of missing school.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is the perfect film for those who feel the blues as they move from the freedom of summer to the routine of the school year. The story is also a reminder to cherish the small things, appreciate friends, and make the most of every day.
Interesting: A TV series was developed after the movie’s success, though it was swiftly canceled — only 13 episodes were produced. Broderick did not reprise his role for 1990’s “Ferris Bueller,” but he did reveal that he and writer-director John Hughes kept in touch after the original film was released and discussed a sequel. “We thought about a sequel to ‘Ferris Bueller,’ where he’d be in college or at his first job, and the same kind of things would happen again. But neither of us found a very exciting hook to that. The movie is about a singular time in your life,” the actor told Vanity Fair in 2010.
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6.) “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004). Here’s one of the funniest comedies ever made on a shoestring budget.
Set in rural Idaho, it’s a whacky off-the-wall story of Napoleon Dynamite, an awkward 16-year-old played by Jon Heder, and his bizarre family, which includes his 32-year-old brother, an older flirtatious uncle trying to relive his youth as former high school football player, and a llama-loving, bike-riding grandmother.
The movie focuses on Napoleon and his best friends, Pedro and Deb, and their quest to win student-body president over the very popular and very stuck-up Summer Wheatley. Napoleon does anything to help his friend Pedro win the election. It’s a film that perfectly captures the awkwardness of the teenage years with plenty of oddball laughs, to boot.
P.S.: An animated television series was developed as a sequel. It only lasted six episodes in 2012, but most of the cast returned to reprise their original roles.
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7.) “Stand and Deliver” (1988). Based on a true story, this film is about a high school math teacher named Jamie Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos) at James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. The students are mostly Hispanic, have behavioral issues, and are academically far below grade level.
Escalante motivates his students to surpass academic expectations — and believes his class has the ability to take AP Calculus by senior year if they take on summer classes. The students face adversity at every turn, including from the faculty. It’s an inspirational film that shows the power a teacher can wield even among students who may seem “hopeless” or who have been written off.
Insider tip: In 2011, the Library of Congress preserved “Stand and Deliver” in the United States National Film Registry.
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(photo credit, homepage image: Die4kids, Wikimedia)