Whether you loved or hated school, there’s no doubt that you spent a fair amount of your life in whichever country you grew up in’s education system. And with school days making up some of the most formative years of one’s life, there’s no doubt that movies that explore them can be fun, touching, scary, hilarious or all of the above. I have chosen my top ten school movies with the caveat that the film cannot just feature school aged characters or be partially set in a school but must have the school or education as a central feature. (Also I realise I am cheating with Harry Potter but you can’t really separate them out).
The Faculty (1998)
Starring: Josh Harnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster
The School: Herington High School
The premise: A group of students must band together when their teachers are possessed by aliens
What did we learn?: Drugs could save your life
“Delilah: You’re not good at studying Stan, you’re good at football. You should stick to what you’re good at.
Stan: Yeah, I’ve always been good at football, and basketball, and every other sport I’ve tried. I think maybe it’s time I should try something I’m not so good at, something different.
Delilah: And what am I supposed to do while you’re on a yellow book quest for a brain?
Delilah: The accepted social order is that head cheerleaders date star quarterbacks, not academic wannabees.
Stan: Don’t be so superficial…
Delilah: Superficial… four syllables, that’s really good Stan, you’re on your way. Let me know how the cure for cancer goes.
Stan: I was hoping you’d be with me on this…”
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Starring: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke
The school: Welton Academy
The premise: An unorthodox English teacher inspires his students though his love of poetry
What did we learn: Seize the day!
“John Keating: O Captain, my Captain. Who knows where that comes from? Anybody? Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, O Captain my Captain.“
Harry Potter Series (2001 – 2011)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
The School: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
The premise: An orphan boy who believed he was completely ordinary discovers his destiny when he is whisked away to attend a magical school.
What did we learn: Choose your friends wisely, be brave and no power is greater than love
“Dumbledore: Hogwarts, let’s entertain our friends in the best way we can, all stand!
[the entire student body stands up as one]
Dumbledore: Maestro, if you will!
[Professor Flitwick and Dumbledore both begin conducting the students as they sing the school song]
Hogwarts student body: ‘Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy warty Hogwarts, teach us something please. Whether we be old and bald or young with scabby knees. Our heads could do with filling with some interesting stuff, for now they’re bare and full or air, dead flies and bits of fluff!’”
Half Nelson (2006)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Shareeka Epps
The school: Unnamed inner city Brooklyn high school
The premise: A teacher with a drug problem befriends a student who discovers his secret
What did we learn: You have no idea what your teachers are up to on the weekend
“Dan: [after watching Mario Savio’s speech about The Machine] What is this machine that he’s walking about? It’s keeping us down, what is it?
Jamal: Like, robots and stuff, right?
Dan: Umm… it could be robots. It could be robots, but let’s say it’s a metaphor. He’s saying this machine is keeping you down. Now, what is that? What keeps us from being free? Ms. Drey?
Dan: Absolutely. Absolutely, prisons. OK? Prisons are definitely a part of it. What else?
Dan: White is definitely a part of it. The Man.
Student: The school.
Dan: The school, exactly. The whole-the whole education system is part of the machine. What else?
Student: Aren’t you the machine then?
Dan: Oh, no, you didn’t. What’d you say?
Student: Aren’t you the machine?
Dan: You’re saying I’m the machine?
Student: Yeah, you’re white. You’re part of the school.
Dan: Oh, yeah, I guess you’ve got a point. All right, so I’m part of the machine. But if I’m part of it, then so are you. You are, too. We all are. And this is the thing, remember? Everything is made with opposing force. We may be opposed to the machine, but we’re still very much a part of it, right? I work for the government, the school, but I’m also very much opposed to a lot of its policies. You guys hate coming to school, right? Holler back if you heard me! You hate it, but you come anyway. Sometimes. Exactly.”
Starring: Adrien Brody, Christina Hendricks, Marcia Gay Harden
The School: Unnamed high school
The premise: A substitute avoids his emotions by drifting from one school to the next until he starts to feel a connection with the students and faculty at his latest assignment
What did we learn: The American school system be fucked up
“Henry Barthes: Y’know it’s funny, I spend a lot of time trying to not have to deal… to not really commit. I’m a substitute teacher, there’s no real responsibility to teach. Your responsibility is to maintain order, make sure nobody kills anybody in your classroom, and then they get to their next period.“
Dangerous Minds (1995)
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, George Dzundza, Courtney B. Vance
The School: Parkmont High School
The Premise: A former US Marine struggles with her teaching assignment at tough inner city school
What did we learn: Everyone has potential if someone just believes in them
Interesting unrelated fact: I went on my first proper date with a boy to see this
“Mr. Grandey: This wouldn’t happened to have been their reward for reading poetry would it?
Louanne: In my classroom, poetry is its own reward.”
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed
The School: Astoria Elementary School
The premise: A tough police offer goes under cover as a kindergarten teacher and realises he kind of loves it
What did we learn: Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina
“Detective John Kimble: How do I look?
Phoebe O’Hara: Take off the gun.
[Kimble realizes he has strapped on his shoulder holster]
Detective John Kimble: That’s a good idea.
Phoebe O’Hara: Little bastards are gonna eat you alive.
Detective John Kimble: Get some rest and don’t worry. I’ve been working undercover for a long time. They’re six-year-olds. How much trouble can they be?
Phoebe O’Hara: On second thought, take the gun.”
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald
The School: Shermer High School
The premise: Five students who think they have nothing in common get to know each other during a Saturday detention session
What did we learn: Everyone has problems and you can find something in common with just about everyone you meet
“Brian Johnson: [closing narration] Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…
Andrew Clark: …and an athlete…
Allison Reynolds: …and a basket case…
Claire Standish: …a princess…
John Bender: …and a criminal…
Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”
All I Wanna Do (1998)
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Lynn Redgrave, Gaby Hoffmann
The School: Miss Goddard’s Preparatory School for Girls
The Premise: A group of girls band together to sabotage a plan to turn their school co-ed
What did we learn: Do not fuck with the sisterhood
“Tweety: Verena’s gone, St. Ambrose is taking over, and next year I’m going to have to face Todd Winslow every day at breakfast. I WANT TO RETCH AND DIE.
Momo: They’re going to pull down our grades.
Tinka Parker: They’re going to pull down more than that.“
School Ties (1992)
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
The School: St Matthews Prep School
The premise: A promising football player gets a scholarship to an elite prep school but he must cover up the fact that he is Jewish
What did we learn: Cheater’s never prosper
“Mr. Gierasch: Be seated, gentlemen. It appears that someone in this class cheated on yesterday’s history exam. Today is Saturday. Your next class is on Monday. Therefore, we are faced with a rather bleak situation. If the guilty party does not come forward, or is not identified by then, I shall be forced to fail the entire section.
Chris Reese: Isn’t that unfair, sir? Only one of us cheated.
Mr. Gierasch: We have all been dishonored by this person and I will not tolerate it.
David Green: How can you be sure that someone cheated, sir?
Mr. Gierasch: I would prefer to keep the evidence to myself for the time being.
Rip Van Kelt: Can’t you just throw out the old test and give us a new one?
Mr. Gierasch: And pretend that no one cheated? But someone did cheat. Whoever did this has robbed you of your honor. If I ignore it, he will have robbed me of mine as well. I leave it in your hands, gentlemen.”