From football games to lunchroom fights to ruthless competition for the title of prom king or queen, high school is filled with enough angst and Hollywood-level theatrics to keep things interesting year after year—and movie after movie. Who doesn't love watching a coming-of-age melodrama filled with actors who are not-so-secretly well above the legal drinking age? Makes me wonder where all the guys with chiseled jawlines and good style were when I was in school, but that's beside the point.
Sure, some high school movies tend to be a little, shall we say, larger than life—I mean, how many high schoolers just happen to find out they’re royalty à la Princess Diaries? But who cares! Watching all of those extremely complicated friendship (and romantic) dynamics play out on the big screen is like a familiar (albeit slightly triggering) hug. From oldies like Sixteen Candles to newer hits Lady Bird, here are the 40 best high school movies to make you feel like a teen again (but only for, like, two hours, don't panic).
Scandal-less student Olive Penderghast sheds her nobody status after making up a story about losing her virginity, which spreads around school faster than the common cold. She uses her new-found cool-girl reputation to help other misfits by pretending to hook up with them. Oh, high school.
Lindsay Lohan plays the previously-homeschooled Cady Heron as she enters the political world of public high school and its complicated social scene for the first time. I'm guessing you don't need me to tell you this, but it's one of the most iconic movies in this genre, and it pretty much launched Rachel McAdams' career.
A timeless John Hughes classic starring both Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. High school sophomore Sam thinks her 16th birthday is gonna be an epic new beginning to her high school life....but then her family completely forgets it's her special day. And her crush Jake Ryan still has no idea she exists!
Another John Hughes classic about five students from different high school groups who are forced together for one day while they serve detention. They start out thinking they have absolutely nothing in common but soon learn there's more to each of them than their stereotyped exterior.
If you don't already know every single lyric to every single song that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John sing in this charming (but at times, pretttttty problematic) movie, you need to stream it right freaking now. Get ready for poodle skirts and big hair galore.
Even if you've seen this cult-favorite rom-com 75 times, the '90s fashion and the lingo will hook you over and over again.
Having Julie Andrews show up and inform you that she's your grandmother and you're actually a princess in line to take over the throne of a small European country sounds like a dream come true—well, for everyone except Mia Thermopolis.
The DUFF is short for the cringe-worthy "Designated Ugly Fat Friend," but don't let that scare you off. The movie is the closest thing the 2010s got to a Mean Girls successor, and Mae Whitman is incredible in the lead role.
If every high school had a singing, dancing, coiffed-beyond-belief Zac Efron to gaze at longingly throughout all of class, attendance would be 100%.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Lara Jean Covey writes letters to all the boys she's ever loved in her life and then stashes the notes away in her room. But when these letters somehow get mysteriously mailed to each of her intended recipients, Lara has to deal with the hot mess that is now her love life. (Psst! This is one of those YA movies that even YA haters can't help but love.)
Spoiled L.A. teen Poppy gets sent to boarding school in England after her dad decides she's gotten too out of control. This movie is super cute and pretty funny, and if nothing else, watch it so you can hear Alex Pettyfer's dreamy British accent.
Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging
Speaking of British movies, Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging captures exactly what it's like to be a teenage girl, down to the ever-changing friendship dynamics, insecurity, and desperate desire for the hot new older kid to notice you. By the way, this one's based on the 1999 book "Angus, Thongs, and Full-Front Snogging."
A little raunchier than your average high school movie, this Judd Apatow comedy will make you laugh out loud no matter how many times you've seen it. Two high school boys (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) want to live it up before they go off to college, which means, in other words, they want to party their butts off and lose their virginities.
10 Things I Hate About You
New kid Cameron can't get a date with hottie Bianca until her anti-social older sister, Kat, has a boyfriend. So what does Cameron do? Pays bad boy Patrick to try to charm Kat, duh. The cast on this one is the very definition of stacked: I'm talking Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
High School Musical
Yes, this is the Disney film that introduced Zac Efron and his luscious locks to the world. Don’t act like you don’t still fantasize about meeting your own Troy Bolton on a New Year's Eve vacation with your family. This film—about a high school full of unrealistically talented students—will forever be a fave.
Drive Me Crazy
Melissa Joan Hart and Adrian Grenier become the unexpected high school “It” couple of the year, as Britney Spears’ greatest hit plays in the background. What more could you want?
Dope got rave reviews for a reason: high school senior Malcolm struggles to find the balance between being a geek, trying to be cool, getting into Harvard, and impressing a girl by going to a party that almost ruins his life. (We’ve all been there.)
John Tucker Must Die
Just four badass girls getting the ultimate revenge on a high school playboy. Watch solely for pleasure or for personal revenge inspo.
Bring It On
This cheerleading classic follows national high school cheer champions the Toros after Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) finds out their winning routines have actually been stolen from other teams. Cue spirit fingers.
Never Been Kissed
Drew Barrymore goes undercover as a high school student only to fall for her new English teacher. It’s got everything: '90s fashion, high school cliques, and, of course, the prom.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Cameron Crowe wrote this movie based on his actual experiences going undercover as a high school student (he was 22 at the time).
A Cinderella Story
She's All That
It doesn't get much more quintessentially '90s teen movie than She's All That, which took all of the high school rom-com tropes (jock guy! Artsy nerdy girl! Makeover scene! Inappropriately betting on fellow human beings! PROM!) into a blender and spit out (retrospectively problematic) gold.
This coming-of-age (and coming-out) movie is worth the tears. Seventeen-year-old Simon comes to terms with his sexuality while dealing with his family, friends, and the anonymous guy he fell in love with online.
The Hate U Give
Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) for prez, please. After witnessing a close childhood friend get shot and killed by a police officer, Starr is forced to come to terms with how racial identity affects her community...and her relationships with the teens at her super white private school.
The Edge of Seventeen
Hailee Steinfeld’s best friend starts dating her older brother (ugh), but don’t worry—Woody Harrelson is there to help her figure it all out.
Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, a slightly unethical high school student—who could be a young Madeline Mackenzie, TBH—running for class president. Oh, and she stages a war with her history teacher, played by Matthew Broderick. Good ol’ high school politics.
The Spectacular Now
Another high school movie about the popular jock going for the "nerdy" girl. (Is this a real thing?) Regardless, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are still cuter than cute. We stan.
Take the Lead
God, 2000s dance movies were SUCH a time. Antonio Banderas teaches "troubled" high school kids how to succeed at ballroom dancing and so, so much more.
Winona Ryder plays a bad-girl-gone-good who leaves her clique of ladies literally all named Heather, and tries to stop her boyfriend from full-on MURDERING people at their high school. It’s hilariously dark, but that’s kind of the point.
Can’t Hardly Wait
A classic story about high school seniors throwing an infamous last-day-of-school banger before going off to college. Think American Pie...but less creepy.
Yet another end-of-high-school-extravaganza film, Booksmart is Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut about two academics who try to make the most of their last night before graduation.
Yes, that movie everyone’s been talking about ever since it came out in 2017. It's Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, and stars not only Saoirse Ronan but also Timothée Chalamat *and* Lucas Hedges. If you haven’t seen Lady Bird yet, honestly IDK what you’ve been doing.
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
In an age before Facebook ruined things, best friends and former high school "losers" Romy and Michele (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) attend their high school reunion armed with bold faced lies like "we invented Post-It Notes."
This 1994 documentary (yes, documentary) followed two teens from predominantly Black neighborhoods in Chicago who dreamed of becoming professional basketball players in the NBA. In pursuit of that dream, the boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, commuted 90-minutes each way to Westchester, Illinois to attend a predominantly white high school with an acclaimed basketball program.
Before there was Friday Night Lights, there was Varsity Blues, the James Van Der Beek football movie best known for Ali Larter's iconic whipped cream bikini.
Tom Holland makes "awkward charm" look like a super powers as Peter Parker and we can all just choose to believe we looked as adorable in our awkward high school moments as he does in pretty much every non-CGI moment of Homecoming.
This under-the-radar teen movie follows Charlie Bartlett, a teen who struggles to fit in at his new high school—until he decides to become the school's unofficial psychiatrist.
The Fault in Our Stars
Everyone's high school experience feels tragic from time-to-time—which is why it's good to watch movie's like The Fault in Our Stars, to put things in perspective.
"Creative/unconventional-but-determined teacher inspires under-privileged teens" is basically a sub-genre of high school movies and 1995's Dangerous Minds (which stars Michelle Pfeiffer as said unconventional-but-determined teacher) is a classic if that kind of story hits your feels in a good way.
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