10 best back-to-school movies

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It’s a time of great excitement, great wonder and great dread. Mostly dread, if we’re going to be completely honest about it.

Heading back to school – whether you’re making the scary transition from elementary to junior high, coming back for your final triumphant year of high school or bracing yourself for a work-heavy fourth year of university – is a time of uncertainty and anticipation.

To take the edge off, and to celebrate these final days of guilt-free recreational time, here’s a look at our 10 favourite back-to-school flicks, and the reasons we love ’em.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Is weekend detention still a thing in schools? And can you even imagine going through a whole day of drudgery without a smartphone? The times have a-changed, but John Hughes’ tale of five very different students who come together one Saturday is practically required viewing.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Oh, Robin Williams. This movie was bittersweet enough as is, but Williams’ recent suicide has only jacked up the feels. Still, it remains a wonderful, inspiring and heartbreaking look at what a truly great teacher can mean to his or her students.

Mean Girls (2004)

Before Lindsay Lohan went completely off the rails, she starred in this sharply satirical look at high school life, penned by Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey. This movie is so fetch. And no, we’re not going to stop trying to make fetch happen.

Superbad (2007)

John Hughes had the pulse of the teen experience in the ’80s, but this flick is as close as we’ve come in the past decade to tapping into the high school zeitgeist as it exists today, using wild humour to mask an edge of relatable angst. Still, we’re not sure how they figured laundry detergent containers would be good for transporting beer.

Election (1999)

Matthew Broderick stars as what some imagine to be Ferris Bueller’s ultimate form: a grown-up, unfulfilled and ultimately vengeful teacher who clashes with a perky, tireless student (Reese Witherspoon) running for class president. Funny, dark and sad.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

It would be interesting to see today’s studio executives try to pitch a high school-set adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but we’re glad it worked when it did. It’s both a high school movie and a clever modernization of Shakey Bill’s timeless themes, and was an early breakout success for Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger.

Grease (1978)

Things were simpler back in the 1950s, right? Not so much, according to this classic musical about young love and high school drama. Despite the movie’s ultimate message – become something you’re not to get the person you love – it’s as sweet as lemon meringue pie.

Heathers (1988)

A lot of teen-centric high school movies are frothy and heartfelt. This one? Funny, but darker than dark. A young Christian Slater channels Jack Nicholson to play the ultimate bad boy, whose presence wreaks havoc on the movie’s titular clique of girls. Sex, suicides and bombings – there hasn’t been another high school movie quite like it.

Pretty in Pink (1986)

Here’s another John Hughes gem, but one that tends to be overlooked next to The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles. Starring Hughes’ muse Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), it’s one of his most earnest movies, despite its Romeo and Juliet premise.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

The best high school movie of all time? It just might be. It’s hilariously dated now – no cellphones, no Internet, archaic dating rituals – but from Sean Penn’s stoned surfer to the Phoebe Cates pool scene that launched a thousand wet dreams, it remains a bona fide classic.

Twitter: @stevetilley