Sep 262012

reese witherspoon electionThis is the seventh post in my “The Best Films Set In…” series. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts I’m going to pick my 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why I like them. Up this week is The Best Films Set In…High school.

electionElection (Alexander Payne, 1999)

I loved this film when it came out, but rewatching it recently as an adult I came to understand how dark it truly is. Every character in this film is flawed (some far more than others), and the things they do to each other in pursuit of their own gain or pleasure is often deplorable.  A very smart satire on high school life and student politics. My favourite Alexander Payne film and quite possibly Reese Witherspoon’s best performance.



Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)

The picture above is enough to make me crack-up and want to see this film again. 30 years on and it’s still current and one of the best films set in high school. A coming-of-age film and a stoner flick that has equal parts laughs and life lessons – and who can forget that soundtrack? Funnily enough, I’m not the only person who really likes this film. In 2005 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.


easy a

Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)

Sassy – that’s the first word I think of when I think about Easy A. A thoroughly modern high school film inspired by the classic novel The Scarlet Letter, and the best high school film to come out in recent years. Emma Stone is simply fantastic as the quick-talking schoolgirl who uses the school’s gossips to start a rumour that advances her social standing in the student population.



Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

It’s 9 years since I saw this film in the cinema and I still feel upset when I think about. High school isn’t all about parties, sports and politics – there is also a darker side, and people who just don’t fit in. Based in part on the horrific 1999 Columbine High School shootings, Elephant follows several characters during a short time period before a shooting occurs at their school. Winner of the Palm d’Or in 2003, the skilful cinematography and editing in this film make it an extremely intense and disturbing watch.


the faculty

Guilty Pleasure pick: The Faculty (Robert Rodriguez, 1998)

Yes I am serious. This is my favourites list remember, not yours! When this film came out I absolutely loved it. Don’t you remember being at school and thinking, “why is that teacher so weird”?That’s because an alien parasite had taken over their body… obviously! A great teen horror flick that has a fantastic 90s grunge soundtrack -I love the use of the remade version of “Another Brick in the Wall”. 14 year-old me totally crushed on Josh Hartnett back then too (what happened to that guy?)


Films that were suggested but I haven’t seen [so couldn’t consider] included: Heathers, Rock’n’Roll High School (terrible I know), Carrie, Class of 1984, The Breakfast Club, Hoop Dreams, Sixteen Candles, Blackboard Jungle.

Films that I didn’t include: Brick is a film I love, but it was the high school setting that was my only real issue with the film. It felt like it should have been in college and that the kids were doing things beyond their years…(yes I know that was kind of the point). 21 Jump Street was one which was suggested but I left out. I really liked the film, but I wonder if I will remember it a few years from now? I need to re-watch it. Mean Girls is a great high school film, as are American Pie and Clueless – but these don’t rank among my favourites. Clueless has arguably had the biggest influence on pop culture – I wonder how many of us would be saying “whatever” if we’d never seen this film? The Virgin Suicides is a film I really admire, but as most of the film takes place in the girls’ bedroom, I wouldn’t really consider it a “high school” film. Donnie Darko and High School Musical were also suggested, but I really don’t like these films (sorry!).


What do you think of my list? Which of your favourites have I left out?

  20 Responses to “The Best Films Set In….High school”

  1. Great list, Sam: very relevant to my interests. One of my all-time favourites in 10 Things I Hate About You. Who could argue with a very loose modern retelling of Shakespeare, Heath Ledger, a young JGL, and Julia Stiles being sassy? The witty dialogue & fantastic music selections are not to be overlooked either. See Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, because John Hughes is a genius.

    I would also put Juno on this list, 100%. I love Donnie Darko too, but I can see that’s a point of difference already. I also have a soft-spot for Mean Girls and Jawbreaker–a surprisingly dark teen comedy.

    • ’10 Things I Hate About You’ is a really great pick! It has great performances and I think it’s a very smart film. I haven’t seen (or even heard of ‘Jawbreaker’. ‘Juno’ probably needs another rewatch for me – I loved it the first time but liked is significantly less upon rewatching. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. Fantastic list Sam and kudos for the inclusion of ‘The Faculty’, one of my favourites too.

    My only worry is that you haven’t seen ‘The Breakfast Club’ or ‘Sixteen Candles’…or ‘Rock N Roll High School’??

    Check them out as soon as you can.

    • I know. Sometimes I fail at life really. I admit I have a lot of catching up to do, and I do plan to watch them. Cheers for the comment

  3. Thanks, Sam. 🙂 What can I say? 1999 was a good year for teen films (Jawbreaker, 10 Things, Election, Cruel Intentions).

    Not all set in high school, but teen/coming-of-age films worth a look: The Outsiders, Weird Science, Dead Poets Society, American Graffiti, An Education. Oh and definitely Adventureland, if you’ve not seen it.

    • ‘Cruel Intentions’ is one of my all-time favourite films but I felt it was more of a teen film than a film set in high school (does that make sense?) Yeah, there are heaps of great coming-of-age films, but I was looking for films where a good chunk of them took part in the school itself.

  4. I would have suggested Mean Girls if I’d seen the callout in time – love me some Mean Girls quotes!

    • ‘Mean Girls’ was considered (the quotes are great!), but I think ‘Easy A’ is the better of the more modern high school flicks.

  5. Donnie Darko
    Dazed and Confused

    I’d be tempted to include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off if it had a bit more high school to it.

    I’d also never heard of Jawbreaker. Or Rock N Roll High School for that matter.

  6. Wait… Adventureland isn’t the film I was thinking of. I can’t remember the name of it now. I’ll have to have a think…

    In the meantime, sub ‘Fast Times’.

    • I need to see Carrie and I personally dislike ‘Donnie Darko’, but the other two are very solid choices. So many great films out there. Thanks for the comment.

  7. I would say Grease (lame maybe but I don’t care) dazed & confused, mean girls & Juno. Great topic!!

  8. Nice post, Sam!

    Haven’t seen ‘Fast Times’ or ‘Elephant’ (the latter is on my current watchlist), but I love the others, INCLUDING THE FACULTY! Must admit I am a little surprised you haven’t seen THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Highly suggest it. It’s in my top 10 films of all time. 🙂

    • Respect for liking ‘The Faculty’. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen ‘The Breakfast Club’, making making this list has made it certain that I will be watching it very soon. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Hey there, no Dead Poets Society? And i am shocked you haven’t seen The Breakfast Club and 16 candles but then again i only saw Dirty Dancing very recently so pot kettle black etc hehe
    I’m pleased to hear u love cruel intentions, redemption for breakfast club creeping in…. Keep up the good work Sam!

    • ‘Dead Poets Society’ is a great film. I did think about it. There are so many classic films I haven’t seen, but I’m not ashamed to admit it! ‘Cruel Intentions’ is soooo good. Thanks for the comment!

  10. Oh and I also agree with Katia I will always be a huge fan of ’10 things I hate about you’! Also I think I will have to watch ‘The Faculty’ it seems like something I would really enjoy.

  11. Great picks all around, and for such different reasons. Elephant, man. Wow. That movie rattles me to no end.

    Election is perfect and The Faculty! I love that damn movie. Guaranteed to jack you up.

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