Top 10 Movies for Back to School
With school in most parts of the country up and running, I figure its time to gather a list of my favorite movies for “back to school” time. Yes, kids are supposed to be concentrating on their studies, finding dates for the big dance, and learning new ways to cut class and get away with it — but trust me, having a few good movies around will really help when your kids get bored.
Here are my favorite fifteen movies from my own childhood — movies that could distract me from a bad day or keep my friends and I entertained for a couple of hours during a sleepover.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004) —
We’ll start off with a silly movie. This cult classic features tons of nerdy characters just trying to get by during the toughest time of their lives — high school. Come for the silly dialogue and cheeky pop culture references, stay for the dance moves at the end that will have your kids in stitches.
Stand By Me (1986) —
Besides launching the careers of Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell (and featuring an amazing cameo by Kiefer Sutherland) this film is an important moment in the lives of those of us raised during the late 70s and 80s. This was one of the only movies that used a few dirty words and showed a dead body that my mother would ever allow me to see before the age of 12. I suppose what my mother valued in the movie was the overall lesson, something about the innocence of childhood, the upside of telling the truth, and the true bond formed between young friends. But don’t worry — your kids won’t be hit over the head with the lesson.
The Breakfast Club (1985) —
You can’t have a “Back to School” movie list without this great one from the 80s. The Breakfast Club set off a million teenager’s inner moodiness. Something about the story, or maybe how the entire movie is shot in the empty library and halls of a high school, gets me nostalgic for the simpler times of high school. Considered by many to be the finest film that John Hughes ever made, The Breakfast Club is still as on point about high school life today as when it was made over twenty years ago.
Pretty in Pink (1986) —
Another film involving John Hughes (this time as writer), Pretty in Pink is a classic 80s teenage angst movie. To many people, Pretty in Pink is a bit too dark and much too close to reality to be a good choice for a movie night. If the story is too twisted for you, concentrate on the great soundtrack, the oh-too-cute relationship between Andie (played by the unsinkable Molly Ringwald) and Duckie (Jon Cryer). In this movie, two very different worlds collide, just like what your kids may be going through in a typical American high school.
Grease (1978) —
Alright, alright, I know — it’s a musical. But for those of us who’ve been exposed time and again to High School Musical, catching this classic musical of American teenage life in the 50s will be a sweet distraction. This is what American movie-musicals should be like. From John Travolta’s hilarious portrayal of the clueless Danny and the love story between he and Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy, you and your family will be distracted from the troubles of the day. Get ready for some ultra cheesy songs to be broken into at the beach, on the bleachers, in the school’s garage, at sleepover parties, or just about anywhere you can imagine. It’s a musical. Your kids may complain at first, but they’ll be begging you for the soundtrack within a week.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) —
This may not strike you as the best choice for a Back to School movie. After all, the plot revolves around a young guy (Matthew Broderick’s Ferris) skipping a day of school and getting in all kinds of trouble with his friends. This is a tongue in cheek nod to suburban teenage ennui (hang in there with me for a second) — after all, Ferris has no real troubles to run away from. He’s a popular student at an upper-middle-class high school. He has the pretty girlfriends, the toys, and the bright future. So he fakes an illness, steals his girlfriend from the school, and runs off with her and his best friend ti explore the big city of Chicago. Consider it a moral about appreciating what you have — if you must.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) —
Expose your kids to some culture. Rebel Without a Cause is considered one of the great works of cinema in the 20th century — and it is the perfect back to school movie. When John Stark (played by the incomparable James Dean) shows up in a new town and starts at a new high school, things get tough for him and for the new community he’s a part of. This is classic cinema, with spot on 1950s slang and style throughout. Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper make appearances. Your kids will be in awe of Dean’s performance, and they may learn a lesson along the way. God forbid.
Footloose (1984) —
Another film about moving from one town to another — Footloose is a kind of 80s update of Rebel Without a Cause. Substitute Kevin Bacon for James Dean playing the hip and streetwise Ren McCormack. Between Bacon’s Walkman and all his fancy dancing, a city with no music and “no dancing” turns into a hotbelt of fancy free teenagers. Bacon’s character struggles with all the typical high school stuff — being the “new kid in town”, learning the ins and outs of a new culture, and trying to become part of the “in crowd”. Your kids may laugh at the ridiculous 1980s soundtrack and fashion, but you’ll be transported back to a simpler time.
Back to School (1986) —
So this movie has the “back to school” feature right in the name. Probably the “funniest” movie on the list, Rodney Dangerfield provides lots of one liners (some on the blue side) while he plays a rich guy who goes back to college at the same school as his young son. Lots of laughs, another cheekily 80s soundtrack, and some unbelievable attraction between the hideous Dangerfield and his stunning female lead.
Lean on Me (1989) —
One of the only “serious” additions to this list. An urban school, full to the brim with violence and crime, is turned around by the mayor and superintendent as well as teacher Joe Clark who steps in as the new principal. Morgan Freeman is brilliant as Clark, who makes the point to his rowdy student body that their future is in their own hands. A great “message” movie for kids, and one they’ll actually enjoy, “Lean on Me” is a staple of high school movie time.