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(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Today (April 14) sees the opening in theaters of My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, an animated teen comedy voiced by the likes of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie WattsMaya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon.

It tells the story of Dash (Schwartzman), a self-important sophomore who is forced to tackle high school rivalries and when he tries to save his school from floating into the sea after a particularly powerful earthquake.

Told through a dream-like mixed media animation style that incorporates drawings, paintings and collage, it nevertheless has all the makings of a cult classic high school movie, prompting Indiewire to call Dash Shaw, the graphic novelist behind the animated feature, the “John Hughes for the Adult Swim generation”.

So what makes a perfect high school movie? Well, there are certain tropes we’ve come to expect, such as cliques, jocks, and an abundance of teen angst. A good high school movie is a guilty pleasure. It’s an hour and a half of pure nostalgia, or, more likely, a chance to replay our own traumatic high school memories, except this time we — or the school hero — win big time.

The History Boys (2006)

This film version of Alan Bennett‘s play might take place in the alien setting of a British high school, but it’s got all the ingredients of a classic high school movie. 80s soundtrack? Check. Preening, self-absorbed lead? Check (Dominic Cooper‘s performance as the smouldering, mischievous Dakin was career-defining). An unorthodox teacher? Check. Specifically, it feels like a British, knockabout take on Dead Poets Society, albeit with a typically dark undertow indeed.

Mean Girls (2004)

Full to the brim with hilarious one liners, this Tina Fey-penned script doesn’t stint on a serious message either when it comes to how mean girls can be at school. Add to that Lindsey Lohan in her prime and a breakout performance by Rachel McAdams, and you have a modern classic of the genre.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Okay, okay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch. Hogwarts features heavily in all seven of the Harry Potter films, but can the wizarding series really be called a high school movie? There are student cliques (Gryffindor vs. Slytherin), favorite teachers (Hagrid, Dumbledore), and much loathed instructors (Snape, Dolores Umbridge). And then there’s the Yule Ball in fourth outing The Goblet of Fire, when our beloved heroes need dates for the dance. Don’t believe us? Then watch this trailer by Thewlis Rox on Youtube to see what we mean:

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Hear the phrase “high school movie” and you’d be forgiven for immediately thinking “comedy.” This one in our list, however, shows even tragedy can lead to a seminal high school drama, and a second Oscar nomination for Robin Williams in one of his early serious roles. The all-male, elite prep school Welton Academy may be far from your average high school, but the students (played by Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Josh Charles, among others) still fall into the personality types we’ve become familiar with in some of the best high school movies.

The Falling (2014)

Game of ThronesMaisie Williams stars in this beguiling and disturbing depiction of a fainting epidemic that befalls an English girls’ school in 1969. Part deadly serious black comedy, part supernatural thriller, its focus is as much on rites of passage as any high school movie. As well as spooky films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Don’t Look Back, director Carol Morley also cited high-school musical Grease and its teenage angst as a big influence.

Heathers (1988)

Murderous desire, killings and tragi-comedy might drive this classic 80s movie, but it still gives us a long, hard look at the inner workings of high school. Veronica (Winona Ryder) is determined to get in with the popular girls at her school (all of whom are called Heather), until their evil nature rubs off on her and she and boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater) end up going on a killing spree. Ah yes. It takes us right back to our own high school memories.

Gregory’s Girl (1981)

This charming British romantic comedy tells the story of gawky, inexperienced Gregory (World War Z‘s John Gordon Sinclair) and the unrequited love he feels for Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) — a common situation when it comes to high school movies. Sure enough, Gregory is quickly navigating an emotional, hormonal and peer pressure-driven minefield — though the film manages to remain on the right side of quirky.

Ghost World (2001)

Following in a long tradition of high school movies about misfits, Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are struggling to assimilate into adult society when they come across the lonely Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Based on the 1997 graphic novel of the same name, Ghost World is a startlingly sophisticated teen movie about a group of outsiders who observe other people’s facades from the fringes of society.

Election (1999)

Released in the same year as Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore, this film features that most common of characters in high school comedies: a precocious brat. When Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) decides she wants to be student body president, it’s safe to say she goes all in, and she’s not afraid to hurt anyone and everyone along the way. The only thing in her way is popular teacher Jim McAllister, played by Matthew Broderick in a neat reversal of his own earlier role of a high schooler with contempt for all forms of authority, Ferris Bueller.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

It wouldn’t be a list of best high school movies without The Breakfast Club. John Hughes‘ classic comedy about a bunch of alienated high school kids who find solace in each other despite their apparent differences is rightfully considered one of the best high school movies ever made (alongside his follow-up, 1986’s Pretty in Pink), and one that stands the test of time, too. Five students (Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson) spend an epic Saturday detention together, forging friendships and romantic relationships over the course of their incarceration. The message is simple: high school cliques never last, and it’s important to see someone for who they really are.

What’s your all-time favorite high school movie?

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By Kat Sommers
Kat is a freelance writer for Anglophenia.