Staff Picks: 11 of Our Favorite Back to School Movies

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Back to school movies

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…depending on which side of the back-to-school coin you land on. For some parents this time of year brings elation for the return of a routine (and some sanity). For others, the tears will probably stop flowing sometime in September. And while many of our kids are begrudgingly headed back to the classroom, we parents are often nostalgic for the long-ago days of our own school experience. In order to help get you, our faithful readers, in the back to school mood, we offer a few suggestions for your scholastic viewing pleasure.

Sky HighSky High
I honestly don’t know why this Disney superhero comedy wasn’t better received. In a world where superheroes are the norm, ninth grade can be a struggle to navigate. However, when you’re the son of the most famous superheros in the world but you remain powerless, it can be tough to fit in to a school where everyone else is “super.” Teen angst, a poor man’s Shia LeBeouff (Michael Angarano), and Kurt Russell make this a fun action comedy you can watch with the whole family. – Preston Burt


Never Been Kissed

Never Been Kissed
While there have been other movies that feature reporters going undercover in schools for a news story (Cheesy 80’s Just One of the Guys for example), but none with the charm and humor of Drew Barrymore in this fun 1999 flick. A romantic comedy, Never Been Kissed places a still-awkward Barrymore back out of her comfort zone as an adult trying to find her footing in the confusing landscape of a millenium-era high school while navigating friendships, adulthood, and a crush on her would-be teacher all while trying to get the scoop for her paper. It’s not Shakespeare, but if you’re looking for a light and fun movie with a little bit of heart, this is a good option for a night in. – Preston Burt


Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society
I hesitate to show this movie to my kids because every teacher they will ever have will always pale in comparison to Mr. Keating. Robin Williams may be one of the greatest comics of our age, but it’s his gut punching drama (Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, World’s Greatest Dad) that makes him also one of the greatest actors as well. Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard stand out among the otherwise unremarkable cast, but it’s Williams’ performance and the masterfully written screenplay that make this movie a must-see Back To School tradition. – Randy Slavey


ElectionElection
Everyone will say Ferris Bueller is Matthew Broderick’s best movie – but I soundly disagree. No movie captures the essence of the overachiever as well as Election. This deeply dark comedy centers around the student government election at a local high school, pitting a well-meaning teacher (Broderick) against an incessant student (Reese Witherspoon). As an overachiever in high school, this movie made me reflect on what my teachers probably thought of me and how they likely fantasized about my demise. I definitely plan on showing this to my son before he gets to high school. – Kishore Hari


Mr. Holland's OpusMr. Holland’s Opus
This back to school movie may or may not be directly responsible for me becoming a teacher. Richard Dreyfuss’s Oscar-nominated performance as Mr. Glenn Holland as he begrudgingly begins his teaching career in 1965 is flawless. Following music teacher Mr. Holland on his journey through his teaching career, highlighting cultural touchstones and impactful students, the main character constantly questions whether he made the right decision in hanging up his own dreams of becoming a professional musician in order to provide for his family and students. Warning: have tissues at the ready for the final scene. – Preston Burt


Young Sherlock Holmes

Young Sherlock Holmes
When we think fondly of our school days, it’s rarely about the classes. It’s the classmates, the friendships, and the shenanigans that we miss. A perennial favorite movie about school at our house is Young Sherlock Holmes. One in a long line of movies about misfit young people finding each other and forging lifelong friendships, it’s a fun exploration of the ever-popular detective when he was young. Watching it again with our kids was like finding an old friend again. – Samantha Bryant


Harry Potter

Harry Potter Series
You know what’s magical about the Harry Potter series? Ok, well, obviously the magic is magical, but what’s always impressed me most about the series is that it is perhaps the most complete high school saga in film history. It doesn’t get more “back to school” than the Harry Potter films. Here are 8 movies that take place over the high school experience of one group of students as told in long form exposition. You get all of the staples of coming of age movies, from the adolescent vulnerability and newness of high school in The Philosopher’s Stone to the gradual increase throughout the series of its characters confidence, smarts and loyalty as they evolve along their high school careers . I know I always enjoy going back to Hogwarts! – Tony Nunes


Teachers

Teachers 
For back to school, I’ll go with Teachers, a forgotten one from the mid ’80s with JoBeth Williams, Nick Nolte, Judd Hirsch, Richard Mulligan and Ralph Macchio. A burned-out teacher who still somehow gives a damn tries to soldier on in a failing school where one teacher is so uninvolved that when he dies in the classroom nobody notices, a mentally ill man shows up as a substitute and becomes one of the best teachers in the place, and the school is being sued for giving a diploma to an illiterate. Nice mix of character-based comedy and ’80s earnestness. – Jim MacQuarrie


 

October SkyOctober Sky
What kind of geek dad would I be if I didn’t include this movie based on the true story of rocket scientist Homer Hickam. A young Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the son of a coal miner from West Virginia who, with the help of his friends and teacher, constructs a functioning rocket. The father and son tension in this movie is palpable with the help of the fantastic Chris Cooper, but it is the basic story of overcoming challenges and truly reaching for the stars that makes this one a triumph. – Preston Burt


 

Only the StrongOnly the Strong
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this is the best Marc Dacascos movie about an ex-special forces soldier helping students overcome school drug lords by instructing them in the Brazilian mixed martial art of capoeira ever. Well, at least in 1993. – Preston Burt


Back to SchoolBack to School
You didn’t think we’d actually compile a list of “Back to School” movies without including 80’s cheesefest Back to School starring Rodney Dangerfield did you? We’re not animals.

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