Halloween has FX’s Halloween Horror Movie Marathon and Christmas has the Freeform 25 Days of Christmas, but what about the exciting back-to-school season? There are plenty of iconic school-based movies that are perfect for getting you in the cracking-open-a-new-binder mood. From elementary school to college, Hollywood is actually kind of obsessed with setting movies during these pivotal coming-of-age years, so if you need a good flick to get you in the back-to-school mood, check out this list of 20 movies.
Whether you’re in school or not, a good coming-of-age movie based in a school setting can bring that perfect dose of nostalgia, excitement, and comfort. Gen Z was practically raised on back-to-school films, as their childhoods aligned with the boom of high school rom-coms in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. These films, from the funny to the serious, are iconic parts of a lot of Gen Z childhoods, with newer back-to-school movies borrowing successful tropes from these older classics.
Clueless to Akeelah and the Bee, back-to-school movies can be full of drama and laughs, and they may even inspire you to embrace your nerdy side. Whatever you’re looking for in your back-to-school movie marathon, this list should have you covered. Love this list? Create a to save these recs to your own watchlist and follow Likewise account Elite Daily for more. You'll always know exactly what to watch next.
iconic Amanda Bynes film centers on a spunky girl pretending to be her brother in order to play for his high school’s soccer team. She’s The Man has iconic boarding school vibes, even if they aren’t so accurate to the actual boarding school experience, along with incredible montages and a slick feminist message. This 2006 film — available to rent on Apple TV, Amazon, and more — was part of the wave of films based on Shakespeare plays, modernizing Twelfth Night. 02 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Although this film is a bit spookier than others on this list, the cozy autumn vibes of the first
Harry Potter film are unmatched. From suspenseful classroom scenes to catch-ups in the Gryffindor common room, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the perfect way to get hyped up for the new school year. You can stream this classic on HBO Max and Peacock.
If you’re ready to feel inspired,
Akeelah and the Bee is your back-to-school movie. The film follows Akeelah, played by a young Keke Palmer, as she attempts to break boundaries and win the National Spelling Bee with the help of a mentor, Dr. Larabee, played by Laurence Fishburne. The emotional ups and downs of Akeelah and the Bee, and the tour de force performance from Palmer, make this one of the most important back-to-school watches. You can stream this 2006 movie on Hulu. 04 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Maybe one of the most referenced school movies ever,
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is arguably more about the absence of school than actually sitting in a classroom. Let’s face it, part of the fun of high school, for some, is the freedom and independence to rebel from it and skip school occasionally, which is exactly what Ferris Bueller does in this movie. His web of lies grow so complex and so funny that you can’t help but root for him in the end. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is streaming on Netflix. The DUFF is a newer entry into the back-to-school canon. The high school romantic comedy starring Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell came out in 2015, but still has the same feeling as a classic rom-com from the early 2000s. Whitman’s character, nerdy Bianca, uses Amell’s character, football jock Wesley, to prove that she isn’t actually the DUFF, “designated ugly fat friend” (oof), but of course learns a much more profound lesson in self-love instead. Like any self-respecting high school movie, it also includes a great party scene. You can stream The DUFF on Hulu and Netflix. 06 Just Another Girl on the IRT Just Another Girl on the IRT is a criminally underrated back-to-school movie about a Brooklyn teenager whose plans for college get complicated by her relationship with a wealthier boy, Tyrone. It’s not as light as other high school movies from the ‘90s, but it tells a complex story in a really exciting way, with frequent fourth wall breaks from the main character, Chantel. You can stream this experimental film on Starz or Hulu. 07 10 Things I Hate About You
Another high school rom-com based on a Shakespeare play,
modernizes 10 Things I Hate About You The Taming of the Shrew with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. In an enemies-to-lovers storyline, Ledger’s character tries to woo Stiles’ character, who is more into reading feminist theory than flirting with boys. Like any good rom-com, 10 Things I Hate About You culminates in a dazzling school dance scene. You can watch this classic on Disney+. The Breakfast Club, from 1985, is arguably the coming-of-age back-to-school movie, starting a profitable trend for director John Hughes. This film follows five very different high school students as they meet for detention on a Saturday morning and get to know each other despite their clear clique divisions of jock, nerd, outcast, and so on. You can stream The Breakfast Club on Peacock and Prime Video.
Thankfully, not all back-to-school movies are rom-coms based in high school, some are about the perils of rock and roll in an elementary school classroom.
School of Rock is a wild movie following a rocker-turned-fake substitute teacher who trains his young prodigies in the art of rock and roll to win the local Battle of the Bands. It stars Jack Black, so hilarity ensues, and the kids do end up learning a thing or two. You can stream this comedy on Youtube.
If you’re looking for the classic, fashion-filled, romantic comedy of your back-to-school dreams, look no further than
. The 1995 film, starring Clueless Paul Rudd and Alicia Silverstone, chronicles the deeply privileged life of the main character, Cher, as she tries to make over a new student, Tai (Brittany Murphy). Not a ton of actual schoolwork happens in the movie, but the back-to-school lewks alone are enough to make it classroom canon. You can stream Clueless on Paramount+ and Prime Video.
As its title suggests,
Bad Teacher isn’t actually for school-aged kids, but it is a great back-to-school comedy for anyone old enough to get Cameron Diaz’s lewd humor. Diaz plays Elizabeth, a pretty horrible teacher who just wants to marry a rich guy and never work again. When she meets fellow teacher Scott, played by none other than Justin Timberlake, who just so happens to be hot and rich, she fights really hard to win his affections. Essentially, the whole film takes place inside a school — from the classroom, to the gym, to the teachers’ lounge — making this a really nostalgic watch, at least for those detention-prone students. You can rent Bad Teacher on Prime Video and Youtube.
This hilarious, offbeat comedy about two outcasts running for class president is the perfect back-to-school watch when you need a little escapism. The main characters, Napoleon and Pedro, are surrounded by a truly wild cast of characters. Like any good back-to-school movie,
Napoleon Dynamite makes it so easy to root for the underdog. You can stream this fan-favorite comedy on Hulu.
Who doesn’t want to see Stanley Tucci as a loving father to Emma Stone, who is being pursued by a young Penn Badgley and harassed by the school bully, Amanda Bynes? This impeccably-cast, feminist coming-of-age movie takes place in a California high school after Stone’s character Olive falls into a lie that gets her labeled as “easy,” even though she’s actually never hooked up with anyone. This comedy has plenty of good classroom moments and even a pretty good party scene, a true test of any good high school movie. You can stream
on Prime Video. Easy A
From the hallways, to the classrooms, to the back building that burned down in 1987, all the most iconic moments from
Mean Girls happen in Cady Heron’s (Lindsey Lohan) new high school. Much like Clueless, this high school comedy is about a makeover as Cady transforms herself from new girl to most popular girl, first as a joke but then as a real desire for popularity — which gets really hurtful, really fast. Whether you’re watching it for the laughs or the lessons, you can stream Mean Girls on Netflix. 15 Love Don’t Cost a Thing Love Don’t Cost a Thing takes a classic romance trope, fake dating, and brings it to high school, where Nick Cannon’s character gets to pretend to date Christina Milian’s character in exchange for his car mechanic skills. Much like Mean Girls, his hunger for popularity teaches him a couple things throughout the movie. If you’re looking for that perfect early 2000s back-to-school movie, Love Don’t Cost a Thing is the one for you. The iconic high school rom-com is available to rent on Youtube and Prime Video.
It’s essentially impossible to find movies or shows about middle school that aren’t kid-focused, like
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or incredibly wacky like Big Mouth. Eighth Grade strikes the perfect balance, bringing a very true-to-life, awkward middle school story to the big screen without skimping on any of the emotional hardship and intensity of the middle school experience. Elsie Fisher stuns as the main character, Kayla, who is just trying to get through her last week of middle school amid all the pressures of social media and irl social interactions. You can stream Eighth Grade on Showtime and Hulu, but beware, just like actually going to middle school, this back-to-school watch can be a little emotional.
This hilarious 2018 comedy stars Kevin Hart as Teddy, a salesman trying to get his GED at his old high school, and Tiffany Haddish as Carrie, the wild teacher of said GED class. This plot throws Teddy back into his old high school habits, surrounded by old memories and his least favorite person from high school, now the new principal. You can stream
Night School on Hulu.
Not many college movies give the same back-to-school feel as
Legally Blonde , a classic that sees Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a sorority girl who gets into Harvard law school with the main goal of winning back her frat bro ex-boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis). Like all good back-to-school movies, the ending is comfortably predictable, but the surprises along the way, like Jennifer Coolidge as the shy local nail tech, make the movie infinitely rewatchable. You can stream Legally Blonde on Hulu. Sister Act 2 may be a bit of a wild card back-to-school movie, especially because it’s a sequel, but it’s hard to deny the satisfaction of Whoopi Goldberg’s character turning a sad music class into a jubilant choir, or the beauty of Lauryn Hill’s vocals throughout. For a comforting back-to-school watch, Sister Act 2 hits all the right notes. You can stream the musical on Disney+. Gifted stars Mckenna Grace as 7-year-old Mary, who’s being raised by her uncle Frank, played by Chris Evans. The catch is that Mary is a math prodigy and all the adults around her want to have a say in how her intelligence is handled. Gifted isn’t a classic back-to-school movie, but like Akeelah and the Bee, its main narrative is inspiring and thought-provoking. You can rent the 2017 movie on Youtube and Prime Video.
They may not all be
technically educational, but these 20 movies sure do set the vibe for a fun start to the school year. Don't miss a thing
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