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The Back to School Movie: Films That Taught Us How to Grow Up

By David Young · September 6, 2022

The Back to School Movie: Films That Taught Us How to Grow Up

Quick! Name your favorite back to school movie. Chances are you, you have a big ol’ list right at the top of your head — why? Because the years we spend awkwardly shuffling through school halls are some of the most formative. So, it makes sense why we see so many films that dig into that particularly influential time in all of our lives.

So, as we start heading back into the classroom, let’s take a look at some of the best back to school movies out there.

Scripts from this Article

Mean Girls (2004)

If you’ve ever been “the new kid,” risen to great heights, then fallen due to hubris during your high school career, you will especially like Mean Girls. This twisted comedy puts pettiness at the forefront of every interaction — just like the people you knew back in school. The quick-witted script by Tina Fey shows just how hard it can be, and just how important it is to find friends who get you and won’t sabotage you.

But don’t be fooled by how it fits into the “high school movie” structure, much like She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, and so on. This movie served as a spotlight on that subgenre, chewing on hard truths like it was acerbic bubblegum — this film truly explores the oft-ignored social structures and dynamics in high school, especially among young women. And this film doesn’t pull any punches.

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Carrie (1976)

Carrie has been brought to the big screen a couple of times now, and each attempt brings something valuable to the table. Whether it’s her mom’s freaky ideologies and abusive behavior or the bullying she meets at school, Carrie White is a tragic character who tried to seize a chance for something different. Instead, the cycle of torment and violence continues, thanks to people who never allowed Carrie that chance. Carrie is a powerful story about cruelty — and anyone who has gone to school knows that there’s no shortage of it in the classroom.

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Pitch Perfect (2012)

College is a place for you to find your interests and follow your passions. You can see how true that is in Pitch Perfect, where Beca’s (Anna Kendrick) love for music becomes the impetus for joining a motley crew of a cappella singers that need some leadership to make it big. This film rode the High School Musical wave right into the arms of their older college demographic. If you ever wanted a movie about college singing groups, Pitch Perfect was made for you. 

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School of Rock (2003)

Speaking of music, there’s another film that made its impact well before Pitch Perfect rolled out the door and it’s the ultimate back to school movie — for teachers (or…failed rockstars posing as teachers, actually). Starring the voice of Tenacious D himself, Jack Black, School of Rock is all about the finer things: namely, rock-and-roll. As Dewey, Black cons his way into a substitute teaching position at a fancy private school and exposes his students to his love for rock music — first for personal gain, then for theirs.

Two things become clear in this film: school doesn’t have to be dull to be effective and people often shine brightest when given the room to be themselves.

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Dead Poets Society (1989)

To some, school represents tradition. To others, it means a chance to become your own person. In the Dead Poets Society, the struggle between those two ideas sits at the center of the story of several young men and the teacher that inspires them to live life on their own terms. The old way of schooling may try to fit our square pegs into round holes, but you can take life by the horns and do something different if you really want to. You can learn to do that in school, as well as for the rest of your life.

This is a back to school movie for those who are looking to be inspired — whether by watching the “O Captain! My Captain!” scene or by reading the magnificent script. In fact, check out some screenwriting lessons from Tom Schulman, the film’s writer, to turn your inspiration to action!

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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

There’s nothing normal or traditional about Napoleon. While he’s in school, he struggles to fit in and find where he belongs in the school’s own ecosystem. He finds friends that he cares about, and rather than drawing inward, he starts to embrace his skills and passions. At its heart, Napoleon Dynamite is about being your own, unique self — no matter where you fit into the zeitgeist.

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Easy A (2010)

A white lie in school always becomes a thing with a mind of its own. Gossip and traded favors become the currency in high school in particular, and that’s where Olive (Emma Stone) earns fame, or infamy, depending on how you look at it. Her service of inventing dalliances for the egos of her classmates makes for a hilarious and nearly devastating look at what school sometimes forgets to account for: the dangers of peer pressure, rumors, and uninformed, hormonal teenagers.

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Whether you’re faculty, a student, or just an unlucky soul who gets stuck behind a school bus on your way to work, sitting down to read a good back to school script is homework I think we can all get an A on.

Want more titles? Check out this list of quintessential back to school movies!

Scripts from this Article