Continuing our coverage of Back to School Week content, we take a look at 10 alternative high school films.

Back to school films are a dime a dozen, with as many genre films out there as there are high school stereotypes. Teen classics come in generations, from the ’80s heydey of The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, ’90s flicks Can’t Hardly Wait and American Pie, to the more recent Mean Girls and Napoleon Dynamite. But these are the classics that we’ve known for years, the bread and butter movies that high school fantasies are based on, no matter how ridiculous the plots might seem.

To get you ready for the inevitable beginning of the school year, we’ve taken a look in the other direction, to the lesser known films. Like high school, it’s usually the ones that you don’t notice so easily that are really worthwhile in the end. From the eccentric and funny, to the gritty and sad, these films are a reminder that high school can be all of these things and more. It can all mean a hell of a lot, or it might not be more than a distant memory one day. To ease you back in to the daily grind, here is our list of 10 of the best alternative high school films.


Dazed and Confused

Richard Linklater’s seminal high school film is a rare champion of both independent cinema and long-running commercial success. Undoubtedly the alternative high school film, it follows a class of students on the last day of school before the summer of ’76. Based in large part on Linklater’s own school days in Austin, Texas, the film features a who’s who of actors before they hit the big time, as well as an exceptional soundtrack. No matter how many times you see Dazed and Confused on high school movie lists, it is one of the few films that is worth every single mention.

Watch the film here.



The original American Pie, Porky’s is a camp classic from the ’80s that tackles that all-too-familiar teenage topic – losing one’s virginity. Set in Florida in the ’50s, the plot is about a group of friends who attempt to hire a prostitute at Porky’s nightclub to fulfill their needs. When their plan goes awry, the comedy turns into a revenge flick that is both funny and relatable. Watch out for a young Kim Cattrall (Samantha from Sex and the City) as the boys’ saucy gym teacher.

Pick up the film here.


Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society definitely sums up the tougher aspects of high school life. Set at an elite prep school, the film follows various characters’ journeys through that pivotal time in their lives, showing both inspiring and bleak moments. Robin Williams stars as the inspiring English teacher who famously tells his class “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” A classic that stays with you long after its ended, Dead Poets Society is a high school film that might not have you looking forward to school starting, but will probably make you feel lucky with what you have.

Watch the film here.



Wes Anderson’s iconic film cemented his and actor Jason Schwartzman’s careers, as well as re-establishing Bill Murray as darlings of the indie film world. Centered around kooky student Max Fischer, as he befriends the older, wealthy industrialist Herman Blume, they both fall in love with the same teacher. Rushmore provides a funny and left-field approach to the typical high school movie, as well as showcasing Anderson’s unique filmmaking style in all its glory.

Watch the film here.


The Class (Original title: Entre les murs)

This French film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 and was lauded for its realistic and gritty portrayal of Parisian school life. The film encompasses a full school year and sees teacher François Marin as he slowly wins over a group of “problem children.” Based on a semi-autobiographical book that was written by François Bégaudeau, who plays the role of Marin himself, The Class is an insightful look at a very different school system.

Watch the film here.


Boyz N The Hood

Set in South Central Los Angeles, Boyz N The Hood was a seminal early ’90s film from director John Singleton that relayed the struggles not only of high school life, but simultaneously doing it in a community full of crime, violence and gang warfare. Told over two time periods, the film follows three very different characters (played by Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Morris Chestnut) as they prepare to leave high school and potentially the hood. Critically the film did very well, with newcomer Singleton earning himself Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Writing.

Watch the film here.



No one does camp quite like John Waters and Cry-Baby is a musical romantic comedy doused in ’50s nostalgia. Johnny Depp stars as “Cry-Baby” Wade Walker, while ex-porn star Traci Lords and Waters regular Ricki Lake feature in supporting roles. Bad boy Cry-Baby wins over good girl Allison and the film plays out as their opposing groups of “drapes” versus “squares” seek revenge. The musical songs might be a little too much for some but in true John Waters style no one mixes camp and cheeky quite like he does.

Watch the film here.



Rian Johnson’s directorial debut takes a very different approach to high school, placing it as the setting for a neo-noir crime story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a loner who finds himself investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend as he uncovers the seedy underworld of their high school. Johnson wrote and directed Brick, which won at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to both critical and commercial success, before becoming a cult favorite.

Watch the film here.


Dangerous Minds

The film that spawned Coolio’s classic hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Dangerous Minds took a gritty-by-Hollywood-standards look at race relations in a Californian school. Based on the autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework by former U.S. Marine LouAnne Johnson, the film stars Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead role. The film was a critical failure but a surprise box-office hit, influencing a generation of wannabe rebellious teenagers.

Watch the film here.


Donnie Darko

Another instant classic, Richard Kelly’s directorial debut was one of the strongest in years, and featured Jake Gyllenhaal as a realistic teenage protagonist in the titular role. Fantasy elements are woven in with themes of time travel, which all seem like a realistic burden to bear when one is in those crucial teenage years. Famously, the film took a long time to get made, with Drew Barrymore’s own Flower Films production company finally taking a chance on newcomer director Kelly. Once released, Donnie Darko got a slow start due to bad distribution but finally found its audience on DVD with a widespread cult following, prompting it to be re-released in cinemas to a bigger run.

Watch the film here.

Check out the rest of our Back to School Week features here.

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