10 Great Movies for High School Nostalgia

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10 Great Movies for High School Nostalgia

First released in 1993, Dazed and Confused is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and in that time, it’s become something of a teen coming-of-age classic. Written and directed by Oscar winner Richard Linklater, the film is drawn from his own experiences and takes places on the last day of school in Austin in 1976, following different groups of friends throughout the night, from those heading to a keg party to incoming freshmen being mercilessly hazed by seniors. Dazed and Confused also boasts a huge ensemble cast, including Jason London, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Rapp. Not to mention the fantastic soundtrack and quotable dialogue.

Plenty of other movies, including more from Linklater, accurately capture what it feels like to be enjoying life in your teens and early 20s, from ’80s classics to more recent offerings, with settings ranging from 1960s California to the modern-day. But no matter the time or place, one thing is certain–teenagers never change.



10 ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ (2016)

Image via Paramount Pictures

With Everybody Wants Some!!, the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, Linklater brings audiences into the next decade and stage of life with a group of baseball players in college in 1980. It even features more cruel hazing ceremonies for the freshmen at the hands of upperclassmen and another impressive classic-rock soundtrack.

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When the team’s coach lays down ground rules like no alcohol and no girls, we know they’ll soon be broken. Although it’s set in college rather than high school, Everybody Wants Some!! is a fun, feel-good party movie about friendship and life on the cusp of adulthood.

9 ‘Dirty Deeds’ (2005)


In Dirty Deeds, a high school has a list of dares—the titular “dirty deeds”—to complete the night before homecoming, which only a small number of students even attempt. A senior aims to be among the very few to succeed to get the respect of his fellow students and, more importantly, the attention of his crush. The movie stars Milo Ventimiglia, Zoe Saldana and Lacey Chabert.

Dirty Deeds has all the hallmarks of a teen comedy, including mean teachers, uptight, rich-kid bullies and dirty jokes. But the plot gives it a different twist on the genre, making it more interesting than a simple party movie.

8 ‘SubUrbia’ (1983)


SubUrbia, based on a play of the same name by Eric Bogosian and also directed by Linklater, is set in a single night. A group of friends spends their time hanging out behind a convenience store in suburban Texas in the ‘90s, and when a former classmate, now a rock star, turns up, they start to question what they’re doing with their lives. The cast includes Steve Zahn and Parker Posey.

Bogosian based the play on his own experiences growing up in a Boston suburb, and as Linklater’s films go, it’s a darker and more intense offering with a tragic turn. Perhaps for that reason, it’s also not as well-liked, but some consider it underrated and the director’s best film.

7 ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (2012)

Three friends excited

Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of an introverted high-school freshman who dreams of being a writer and becomes friends with a free-spirited girl and her stepbrother, both seniors.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower received critical acclaim. It’s an endearing, heartfelt movie about friendship and love that’s considered a modern cult classic with memorable quotes, especially for those who came of age in the 2010s.

6 ‘The Breakfast Club’ (1985)

Members of the Brat Pack sitting on a bench in 'The Breakfast Club'
Image via Universal Pictures

The Breakfast Club is a beloved ‘80s classic written and directed by John Hughes, known primarily for his teen moves. A group of radically different high-school students is forced to spend a Saturday in detention together. The ensemble cast includes Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez and Paul Gleason.

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The film’s humor comes from its dialogue and how the group chooses to pass the time, including smoking pot. But it also has a lot of seriousness and heart, as the teens also have serious conversations about what landed them in detention, revealing plenty about themselves and that they have a lot more in common than they think.

5 ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ (2001)


On the last day of camp in 1981, counselors are trying to tie up loose ends before the day is done. Wet Hot American Summer has an ensemble cast including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper, who makes his film debut.

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The movie is a funny send-up of similar films set at summer camps, with over-the-top plot points. The cast is also wonderful to watch as a group of quirky, apathetic counselors. It was followed up with a prequel, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.

4 ‘American Graffiti’ (1973)

A group of teenagers in the poster for American Grafitti.

On the last day of summer in 1962, a group of college-bound friends drives through Modesto, California In American Graffiti. The movie stars Ron Howard, Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss, all early in their careers. It was also directed by George Lucas and produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

American Graffiti is considered one of the most influential teen films and is included in the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time. It’s an entertaining look at the early ‘60s, and Ford is especially fun to watch.

3 ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ (1982)

Sean Penn as Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High follows a group of high-school students in southern California, written by Cameron Crowe and based on his book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story. The cast features Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage.

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The movie launched the careers of Crowe and director Amy Heckerling. It’s iconic and timeless, and it’s cemented its place in pop-culture history with memorable characters like Sean Penn’s stoner Spicoli and his teacher nemesis, the uptight Mr. Hand.

2 ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986)

parade float chicago

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris Bueller, a high-school student known for getting away with skipping school. Along with his girlfriend and best friend, Ferris skips for one last time before graduation, spending the day in Chicago while his sister and the school principal are separately attempting to track him down and catch him in the act. The movie also stars Alan Ruck, Mia Sara and Jennifer Grey.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is another John Hughes classic that wonderfully captures a day in the life of a teenager, combining humor with just a touch of seriousness. The story of a teenager skipping school is a lighthearted one, but Ferris’ famous “life moves pretty fast” line gives it a deeper meaning about the importance of not letting life pass you by.

1 ‘Booksmart’ (2019)

The cover of Booksmart (2019)

The day before their high-school graduation, best friends Amy and Molly realize they’ve spent the last four years working hard and focusing on their grades. Facing their last chance to party with their classmates before heading off to college, they decide to make up for lost time in one night. The film stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever and was also Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut.​​​​​​​

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Booksmart is a wonderful and endearing coming-of-age movie, similar to plenty of teen comedies of the past while still standing out as one of the best of them. As Amy and Molly’s adventurous night gets more and more ridiculous, their friendship remains the movie’s heart.

NEXT: From ‘Booksmart’ to ‘Lady Bird’: The Best Movies About Graduation

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