Shockingly, it’s September again, and while we hang onto the vestiges of summer this Labor Day weekend, fall is undoubtedly in the air, which means it’s back-to-school season. Whether you’re heading back to school yourself or just reliving the magic of the high school era, here’s a selection of well-loved school-set films, from comedies to dramas to musicals, to stoke that celebratory academic energy.
Amy Heckerling’s classic 1995 teen comedy “Clueless” (based on Jane Austen’s “Emma”) is the cure for anything. Revisit the high school halls of queen bee Cher (Alicia Silverstone) as she match-makes her way through the teenage aristocrats of Beverly Hills. Stream it on HBO Max or rent it for $2.99 on digital platforms.
There’s nothing like tweed coats, fall leaves and poetry to conjure up those cozy ivory tower vibes, especially with an inspiring teacher like the one Robin Williams plays in Peter Weir’s 1989 boarding school drama “Dead Poets Society.” Performances by young Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles and Robert Sean Leonard sweeten the deal. Stream it on The Roku Channel with ads or rent it for $3.99.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s 2016 teen dramedy “The Edge of Seventeen” is a vastly underrated and unflinchingly honest look at teenage trials and tribulations, starring two of the most exciting young actresses around: Hailee Steinfeld and Haley Lu Richardson. Stream it on Netflix or rent it for $3.99.
High school was never wittier than when it was scripted by Daniel Waters, and delivered as dryly by Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty in the 1988 dark comedy classic “Heathers.” Directed by Michael Lehmann, “Heathers” defined teenage cool in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, tackling social issues with biting satire. Catch it on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Tubi, Shudder and with ads on Pluto TV and Roku Channel.
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, the 2017 film “Lady Bird,” transported us to her early aughts high school days at a Catholic school in Sacramento, California. Saorise Ronan, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet captured all the agony and the ecstasy of that challenging transitional time, while Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf portrayed the challenges of parenting a teen too. Stream it on Netflix and Kanopy or rent it for $2.99 elsewhere.
Sometimes high school is about singing, dancing and following those dreams, especially in Alan Parker’s 1980 film “Fame,” based on the real life New York City LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (the aforementioned Chalamet is an alum). The titular song, performed by star Irene Cara, won an Oscar too. Rent it for $3.99 on digital platforms.
More musical school fun can be found in the immensely charming “School of Rock,” the Mike White-scripted, Richard Linklater-directed 2003 star vehicle for comedian-turned-rock star Jack Black. Currently streaming on Paramount+, “School of Rock” boogies onto Netflix on Sept. 1.
Finally, Adam Sandler truly put the back-to-school in back-to-school in his classic, star-making 1995 comedy “Billy Madison,” directed by Tamra Davis. Sandler stars as wealthy spoiled brat Billy, who has to repeat and pass every grade in 24 weeks in order to gain the confidence (and inherit the business) of his father. Rent it for $3.99 on digital platforms.