17 high school movies that defined their year, from the '80s to now
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Cameron Crowe went undercover as a high schooler to write this SoCal virginity-losing odyssey. It not only introduced the world to Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, and Forest Whitaker, it helped launch Sean Penn's career.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Spicoli. Penn's surfer defined '80s cool with his wavy blond locks, Baja jackets, and anti-authority attitude. Oh, and weed.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine." —Spicoli
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Somebody's Baby," Jackson Browne (written for the film)
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Endless Love, Fame, Zapped!
Risky Business (1983)
A high school senior in a well-manicured Chicago suburb explores the limits of freedom when his parents leave town and he meets an alluring hooker who teaches him there's more to life than dancing in your underwear.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Joel. Tom Cruise gets to have hot sex on a midnight train and gets into Princeton.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "There's one thing I've learned in all my years. Sometimes you gotta say, 'What the f--k.'" —Joel
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Old Time Rock & Roll," Bob Seger
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: The Outsiders, Sixteen Candles, Valley Girl
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Until John Hughes, no one explored the adolescent psyche this accurately or this tenderly. The genre-defining director wrote the most heartfelt love letter to teens.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Take your pick: "Each one of us is a brain... and an athlete... and a basket case... a princess... and a criminal. Does that answer your question?"
YOU'VE QUOTED: "So it's sorta social. Demented and sad, but social." —John
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Don't You (Forget About Me)," Simple Minds
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Back to the Future, Footloose, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, Weird Science
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Ferris Bueller played out every high school student's fantasy when he ditched class with his girlfriend and BFF to have what might be the best day ever: leading a parade through the streets of Chicago, stealing a Ferrari, and (almost) getting his sister arrested. Yes, please!
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Ferris. Undoubtedly it's great to be Sloane, what with the perfect hair and boyfriend, but in the history of cinema, there's hardly been a character as charismatic, mischievous, and downright cool as Matthew Broderick's Bueller.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." —Ferris
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Oh Yeah," Yello
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, Stand By Me
Few high school films have really gone there when it comes to the dark underbelly of being a teenager—and by there, we mean treacherous cliques and a homicidal-maniac boyfriend bent on mass destruction.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Veronica Sawyer. Who's cooler than Winona Ryder as she conquers her Heather counterparts, grabs the brass scrunchie, and manages to ditch her bad-boy boyfriend just before the end of the world?
YOU'VE QUOTED: "What is your damage, Heather?" —Veronica
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)," Big Fun
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Can't Buy Me Love, Dirty Dancing, The Lost Boys, Summer School
Say Anything... (1989*)
Can a decidedly average guy who dreams of kickboxing find love with his longtime crush? In the '80s, all it took was a dream and a boombox blaring Peter Gabriel.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Lloyd Dobler. John Cusack's heartbreaker was the perfect precursor to '90s-emo boyfriends. If you didn't want to be him, you wanted to date him.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen." —Lloyd
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "In Your Eyes," Peter Gabriel
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Dead Poets Society, Lean on Me, Shag
*A year so awesome we included it twice!
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Attention, '90s hippies: Turn on some Jerry, blaze up a J, and prepare for some hardcore hazing—school's out for the summer in this '70s-set period piece chronicling the last day of the semester. (Come for Ben Affleck, stay for peak Parker Posey.)
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: "Woody" Wooderson. Welcome to the OG McConaughey-day; "alright, alright, alright" was even in his Oscar acceptance speech.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age." —Wooderson
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Low Rider," War
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Boyz N the Hood, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, Pump Up the Volume
Good luck finding more potent quotables than in this send-up of Jane Austen's Emma, set in the alternate universe of Beverly Hills. Cher Horowitz has the best of everything, including a teen ennui that drives her to make over sweet, oblivious Tai and fall for her stepbrother, Josh.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Cher Horowitz. Alicia Silverstone nailed the sartorial sensation with sarcasm and sass to boot. Would we want to be anyone else? As if!
YOU'VE QUOTED: "Why am I even listening to you? You're a virgin who can't drive." —Tai
"That was way harsh, Tai." —Cher
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Rollin' With My Homies," Coolio
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: The Basketball Diaries, Hackers, Kids
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
In this graduation-party-blowout favorite, geeky loner Preston loses a missive he wrote professing his love for No. 1 babe Amanda Beckett. Of course, she finds the letter, finds him, and they even make out. Along the way, his classmates lose their virginity while he talks to an angel dressed as a stripper. Typical high school melodrama.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Preston. Ethan Embry's sweet underdog pines longingly to Barry Manilow's "Mandy."
YOU'VE QUOTED: "I can't feel my legs! I have no legs!" —William
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Can't Get Enough of You Baby," Smash Mouth
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Romeo + Juliet, The Craft, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Rushmore
American Pie (1999)
Pie cast a raunchy spell over high schoolers who perhaps lived vicariously through the film's coital cravings. Four horny teens vow to lose their virginity by graduation, and apple pie has never looked the same.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Oz. Klein's dreamy lacrosse player had it all: the body, the brains, the voice, the sensitivity... sorry, can you repeat the question?
YOU'VE QUOTED: "This one time, at band camp...?" —Michelle
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Laid," James
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Cruel Intentions, Election, 10 Things I Hate About You, Varsity Blues
Bring It On (2000)
A cheerleading captain, her new recruit, and an empathetic rival brought big-screen cred to a written-off sport, giving voice and heart to a huge population of girls who are much more than their pom-poms.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Missy. Even though Eliza Dushku's broody teen moved from Los Angeles, the school had no gymnastics team, and cheerleading was her last resort, we found a team spirit animal.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "Courtney, this is not a democracy, it's a cheerocracy." —Torrance
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Brrr, it's cold in here," (It's not a song, but it could be.)
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Almost Famous, Love & Basketball, Road Trip, The Virgin Suicides
Mean Girls (2004)
Homeschooled Cady is thrown to the beasts of North Shore High: queen bees known as the Plastics. The joke is that your high school could never be as cliquey. The truth? It totally was.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Regina George. McAdams was the queen bee. Duh.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "On Wednesdays we wear pink." —Karen
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "Milkshake," Kelis
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Donnie Darko, Friday Night Lights, Napoleon Dynamite, Save the Last Dance
There's potty mouth, and then there's the filthy banter of two dorks just trying to make it to a party. This postmodern movie says what we're all thinking about underage drinking and high school strata—and the aspiration of greatness.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: McLovin. Geeky Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) rocked a fake ID that made McLovers out of us all.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "You know when you hear girls saying, 'Ahh, I was so s---faced last night, I shouldn't have f---ed that guy'? We could be that mistake!" —Seth
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "These Eyes," The Guess Who
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Juno, She's the Man, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
The Hunger Games (2012)
If you thought high school was hard, acne and driving tests pale in comparison with the brutal teenage treachery of the games in this dystopian YA adaptation (a.k.a. life in high school... if it existed in Panem).
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). The love triangle? The costumes? The determination to change the world? We volunteer as tribute.
YOU'VE QUOTED: "Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor." —Effie
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: "The Hanging Tree," Jennifer Lawrence (It came a little later in the franchise, but you have to admit it's the best.)
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Easy A, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Parts 1 and 2, Twilight, Divergent
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated directorial debut threw it back to the early aughts but spoke directly to teens of the 2010s — not to mention anyone who had ever been a high schooler wishing that they were living someplace else, or that they were named something else, or that they could be someone else. (So, most of us.)
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. Saoirse Ronan breathed such life (and attitude) into this pink-haired rebel we’d jump right out of a moving car for her — even if she still was not yet the best version of herself.
YOU’VE QUOTED: “I gave it to myself. It’s given to me, by me.” —Lady Bird, when asked whether “Lady Bird” is her given name
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: “Cry Me a River,” Justin Timberlake
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: The Edge of Seventeen, The Bling Ring, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Eighth Grade, Dope
Love, Simon (2018)
Rewind to the ‘80s and you’ll find tales of oppressed outcasts and extreme teen cruelty, but Gen Z’s high school movies bring a wave of kindness and acceptance — none moreso than Greg Berlanti’s sweet coming-out story.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Simon (Nick Robinson). Despite the wildly unenviable blackmail situation, you can’t miss that he’s got a wonderful life filled with loving friends and family — and a pen-pal romance to boot!
YOU’VE QUOTED: “You get to exhale now.” —Emily
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: “Love Lies,” Khalid and Normani
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser
Beanie Feldstein may be Jonah Hill’s sister and Booksmart may chronicle a single wild night in the lives of two high school senior BFFs, but to reduce Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut to “the female version of Superbad” is to undermine its brilliant originality, hilarity, and insight.
EVERYONE WANTED TO BE: Gigi (Billie Lourd). Our heroines are great, but who can compete with this all-knowing party-hopping princess?
YOU’VE QUOTED: “Who allowed you to be this beautiful?” —Molly, and Amy, and Molly again…
YOU KNOW ALL THE WORDS TO: “Slip Away,” Perfume Genius
YOU LOVE THESE MOVIES, TOO: Blockers