Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: The best high school movies ever

Movie blogger Dominic Corry reviews the best high school films of all time after seeing The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

In the seven months since The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released in America, the film has won a bunch of awards, appeared on numerous 'Best of' lists and cemented its status as a bonafide modern classic not of just the high school genre, but of any genre.

The film was finally released in New Zealand this week and I went and saw it out in a cinema yesterday. Wow. It is freaking wonderful and wholly deserving of the cult that has sprung up around it.

If the huge delay in its release hasn't led to you downloading The Perks of Being A Wallflower, I highly recommend you check it out. It's really quite something.

The film stars Logan Lerman as a troubled young high school freshman who is taken under the wing of two senior students - the flamboyant Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the gorgeous Sam (Emma Watson). They bring him into their social world and introduce him to the hedonistic and romantic wonders of teenagedom.

Deftly combining harsh high school realities with teenage fantasy wish-fulfillment, the film provides superlative amounts of uplift, even while touching on some pretty dark subjects.

All three lead actors are amazing. Watson is clearly attempting to prove there's more to her than Hermione, and while she is awesome here, the truly revalatory performance comes from Lerman, previously known principally for big showy movies like Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Three Musketeers. His sensitive portrayal ably bears the burden for every teenage lame-o who yearned for something cooler.

I decided to write a blog about the best high school movies before I went and saw Wallflower, and since experiencing the joys of the film, pigeon-holing it as such feels narrow-minded. It's just a really great movie, period.

Anyway, I shall nevertheless valiantly press forward with my summation of the best high school movies ever made because why not.

With the vertiginous stakes of daily existence and a general surfeit of outsized emotions, the high school milieu is perfect for the melodramatic medium of movies. The Perks of Being a Wallflower writer/director Stephen Chbosky (who adapted his own 1999 novel for the film) cited two titans of the high school genre as the principal influences on his original text - The Breakfast Club (1985) and Dead Poet's Society (1989).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower could easily be described as the intersection between these two movies, which are not only two of the best-loved high school movies ever, but also represent the two main types as I see them - 'Regular' and 'Boarding/Prep school'.

The Breakfast Club writer/director John Hughes is justly revered for his formative and influential contributions to the high school genre - most of his works qualify as 'Regular', as they are generally set at a "normal" middle class high school where both sexes intermingle and the students wear mufty. While Ferris Bueller's Day Off remains his best (and funniest) film, The Breakfast Club is his most insightful take on the high school experience.

Sixteen Candles (1984), his debut film as writer and director, is a significant movie in the development of the teen genre, as are 1986's Pretty In Pink and 1987's Some Kind Of Wonderful, both which he wrote and produced, but didn't direct. I could definitely sniff bits of Some Kind of Wonderful in Wallflower.

Outside of the Hughes ouvre, the original 'Regular' high school movie is also one of the best - Amy Heckerling's ribald 1982 classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Writer Cameron Crowe (who would later direct Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous) based the screenplay on a book he wrote after going undercover in a high school to see what kids those days were getting up to. He uncovered teenage pregnancy and mall employment.

The R-rated Fast Times frankly depicted teenage sexuality and drug use to a degree that marks it apart from John Hughes' high school movies, and help solidify its memory in the minds of a thrill-seeking adolescent audience.

Thirteen years after Fast Times, director Amy Heckerling helmed another iconic high school movie, the oh-so-'90s comedy Clueless (1995), which I guess counts as 'Regular'.

The success of the witty Clueless led to a rash of lesser high school movies populated by quip-spouting teenagers, and verisimilitude took a back seat to snark. The trend endured through more notable films like 2004's Mean Girls and 2010's Easy A. Neither movie is without merit.

Although a line can be drawn from these films through to 2007's Superbad, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg's magnum opus must be credited both with bringing realistic characters back to the 'Regular' high school comedy and re-embracing a filthy sensibility with endearing gleefulness.

I extolled the awesomeness of Dazed and Confused in my recent blog about the best party movies ever, but it deserves mentioning here for its amusingly meticulous portrayal of the caste system at a Texas high school in the mid-'70s.

It's scary to think that Dazed & Confused's period setting was equally as far from its 1994 release as Wallflower's early '90s setting is to now. Eep. Both films do an amazing job of speaking to adolescent social wish-fulfilment.

The high school setting is always ripe for satire, and few films have done with more bite than Heathers (1989). The march of progress has not been kind to the film however, with Christian Slater's gun-toting high school badass a much more problematic character in a post-Columbine world.

My favourite high school-set satire is 1999's Election, a jet-black comedy that gets better with every viewing. Seeing Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick take on Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick (as a frustrated teacher), lends the film an appealing meta-quality.

Writer/director Rian Johnson first directed his Looper star Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick (2005), a film noir-influenced take on the high school movie that hasn't generated as much of a cult as it deserves. The hard boiled dialogue and eerie mystery serve as perfect metaphors for the self-seriousness of high schoolers.

Speaking of darker films, has there been a better portrayal of high school cruelty than in Brian De Palma's 1976 classic Carrie? It's the horror elements that get the attention, but the reason it all works so well is down to Sissy Spacek's heartbreaking performance as a believable high school outcast.

Moving on to the self-explanatory 'Boarding/Prep School' category of high school movies, the awesome-but-grim-but-awesome Dead Poet's Society reigned supreme in this subgenre for many years. That is, until a filmmaker named Wes Anderson came along and made a film called Rushmore in 1998 and forever altered what could be expected from a movie set in high school.

Anderson's mannered style of filmmaking as channelled through his on-screen proxy Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) displayed a confidently innovative approach to the high school movie, and paved the way for films like The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.

One of my all-time favourite 'Boarding/Prep School' films is Outside Providence, a little seen gem from 1999 about a teenage ne'er do well (Shawn Hatosy) whose gruff blue collar pop (Alec Baldwin in fine form) sends him to a fancy prep school to straighten out.

It's a very funny movie with plenty of amusing boarding school shenanigans; an intelligent script and a solid supporting cast. It's based on an autobiographical novel by Peter Farrelly, who along with his brother Bobby directed films such as There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. They don't direct here (thankfully - it's a much subtler film than the kinds they tend to make), but have a screenplay credit.

Outside Providence is a lot better than most of its ilk, and well-worth watching if you like this sort of thing.

Another favourite 'Boarding/Prep School' movie of mine is the 1991 action thriller Toy Soliders which stars Sean Astin as the leader of a bunch of teenagers who fight back when terrorists take over their snooty academy. Yep, it's Die Hard in a Prep School.

While not a particularly well-regarded film, Toy Soldiers speaks directly to the deranged mind of the teenage boy, not one of whom can deny daydreaming about taking on bad guys who infiltrate their school. For what it is, it's pretty great. Does anyone else out there like this movie? I fear I am the only one.

It's pretty tenuous calling it a high school film, but Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes (1986) is another favourite of mine that benefits greatly from its boarding school setting.

Cult classic Donnie Darko (2001) is many things, but its impossible to separate the film's power from its high school setting, so I'm including it here.

It feels pertinant to mention here that many of the best representations of high school have been television shows with Freaks and Geeks; Veronica Mars and My So-Called Life among the best examples.

I am throwing these significant high school movies in here for the sake of thoroughness - please feel free to agree or disagree with their classic status in the comments: Scream; Cruel Intentions; Flirting; Ten Things I Hate About You; Bring It On and I suppose I should include American Pie. Does Grease count? Everybody in it looks about thirty.

What are you favourite high school movies? Are you amped for/Have you seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Is my whole 'Regular and Boarding/Prep School' category thing as pointless as it currently seems to me? Comment below!

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Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

A film critic and broadcaster for fifteen years, a movie and pop culture obsessive for much longer. Favourite films: The Lady Vanishes (1938), Ace In The Hole (1951), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Vertigo (1958), Purple Noon (1960), Emperor of the North (1973), The Parallax View (1974), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Aliens, The Three Amigos (1986), House of Games, Robocop (1987), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Talk Radio (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Midnight Run (1989), Metropolitan (1990), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Dazed and Confused (1995), The Game (1997), The Last Days of Disco (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Primer (2002), Drag Me To Hell, District 9 (2009), It Follows (2015) and The Witch (2016). See more at

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