Overrated & Underrated High School Movies
The only respite at this point is fantasy. Dreaming of a life outside of ours, one where school is but a minor inconvenience and can even serve as a method of deriving happiness.
Where does this place exist? The movies, of course. High school movies are enjoyed by students and former students simply for their surreal escapism, for creating a world that never exists in the school halls but one we all wish did.
Of course, some movies have gained clout in the High School movie genre that is totally undeserved - kind of like the girl in high school who wins homecoming queen just because she puts out. Others never get the credit that they deserve - like the sensitive guy in study hall who hasn't learned how to talk to girls yet.
The following are the most overrated and underrated High School Movies.
5. "High School Musical"
Does this really require qualification? Didn't think so.
4. "The Breakfast Club"
It seems nearly every list of best high school movie finds this one seated at its top. A bit of a strange occurrence seeing as this movie doesn't have much of a story, isn't really very funny and drags at some sections as we're confined in detention with its collection of characters. There are some nice moments, of course, and a killer soundtrack, but "The Breakfast Club" is really just a pretty good movie that's a bit too in love with itself at times. Certainly not the best high school movie ever made.
Yes, this movie is funny. It's very funny. It's milk-through-the-nose level funny. But that's all it is - it's funny. Somehow this movie became "a realistic examination of high school teens" and "the most honest movie about high school ever." Really? How many nights did anybody spend joyriding with cops? How often did anyone attend strange parties with someone who just ran over them in a car? The answer is never. "Superbad" is really just a funnier and more vulgar version of "American Pie." It has the same premise, awkward guys trying to get laid, and the same reliance on gross-out humor. It's not that "Superbad" isn't a good movie, it's a great movie, just not the honest examination of high school teens it's purported to be.
2. "Dazed and Confused"
Set on the final day of school in 1976, Richard Linklater's Altman-esque small town examination has long been heralded as a masterpiece. Why? It doesn't really have a story, its message seems to be that it's better to wander aimlessly in life than have goals, and it caused Matthew McConaughey to insufferably quote his character during every single interview. This is a fun movie, a great one to flip to for 15 minutes on a boring afternoon, but nothing more than that. Despite this, people talk about this film as though it's great art, as though it's essential film viewing and will change the watcher's life. It won't, it's just fun - leave it at that.
1. "Donnie Darko"
A pseudo-philosophical mess of a film, "Darko" became a huge cult classic for reasons nobody can explain. People love twist endings, and its overwrought bit of time-travel nonsense was certainly a pull-the-rug-out moment, but a cool ending does not a great picture make. On its way there we find a meandering melodrama with bits of everything inserted here and there as the writer decides to pluck bits of cool thing he's read (Cellar Door) and insert them willy-nilly, whether or not they relate to the overall theme. For a film that attempts to be thematic, this is a jumbled mess, and one that phony intellectuals raise on high because few have seen it and even fewer care to solve its puzzle, making them feel superior for having done so. Now that's overrated.
5. "Bring It On"
Nobody's going to take a movie seriously if it's about a cheerleading competition. If William Shakespeare and Orson Welles rose from the dead to make a movie about rah-rah girls it would still be dismissed, so it's no wonder that "Bring It On" is widely disrespected. It's a shame because this is a delightfully funny and compelling movie. You actually care about the characters and the results of such a ludicrous showdown. That's because of its brilliant racial commentary: making the statement that when white people do the same things that African-Americans have been doing they're suddenly hailed as brilliant talents (see: Presley, Elvis). There's more to this film than just some floosies in skirts waving their pom-poms.
4. "Stand and Deliver"
You can have "Dead Poets Society" and "Dangerous Minds" and every other inspirational teacher movie, but this is still the finest work in that genre, the true story of a math teacher who mentored poor students in East L.A. through passing the AP Calculus Test. This movie doesn't go for any false inspiration, it doesn't try to glorify the teacher or his students, it just tells the story of what he did, and how he used some methods some would find appalling to reach his students. In doing that, "Stand and Deliver" is more inspirational than those movies that make a concerted effort to go for the gusto. Despite this, "Stand and Deliver" is the least-acclaimed of the sub-genre.
3. "Friday Night Lights"
Some of the best high school movies are about sports and this one is no exception. Though it's been overshadowed by its brilliant TV companion, "Lights" is every bit as great. Filmed with the same raw aplomb, featuring the same ultra-realistic acting and the intense examination of small town Texas high-schoolers, this is an incredible sports film that may also be the best examination of teenagers ever put on the big screen. Virtually dismissed as just another in the endless line of lame high school sports movies at the time of its release, it wasn't until the TV show that the film started to get the credit it deserved. Unfortunately, that means this movie is also the last thing anybody thinks of when they hear the title "Friday Night Lights".
Before the fantastic "Mean Girls" there was the even better and far darker "Heathers" featuring former movie star Winona Ryder and former heartthrob Christian Slater. This takes the backstabbing in that Lindsay Lohan vehicle to a nearly literal point with murders, gunplay and cover ups. This is satire at is finest, a wickedly funny and outrageous but altogether relatable examination of high school cliques and popularity. This is the definitive work on that subject but has been almost entirely forgotten (much like its aforementioned stars) in the years following. This is one that should be re-discovered as it is just as relevant today. Watch it. If you can find it.
1. "Boyz N The Hood"
This film hits for the underrated cycle: It's about black people (so white people ignore it), it's about poor people (so rich people can't be bothered), it talks about a part of society everyone wants to pretend doesn't exist, and its violent and realist crime shocks too many audiences. All this adds up to a brilliant film about three high school friends from South Central (excuse me, "South LA") Los Angeles dealing with the heinous rigors of growing up in their gang-controlled area in the early-90s. Not everyone ignored the film as its director, the severely underrated John Singleton, became the youngest person and the first black person ever nominated for Best Director, but outside of that this never resonated with audiences over time. This is because of all the reasons mentioned above. When people go to check out a movie about high school they don't want to be faced with the brutal reality of a world they want to pretend doesn't exist. This film, and many of the other brilliant gang films of the early 90s, has been pushed aside in favor of sunnier and less realistic crime films and, as it relates to this article, less horrifying stories of the high school experience.
Check back next week for the most underrated and overrated pop music duets of all time.
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Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer
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