The Best Schools in Movies, Ranked


Academia is a great cinematic setting. The peer pressures of fitting in and standing out. The uneducated and overeducated always at odds with each other. Finding the silver lining in tough lessons. School is a place for higher learning; a place where vetted teachers and students make their way through papers, projects, and pencil-pushing to become active, contributing members of society. It is no easy task, but graduating from thinking outside the box is what school is for. While you are in school, the stereotypical ilk are alive and well for movies to exaggerate with pinpoint and humorous accuracy.

Some students are bold rule breakers and avoid the disciplinary action of by-the-book thinkers. Others stick to their wits and come on top without pushing or pulling. On rare occasions, they even teach us the power of dance and hairspray. No matter how students come across on film, school is what shapes them into well-rounded characters for us to identify with and seek refuge in. School is cool, but movies make us want to stay in school even longer.



8 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)


The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry gave every Muggle a glimpse into the cryptic boarding school’s magical studies. Located in Scotland, a mystical place all its own, the centerpiece for all the Gothic spells and enchantments all started here for Harry and his friends. The four houses of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin make the wand carriers almost cultish in a childish, but Halloween-like way. The school motto, “Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon,” gives you a sense of the wonderful world of wizards everyone can’t wait to attend.


7 School of Rock (2003)


Jack Black is a former band member, Dewey Finn, who becomes an unorthodox, substitute music teacher at the prim and proper Horace Greene Prep School. He discovers the musical talents of his students and teaches them how to express their song of self. Rock and roll does not sit well with their parents, but music is a language we all understand. The Battle of the Bands showcased the ultimate crescendo of musicians being individuals being who they want to be.

6 The Paper Chase (1973)


One of the most accurate portrayals of a traditional school, and Harvard Law School no less, The Paper Chase is a class act. Based on John Jay Osborn Jr.’s 1971 novel of the same name, and similar to Code Breakers (2005), the West Point military school drama about a cheating scandal in 1951, first-year law student James Hart (Timothy Bottoms) must pass the class of the esteemed Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Houseman) while he is dating the professor’s daughter, Susan Fields (Lindsay Wagner). The regimented austerity of Kingsfield and the clever auspiciousness of Hart makes this lesson a slow burn to learn and earn the laws of life.

5 Lean On Me (1989)


A modern version of To Sir, With Love (1967), Lean On Me shares the story of Principal Joe Louis Clarkwho reforms the crime, drug, and gang-ridden students of the Paterson, New Jersey inner city high school, Eastside High. Morgan Freeman gives an authentic performance as Principal Clark, stern and sympathetic about shaping young minds into functioning, well-rounded young adults. Change is a hard lecture to hear, but once you see it for yourself, the possibilities for a better future get closer, and better, together.

4 The Breakfast Club (1985)


A nice school-as-a-social-experiment think piece, the coming-of-age classic showed how thinking outside the box is what saves students from staying in school and guides them in pursuing their purpose in life. The Breakfast Club taught us that we are more than what people say we are. Cliques coming together and transcending their parties to realize their differences are what makes them, and humanity, the same. It is a lesson you cannot forget.


3 Back to School (1986)


Rodney Dangerfield brings the schoolboy charm to this hilarious scholastic lampoon. He also works off of the bookish cast: Robert Downey Jr. as an artistic rebel; legendary comedian Sam Kinison, Danny Elfman as the frontman of Oingo Boingo, and novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Dazed and Confused, Mean Girls, Fast Times at Ridgemont Highand Napoleon Dynamite; they are all funny in their own right, but Dangerfield is a joke machine. He has the spirit for school and a twisted sense of school spirit as a wealthy yet uneducated man who learns that you cannot buy smarts or happiness. Dangerfield also taught us that laughing is free.

2 Conrack (1974)


Based on the autobiography, The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy, Jon Voight plays Conroy, affectionately named Conrack by the impoverished black student body of the South Carolinian sea island of Yamacraw. Conroy was a teacher who taught us the world is a classroom, free to learn and grow in.

1 Dead Poets Society (1989)


Set in the fictional, late fifties Vermont all-male boarding school, Weston Academy, Robin Williams is John Keating, the new nonconformist English teacher. A select group of young men learn to express their livelihoods’ dreams and desires from Mr. Keating, despite the authoritarian bureaucracy of the institution’s headmaster. The staying power that a teacher has on his students cannot be neglected or taken for granted. Dead Poets Society reminds us that education is poetry in motion that makes life a long lesson worth learning.

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