9 family movies about school

Posted October 10

If there is at least one good thing to come out of school, it’s all the great movies about it. Even in an era dominated by giant-sized superhero movies, school is still a go-to subject for Hollywood, with this weekend’s release of “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life” (based on a series of books by bestselling mystery writer James Patterson) as the latest movie to try to capture those formative years, constantly dealing with homework and living from one awkward moment to the next.

Here are nine other movies involving school and all the tangled memories that come with it — the good, the horrible and everything in between.

“Matilda” — Despite sharing a few key ingredients with Stephen King’s “Carrie,” this Roald Dahl story about a precocious young girl who discovers telekinetic powers and uses them to get back at the school bully (in this case, the bully being no less than the school’s sadistic principal) is one of what seems like only a few live-action kids’ comedies from that era (the mid-1990s) that still holds up all these years later. Danny DeVito (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), who also plays Matilda’s shady father, directed.

MPAA rating: PG for elements of exaggerated meanness and ridicule, and for some mild language

“A Little Princess” — Before he made what many consider the best Harry Potter movie or won an Oscar for sending Sandra Bullock into space, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón had already left a mark (well, among critics, anyway) with this fantasy-tinged drama about a girl raised in British India whose father sends her to live at a boarding school in New York at the onset of World War I. “A Little Princess” was a financial bust, earning just $10 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, on a $17 million budget when it was released back in 1995, but it received almost universally glowing reviews, earning a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and for good reason. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a crowd pleaser.

(As an interesting side note, the titular “little princess,” Liesel Matthews, one of the heirs to the Pritzker family fortune and worth an estimated $500 million, retired from acting in 2000 to dedicate her energy to philanthropic efforts in developing countries, according to Forbes magazine.)

MPAA rating: G

“Mean Girls” — As far as Lindsay Lohan may have fallen from public favor, this 2004 high school comedy remains a perennial classic thanks to its combination of directing (courtesy of Mark Waters, who also directed “Freaky Friday”), cast and a script by Tina Fey that was, according to TimeOut.com, "deft (and) precisely detailed" in its portrayal of the cutthroat, Darwinian world of high school cliques.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and some teen partying

“Sky High” — Think Harry Potter by way of the Avengers. Michael Angarano plays Will Stronghold, the son of two of the world’s most famous superheroes (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston), who gets sent off to a floating high school in the sky dedicated to training the superheroes of tomorrow. The only problem? Will doesn’t have any powers, which means he might be stuck as a sidekick.

MPAA rating: PG for action violence and some mild language

“Prom” — The title pretty much says it all. Following a bunch of high school seniors in the lead-up to one of the most memorable nights of their young lives, this Disney live-action comedy tries to be a John Hughes (who contributed to such '80s classics as "Pretty in Pink" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") movie for millennials. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film "most definitely exists within the cocoon of the Disney version of teen life, where getting a dream date and perhaps passing algebra are the only problems a teen could possibly confront."

MPAA rating: PG for mild language and a brief fight

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” — Based on Jeff Kinney’s bestselling books, this 2010 movie follows the various misadventures of the series' protagonist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) as he navigates the social minefield that is middle school. Two sequels followed in 2011 and 2012, and a third one, “The Long Haul” is slated for 2017 with new actors stepping into all the key roles. (Odd bit of trivia: playing Greg’s dad in the upcoming sequel/reboot will be Tom Everett Scott, taking over for Steve Zahn. Both actors are still probably best known to a lot of audiences as the drummer and bassist, respectively, in the Oneders from “That Thing You Do.”)

MPAA rating: PG for some rude humor and language

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — This whole list could have been made up stuff Hughes wrote, directed or produced. This high school comedy ditches the school within the first few minutes of its runtime and forever made a star out of Matthew Broderick (and Ben Stein). “Ferris Bueller” is so popular, in fact, it’s even spawned its own fan theories. According to moviepilot.com, one such theory is that Ferris Bueller is actually the alter-ego of Cameron, one of the other main characters in the film.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for frequent profanity, including instances of the F-word, according to Common Sense Media.

“Napoleon Dynamite” — Does this one even need an introduction? Love it or hate it, BYU alum Jared Hess’s indie comedy definitely left a mark when it hit theaters in 2004, partly thanks to its eccentric cast of characters and a seemingly bottomless supply of quotable lines, but also thanks to just how relatable a lot of it is, especially for anyone who grew up in a place like Idaho or Utah. According to avclub.com, the film, which first appeared at the Sundance Film Festival, made more than $46 million on a $400,000 budget.

MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements and language

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — Maybe the most incredible thing about the Harry Potter books and movies is their ability to make a school — and a boarding school, no less — not just appealing, but something kids will line up in droves to experience more of, whether on the page, on the screen or as a theme park attraction. And if the school aspect isn’t the very first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of J.K. Rowling’s world of wizards and witches, just try for a second to imagine Harry Potter without Hogwarts.

MPAA rating: PG for some scary moments and mild language

Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.


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