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If you’re young and about to go back to school, you probably feel stressed, excited, and apprehensive all at once — doubly so if you’re starting your first year of college.
But you also deserve to have a bit of fun during your last remaining weeks of freedom, right? Between the mad dash to stock up on supplies or to move back onto campus, it might do you some good to sit back, relax, and watch a few movies.
Here are some of the best and most entertaining “back to school” movies you can stream right now on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Cinemax. (Don’t have HBO or Cinemax? Both are available as add-on channels for Amazon Prime!)
Even if you’re an adult who hasn’t seen the inside of a school for years, these films should offer some entertaining nostalgia…
Netflix is simply incredible. Yes, its library has shrunk a lot over the years, but that’s only because it threw off most of the dead weight. Many great films are still available to stream, plus you get access to Netflix’s growing pool of original content — one of which is included below. If you don’t have Netflix yet, check out our guide to Netflix for newbies.
1. Mean Girls (2004)
Mean Girls is one those movies where the title does no justice to the film — it’s fitting for the story, but fails to convey just how funny and pointed it can be. This is not your average teen comedy.
It’s about a girl who spent most of her life being homeschooled in Africa returning to America and starting afresh at her first public high school. Over the course of the year, she must make new friends, survive drama, and deal with a budding romance. It’s smart, hilarious, and fun.
2. Grease (1978)
As the oldest film in this article, be ready to cut it some slack. Yes, it looks and sounds dated. Yes, it can be cheesy at times. But also yes, it’s such a fun ride! There’s a reason why it’s a classic.
Grease is a romantic comedy musical set in the 1950s. It starts with the summer fling between a American “greaser” (a no-good working-class youth) and a girl from Australia. When summer ends and the school year begins, they don’t know that they’re both enrolled at the same place.
This high-energy film is packed full of catchy songs, emotional moments, and deep-running themes to which we can all relate.
3. Burning Sands (2017)
While Netflix is mostly known for its original TV series, Burning Sands is proof that Netflix has what it takes to create compelling original films too. Be warned: this movie is intense!
This movie is an examination of the kind of hazing culture that exists in some college fraternities. New pledges are forced to survive “Hell Week” — seven straight days of physical and mental abuse — to prove their loyalties to the brotherhood. But what happens when one pledge is torn between wanting to fit in and standing up to said violence and atrocities?
4. High School Musical (2006)
High School Musical does exactly what it says on the tin can, as it’s a lighthearted musical for tweens and teens. Don’t expect it to blow your mind and change your life. Save it for one of those days where you just need to kill time and want to watch a silly movie. For that, it’s great.
The movie follows the captain of a high school basketball team and a nerdy girl in the same school’s academic team. As opposite as they are, they fall for each over their shared love of music and resolve to win a karaoke contest together.
Hulu pales in comparison to Netflix, but there are still several reasons to subscribe — such as the fact that it has a lot of movies that aren’t available on Netflix. And though it’s a bit pricey at $11.99-per-month, the No Commercials Hulu plan makes the platform much more bearable.
5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
How many times have you wanted to skip school? Well, Ferris Bueller actually pulls it off in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — and it doesn’t play out how he thought it would.
There isn’t much of a plot here, but don’t let that turn you away from watching it. Not only will it make you laugh, it’s full of quotable lines, and is a great reminder that we all need to have some fun in life occasionally.
6. Clueless (1995)
Clueless is best known as a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, but it’s much more than that. In it you’ll find a healthy dose of satire, lots of social commentary on affluent teens, and a surprising amount of heart in its characters.
In short, Clueless is a teen comedy that’s been swallowed up by time and no longer gets as much credit as it deserves. Give it a watch and be impressed by how relevant it still is for today.
Most people flock to HBO for its impressive line-up of TV shows, but you should know that HBO also maintains a sizeable library of films. You can access these through HBO Now for $14.99-per-month, but if you have a cable TV subscription, check if you have an existing HBO GO account. Learn more about the differences between HBO Now and HBO GO.
7. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Who can talk about college movies without mentioning the classic Good Will Hunting? Very few films can simultaneously break you down and build you up, but this one does it — and masterfully so. Its powerful performances alone earn it the 97 percent critical reception.
Good Will Hunting follows an MIT janitor who is extremely gifted in mathematics, but fails to do anything with it due to his internal issues. Of the many lessons to be learned here, perhaps the greatest one is that we tend to be our own worst enemies but in ways we may not expect.
8. The Breakfast Club (1985)
If “five teens are stuck together in detention” doesn’t sound like a great movie to you, it’s because you’ve never seen The Breakfast Club.
The trajectory of the film’s plot is admittedly predictable from the start, but so much goodness is uncovered along the way that it doesn’t really matter. The Breakfast Club is all about what it means to be a teen, about growing up, about how strangers aren’t really strangers, and more.
9. Rushmore (1998)
Wes Anderson is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of director. His films have such a unique style to them that they can be jarring to uninitiated viewers. But if you fall on the “love him” side of the fence, then Rushmore may just become your favorite school-related movie ever.
It follows a student at a prestigious prep school who is in all kinds of top-ranking roles: yearbook editor, debate team leader, chess club president, etc. But when he’s placed on probation with risk of being expelled, things take an interesting turn. Sound serious? Don’t worry. It’s a comedy.
Although Cinemax has developed a reputation for its adult-oriented programming, you should know that Cinemax offers a lot of other interesting content to peruse. You can stream it through MAX GO (which comes included with most Cinemax subscriptions) or Amazon Prime (with the Cinemax add-on subscription for $9.99 per month).
10. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Poetry is bleh, isn’t it? Most students think so. But for the students in John Keating’s English class, they find themselves facing a teacher like none other — one who not only encourages free thinking and unconventional perspectives, but inspires them to be better for themselves.
Dead Poets Society is a classic, and if I could only pick one movie in this article to recommend, it would be this one. Whether you’re in high school, in college, or the parent of a student, there’s a lot of value to be mined in this dense, funny, and striking film.
11. Hoosiers (1986)
You didn’t think an article on school-related films could end without a sports movie, did you? Of course not! But because sports movies are mostly rehashes of the same themes, we recommend going back and watching the classic Hoosiers. It’s one of the best-made films in the genre.
The plot is simple: an alcoholic coach trains a high school basketball team for a state championship they have no hope of winning. But don’t watch it for the plot. Watch it for the performances, the characters, and the heart.
What’s Your Favorite Back to School Film?
We’ve only scratched the surface here. Unfortunately, a lot of excellent films set in schools aren’t available to stream on these platforms: Easy A, Friday Night Lights, Napoleon Dynamite, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc. If these sound more like your cup of tea consider renting them on Amazon.
Which films on this list do you love the most? And which do you hate? If you have a different school film to recommend, feel free to share them with us the comments below! And if you feel so inclined, please share this post with your friends.
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