Back to School: Hilarious Movies You Should Watch Before Heading to College

Animal House
Animal House | Source: Universal Pictures

Summer is indisputably over and school is now in full swing for many. However, even if your school days are long over, you can still enjoy one of the many great comedy films that have been made about the college/high school experience.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of comedies that have used educational institutions as their settings. But not every film that has mined the school experience has come up with comedy gold. With that in mind, we’ve created a list of school-themed comedies that have received high ratings from the critics and withstood the test of time. This means that many well-known and commercially successful school-themed movies may not have made this list due to a poor critical reception (sorry, fans of American Pie).

Since there are so many comedy movies about schools, many of the films included in this list were based on personal preferences. However, all of the movies featured have achieved an 80 percent or higher “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. The movies are listed in ascending order, from lowest critical rating to highest.

10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Directed by ’80s teen movie veteran John Hughes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stars Matthew Broderick in the title role as he enjoys an unapproved day off from his high school in Chicago. The film was a commercial and critical success, and pulled in more than $70 million in domestic box office receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. Besides spawning countless teen flick imitations, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off also inspired a television series. The film currently has an 80 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes and a 92 percent audience approval rating.

9. Mean Girls (2004)

Former Saturday Night Live cast member Tina Fey penned the screenplay for this hit movie that takes a satirical look at the social cliques commonly found in public high schools. Loosely based on Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabes, the film stars Lindsay Lohan as a homeschooled girl going to a public high school for the first time.

Mean Girls was a commercial hit at the time of its release and has since developed a cult following. According to Box Office Mojo, the film achieved over $86 million in domestic gross and nearly $43 million in foreign gross.  Mean Girls has maintained its popularity over the years and currently has an 83 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

8. 21 Jump Street (2012)

Ostensibly based on the ’80s television series of the same name, this film has little in common with the original show beyond sharing its implausible premise that a  team of undercover police officers solely dedicated to solving crimes in high schools by posing as teenagers exists. However, the film hit comedy gold by having Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as two clueless police officers who reenroll in a high school to break up a ring of drug dealers.

21 Jump Street was a commercial success and brought in a total domestic gross of $138.4 million on an estimated production budget of $42 million, making it the highest-grossing high school comedy ever made, according to data compiled by Box Office Mojo. The film also amused the critics at Rotten Tomatoes enough to garner an 85 percent “Certified Fresh” rating. The sequel, 22 Jump Street, in which the characters infiltrate a local college, has also secured an 85 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics.

7. Superbad (2007)

Before Jonah Hill starred as a police officer posing as an awkward high school student in 21 Jump Street, he played an awkward high school student in the similarly successful Superbad. Featuring a storyline that involves the anxiety associated with leaving high school friends behind, Superbad is the perfect film to watch if you are heading to college for the first time. Besides Hill, the film also features Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, and Seth Rogen, who co-wrote the script.

The film was a smash hit, and its domestic gross of $121.5 million makes it the second-highest grossing high school comedy behind 21 Jump Street, according to Box Office Mojo. The critics at Rotten Tomatoes have given Superbad an 88 percent “Certified Fresh” rating.

6. Rushmore (1998)

Renowned director Wes Anderson explores the world of an exclusive preparatory school in this film about a precocious student named Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzman) who becomes obsessed with an older woman. Bill Murray costars as Max’s frenemy, while Olivia Williams plays a schoolteacher and the object of Max’s affections.

According to Box Office Mojo, Rushmore was a box office flop, since the film’s $17 million gross failed to surpass its $20 million budget. However, the film was a hit with critics and has since garnered a loyal cult following. The film currently has an 89 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes and a 91 percent audience approval rating.

5. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

This irreverent movie about a motley group of hard-partying fraternity members who flunk out of college helped establish John Landis as a comedy film director and Harold Ramis as a comedy writer. The film also made Saturday Night Live veteran John Belushi’s character of Bluto an instantly recognizable icon of fraternity excess.

Animal House was a commercial hit, with a total lifetime gross of $141.6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Although the film was widely panned by critics when it was first released, it has since been acknowledged as one of the greatest comedy films ever made. National Lampoon’s Animal House currently has a 91 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

4. Election (1999)

Matthew Broderick returns to the high school comedy genre in this satirical film about a student body election that spirals out of control. Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a seemingly mild-mannered civics teacher, while Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, an overachieving student who gets under McAllister’s skin.

Based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, Election garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published. The film currently has a 92 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

3. School of Rock (2003)

Jack Black stars as Dewey Finn, a rock ‘n’ roll aficionado who scams his way into a music teaching job at a prestigious private school, in this comedy film directed by Richard Linklater. At the school, Finn instructs his fifth-grade students about classic rock history as he molds them into a rock band capable of winning a local “Battle of the Bands” contest.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film was a commercial hit, with a total domestic gross of $81.3 million. This inspirational comedy film has also sustained its popularity with the critics, who have awarded School of Rock a 92 percent “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

2. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Ten years before making School of Rock, director Richard Linklater helmed this critically acclaimed coming-of-age comedy film that focuses on a diverse group of high school students in the 1970s. Dazed and Confused features a large ensemble cast that includes Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Joey Lauren Adams, Adam Goldberg, Rory Cochrane, Esteban Powell, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, Parker Posey, and Ben Affleck.

According to Box Office Mojo, Dazed and Confused only recorded a modest box office take of about $8 million. However, the film garnered favorable reviews from the critics at has since achieved cult status. Dazed and Confused currently has a 94 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

1. Heathers (1988)

This Michael Lehmann-directed film puts a dark comedy twist on the oft-explored world of high school social cliques and peer pressure with a story about a pair of students who murder bullies. The film stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as the murderous couple, while Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker play the girls in the popular Heathers clique. Heathers was a box office bomb, with a paltry domestic gross of just more than $1 million, according to Box Office Mojo. However, the film was well received by most critics and has achieved a 95 percent “Certified Fresh” critical rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

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