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10 Things

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25 Essential High School Movies of the Last 25 Years

Rotten Tomatoes celebrates its birthday every year right around the same time students/parents are dreading/celebrating the dawn of a new school year. And since Rotten Tomatoes has no kids to send off (being a review aggregation site and not a living sentient organism capable of reproduction — though who knows what the future holds?), we are instead getting into the school spirit with 25 essential high school movies of the last 25 years, dating back to our inception in 1998.

Come gather as we relive the young glory days of peak accomplishments, including attending epic ragers, throwing a football over them mountains, definitely making fetch happen, and occasionally breaking down the social hierarchy of locker room hallways.

The movies include Certified Fresh classics like 21 Jump Street, Juno, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Easy A, and Mean Girls. Then there’s enduring Fresh favorites (Remember the Titans, 10 Things I Hate About You, American Pie), and even Cruel Intentions. Sometimes you gotta throw the ugly outcast a bone, ya know?

Going by release order, see our selections of the 25 essential high school movies since 1998!

#1
Adjusted Score: 75304%
Critics Consensus: Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger add strong performances to an unexpectedly clever script, elevating 10 Things (slightly) above typical teen fare.
Synopsis: Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is beautiful, smart and quite abrasive to most of her fellow teens, meaning that she doesn't... [More]
Directed By: Gil Junger

#2

American Pie (1999)
61%

#2
Adjusted Score: 67276%
Critics Consensus: So embarrassing it's believable, American Pie succeeds in bringing back the teen movie genre.
Synopsis: A riotous and raunchy exploration of the most eagerly anticipated -- and most humiliating -- rite of adulthood, known as... [More]
Directed By: Paul Weitz

#3

Cruel Intentions (1999)
54%

#3
Adjusted Score: 59599%
Critics Consensus: This darkly comic drama and its attractive young cast are easy on the eyes, but uneven performances and an uninspired script conspire to foil Cruel Intentions.
Synopsis: Annette (Reese Witherspoon) unwittingly becomes a pawn in Sebastian's (Ryan Phillippe) and Kathryn's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) deliciously diabolical wager of... [More]
Directed By: Roger Kumble

#4
#4
Adjusted Score: 76319%
Critics Consensus: An inspirational crowd-pleaser with a healthy dose of social commentary, Remember the Titans may be predictable, but it's also well-crafted and features terrific performances.
Synopsis: In Virginia, high school football is a way of life, an institution revered, each game celebrated more lavishly than Christmas,... [More]
Directed By: Boaz Yakin

#5

Bring It On (2000)
65%

#5
Adjusted Score: 69597%
Critics Consensus: Despite the formulaic, fluffy storyline, this movie is surprisingly fun to watch, mostly due to its high energy and how it humorously spoofs cheerleading instead of taking itself too seriously.
Synopsis: The Toro cheerleading squad from Rancho Carne High School in San Diego has got spirit, spunk, sass and a killer... [More]
Directed By: Peyton Reed

#6
#6
Adjusted Score: 84163%
Critics Consensus: A promising work by Lin, the energetic Better Luck Tomorrow is disturbing and thought-provoking.
Synopsis: An accomplished high school student, Ben (Parry Shen) seems to excel at almost everything except winning over his dream girl,... [More]
Directed By: Justin Lin

#7
#7
Adjusted Score: 77555%
Critics Consensus: A charming, quirky, and often funny comedy.
Synopsis: In small-town Preston, Idaho, awkward teen Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) has trouble fitting in. After his grandmother is injured in... [More]
Directed By: Jared Hess

#8

Mean Girls (2004)
84%

#8
Adjusted Score: 91203%
Critics Consensus: Elevated by a brilliant screenplay and outstanding ensemble cast, Mean Girls finds fresh, female-fronted humor in the high school experience.
Synopsis: Teenage Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) was educated in Africa by her scientist parents. When her family moves to the suburbs... [More]
Directed By: Mark Waters

#9

Brick (2005)
80%

#9
Adjusted Score: 84954%
Critics Consensus: This entertaining homage to noirs past has been slickly and compellingly updated to a contemporary high school setting.
Synopsis: After receiving a frantic phone call from his ex-girlfriend, teenage loner Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that her dead body... [More]
Directed By: Rian Johnson

#10
#10
Adjusted Score: 63846%
Critics Consensus: High School Musical is brazenly saccharine, but it makes up for it with its memorable show tunes, eye-popping choreography, and appealing cast.
Synopsis: Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), the star athlete at a small-town high school, falls for nerdy beauty Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Anne... [More]
Directed By: Kenny Ortega

#11

Juno (2007)
94%

#11
Adjusted Score: 102579%
Critics Consensus: One of the brightest, funniest comedies of the year, Juno's smart script and direction are matched by assured performances in a coming-of-age story with a 21st century twist.
Synopsis: When precocious teen Juno MacGuff becomes pregnant, she chooses a failed rock star and his wife to adopt her unborn... [More]
Directed By: Jason Reitman

#12

Superbad (2007)
88%

#12
Adjusted Score: 96181%
Critics Consensus: Deftly balancing vulgarity and sincerity while placing its protagonists in excessive situations, Superbad is an authentic take on friendship and the overarching awkwardness of the high school experience.
Synopsis: High school seniors Seth and Evan have high hopes for a graduation party. The co-dependent teens plan to score booze... [More]
Directed By: Greg Mottola

#13

Freedom Writers (2007)
70%

#13
Adjusted Score: 74562%
Critics Consensus: Freedom Writers is a frank, formulaic entry in the inspirational inner-city teacher genre, with an energetic Hilary Swank leading the appealing cast of unknowns.
Synopsis: A dedicated teacher (Hilary Swank) in a racially divided Los Angeles school has a class of at-risk teenagers deemed incapable... [More]
Directed By: Richard LaGravenese

#14

Easy A (2010)
85%

#14
Adjusted Score: 92647%
Critics Consensus: It owes a huge debt to older (and better) teen comedies, but Easy A proves a smart, witty showcase for its irresistibly charming star, Emma Stone.
Synopsis: Prompted by her popular best friend to spill details of her boring weekend, Olive, a clean-cut teen, decides to spice... [More]
Directed By: Will Gluck

#15
Adjusted Score: 92830%
Critics Consensus: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a heartfelt and sincere adaptation that's bolstered by strong lead performances.
Synopsis: Socially awkward teen Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a wallflower, always watching life from the sidelines, until two charismatic students become... [More]
Directed By: Stephen Chbosky

#16

21 Jump Street (2012)
85%

#16
Adjusted Score: 95756%
Critics Consensus: A smart, affectionate satire of '80s nostalgia and teen movie tropes, 21 Jump Street offers rowdy mainstream comedy with a surprisingly satisfying bite.
Synopsis: When cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) join the secret Jump Street unit, they use their youthful appearances... [More]

#17
#17
Adjusted Score: 98622%
Critics Consensus: The Spectacular Now is an adroit, sensitive film that avoids typical coming-of-age story trappings.
Synopsis: An innocent, bookish teenager (Shailene Woodley) begins dating the charming, freewheeling high-school senior (Miles Teller) who awoke on her lawn... [More]
Directed By: James Ponsoldt

#18
Adjusted Score: 92059%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully scripted and perfectly cast, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is a coming-of-age movie with uncommon charm and insight.
Synopsis: An awkward high-school senior (Thomas Mann) and a gravely ill classmate (Olivia Cooke) surprise themselves by becoming inseparable friends.... [More]
Directed By: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

#19

Dope (2015)
88%

#19
Adjusted Score: 95503%
Critics Consensus: Featuring a starmaking performance from Shameik Moore and a refreshingly original point of view from writer-director Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is smart, insightful entertainment.
Synopsis: High-school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) bond over '90s hip-hop culture,... [More]
Directed By: Rick Famuyiwa

#20

The DUFF (2015)
73%

#20
Adjusted Score: 78208%
Critics Consensus: The DUFF doesn't achieve teen-movie greatness, but offers enough of a postmodern twist on the genre to recommend -- and boasts typically great work from star Mae Whitman.
Synopsis: Frumpy high-school senior Bianca (Mae Whitman) has a rude awakening when she learns that her classmates secretly know her as... [More]
Directed By: Ari Sandel

#21
#21
Adjusted Score: 104321%
Critics Consensus: The Edge of Seventeen's sharp script -- and Hailee Steinfeld's outstanding lead performance -- make this more than just another coming-of-age dramedy.
Synopsis: Everyone knows that growing up is hard, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), who... [More]
Directed By: Kelly Fremon Craig

#22
#22
Adjusted Score: 114397%
Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Homecoming does whatever a second reboot can, delivering a colorful, fun adventure that fits snugly in the sprawling MCU without getting bogged down in franchise-building.
Synopsis: Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the... [More]
Directed By: Jon Watts

#23

The Hate U Give (2018)
97%

#23
Adjusted Score: 109303%
Critics Consensus: Led by a breakout turn from Amandla Stenberg, the hard-hitting The Hate U Give emphatically proves the YA genre has room for much more than magic and romance.
Synopsis: Starr Carter is constantly switching between two worlds -- the poor, mostly black neighborhood where she lives and the wealthy,... [More]
Directed By: George Tillman Jr.

#24

Booksmart (2019)
96%

#24
Adjusted Score: 116388%
Critics Consensus: Fast-paced, funny, and fresh, Booksmart does the seemingly impossible by adding a smart new spin to the coming-of-age comedy.
Synopsis: Academic overachievers Amy and Molly thought keeping their noses to the grindstone gave them a leg up on their high... [More]
Directed By: Olivia Wilde

#25
#25
Adjusted Score: 93741%
Critics Consensus: Sensitive, well-acted, and solidly directed, Words on Bathroom Walls is an admirable addition to a genre that too rarely does justice to its worthy themes.
Synopsis: Diagnosed with a mental illness during his senior year of high school, a witty, introspective teen struggles to keep it... [More]
Directed By: Thor Freudenthal