10 Things

(Photo by Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection)

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: 75387%
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 is beautiful, smart and quite abrasive to most of her fellow teens, meaning that she doesn't attract many... [More]
Directed By: Gil Junger

#2

American Pie (1999)
62%

#2
Adjusted Score: 68450%
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: 59705%
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: 76440%
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: 69704%
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: 84202%
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: 77627%
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: 91293%
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: 85027%
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: 64436%
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: 102653%
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: 96253%
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: 74605%
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: 92702%
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: 92871%
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: 95811%
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: 98647%
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: 92078%
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: 95518%
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: 78218%
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: 104374%
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: 114422%
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: 109311%
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: 116466%
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: 93766%
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

(Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

10 Fresh William Friedkin Movies

William Friedkin’s win for the Best Director Oscar on The French Connection, which would also take Best Picture that same ceremony, heralded the peak of the New Hollywood movement. Beginning with late-1960s films like the iconoclastic Bonnie and Clyde and counterculture-defining Easy Rider, and the destruction of the industry’s self-censoring Hays Code, filmmakers in America had been en masse telling darker, more explicit stories. Young, rebellious directors working under this New Hollywood banner included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Friedkin. His police thriller French Connection polishes this era’s tendencies to a grubby shine: It was shot cinema vérité-style (Friedkin had cut his teeth directing live television and documentaries) with a morally questionable hero and a crazed, open ending. The film’s most famous sequence (Gene Hackman’s detective Popeye Doyle racing his car against an elevated train) includes unscripted vehicles collisions, refining the movie’s feel of gritty reality.

Just two years later, Friedkin was back in the Best Director Oscar hot seat for 1973’s The Exorcist. With the movie advertised as the scariest movie ever made since its release, and which became a cultural horror touchstone, Friedkin brought a clinical, matter-of-fact approach to the religious and supernatural possession story. The Exorcist would become the first horror movie to be nominated for Best Picture, though the award that year would go to The Sting, whose helmer George Roy Hill would also take Best Director.

Friedkin sought to make a triple-play with audiences in directing 1977’s Sorcerer, a bruising remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. Sprawling yet relentlessly taut, with a story both ambitious and ambiguous, Sorcerer would be no match to the compact escapist thrills of Star Wars, released one week earlier. Friedkin claims nothing could withstand being in the wake of such a phenomenon; other films released in the immediate wake of Star Wars include Smokey and the Bandit, Exorcist II: The Heretic, New York, New York, and The Rescuers.

Friedkin has remained working in mid-budget dramas and thrillers since. 1980’s Cruising with Al Pacino generated immediate protest and controversy for its presentation of New York’s gay nightclub scene. (A decade earlier, Friedkin had directed the landmark LGBTQ+ film The Boys in the Band.) 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. saw Friedkin attempting to top his own achievement for most impressive car chase.

Jade, Blue Chips, and an acclaimed TV-movie version of 12 Angry Men were among Friedkin’s output in the ’90s. Likely inspired by th  success of the Star Wars Special Editions, Friedkin and Warner Bros. then revisited The Exorcist, restoring cut scenes (including lil’ Reagan’s spiderwalk) and changing the soundtrack, and released “The Version You Never Saw” in 2000. Friedkin’s 21st-century narrative films were  2006’s Bug and 2011’s Killer Joe. His final movie, legal drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (adapted fram Herman Wouk’s play based on his own Caine Mutiny novel) will premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September 2023.Alex Vo

#1
#1
Adjusted Score: 107314%
Critics Consensus: Realistic, fast-paced and uncommonly smart, The French Connection is bolstered by stellar performances by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, not to mention William Friedkin's thrilling production.
Synopsis: New York Detective "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner (Roy Scheider) chase a French heroin smuggler.... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#2
#2
Adjusted Score: 92405%
Critics Consensus: With coke fiends, car chases, and Wang Chung galore, To Live and Die in L.A. is perhaps the ultimate '80s action/thriller.
Synopsis: When his longtime partner on the force is killed, reckless U.S. Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William L. Petersen) vows... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#3

The Exorcist (1973)
78%

#3
Adjusted Score: 97722%
Critics Consensus: The Exorcist rides its supernatural theme to magical effect, with remarkable special effects and an eerie atmosphere, resulting in one of the scariest films of all time.
Synopsis: One of the most profitable horror movies ever made, this tale of an exorcism is based loosely on actual events.... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#4

Sorcerer (1977)
82%

#4
Adjusted Score: 87122%
Critics Consensus: Sorcerer, which obstinately motors along on its unpredictable speed, features ambitious sequences of insane white-knuckle tension.
Synopsis: In the small South American town of Porvenir, four men on the run from the law are offered $10,000 and... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#5

Killer Joe (2011)
80%

#5
Adjusted Score: 86586%
Critics Consensus: Violent, darkly comic, and full of strong performances, Killer Joe proves William Friedkin hasn't lost his touch, even if the plot may be too lurid for some.
Synopsis: A cop (Matthew McConaughey) who moonlights as a hit man agrees to kill the hated mother of a desperate drug... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#6

12 Angry Men (1997)
93%

#6
Adjusted Score: 93169%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In a remake of the 1950s classic, bias and group-think influence the deliberations of a dozen jury members. Initially, one... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#7
#7
Adjusted Score: 92025%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Michael (Kenneth Nelson) is hosting a birthday celebration for a pal when he gets an unexpected visit from old friend... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#8

The Brink's Job (1978)
70%

#8
Adjusted Score: 70199%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: On Jan. 17, 1950, a group of unlikely criminal masterminds commits the robbery of the century. Led by Tony Pino... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#9
Adjusted Score: 56791%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: To distance herself from her strict Amish family, naïve Rachel Schpitendavel (Britt Ekland) escapes to New York City to become... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#10

Bug (2006)
61%

#10
Adjusted Score: 66045%
Critics Consensus: Disappointing resolution aside, Bug uses its claustrophobic setting and cinéma vérité camerawork to tense, impressive effect.
Synopsis: At a rundown desert motel, Agnes (Ashley Judd) begins a tentative relationship with a newcomer named Peter (Michael Shannon). He... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#11

Cruising (1980)
51%

#11
Adjusted Score: 57409%
Critics Consensus: Cruising glides along confidently thanks to filmmaking craft and Al Pacino's committed performance, but this hot-button thriller struggles to engage its subject matter sensitively or justify its brutality.
Synopsis: A psychopath is scouring New York City gay clubs and viciously slaying homosexuals. Detective Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is ordered... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#12
Adjusted Score: 46225%
Critics Consensus: The Devil and Father Amorth sets out to interrogate age-old questions of faith, but fails to find enough compelling answers -- or reasons for viewers to watch.
Synopsis: Filmmaker William Friedkin follows the Rev. Gabriele Amorth as he performs an exorcism on a woman in Italy.... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#13
#13
Adjusted Score: 40600%
Critics Consensus: The script is unconvincing and the courtroom action is unegaging.
Synopsis: Col. Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) is a 30-year Marine veteran: a decorated officer with combat experience in Vietnam, Beirut... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#14

Blue Chips (1994)
38%

#14
Adjusted Score: 39419%
Critics Consensus: Director William Friedkin is working with a strong cast, but an excess of sentimentality renders this basketball drama more than a little flat.
Synopsis: Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) is a college basketball coach who has to improve his team's standing -- by any means... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#15

The Hunted (2003)
29%

#15
Adjusted Score: 33975%
Critics Consensus: An all too familiar chase movie that's not worth the talents involved.
Synopsis: "The Hunted" is a suspense thriller about a tracker, Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who teams up with FBI agent Abby... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#16

The Guardian (1990)
25%

#16
Adjusted Score: 25126%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Optimistic about their future, well-off parents Kate (Carey Lowell) and Phil (Dwier Brown) hire the pleasant and lovely young Camilla... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#17

Jade (1995)
16%

#17
Adjusted Score: 17716%
Critics Consensus: An ostensible erotic thriller that's largely neither erotic nor thrilling, Jade marks one of several unfortunate low points for aggressively sexual mid-'90s cinema.
Synopsis: When a prominent art dealer is found murdered, the man's death leads to an intriguing investigation steeped in sex, corruption... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#18
#18
Adjusted Score: 10161%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: An arms dealer eager to score a big contract, Eddie Muntz (Chevy Chase) heads to South America to negotiate with... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin

#19

Good Times (1967)
0%

#19
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Pop-star duo Sonny (Sonny Bono) and Cher (Cher) star in this parody of Hollywood B-movie clichés, helmed by director William... [More]
Directed By: William Friedkin