Top 5 School Rebellion Movies

There’s nothing easy about being a teenager. You’re dealing with massive changes in every spectrum, and it’s really hard to make sense of it all. Both high school and college offer their own set of challenges to overcome. High school can be pure hell, especially if you’re different from the popular crowd. Things are generally better in college, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s ready to play nice. These difficulties have been presented effectively in dramas, but the truly memorable high school and college films have been comedies. The best examples show a rebellion against a possibly overwhelming mainstream force. Can these weak individuals truly stand up to the social superstars? These films offer great examples of how the little guy can take on the big bad enemy. Their tactics might be crude and sometimes even criminal, but they’re almost never boring. Let’s check out the picks!

Honorable Mention, Pump up the Volume (1990)
Christian Slater sure was a heartthrob during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and one of his signature roles was Mark Hunter in Pump up the Volume. This shy teen finds a way to speak his mind through underground radio as “Hard Harry”. While that name could use some work, he ends up causing quite a stir by saying the things disaffected teens are thinking. His nemesis is Principal Loretta Creswood (Annie Ross), the enemy of all things fun and original. The end result is a bit hokey, but Slater makes it work with a genuine performance.

5. Heathers (1988)
Easily the darkest of these choices, Michael Lehmann’s Heathers creates a bar for black comedies that few other movies can match, especially teen films. In her breakout role as Veronica, Winona Ryder stands up to the cool kids at high school and brings some serious justice. Joining forces with the nasty J.D. (Christian Slater again!), she unwittingly brings a permanent end to some privileged kids, especially those named Heather. It’s a tricky movie that’s not for all tastes, but it still has great originality. Ryder and Slater can sell the oddball material, and Shannon Doherty even shows up as one of the Heathers.

4. Animal House (1978)
Setting the standard that many would follow, John Landis’ party film seems less original because it’s been copied so often. The Delta House guys care little for grades or status, which makes them a threat to the narrow-minded Dean Wormer (John Vernon). They make him look bad, so they must be expelled. Of course, these fearless guys aren’t going out without a fight. I just watched Animal House this week and was surprised to discover that John Belushi’s Bluto actually supersedes the hype about that performance. This fun movie slips up here and there, but it still stands as one of the original school rebellion stories.

3. Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Another genre staple, this showdown between the geeks and the jocks remains highly entertaining more than 25 years later. After some ruthless taunting from the pretty boys, Lewis (Robert Carradine) and Albert (Anthony Edwards) decide that it’s time to even the score. The battle culminates in a ridiculous contest between the fraternities to prove which group is truly superior. Filled with lowbrow humor, this isn’t the smartest movie but has a lot of fun moments. The supporting cast includes John Goodman as the football coach, Ted McGinley (the show killer!) as chief jock Stan, and Timothy Busfield as one of the nerds.

2. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Although it might not be as well-known as the other picks, this wonderful gem from Roger Corman’s production company gives us just the right musical heroes – the Ramones. P.J. Soles is Riff Randall, the band’s most avid fan, and she’ll do anything to get tickets for their concert in town. The new principal Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) doesn’t share Riff’s excitement for the Ramones, and she’ll do anything to stop the music. There are some strange moments, including Joey Ramone showing up in a shower scene, but the movie works because it’s so damn fun. The explosive finale is just what’s needed in any good school rebellion movie, especially when it involves such great music.

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Although it lacks the madcap energy of the other picks, John Hughes’ classic comedy makes up for it with heart and charm. Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller performs the simplest act of rebellion and takes a fake sick day. Along with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his pal Cameron (Alan Ruck), they check out Chicago’s big sights, including the Art Institute and Wrigley Field. Their fearless leader even commandeers a float to sing “Twist and Shout” during a parade. Meanwhile, the angry principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) has an adventure of his own while trying desperately to catch Ferris. Although it’s mostly just a fun comedy, this movie has an interesting sad undercurrent with Cameron getting up the nerve to stand up to his dad. It brings heart to the light film and enhances the effect of this rebellious day.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list in the comments section. You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.

Next week, I'm hitting the road with Paul Reubens for Pee-wee's Big Adventure.


  1. Love the list. Another movie I might include is Over the Edge.

    1. Thanks Dave! I haven't seen Over the Edge yet, but it did come up when I was pulling together this list. I may need to check it out.

  2. I originally misunderstood you to mean rebellion against the school authorities, then I saw your list and saw it encompassed rebellion against fellow students, too.

    I completely agree with your number one. It's a really fun movie. In fact, I almost agree with your whole list. I'd drop Rock and Roll High School from the list for Pump Up the Volume. I'd move Heathers up to number 2.

    Good list!

    1. Thanks Chip! Glad that you liked the list, even if you have a few changes. I know all of these really come down to personal preference. I can't complain about shifting them around.

  3. Heathers are Rock n' Roll High School are two of my favorite movies. I'm not sure what that says about me now that I realized that they have similar settings.

    Also, Ferris Bueller is interesting because Ferris is obviously a figment of Cameron's imagination who exists to teach him how to be a better person.

    (Probably not, but I have read that theory before)

    1. Danny, I hadn't heard that theory before about Ferris Bueller. Is Mr. Rooney then chasing an imaginary Ferris? How does Sloane fit in? It's a fun theory either way. Thanks!


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