From Lady Bird to Dead Poets Society: 17 movies to watch before you graduate

“Lady Bird” (2017) Image is free use via Wikimedia Commons

As we approach the second semester of the school year and for some, the last semester of high school, here is a list of 17 movies to watch before the school year ends and we begin a new chapter in our lives. Some of these movies are filled with important lessons, while others are just fun to watch on a Friday night.

Paper Towns (2015)

High school student Quentin has been in love with Margot, the girl who lives across the street, since they were kids. As they slowly drift apart and high school is coming to an end, he considers himself to be almost over her until one night when Margot climbs to his window and asks for a favor. The next day, after realizing Margot goes missing, Quentin and his friends, Radar and Ben, go on a mission to find her as they follow a set of clues she has left behind for them. This movie is perfect to watch, especially for seniors who are soon to be graduating. The main characters are all seniors about to finish up their high school years, which makes relating to them easier and maybe a little sad at times. This movie is available to purchase on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Youtube.

Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Charlie is a socially awkward teenager, always watching life from the sidelines, which is also known as being a wallflower: remaining on the sidelines of a social activity due to shyness or unpopularity. Charlie is a wallflower until two students at his new school, Patrick and Sam, help to get him out of his comfort zone and teach him new things about love, music, and so much more. However, this confidence may be shattered due to some inner sadness Charlie carries from his past. This movie depicts a valuable storyline on what it’s like being a teenager on the edge of adulthood. The movie is available to watch on Hulu with a premium subscription.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

This classic movie centers around Ferris, his best friend, Cameron, and his girlfriend, Sloane. Ferris convinces the two to ditch school with him and have an adventure of a lifetime for one day. He convinces Cameron to use his dad’s red Ferrari car, which he loves more than anything in the world. They go to parks, museums, festivals, and more. At the same time, we see the school principal, who clearly has a sad and boring life, out on a mission to catch Ferris in his web of lies as he claims to be home “sick”. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not only filled with fun and adventure, but also filled with meaningful lessons that we can all carry with us as we grow. The movie is currently available to watch on Pluto TV for free.

Spontaneous (2020)

This movie is one of my favorites as it is about a group of seniors in high school who routinely explode (yes, as in actually blowing up) with no warning and explanation. Doctors and scientists rush to figure out what is causing this and how to stop it, but they remain clueless. As soon as Mara and Dylan, the main characters, realize that each day could be their last, they finally attempt to start living each day to their fullest. I love how this movie sends its message in such a drastic way that I believe any teen can relate to, especially in its connection to the medical sense of COVID and the various strains being discovered today. This movie is available to watch on Premium Hulu EPIX NOW with a subscription.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Jim Stark, a teen who appears to be a troublemaker, moves in with his parents to have a clean slate, but new problems occur as he becomes the “new kid” in school who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. In the process, Stark creates a bond with Plato, a classmate, and starts to fall for a girl, Judy. However, Judy’s boyfriend, Buzz, challenges Jim to a drag race upon finding this out, creating a myriad of problems for Jim. Throughout the movie, we learn about each of the three main characters, their home lives, and where their issues begin and center around. A sad fact about this movie is that all three actors portraying the main characters died extremely young and in tragic ways. James Dean, the actor who played Jim, died before the film was even released, which has led to the increased curiosity around the film. This movie is currently available to watch on HBO Max.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

John Keating, an English teacher, is new to Welton Academy, an all-boys academy known for its ancient traditions and extremely high standards. While there, he uses his unorthodox methods to reach out to a group of students. Viewers see into the Welton students’ lives and the pressures they face from their parents. Students like Todd Anderson and Neil Perry learn to seize the day and to pursue their dreams, with the help of Mr. Keating. They even start a secret club known as the Dead Poets Society that Keating was originally a part of when he was their age, igniting their curiosity and interest for literature. A heartwarming yet bittersweet film, this movie represents student life in relation to the friendships that are formed throughout school. It is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video with a subscription.

Seventeen Again (2009)

Mike O’Donnell is soon to be divorced from his high school girlfriend. He was a basketball star back then, who threw away his career in order to raise the baby he had with his girlfriend. But flashforward 20 years later, O’Donnell regrets this decision and thinks he is a loser with a job that’s going nowhere. When he magically transforms into his teenage self and has a chance to change his life, he tries to fix his past which jeopardizes his present and future. He also befriends his son and learns that his two kids have been lying to him about their relationships and social status. With an HBO Max subscription, the movie is available to watch for free.

Bring It On (2000)

The Rancho Carne High School cheerleading squad has won the national championship for five consecutive years and is set to win again. But things take a turn for the newly elected captain, Torrance, when she discovers that their cheer routine has been stolen from another school by the former captain. This sets Torrance out on a mission to create an original cheer which turns out to be harder than she expected. Torrance also places Missy, a new girl with a punk personality and look, on the team in order for a fresh turn, and gets closer with her as she develops a crush for Missy’s twin brother. This movie is perfect to watch on a Friday night with some popcorn. There have been a ton of Bring it On movies since this one, but none of them beat the original.

Love, Simon (2018)

Simon is a 17-year-old boy who hasn’t come out to his family that he is gay. One day, he anonymously messages another kid at school who goes by the name “Blue” and starts to fall for him, as they have meaningful conversations. Throughout the movie, viewers see Simon trying to figure out the identity of the anonymous person, while simultaneously trying to hide his own. Simon also faces issues when a peer discovers his emails sent to “Blue” and uses it to blackmail him into helping him start a relationship with Abby, one of Simon’s best friends. There are some hilarious and also terrifying moments in this movie. Unfortunately, this movie is not free to watch anywhere, but if you have a Hulu Premium subscription, you can watch Love, Simon. If you happen to watch and love this movie, there is also a Hulu original series called Love, Victor, which was inspired by the novel.

Lady Bird (2017)

Ladybird, whose real name is actually Christine, is always bickering with her mother, who has been working tirelessly as a nurse since her husband lost his job. They have a bond that is very loving, but one that also causes them to fight at times, with their opinionated personalities that often clash. We see Ladybird as a passionate girl with  goals and dreams that include seeing the world, going to New York, and attending college as far away from home as possible. But her mother does not always agree with these plans and often doubts her ability to accomplish them. Viewers will see how Ladybird will at times say or do the wrong things, which create a realistic portrayal of a student who is at an age of almost graduating high school and having to decide her future.This movie is currently free to watch on Netflix.

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Beca is a college student who doesn’t like to be a part of cliques, but finds herself doing exactly that when she joins an a cappella group called, the Barden Bellas. She quickly realizes that the only thing she has in common with any of the girls is their passion for singing. In an effort to win team competitions, Beca tries to redirect the group out of their comfort zone and break traditional arrangements which gets her arguments with some of the original members. Although this movie is not set in a high school setting, it brings a comedic relief for what life after high school could be like and the struggle to find one’s fit in the world. If you happen to like this movie, there are two more which makes this a part of a trilogy, completed in 2017. This movie is available to watch on Hulu with a premium subscription and is available on HBO Max.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Five completely different students all get a Saturday detention. There is John Bender the rebel, the school princess Claire, Allison the outcast, brainy Brian, and Andrew, the jock. Throughout their detention, viewers get to learn their stories and backgrounds and realize that they’re all not so different from one another. The students, who frequently clash with one another, find things to relate to, despite their vastly different social lives. Together, they go on fun adventures together within the walls of their school while questioning if the relationships they form will still be maintained once they return to school normally on Monday. This is a classic film that may be a bit outdated in today’s world, but it still manages to send a great message on high school friendships.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Nadine, a high school junior, is at the peak of awkwardness when her older brother, Darian, starts dating her best friend, Krista. Nadine refuses to accept this and forces her friend to choose between herself and Darian. But when Krista refuses to choose, Nadine breaks off their friendship. This makes Nadine feel more alone than she ever has, until she starts an unexpected friendship with an even more awkward classmate, who gives her some hope that things may not be as terrible as she thought. Nadine also has the help of a teacher throughout the movie who is like a mentor and fills the role of her father who passed away earlier in her life. The Edge of Seventeen is currently available to watch on Netflix.

Mean Girls (2004)

Cady Heron has never been to a normal school as she was homeschooled her entire life while living in Africa. This changes when her family moves to the suburbs of Ill. where she finally attends a traditional high school. She gets a glimpse of the cruel laws of popularity that divide students into cliques, but somehow manages to get on the good side of one of the most popular cliques, “The Plastics,” and quickly learns the reason for why the group is dubbed that name. From then, Cady is set on a mission to break the group apart with the help of two new friends, Gretchen and Damian. However, in the process, Cady starts to change into someone she would barely recognize herself. Although not exactly a life-changing movie or one that presents a wholesome message, Mean Girls is a classic with a huge fanbase for nearly 20 years. With a subscription, Mean Girls is available to watch on Paramount Plus. 

Highschool Musical Trilogy (2006-2008)

Troy and Gabriella meet at a holiday karaoke party. Coincidentally, when they return to school, it turns out that Gabriella had moved and switched into Troy’s school. They both audition for their school’s upcoming musical which upsets the  student Sharpay and causes her to sabotage their second audition. Both Troy and Gabriella struggle to make time for the audition while also meeting their existing obligations to basketball and the academic decathlon, as their friends also conspire to sabotage their friendship and the audition. There are two more movies, the sequel being taking place during their  summer break, and the last being in their senior year. This Disney classic is definitely a bit cheesy and cliche, but  perfect to binge watch over the weekend. All three movies are available to watch on Disney Plus with a subscription.

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl (2015)

Greg, a 17-year-old, spends most of his time creating low-budget classic movie parodies with his friend Earl. Greg deliberately has an antisocial life. Concerned about him, Greg’s mother pushes him to befriend Rachel, a classmate who is battling Leukemia. They develop a surprising friendship, and she becomes a part of Greg and Earl’s small friend group, which had previously consisted of just the latter two. Unfortunately, as Rachel’s Leukemia worsens, Greg must start to deal with the reality of what is going on around him. This is yet another beautiful movie about friendship and the importance of supportive presence, teaching us about the impact we’re able to make on others around us. This movie is available to purchase on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Apple TV, and Youtube.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

This film follows a group of teenagers in Austin, Texas on the last day of school at Lee High School. Some are graduating and others are freshmen who have just started. We see the friend group go from party to party, drink, smoke, and have a blast together one last time. It also happens to be hazing day, a day where the seniors torment the freshmen. Throughout the movie, we see Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd think about his future and whether or not to sign a pledge his coach is making all of the football players sign, which vows that they won’t do drugs or drink during summer break. There is a lot of great music, outfits, and some really iconic and important quotes in this movie, making it even more of amust watch for everyone before the end of the school year, especially seniors. Dazed and Confused is available to purchase on Youtube, Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video.