The Popularity of High School Comedies
The ’80s seems to have been the decade for comedic high school movies. While the exact reason eludes us, there are several factors to explain why.
- The explosion of technology like synthesizers and computers.
- The birth of the home video market.
- Directors seeing the success of “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and wanting to make their own version.
While some directors have tried to replicate or improve upon the genre, the ’80s seem to have been the golden age for high school hijinks. It is with this admiration for the genre’s golden age that we present seven of the funniest films to take place in a high school setting.
Top Seven Funny High School Movies
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
While this film released in 1982, it was surprisingly adapted from a novel of the same name that was published the year before. The film focuses on the lives of Stacy and Mark, a pair of sophomores, and their senior friends Linda and Mike. The film has two major plotlines, one involving the back-and-forth between perpetual stoner Spicoli and history teacher Mr. Hand and the other covering the relationship between Stacy’s brother and his girlfriend. This movie is practically a time capsule of the early ’80s and the dying ’70s aesthetic and was even chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
This 1982 film is a joint effort between Canadian and American filmmakers. Porky’s is widely considered the progenitor of the high school sex comedy as its plot revolves around a group of desperate Floridian students struggling to lose their virginity. The film spawned two sequels and the original was remade in 2009. Despite critical disdain, Porky’s was the fifth-highest grossing film of the 1982 box office.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Released at the end of the ’80s, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a sci-fi film about two slackers being given a time-traveling phone booth by Rufus, played by the late George Carlin, in order to pass a history exam. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the boys bring historic figures back with them to then-present day California. This film is notable for inspiring one sequel and constant rumors of a third film. While “River’s Edge” was Keanu’s first major film role, many agree this film made him known.
The Breakfast Club
This 1985 classic is as funny as it is serious. While the film focuses on bringing students from five different social groups together for a full day of Saturday detention, its charm and popularity come from how each character plays off each other, especially in unity against the principal. This is the film that many think of when you mention John Hughes or “The Brat Pack.” Much like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, this film was also recommended for preservation by the NFR.
Released in 1985, this film blends a coming-of-age tale with supernatural elements. Between Michael J. Fox’s natural charisma, the special effects makeup and the messaging of how appealing to others can be detrimental to being happy with oneself, this film had legs to stand on; Teen Wolf spawned a sequel, a spin-off in “Teen Witch,” an animated cartoon and even a live-action television series in the 2000s. As an aside, Teen Wolf’s box office debut had it competing with its own lead talent-Back to the Future was still going strong some seven weeks after its debut; Teen Wolf placed second in its opening weekend.
This 1985 film has a pair of “losers” deciding to create a genie from their computer; a premise adapted, with permission, from a story of the ’50s anthology series of the same name. Beyond its premise, the film is comedic for just how over-the-top Lisa’s powers go to facilitate Gary and Wyatt’s desires, such as manifesting a sports car, summoning a gang of post-apocalyptic bikers or transforming Wyatt’s brother into a talking piece of crap.
Back to the Future
Even outside of the era’s comedies, 1985’s Back to the Future has to be among the most iconic ’80s films even when a good portion of the story occurs in the ’50s. Whether you enjoy a good time travel story or you just want to watch Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox play off each other, you are in for a good time.
While we have listed only seven films, a comprehensive list of ’80s high school comedies would be an extensive project. All of the films on this list have influenced other films or inspired sequels and most have evaded being remade for new audiences; because they are good enough that it would be unnecessary.