5 Great Back-to-School Comedies

Whether you’re going back to school or not, class is in session
5 Great Back-to-School Comedies

Despite the passage of time being the same every year — with the exception of that one day in June 2022 that was 1.59 milliseconds shorter than the usual 24 hours — it seems like the months always fly by anyway. One minute you’re celebrating the New Year, and then, in the blink of an eye, it’s time to figure out what to get your distant second cousin for Christmas.

One constant we used to have were those last couple weeks of August before school started back up again — the time for last-minute trips to the beach and cramming in three months’ worth of summer reading into two weeks. But even that’s happening earlier and earlier now, thanks to big-box stores like Target and Walmart sucking the summer fun out of the air by putting mechanical pencils and three-ring binders out on display seemingly right after Fourth of July.

Nevertheless, to celebrate (survive?) back-to-school season, here are some great comedies set in high schools and colleges...

American Graffiti

Before he took us to a galaxy far, far away or helped us dive into the Temple of Doom, George Lucas was hanging out with teens in Modesto, California in his second feature as a young filmmaker. Set on the last night of summer vacation in 1962, American Graffiti has it all — teen drinking, drag racing and young love at the famous Mel’s Drive-In. The film revels in living in this moment — down to the second, actually — and features excellent performances from Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford.

Billy Madison

Before Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler went back to school as Billy Madison. The spoiled 27-year-old rich kid is forced to trade in day drinking and hallucinogenic penguin chasing so he can prove himself to be a worthy successor to his father’s Fortune 500 company. As far as goofy 1990s comedies go, the late blooming coming-of-age Billy Madison is undeniably quotable and still among Sandler’s best. 


Before there were “her emails” and “stop the count,” there was Alexander Payne’s darkly comedic take on election fraud — all set against the backdrop of a Nebraska high school’s student council election. A young Reese Witherspoon plays Joker for girlbosses everywhere as the overachieving, self-aggrandizing, power hungry Tracy Flick, opposite Matthew Broderick’s disillusioned civics teacher Jim McAllister, who is hell-bent on stopping her run for student body president. The Oscar-nominated screenplay navigates the birds and the bees, sexual politics and the price of ambition. 

21 Jump Street

Adapted from the hit early Fox series of the same name, 21 Jump Street went back to school again with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as the cops going undercover as high school students to bust a drug ring. The film does what shows like Pen15 and New Girl have done best by taking adult actors who don’t look youthful by any stretch of the imagination and putting them in the same (school) room as teenagers, expecting us to believe that they’re all of similar age. Granted, the circumstances are different in 21 Jump Street, and we know that Tatum and Hill aren’t actually teenagers, but that doesn’t make the hijinks any less funny. 

Animal House

Movies like Superbad and Old School are forever indebted to the beer-battered debauchery of Animal House. The film hitched its wagon to an up-and-coming John Belushi and went on to become a comedy classic, even earning a spot in the National Film Registry back in 2001. Animal House abandons any notion of the popular underdog that a John Hughes type loves and opts for chaos through free-flying motorcycles, horse kidnapping, and of course, toga parties.

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