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The most ridiculous back-to-school movies

Unrecognizable young man watching the movie and eating popcorn in the cinema
(SrdjanPav/Getty Images)

The pursuit of education has long been a staple of prestigious cinema. I mean, who doesn’t get a little misty-eyed when thinking about Robin Williams showing kids the beauty of Walt Whitman in “Dead Poets Society?” If there’s a more inspiring scene than when the students stand on their desks and shout “O Captain! My Captain!” I haven’t seen it.

However, not all school films are like this.

To celebrate back-to-school season as students of all ages jump back into the world of teachers, books and dirty looks (if you’re not wearing a mask, that is), let’s revisit some of the most ridiculous school movies that aren’t doing any favors to the world of academia.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979): More of a live-action cartoon than a film, there are few other movies that match its anarchic energy. The basic plot follows the world’s biggest Ramones fan, Riff Randell (played by the unforgettable P.J. Soles) and her efforts to keep rock ‘n’ roll alive at Vince Lombardi High School. When the tyrannical Principal Togar punishes Riff by ripping up her Ramones ticket, Riff embarks on a full-fledged war to save the rock ‘n’ roll heart of her school. Featuring a killer soundtrack, the creepiest hall monitors in cinematic history, exploding mice, and a very uncomfortable fantasy where Joey Ramone serenades Riff in her bedroom — this film is truly one of a kind.

Class of 1999(1990): The ‘80s ran rife with movies that portrayed high schools as hellscapes populated by freaks and mutants. However, the “Class of 1999" takes the cake as the most bonkers post-apocalyptic high school film. In an effort to control the violence between two rival gangs, the Blackhearts and the Razorheads (really good gang names, tbh), school administrators implement three androids disguised as teachers. As is usually the case, the robots go haywire and start dispatching the kids in increasingly gooey ways, and the two gangs must put aside their differences to fight back. With a surprisingly robust cast that includes Pam Grier and Malcolm McDowell — not to mention current gubernatorial candidate Patrick Kilpatrick as one of the killbots — “Class of 1999" is a confounding piece of art that epitomizes the question, “how did this get made?”

Kindergarten Cop (1990): This film made over $200 million when it came out (lol). It’s amazing that a film so tonally strange could be this big. Is it a gritty thriller? A movie for kids? A romantic comedy? At least we’ll always have the creepy kid from “Pet Sematary” saying, “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina.” #neverforget.

With Honors (1994): One of the saddest-but-best parts of “With Honors” is how seriously it takes itself. Harvard student Brendan Fraser (not his name in the movie but who cares) freaks out when he loses the only copy of his thesis to a streetwise, romantic homeless man played by Joe Pesci. They strike a deal: for every favor Fraser completes, Pesci returns one page. But guess what! Fraser gets more than just his pages; he learns a few little life lessons along the way — stuff like, uh, homeless people are people too! The amount of pandering and stereotyping is definitely this film’s biggest sin, but second to that is Pesci’s strange Bugs Bunny-ish line delivery, especially when he says, “boy oh boy!” which he says a lot. It is, as the kids say, cringe.

The Substitute (1996): A mercenary played by Tom Berenger goes undercover as a substitute teacher to track down the culprit who attempted to kill his teacher girlfriend, but soon discovers more nefarious activities going on in the school. This is a super problematic film that revels in its White savior complex, but a movie this ridiculous shouldn’t be taken seriously anyway. Plus, to hear Berenger say, “Yeah, I lost some homeboys” when relating his Vietnam experiences to a group of enthralled students is worth the price of admission alone.

Ryan Bradford is a freelance writer.


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