It’s back-to-school time, an annual rite of passage parents joyfully document in photos. Yet the emotions captured within those same photos can encompass a roller coaster range: excitement, trepidation, shyness, joy, even disgust. It’s reminiscent of the Disney Pixar film Inside Out, with emotions fighting it out in the child’s heart and head. Which is why a list of Back to School movies is in order. No matter how your child feels about back to school, there’s a movie that can address those emotions, be a valuable tool for discussion, and help you bond as a family.
I’ve compiled a list of 50 films for all age ranges for your next movie night. Many of these titles are available at your library or On Demand. There’s something for everybody, whether your child is a preschooler or a teen heading off to college. Don’t forget to share your family’s favorites in the comments section.
The Peanuts Movie: G-rated 2015 CGI homage to the original Peanuts, this movie chronicles Charlie Brown’s school year as he struggles to win the approval of the Little Red Haired Girl.
Schoolhouse Rock!: What better way to learn than through song, especially when they’ve got that Seventies groove? This is one throwback to enjoy with your kids.
The Magic School Bus (Streaming on Netflix): Learn about science on a school bus that transforms! Kids love this one.
Teacher’s Pet: Based on the Disney animated series about a dog who just wants to be a boy. With a bit of help from science, he gets his wish, and becomes the “cool kid” at school.
These movies and shows feature beloved characters that your preschooler or kindergartner will enjoy watching, and they just might ease those first-day jitters.
Authur’s Best School Days
Curious George: Back to School
Leap Frog: Let’s Go to School (Streaming on Netflix)
Timothy Goes to School 1 Season 2001 (Available on Amazon)
Bubble Guppies: Get Ready for School
Peppa Pig: School Bus Trip
Emily’s First 100 Days of School
Madeline: Adorable Parisian girl must prevent her school from being sold while experiencing misadventures with her friends. Based on the classic children’s book.
The Neverending Story: In this classic kids’ film a boy connects to a magical world through reading, and ultimately he must save it from destruction.
High School Musical (Streaming on Netflix): Exuberance of high school with only a smidgeon of the angst. Full of memorable songs that will have you dancing.
Monsters University: Disney prequel shows Mike and Sully in their college days and tells the story of how their unlikely friendship came to be.
Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks: Strange as it may sound, the characters from My Little Pony turn into high school girls. Only their winning a battle of the girl bands can combat the growing powers of some evil mean girls.
More great choices:
How to Eat Fried Worms
Barbie: Princess Charm School
Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade
Lalaloopsy Girls: Welcome to L.A.L.A. Prep School (Streaming on Netflix)
School of Rock: Full of heart, rockin’ riffs, and Jack Black at his best.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days’ (2012): Movie based on the wildly successful book of the same name teaches some important life lessons.
Spellbound: Excellent, heartfelt documentary follows the highs and lows of children competing in a national spelling bee.
Middle School: Movie based on the popular series is coming to theaters in fall 2016.
Freaky Friday: Classic movie explores what would happen if a mother and daughter switched bodies for a day. (The 1976 G-rated version stars Jodie Foster–classic Disney!)–while the 2003 version with Lindsay Lohan will feel more current.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Harry Potter has problems just like every other kids…except there’s magic involved. Watch Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione navigate the strange ins and outs of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Matilda: Movie adapted from Roald Dahl’s book is a bit dark, like most of his stories, but is a very creative telling of a gifted girl’s tribulations with clueless parents and a kid-hating principle.
Akeelah and the Bee: Acclaimed drama follows an African-American girl who competes in a spelling bee who comes into her own in the process.
Mad Hot Ballroom: Documentary about public school children accomplishing exceptional things in the world of junior ballroom dancing.
Dead Poets Society: Transformative, a must-see, and one of Robin Williams’ great roles as a young teacher who flouts authority. Seize the day and watch this movie now.
Writer-director John Hughes’ tributes to the glories and nightmares of high school in the 1980s explore teen issues like angst and alienation with hilarity and heart. These are real classics to enjoy:
The Breakfast Club (For kids 15+)
Pretty in Pink (For kids 15+)
Sixteen Candles (For kids 15+)
Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (Okay for kids 12+)
Mean Girls (For 15+): Every high school kids knows a Mean Girl. Tina Fey’s sharp script is wicked funny and will always ring true.
Never Been Kissed: Drew Barrymore at her romantic comedy best in a story of a girl trying to recapture that elusive first kiss she missed out on in high school.
Grease: Epic 1950s musical is not just a memorable classic, it’s part of any teen’s cinematic education. Some edgy content, but make no mistake: Grease IS the word.
Napoleon Dynamite: The ultimate independent film celebrating individuality, even weirdness. Yes, I’m voting for Pedro this November.
Lucas: A 1980s coming-of-age movie about a boy who just wants to fit in, but often is humiliated in his efforts. Charlie Sheen gives a very nice performance as a kind-hearted jock.
Kindergarten Cop: Unusual combination of sweet comedy and action movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, teens might find this thoroughly entertaining.
Clueless: This 1990s update of Jane Austen’s Emma has become a favorite of Generation Xers and Millennials because of it’s clever lingo and “so fancy” fashion.
Legally Blond: A fashionista sorority girl gets into Harvard Law. Like it’s hard??
Election: It’s teacher vs. student in this dark comedy about a high school overachiever who will stop at nothing to win her seat on the student council. Reese Witherspoon’s breakout movie.
Some other great picks:
Last Day of Summer
Friday Night Lights
Freaks and Geeks
Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
Revenge of the Nerds
More dramas about inspiring teachers…
Mr. Holland’s Opus
Lean on Me
Stand and Deliver
To Sir, With Love