Back to School Movie Guide – American Film Institute


Back to School Movie Guide

School’s in session! In honor of the first day of classes for the AFI Conservatory, join us in celebrating “Back to School” films from our AFI lists and past AFI AWARDS honorees!

Image from the film AMERICAN GRAFFITI

Funny, nostalgic, and filled with a radical rock’n’roll soundtrack, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, co-written and directed by AFI Life Achievement Award honoree George Lucas, earned its place in history as part of AFI’S 100 Years…100 Movies list and AFI’s lists of the funniest films of all time. Learn more about AMERICAN GRAFFITI in the AFI Catalog.

Image from the film CARRIE

This supernatural horror film – with one of the most memorable prom scenes in cinematic history – was selected by AFI as one of the most thrilling American films of all time. For her masterful performance as a sheltered teenager turned telekinetic murderer, Sissy Spacek received her first nomination for a Best Actress Academy Award®. Learn more about CARRIE (1976) in the AFI Catalog.


Image from the film CODA

A heartwarming coming-of-age story about a young woman torn between her obligations to her family and pursuing her dreams of singing, CODA (2021) stars Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant who are deaf, along with Emilia Jones. Written and directed by Siân Heder (AFI DWW Class of 2005) with cinematography by Paula Huidobro (AFI Class of 2004), the groundbreaking film was honored with a 2021 AFI AWARD and went on to win the Academy Award® for Best Picture as well as Best Adapted Screenplay for Heder and Best Supporting Actor for Kotsur. Read more at AFI AWARDS 2021.


Starring Robin Williams, directed by Peter Weir and written by Tom Schulman, DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989) made the grade and earned a spot on both AFI’s list of the most inspiring films of all time and AFI’s 100 Years…100 Quotes list – “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Learn more about DEAD POETS SOCIETY in the AFI Catalog.


Starring Elsie Fisher in a startlingly honest performance as a shy middle school student gradually coming out of her shell, this nuanced coming-of-age film was honored with a 2018 AFI AWARD – recognizing it as one of the 10 outstanding films deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. Learn more about EIGHTH GRADE in the AFI Catalog.

Image from FAME

Drama, dancing, singing…and homework. FAME (1980) goes beyond the stage and digs deep into the lives of the students at the New York High School of Performing Arts. Featuring an early big screen appearance by AFI Honorary Degree recipient Debbie Allen, this celebration of youth and talent, filled with energetic song and dance numbers, appears on AFI’s lists of the most inspiring films of all time, and the eponymous song “Fame” ranks #52 on AFI’s greatest songs of all time. Learn more about FAME in the AFI Catalog.


Helmed by AFI Alum Amy Heckerling (AFI Class of 1974) in her directorial debut, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) was a breakout teen comedy that featured early performances by actors that would go one to great acclaim, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Forest Whitaker and Anthony Edwards. This iconic cult classic also holds the honor of being named to AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs lists of the funniest movies ever made. Learn more about FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH in the AFI Catalog.

Image from FOOTLOOSE

Kick off your Sunday shoes and travel back to the 80s with young Kevin Bacon who just wants to dance. The title track on the film’s soundtrack, “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins, topped the charts and landed on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list of the 100 top movie songs of all time. Learn more about FOOTLOOSE (1984) in the AFI Catalog.


The underdog story of a young man attempting to join his school’s football team, THE FRESHMAN (1925) was named among the greatest comedies of all time by the American Film Institute. It is produced by and stars one of the most enduring legends of the silent era – the great Harold Lloyd, whose earnestly unassuming, bespectacled screen persona is among the most timeless in cinema history. Learn more about THE FRESHMAN in the AFI Catalog.


Image from the film FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Based on H.G. Bissinger’s nonfiction book about a small Texas town’s passion for the local team and directed by Peter Berg, this 2004 AFI AWARD honoree takes on the world of high school football and the hopes and dreams that come to life on Friday nights. Read more about FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS at AFI AWARDS 2004.

Image from the film GREASE

An iconic musical confection starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta as a star-crossed high school Romeo and Juliet, GREASE (1978) was the word on three of AFI’s lists celebrating excellence in the American art form – appearing among the greatest film musicals and the greatest screen love stories of all time, with its “Summer Nights” counted among the art form’s greatest screen songs. Learn more about GREASE in the AFI Catalog.


Image from HARRY POTTER film

Earning a Special Award at the 2011 AFI AWARDS celebration, the HARRY POTTER series is a triumph for the silver screen. Bringing the magic of Hogwarts to life, the epic films transfixed and transported Muggles around the world. Read more at AFI AWARDS 2011.


Image from film LADY BIRD

Inspired by the childhood of writer/director Greta Gerwig, this elegiac coming-of-age story about growing up in Sacramento stars a luminescent Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in a must-see performance. Receiving a 2017 AFI AWARD, LADY BIRD was honored for “[soaring] through the emotional hurricane of adolescence with details so rich and insightful they demand we consider this time in our lives anew.” Read more at AFI AWARDS 2017.


“Toga! Toga!” Marking the first feature film from the humor magazine “The National Lampoon,” NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) ushered in an era of rowdy college comedies and launched John Belushi’s big screen career. Although it may be on “double secret probation,” the film still made it on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs and AFI’s 100 Years…100 Quotes. Learn more about NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE.


Ranked by the American Film Institute among the greatest American films of all time, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) stars James Dean in one of his most iconic roles. Dean was also named by AFI as one of the greatest screen legends of all time. Learn more about REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE in the AFI Catalog.


Based on a real-life math teacher, Jaime Escalante, who guided his students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles to record levels of success in A.P. calculus, STAND AND DELIVER (1988) stars Edward James Olmos who disappears into his character, Lou Diamond Phillips and Rosana De Soto, and is ranked by AFI as one of the most inspiring films of all time. Learn more about STAND AND DELIVER in the AFI Catalog.

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