10 movies every senior must watch before graduation


Maddie Tatum, Arts Editor

So you’re a senior. The year is winding down and graduation is suddenly just a few weeks away. Maybe you can’t wait to walk across that stage and never look back, are dreading the unknown, have been soaking up every day attempting to savor the last semester, or floating somewhere in between. Whoever you are, and wherever you’re headed next year, the end of high school can bring up feelings of nostalgia, freedom, or bring on a new sort of growing pain, looking back on the last four years of memories and knowing everything will soon be different. The following films are coming-of-age, high school, and/or graduation themed that all offer unique lessons for you to take as you venture onto your new beginning. Congratulations (almost) fellow classmates and happy watching. We’re almost there.

1. Booksmart (2019)

Director: Olivia Wilde

Best friends, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) spent all of high school overachieving and focused solely on academic success. Right before graduation, they realize their classmates, who have been partying and notably less studious are miraculously committing to the same prestigious schools as they are. The two vow to make up for what they missed out on. Hilariously honest, Booksmart serves as a reminder to have a little fun in between all the hard work. 

2. Ferris Buller’s Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes

In the 1986 classic, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) has mastered the art of skipping class and getting away with it. Determined to have a day off of school, Bueller and friends launch an elaborate plan and set out to have the most memorable senior skip day ever. Seniors this time of year can relate, keeping up attendance can feel impossible! Ferris offers us a bit of wisdom as he begins to realize how different life will be after high school. A reminder that –  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

3. Rushmore (1999) 

Director: Wes Anderson 

Ambitious 15-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) attends the prestigious Rushmore Academy on scholarship. Where his extracurricular involvement is a marvel, his little interest in schoolwork earns him the title of the academy’s worst student. Max ends up on academic probation at the local public high school where he is wildly out of place and things get worse when the millionaire who was mentoring him falls in love with Rushmore’s newest 1st-grade teacher – also adored by Max. Max teaches us to pursue what we love and always strive to be extraordinary. P.S. Why doesn’t Southwest have a Beekeeping club?

4. Legally Blonde (2001)

Director: Robert Luketic

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is a California sorority queen determined to win back her boyfriend after he dumped her for being “too… blonde” She sets out to follow him to law school, getting accepted into Harvard Law in an attempt to prove him wrong. Elle shows us that you don’t have to change who you are to be successful and tells us in her Valedictorian speech that as long as you have faith in yourself, anything is possible.

5. Grease (1978) 

Director: Randal Kleiser

Good girl Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) and greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) fall for each other in a whirlwind summer romance, but when the school year starts they find themselves unsure of each other and divided by clique lines. Though a bit of an unrealistic depiction of high school – all the cool cars, cliques, stylish transformations, outrageous pep rallies, dance numbers on the bleachers, etc. – Grease and Rydell High’s class of raunchy graduating seniors provide comfort to a senior after also having endured the tumultuous time of being a teen and navigating the complicated social hierarchy of high school. There’s not long until we – the class of ‘23 – ourselves get to shooby doo-wop doo-wop through our last day of school.

6. The Spectacular Now (2013)

Director: James Ponsoldt (based on Tim Tharp’s 2008 YA novel)

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) a charming regular party-goer meets Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) the “nice girl” when she finds him passed out on a strangers lawn post-breakup. Sutter lives in the present wanting high school to last forever and questions what is so exciting about being an adult. Aimee is smart and has many interests, and a family that demands a lot from her. An unlikely love story forms between the two. Aimee’s big dreaming and goals for life after high school inspire Sutter to address the problems in his life instead of running from them and come to terms with growing up. The Spectacular Now is a honest, sweet and realistic portrayal of what it feels like to be on the cusp of adulthood.

7. The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a junior in high school overcome by insecurity, self-consciousness and her own terrible, unbearable existence. Life gets worse when she finds out her childhood best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) has been dating her golden-boy brother behind her back. Life turned upside, she feels more alone than ever until she unexpectedly meets Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto) who shows her not all hope is lost. The Edge of Seventeen candidly captures the awkwardness of adolescence and the feeling of being lost and lonesome that comes with. The movie’s slogan sums it up nicely, “You’re only young once… is it over with?”

8. Adventureland (2009)

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) a recent college graduate, is ecstatic for his anticipated trip to Europe before he begins his graduate studies at Columbia. When his parents inform him they won’t be able to pay for the trip and that his grad study in New York is in jeopardy, James is forced on a quest to find a summer job, a search that lands him at the local amusement park. Convinced he was going to have the summer of his nightmares, James instead finds love, when he meets Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) a fellow games operator. Though Adventureland is a story of a recent college graduate, James’ quest to find a summer job is one high school seniors will relate to just the same. College is expensive! Wishing the class of ‘23 a summer of high cash tips!!

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky (based on Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 novel) 

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a quiet, introverted, and well-read high school freshman who tends to observe life from the sidelines until he is taken in by seniors Sam (Emma Watson), her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) and their group of friends. Encouraged to finally break out of his shell, Charlie navigates living with the haunt of his past by finding joy in life and new friendship, surviving freshman year. The Perks of Being a Wallflower points out the importance of having the confidence to experience life, not being ruled by what scares us. “And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

10. Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)

Director: Chris Smith [ *extra documentary mention* ]

Through reenactments, this documentary follows Rick Singer – the mastermind behind the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal – as he scams the children of rich and famous families into top US universities. Dialogue taken from real FBI wiretapped conversations expose how privilege and prestige plague the US’s college admissions process. You won’t ever look at higher education in the same way.