KT King/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

The 6 films on Netflix you need for the back-to-school blues

At least you don't attend the school in number 4.


Joey Keeton


Published Aug 30, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 1:49 am CDT

Going back to school, whether you’re entering the second grade or your junior year of college, can be a real bummer. Your days of staying up until 4am, doing whatever you want to do, and waking up the next day at half past noon are gone. Your brain will only function properly for two days out of each week now, and they’re ironically the days that don’t require your brain to function at all.

From comedies, to musicals, and all the way into the realms of horror, here are six films currently streaming on Netflix that will bring you solace. 

1) Billy Madison (1995)

If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you probably remember how much Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore influenced the comedic scene of your school. Judging from the endless quoting of Adam Sandler flicks in the hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias, it seemed as if Madison and Gilmore were the only comedies that mattered in the world, and things remained that way until Austin Powers came out.

Billy must successfully complete every grade—K-12, in two-week intervals—to prove that he isn’t a screwup to his father and remain the heir to his massive chain of hotels. This makes the film a perfect primer for anybody about to enter any stage of schooling. Billy even improvises a song, while waiting for his very first school bus to arrive, that can be universally applied to all returns to educational settings. It works great for the first day of a new school year or semester, but I think it works just as well when sung every single morning before class:

Oh, back to school, back to school,
To prove to dad that I’m not a fool,
I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight,
I hope I don’t get in a fight,
Oh, back to school, back to school

Billy Madison proves that, no matter what grade you’re about to start, there are two constants: Studying is important, and there will always be an O’Doyle around, whom you’ll need to learn to avoid. 

2) Mean Girls (2004)

While some people might lie about it, the truth is that nobody enjoys returning to school. But things could always be worse, like being a 16-year-old who’s attending a public school for the first time in her life. This is the situation Lindsay Lohan faces in Mean Girls, as she learns the complex ecosystem that exists inside of a high school’s walls and where an attractive girl fits within that system.

There is a popular theory floating around society that proposes that life is generally easier for attractive women than it is for men (see: MRAs). Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey, shows how ridiculous this theory is. An attractive girl in high school is subjected to unwanted attention from guys, stereotypes about intelligence, rumors, back-stabbings, and every known form of peer pressure, including from other girls (as represented by a clique called “The Plastics” in this case).

As a guy, my main concern in high school was that an attractive girl would catch me looking at her, which is a comparatively short list to the one above.

If you’re a guy, don’t let the title or the film’s posters and/or cover art scare you away from watching it: It’s hilarious, and despite a dragging third act that makes the film feel 20 minutes too long, I feel safe in referring to it as a “classic.”

3) High School Musical (2006)

High School Musical is certainly a back-to-school movie, and in the truest form of the genre: The movie begins with Zac Efron meeting Vanessa Hudgens at a New Year’s Eve party, held at a ski lodge, which leads to them singing karaoke together (and being really good at it), and then parting ways to go back to school (you guys, it’s like this movie was made for this list).

When Efron surprisingly sees Hudgens at his school, she tells him that her family had just moved into the area, which kinda makes it a modern take on Grease. True to that musical, Efron isn’t the same person at school as he is when he’s skiing over winter break: He might be sweet, sensitive, and sing very well while skiing, but at school he plays basketball, and it’s obvious that these two personalities will be nearly impossible to reconcile.

Outside of the ski lodge, Hudgens is also a very different person: She’s extremely intelligent and participates on scholastic decathlon teams, which society simply won’t accept from a singer. 

With a blooming love between a meathead and a nerd—two types of people that are strictly barred from dating until their early 20s—the plot adds in a little Romeo and Juliet to its Grease (although with two sequels out so far, the two lovers obviously don’t graduate at the film’s end, nor do they kill themselves due to a misunderstanding).

I’m a little unclear on the film’s overall message, but I’m pretty sure it’s that basketball players and geniuses can sing and dance, but singers and dancers can’t be basketball players or geniuses.

4) Scream (1996)

If the theme allows it in any way whatsoever, I believe that every Netflix roundup needs a horror film in it, even if its inclusion is a bit of a stretch. So, I’ll admit that Scream’s plot doesn’t begin with students returning to school, but I still maintain that it’s still a beneficial, cautionary tale for those who are doing so in real life. 

Think about it: If a serial killer starts picking off students at your school, there won’t be time to sit down and takes notes while watching Scream—you should have done that shit before the first tardy bell had ever rung.

Scream wasn’t just a slasher film; it was a high school movie, a comedy, a satire, and a whodunnit story, all rolled into one. It had a hip sense of rebellion to it, and the 10-year-old version of me was very much drawn to that (I’d gotten into skateboarding and punk music at a premature age). Besides, the satire seemed to soften the film’s scariness. 

That’s not to say that it wasn’t scary to me at all (it was), but it was like catching a glimpse behind one of the walls that led you through a haunted house. After Scream, I had a sense of a scary movie’s mechanics, and while I was still able to be scared while watching horror films, I stopping laying awake at night, preparing emergency strategies for dealing with horror villains.

Speaking of emergency strategies: Scream is, as earlier stated, a must-watch for anybody returning to school right now. It’s filled with great information, like the importance of safety in numbers and the fact that a school serial killer may very likely be in your group of best friends, so it’s best to immediately stop trusting all of them if one happens to come around.

5) Detachment (2011)

When Tony Kaye, the infamously difficult-to-work-with director behind American History X, directs a film that includes actors like Adrian Brody, Christina Hendricks, Tim Blake Nelson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., James Caan, Bryan Fucking Cranston, and Lucy Liu, that must, at the very least, be an interesting viewing experience. The fact that it was put out in 2011—and so quietly that only a few people are aware of its existence today—just ups the Interesting Factor exponentially. Plus, this list needs something from the teachers’ perspectives, and if you boil Detachment down its essence, that’s exactly what it is.


Shot primarily from the perspective of a substitute teacher, Detachment follows Adrian Brody over a month-long stay at one of our country’s many horribly neglected schools. Although it stays largely with Brody, the plot jumps around to show us how poorly treated each staff member is, at every level, and just how much the stress of their jobs is eating at their sanity. From the principal who’s on the verge of being fired for being unable to pull off the impossible to the students who have more pressing matters in their lives than passing standardized tests, the movie does a flawless job of showing how much things suck for everybody at the school it’s set in (which may as well be any of the thousands in our country that are just as bad or worse).

But while the accuracy is dead-on, it’s unfortunately directed with an über-pretentiousness that makes it almost impossible to watch. Every eccentric decision in the direction of American History X—which all worked brilliantly for that film—is transplanted into Detachment for no clear reason. The directing style doesn’t only fail; it wraps itself around the film’s legs, and makes it face-plant right into the ground.

6) The School of Rock (2003)

If you take everything that just described Detachment, and imagine the exact opposite of that, you’ll be pretty close to imagining The School of Rock. Accuracy is tossed aside with this one: It has one of the most implausible plots to exist outside of the Mighty Ducks era of Disney films.

And when the plot involves Jack Black stealing his roommate’s identity to take a job as a substitute teacher and getting away with teaching a classroom of students for months without ever looking at the curriculum, you can only imagine how far-fetched the film’s conclusion must be.

But it’s so, so good.

Plus, you’ll probably need something to rinse the depression from your eyes and ears after watching Detachment, and this is the perfect film for the job. No, it’s not realistic, but it’s a damn fun time. If you’re heading back to school, and you’re bummed about it, you’re gonna need some damn fun times, so go ahead and watch some fun movies; you’ve earned it.

Photo via King/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Aug 30, 2015, 11:00 am CDT