There’s something really special about back-to-school movies. The good ones capture the unique energy we feel at the beginning of a new school year and often explore themes of friendship, coming-of-age, self-discovery, and overcoming challenges. While not every film on this list is strictly about the start of a school year, they all explore new beginnings and experiences.
Before we begin, though, we wanted to offer a quick reminder about the back-to-school movies on this list (particularly the ones from the 1980s and 1990s). Everyone’s definition of appropriate is different. Please watch these movies in advance to ensure they are right for your audience before sharing them!
(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)
Back-to-School Movies for Elementary Students
Matilda, a young girl with telekinetic powers, endures neglect from her family and mistreatment at school. After discovering her abilities, she uses them to stand up against her wicked principal and bring justice to her life.
Watch it: Matilda on Amazon
An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000)
When Goofy’s son Max starts college, he’s determined to have a great time—until Goofy decides to join him! This unique academic adventure leads to comical mishaps and father-son bonding on and off the skateboard.
Watch it: An Extremely Goofy Movie on Amazon
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
In this first installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry’s entire life changes when he discovers he’s a wizard and is invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While one of the most magical back-to-school movies, kids will still identify with his classroom woes.
Watch it: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Amazon
The Princess Diaries (2001)
Mia Thermopolis, an ordinary teenager, discovers she is the heir to the throne of Genovia, a fictional European kingdom. With the help of her grandmother and a makeover, she must learn to embrace her new royal responsibilities.
Watch it: The Princess Diaries on Amazon
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
Akeelah Anderson, an 11-year-old girl from South Los Angeles, discovers her exceptional talent for spelling. With the support of her community, she competes in the National Spelling Bee while overcoming personal challenges.
Watch it: Akeelah and the Bee on Amazon
Carl Fredricksen, a retired balloon salesman, fulfills his lifelong dream of visiting South America by tying thousands of balloons to his house. Along the way, he unexpectedly ends up with a young stowaway and embarks on a heartwarming adventure.
Watch it: Up on Amazon
Toy Story 3 (2010)
In this third installment in the Toy Story series, Andy’s toys find themselves donated to a daycare center as he prepares for college. Together, they must find a way to escape and return home while facing new challenges.
Watch it: Toy Story 3 on Amazon
We Bought a Zoo (2011)
A widowed father, Benjamin Mee, purchases a run-down zoo with the hope of giving his family a fresh start. It’s hard work, but they find a way to process their grief as they refurbish the zoo and bond with the animals and staff.
Watch it: We Bought a Zoo on Amazon
Despicable Me 2 (2013)
In this sequel to the wildly popular Despicable Me, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help stop a new super-criminal. He quickly realizes the importance of work-life balance as he also navigates his growing relationship with his three adopted daughters.
Watch it: Despicable Me 2 on Amazon
Monsters University (2013)
A prequel to Monsters, Inc., this film follows Mike and Sulley during their college days as they start off as rivals, eventually become best friends, and go on to be the renowned scare team we all know and love!
Watch it: Monsters University on Amazon
The LEGO Movie (2014)
Emmet, an ordinary LEGO construction worker, is mistakenly identified as the “Special” and becomes involved in a mission to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the LEGO universe together. It’s one of the best back-to-school movies to encourage kids to find their true potential.
Watch it: The LEGO Movie on Amazon
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
Alexander experiences a series of disastrous events on what he calls a terrible day, but he soon realizes that his family also faces a challenging day of their own.
Watch it: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on Amazon
Inside Out (2015)
This really creative movie takes place inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, personifying her emotions as Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The emotions navigate her life’s changes as her family moves to a new city.
Watch it: Inside Out on Amazon
Moana, a spirited Polynesian teenager, sets sail on a daring journey to save her people by restoring the heart of Te Fiti, accompanied by the demigod Maui. The music in this movie is fantastic!
Watch it: Moana on Amazon
Incredibles 2 (2018)
In this sequel, the Parr family must balance their superhero lives with everyday challenges. Helen (Elastigirl) takes the lead in fighting crime while Bob (Mr. Incredible) manages the household and the kids.
Watch it: Incredibles 2 on Amazon
The Addams Family (2019)
The eccentric Addams family, including Gomez, Morticia, and their children Wednesday and Pugsley, must face off against a reality TV host who seeks to exploit their creepy lifestyle.
Watch it: The Addams Family on Amazon
A live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated film, Mulan tells the story of a courageous young woman who disguises herself as a man to take her father’s place in the military to defend China against invaders.
Watch it: Mulan on Amazon
The Addams Family 2 (2021)
In this sequel, the Addams family embarks on a road trip where they encounter hilariously spooky adventures while bonding and facing new challenges.
Watch it: The Addams Family 2 on Amazon
This Disney animated musical centers on a young girl named Mirabel who was born into a family with magical powers. She must discover her own unique gifts and save her family’s enchanted home.
Watch it: Encanto on Amazon
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (2023)
The movie adaptation of Judy Blume’s classic novel follows 11-year-old Margaret Simon as she navigates adolescence, friendships, and her quest for spiritual understanding.
Watch it: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. on Amazon
Back-to-School Movies for Middle and High School Students
The Karate Kid (1984)
When Daniel moves to a new town, he learns karate from a wise and unconventional maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi, to defend himself against bullies. As he trains for a karate tournament, Daniel learns valuable life lessons about discipline, honor, and inner strength.
Watch it: The Karate Kid on Amazon
Ren McCormack, a teen from the big city, moves to a small town where dancing and rock music are prohibited due to a tragic accident. Determined to make a change, Ren challenges the local authorities and inspires the community to embrace the joy of dancing.
Watch it: Footloose on Amazon
The Breakfast Club (1985)
This iconic coming-of-age film revolves around five high school students from different social cliques who are forced to spend a Saturday detention together. As they open up to each other, they discover shared struggles and form unexpected connections that challenge stereotypes and forge new friendships.
Watch it: The Breakfast Club on Amazon
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Ferris Bueller, a charismatic high school student, decides to skip school and spends the day in Chicago with his best friend and girlfriend, all while avoiding the school principal, who is determined to catch him. The film showcases Ferris’ carefree attitude and his determination to live life to the fullest.
Watch it: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Amazon
Dead Poets Society (1989)
An English teacher inspires his students at an all-boys preparatory school to appreciate poetry, seize the day, and challenge the conformity of their conservative society. Through his unorthodox teaching methods, Mr. Keating makes a profound impact on his students’ lives, encouraging them to pursue their passions and think for themselves.
Watch it: Dead Poets Society on Amazon
Lean on Me (1989)
Some back-to-school movies are based on real events, and this is one of them! The plot follows the true story of Joe Clark, a tough and determined principal who takes over an unruly and troubled inner-city high school in New Jersey. Through his strict discipline and unconventional methods, he aims to transform the school and inspire its students to succeed.
Watch it: Lean on Me on Amazon
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
A tough cop goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to catch a criminal’s ex-wife, who may have crucial information. While trying to adapt to his new role and maintain order in the classroom, he unexpectedly learns valuable lessons from his young students.
Watch it: Kindergarten Cop on Amazon
This beloved comedy centers around Cher Horowitz, a popular and fashionable high school student, as she navigates the ups and downs of teenage life in Beverly Hills. Her matchmaking and makeover efforts lead to hilarious and heartfelt lessons.
Watch it: Clueless on Amazon
Dangerous Minds (1995)
Inspired by a true story, the film follows Louanne Johnson, a dedicated teacher who takes on a challenging job teaching a group of rebellious disadvantaged students. By connecting with them through unconventional teaching methods, she helps them overcome their struggles and inspires them to embrace learning.
Watch it: Dangerous Minds on Amazon
Billy Madison (1995)
Wealthy and immature, Billy Madison must repeat grades 1 to 12 in six months to prove to his father that he is capable of running the family business. This is one of the rare back-to-school movies where an adult has to go back to being a kid again—and the results are hilarious!
Watch it: Billy Madison on Amazon
This dark comedy revolves around a high school student body election. Tracy Flick, an overachieving student, faces off against her teacher, Jim McAllister, who is determined to stop her relentless ambition and manipulative tactics.
Watch it: Election on Amazon
Never Been Kissed (1999)
A reporter goes undercover as a high school student to research a story about teenagers but finds herself reliving the awkwardness of her own past. As she navigates the challenges of fitting in and finding love, she gains a new perspective on life and high school. This is one of those back-to-school movies that will have teachers reminiscing about their own school days.
Watch it: Never Been Kissed on Amazon
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This romantic comedy is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. A new student attempts to woo a stubborn and rebellious girl with the help of a fellow student who is paid to date the girl’s younger sister.
Watch it: 10 Things I Hate About You on Amazon
Remember the Titans (2000)
Based on a true story, the film is set in the early 1970s and depicts the integration of a racially divided high school football team. Under the leadership of their new head coach, the team must overcome prejudice and work together to achieve success on and off the field.
Watch it: Remember the Titans on Amazon
Max Keeble’s Big Move (2001)
When middle school student Max Keeble finds out that he and his family are moving, he seizes the opportunity. With nothing to lose, he decides to seek revenge on his bullies and the school principal before leaving.
Watch it: Max Keeble’s Big Move on Amazon
Legally Blonde (2001)
In this lighthearted comedy, Elle Woods, a fashionable sorority girl, enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend. Despite initial setbacks, Elle discovers her true potential and proves that being true to oneself can lead to success.
Watch it: Legally Blonde on Amazon
The movie follows a talented and cocky young drummer who joins a university’s marching band. His clash with the band’s strict leader leads to personal and musical growth as he learns the value of discipline, teamwork, and dedication.
Watch it: Drumline on Amazon
School of Rock (2003)
A struggling musician poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious school and forms a rock band with his students.
Watch it: School of Rock on Amazon
Freaky Friday (2003)
In this comedy, a mother and her teenage daughter, Anna and Tess Coleman, magically switch bodies and must live each other’s lives for a day. Through humorous and heartfelt experiences, they gain a deeper understanding of each other and strengthen their bond.
Watch it: Freaky Friday on Amazon
Based on a true story, Radio follows the relationship between a high school football coach and a mentally challenged young man named Radio. The coach takes Radio under his wing, offering him acceptance and friendship while inspiring the entire community to be more compassionate.
Watch it: Radio on Amazon
Mean Girls (2004)
New student Cady Heron gets caught up in the complicated social hierarchy of high school after befriending the popular “Plastics.” As she tries to navigate the world of cliques and popularity, Cady learns valuable lessons about friendship, loyalty, and being true to oneself.
Watch it: Mean Girls on Amazon
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
This offbeat comedy centers around Napoleon Dynamite, a socially awkward and eccentric teenager, as he navigates life in his small town. Through his quirky interactions with family and friends, Napoleon finds his unique way of expressing himself and becomes an unlikely hero.
Watch it: Napoleon Dynamite on Amazon
The Perfect Score (2004)
Frustrated with standardized testing, a group of high school students hatches a plan to steal the answers to the SAT exam to ensure their desired scores. This comedy-drama follows their misadventures and personal growth as they learn about the true value of education and friendship.
Watch it: The Perfect Score on Amazon
Coach Carter (2005)
Based on a true story, Coach Carter follows the journey of a high school basketball coach, Ken Carter, who takes over a struggling team in a tough neighborhood. He implements strict rules and academic standards, inspiring his players to excel both on the court and in the classroom.
Watch it: Coach Carter on Amazon
High School Musical (2006)
This Disney Channel musical follows the story of Troy Bolton, a popular high school basketball player, and Gabriella Montez, a shy and intelligent newcomer. Together, they audition for the school musical, breaking stereotypes and inspiring their peers to embrace their true passions. This is one of those back-to-school movies that will have you dancing and singing!
Watch it: High School Musical on Amazon
A witty and independent-minded teenage girl, Juno MacGuff finds herself pregnant after a one-time encounter with a classmate. Deciding to give her baby up for adoption, Juno navigates the challenges of pregnancy, relationships, and making difficult life choices.
Watch it: Juno on Amazon
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)
Based on the popular book, the movie follows Greg Heffley as he enters middle school and navigates the ups and downs of adolescence while trying to become popular.
Watch it: Diary of a Wimpy Kid on Amazon
Based on the novel, the film tells the heartwarming story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a young boy born with facial differences, as he enters school for the first time. The movie explores themes of empathy, kindness, and the impact of bullying on individuals and communities.
Watch it: Wonder on Amazon
Eighth Grade (2018)
This coming-of-age drama follows the life of an introverted and socially awkward eighth-grade girl, Kayla, as she navigates the challenges of adolescence, social media, and self-identity during her last week of middle school.
Watch it: Eighth Grade on Amazon
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
The sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the movie follows Peter Parker as he embarks on a school trip to Europe. However, his plans for a relaxing vacation are disrupted when he is recruited by Nick Fury to battle new threats, including the enigmatic Mysterio.
Watch it: Spider-Man: Far From Home on Amazon
Enjoy these back-to-school movies but not quite ready to move on yet? Check out this list of fantastic summer movies for kids!
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