Sure, we all know that you shouldn't look to movies and TV to figure out what real life is going to be like. But, especially when you're young, what else do you have to look at to figure out what you can expect from, say, stereotypical high school experiences? It's not like you're going to ask your parents.
When it comes to high school movies vs. reality, it can be tough to know where to start. Our teenage years are such a popular source for dramatic fodder that, sometimes, it seems like just about every movie and TV show is about high school in one way or another - from Sixteen Candles to Buffy and beyond. Are American high schools like the movies, though? Of course not. So why are high school movies so unrealistic?
It probably comes from a lot of factors, including a nostalgic desire to play up the high points of our own youthful history while forgetting the lows. It's also worth considering that most high school movies and TV shows aren't made by high schoolers (and even the creators' most accurate memories of high school come from an earlier era). Whatever the case may be, here are some of the things movies get wrong about high school, and why we believed them right up until we saw the truth for ourselves.
- Photo: Mean Girls / Paramount Pictures1500 VOTES
Everyone Has A Clique
The Trope: There's the mean girls, the jocks, the AP kids, the theater nerds, the AV club, you name it. If there's one thing we learned from movies about high school, it's that everyone has a clique, and everyone knows what that clique is.
Why It's Inaccurate: Research has shown that many high school students still fall into broad categories and may be identified by others according to how well they fit these preconceived stereotypes. However, data also shows that a combination of social media and the increased pressure to do and be everything at once has led to a significant blurring of the lines among high school cliques (who probably never self-identify as rigorously as they do on the screen, anyway).
Notable Offenders: The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, Heathers, John Tucker Must Die, Valley Girl
- Photo: Pretty in Pink / Paramount Pictures2412 VOTES
Prom Is Everything
The Trope: From Pretty in Pink to Carrie, if there's going to be a climactic event, it's going to happen at prom. If movies are to be believed, senior prom, rather than graduation, is the culmination of your entire high school experience. Everything that's happened in your life up to that point is just building to that one magical (or tragic) moment.
Why It's Inaccurate: According to data collected by YouGov, less than half of American high school students actually attend prom. And only about half of those who do attend actually go with a "romantic" date. Even then, 59% of people surveyed said that prom was "overrated." So if your prom experience wasn't the Hollywood ideal, you're not alone.
Notable Offenders: Pretty in Pink, Valley Girl, She's All That
- Photo: American Pie / Universal Pictures3383 VOTES
Marching Band Members Are All 'Dorks'
The Trope: Okay, okay, it's not always just marching band members, though they're likely to get the short end of the stick nine times out of 10. But there are certain categories of kids in school who are universally recognized as "dorks" in high school movies, and marching band members are definitely one of them.
Why It's Inaccurate: For starters, the overly simplistic binary of "jocks" and "nerds" is so inaccurate that it's been parodied on The Simpsons (even if that was college, rather than high school). And when you get right down to it, there are too many people in marching bands all across the country for all of them to be considered "dorks."
Just ask CBS sportscaster Jim Rome, who found himself in the sights of a massive social media backlash when he called marching band members "dorks" on Twitter.
Notable Offenders: American Pie may be the most infamous example of this (even if it subverts the trope by the end).
- Photo: Dazed and Confused / Gramercy Pictures4399 VOTES
Everyone Drinks And Gets High
The Trope: In movie high school, all anyone ever does is get together with (and break up with) one another and party. Tangential to this, everyone drinks and uses illicit substances, and you are, at best, a square if you don't. You won't find many Straight Edge kids in a high school movie.
Why It's Inaccurate: While data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that underage drinking is fairly common, only 29% of high school students surveyed had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. That's way less than you'd think - from watching pretty much any movie about high school.
Notable Offenders: Dazed and Confused, Can't Hardly Wait, Superbad, 10 Things I Hate About You, et al.
- Photo: The Breakfast Club / Universal Pictures5343 VOTES
You Get Detention At The Drop Of A Hat
The Trope: Whether you fall asleep in class, mouth off to the teacher, start a food fight, or anything else you might do to step out of line, the punishment in movies and TV is pretty much always detention (where the students are usually left alone, often to bond).
Why It's Inaccurate: A lot of the stuff that lands people in detention in movies would probably get them either a warning (at best) or out-of-school suspension (at worst) in real life.
While detention is the most common punishment in schools, it's still far from as prevalent as movies make it look. According to a 2010 survey of 1,500 schools, only 28% of office referrals in high school resulted in detention.
Notable Offenders: The Breakfast Club
- Photo: Easy A / Screen Gems6349 VOTES
Everybody Is Looking To 'Hook Up'
The Trope: Virginity is a big, big deal in high school movies, many of which have a character whose whole plot arc is about "hooking up" with someone before the school year is over. Even when that doesn't factor into the main plot, sexual conquest is always on the table in one form or another.
This can be a little gross when you think about the fact that the people writing, producing, greenlighting, and directing these movies are all adults.
Why It's Inaccurate: According to the CDC, less than half of all high schoolers have ever had intercourse. In 2017, the number was around 39%. And of those, most reported that their first time was with someone they had been "going steady" with, rather than a hookup at a party or after prom.
Notable Offenders: Easy A, Can't Hardly Wait, Say Anything, American Pie, Superbad, She's Out of Control