It’s time to sharpen our pencils and head back to school, where everyone ends up with a label: dork, nerd, jock, mean girl. How do those schoolyard sobriquets measure up to our archetypes? Here we take a look at classic school movies and see how our favorite characters align.
Creative – Allison Reynolds, The Breakfast Club
Twenty-eight years later, The Breakfast Club is still a pretty accurate showcase of teen archetypes: the brain (Intellectual), the princess (Royal), the Athlete and the criminal (Rebel), except for scruffy Ally Sheedy, who’s misdubbed “the basket case.” Clearly she’s a Creative, from her raccoon eyes down to her piano-playing toes. She draws, tells highly creative lies that induce the others to open up, and even allows herself to be made over into a thing of beauty. Well, ’80s-style beauty.
Athlete – Coach Dale, Hoosiers
In the 1986 classic (named by ESPN as one of the best sports movies ever), Gene Hackman as basketball coach Norman Dale is the quintessential Athlete: focused, driven, and occasionally something of a jerk. All is forgiven when he brings the 1952 state championship trophy home to the tiny town of Hickory, Indiana, after rallying his underdogs with a locker room speech and the Athlete’s credo: “Be the best that you can be.”
Rebel – Bluto Blutarsky, National Lampoon’s Animal House
Some Rebels have a dark shadow on their souls, but John Belushi’s Bluto Blutarsky breaks with convention out of sheer joie de vivre: urinating in public, spewing mashed potatoes, sabotaging the homecoming parade, and kidnapping the pearl-clad Mandy Pepperidge. With the 1982 film’s closing credits revelation that he later became a US Senator, you might even call that Rebel a Maverick.
Caregiver – LouAnne Johnson, Dangerous Minds
Ex-Marine LouAnne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) goes above and beyond for her troubled high school students in this 1995 film, as only a true Caregiver would. She takes the kids to a beachfront amusement park, visits a pregnant girl at home, wines and dines a gang member to try to motivate him to stay in school, and unsuccessfully tries to save the life of another, all while teaching the little truants to appreciate poetry. Give that teacher an apple!
Visionary – Max Fischer, Rushmore
Few high school students are more Visionary than Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer, who not only founds many clubs during his time at staid Rushmore (Trap & Skeet, Kung Fu, and of course the Max Fischer Players) but actually manages to plan, fund, and break ground on an $8 million aquarium, while also writing, producing and starring in a play about Vietnam (real dynamite included).
Royal – Thornton Melon, Back to School
Rodney Dangerfield stars as Thornton Melon, the wealthy owner of a chain of Tall & Fat stores, who decides to join his son on campus to get the college education he lacks. A dyed-in-the-wool Royal, Melon enjoys the finer things in life, including lavish parties, hot tubs, and a rolodex that allows him to hire Kurt Vonnegut as his English tutor. The man deserves respect, if not an “A.”
Spiritual – John Keating and Neil Perry, Dead Poets Society
It’s a tough call who’s more of a Spiritual in this 1989 drama, Robin Williams or Robert Sean Leonard. Robin’s the guru who initiates his students into the ways of carpe diem, but young Robert runs with the idea, seizing the day, the poetic life, and the role of Puck in a local play. Unfortunately, Father is not amused, and the poor sensitive lad ends up cutting his own diem abruptly short.
Tastemaker – Cher Horowitz, Clueless
How could Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) be anything but a Tastemaker, with her thigh-highs, boas, miniskirts, computer-aided closet, and unerring sense of style, style, style? Cher has so much taste that she can afford to share some with others, making over her teachers and classmates until all the world — or at least Beverly Hills High — is a more beautiful place.
Advocate – Tracy Flick, Election
Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is the hilarious Advocate from hell in this 1998 black comedy, facing down not just an Athlete and a Rebel in the school election, but also teacher Matthew Broderick, who’s advocating for anyone but Tracy. A ruthless overachiever, Tracy woos her constituents with chewing gum, cupcakes, and anecdotes about her own empathy. Of course, like many celebrity Advocates, the person she really champions is her unstoppable self.
Intellectual – Mark Thackeray, To Sir With Love
Though stuck with a mouthy class-full of cockney teens, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) retains not only his dignity in this 1967 classic, but his high Intellectual standards, too. He takes the kids to a museum, treats them like thinking adults, and uses his smarts to make sure that no child is left behind.