The first day at a new school can be an incredibly isolating experience. Whether you are in kindergarten or your last year of high school, there is an undeniable fear that comes with summer winding down and the looming threat of class rapidly approaching. And it is especially terrible when you are at a brand new school, as you are all but guaranteed to be filled with the unique and potent fear of entering a whole new world, wondering if there is really a place for you. It’s a fear nearly everyone has felt at some point in their life. But that real-life pain translates to absolute gold on screen. Here are ten movies that managed to perfectly capture all of the awkwardness and anxiety that nearly everyone experienced walking into school on that dreaded first day.
10. Monsters University (2013)
No first day of school list would be complete without a college film. And while Monsters University may not compare to classics like Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds in the college film canon, Mike Wazowski walking through Monster’s University’s campus for the first time gives an accurate, if slightly sanitized look at what makes college such a special time. It’s impossible not to get nostalgic as Mike crosses paths with every cliche but spot-on trope associated with college move-in day. Overenthusiastic RAs! Club sign-ups! Terrible cafeteria food! But above all else, the scene shows exactly why heading to college is such an exciting time in every kid’s life: for the first time, you really feel like you get to decide who you want to be.
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)
Starting school is never easy but no new school experience is as painful and awkward as junior high, as children begin to become self-conscious while lacking the self-awareness to overcome their constant confusion and anxiety. Diary of a Wimpy Kid may not be a movie that offers much to adults but watching Greg enter the chaos of the middle school hallway for the first time rings all too true for everyone who felt a little out of place during this era of life defined by feeling a little out of place. Watching the scene will surely remind anyone of their own painfully awkward experience in junior high and it’s hard to disagree with Greg when he laments that junior high is the “dumbest idea ever invented.”
8. Billy Madison (1995)
When Billy’s father demands that his adult son graduates from all 12 grades in order to take over his family business, Billy gets the bizarre experience of having a new first day of school every two weeks. While Billy manages to skate through first and second grade with ease, he faces his first real challenge with third grade, as he dreads the possibility of having to learn things like social studies and division for the first time. Does this scene actually depict anything remotely accurate about the first day of school? Not really, but it’s hilarious seeing this perpetual manchild interact with a bunch of eight-year-olds, especially when he is the only one who laughs when his teacher asks the class to turn to page 69.
7. Inside Out (2015)
New schools bring big feelings. And sometimes those feelings are conflicting. We get a behind-the-scenes look (so to speak) at the tug of war going on during the first day of school as Riley is overcome with both Joy and Sadness as she meets her new classmates. Fortunately, anger doesn’t show up and grab the wheel. But it’s a good reminder that whatever a kid is feeling in one moment might not be what they are feeling the next, which can make for behavior that’s confusing to them and everyone else in the room.
6. 21 Jump Street (2012)
Jenko and Schmidt’s first day as undercover students at Sagan High School is pretty much comprised of a series of increasingly comical fuck-ups but the highlight of the day is when they first try making friends in the parking lot. Jenko assumes that he will once again rule the school like he did when he was an actual high schooler but instead, he finds that the times they have a-changed and suddenly not giving a fuck about things is seen as irresponsible instead of cool. 21 Jump Street may be a buddy cop comedy at its core but it also is one of the first movies to really understand how much social dynamics have changed in schools thanks to the rise of technology and social media and this scene encapsulates how the first day of school is nothing like what we were lead to believe it was in movies and TV shows.
5. Spider-Man (2002)
Okay, so this isn’t technically a ‘first day of school’ scene, per se. But when perpetual nerd Peter Parker wakes up to discover he suddenly has superpowers, it’s like he’s walking into his high school for the first time. Suddenly, Mary Jane is noticing him and he can stand up to Flash Thompson, his longtime tormenter, with relative ease. And since the Spider-Man character is a not-so-subtle metaphor for puberty, the scene is a perfect representation of when a lifetime loser experiences a summer growth spurt and find themselves transformed from social leper to total hottie.
4. Grease (1978)
One of the best parts of heading back to school is getting to catch up with your friends and share what you all got into during the summer. And this essential back-to-school rite of passage is perfectly captured with Summer Nights, as Danny and Sandy simultaneously dishing on their summer fling to their friends. Part of the fun is seeing the way both parties tell their version of their doomed romance, with Danny playing up the “horny details” while Sandy insists Danny was a perfect gentleman. The catchy tune masterfully demonstrates the magic and stupidity of young love and is guaranteed to be stuck in your head for the foreseeable future.
3. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Typically the first day of class involves blasé introductions and a dull reading of the syllabus but that could not be further from the truth when your teacher is John Fucking Keating. Welton Academy’s newest English teacher immediately makes it clear to his students that this will not be a typical class when he leads them outside and uses a seventeenth-century poem as inspiration to share his ‘Carpe Diem’ life philosophy, urging the boys to approach every day with a passion and vigor that most adults have long given up on. By the end of the lesson, the majority of the students (and viewers) are clamoring for more of Keating’s wisdom. Fortunately, he was only getting started.
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
A big reason why Harry Potter remains such a popular and beloved franchise is that Rowling is able to create such a rich and magical world that still manages to reflect so much of the typical coming-of-age experience. Take Harry’s first day at Hogwarts. Within his first our at his new school, Harry encounters ghosts, living paintings, and, of course, an enchanted hat that essentially decides his social standing for the next seven years. In a way, the entire day is incredibly foreign to what most people think of when they remember their first day of school. And yet, it’s impossible not to relate to Harry’s blend of fear, anticipation, and excitement as he sees Hogwarts for the first time, even if most of us rode buses instead of dozens of magical boats.
1. Mean Girls
Starting at a new school can be a painfully isolating experience and, for Cady, it’s especially difficult because she has been homeschooled (mostly in Africa) her entire life, so basic social structures are completely foreign to her. But all of Cady’s fears are assuaged when she meets Damian and Janis, two proud outsiders who take Cady under their wing and teach her everything she needs to know about North Shore High. The entire introduction culminates in an iconic scene where they give her a hand-drawn map of the cafeteria which lists out which respective clique — including, but not limited to burnouts, sexually active band geeks, and, of course, the Plastics — sits at which table.
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