A Serious Look at Movies and TV Shows Depicting School Life

  |   Article, Commentary

Entering college or high school is an annual rite of passage for the teen years.  The pandemic has changed the traditional milestone into one of ambiguity and risk assessment.  As my son starts high school and my daughter starts college, I have been reminiscing about those moments in my own life. In 9th grade, my class wanted to live the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and the Ramones ruled the hallways. Though it came out years earlier, National Lampoon’s Animal House was revered as the seminal movie about college life. Teen movies and TV shows typically depicted raging hormones, romance, cliques, and booze. What I discovered is that I had no frame of reference for the challenges of attending a school during a pandemic. The halcyon days of 80’s director John Hughes’ movies are gone. This is no Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Breakfast Club. Kids are facing something entirely different.


Internet Video Archive’s editors have put together a massive “Back to School” collection (Collection ID = 1361) with over 180 movies and TV shows. All the classics of the teen movie formula are represented but as they worked through this list, certain titles stood out.  They were not comedies, romance, or horror genres films. Looking deeper, our editors noticed these titles broke with regular teen fare.

They dared to take on the complex issues the youth have to face. Issues like teen pregnancy, self-esteem, bullying, suicide, mental health, assault, and more were explored. These titles address the realities of the journey and it is not made in Day-Glo. We did include two inspirational movies to offer a respite from the harsh topics we highlight.


The Back to School collection is expansive and has old and new movies and TV shows listed but for the purpose of this article, we wanted to spotlight those titles that were serious in the way they addressed their subject matter. Clients can access this list and filter on genres to just get the comedies from this collection too. If you would like to learn more about IVA’s collection data, please review this article and reach out to our support team if you have more questions.


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Teen Pregnancy



Precious (2009)

Description: Set in Harlem in 1987, Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones, a sixteen year old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She’s pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother, a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write.



Trailer and links to where to stream










Juno (2007)


Description: Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.



Trailer and links to where to stream










Teen Suicide


Dead Poets Society (1989)


Description: English professor John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day.



Trailer and links to where to stream









13 Reasons Why (2017)


Description:  High school student Clay Jensen lands in the center of a series of heartbreaking mysteries set in motion by a friend’s tragic suicide.



Trailer and links to where to stream












Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996)


Description: Not all girls want to play with dolls. Todd Solondz became the most talked-about new director in recent years with this acclaimed comedy about the suburban condition. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Welcome to the Dollhouse follows 11-year-old Dawn “Wienerdog” Wiener (Heather Matarazzo), a junior high geek who just wants to be popular. Teased by her classmates, tormented by the school bully, Dawn develops an improbable plan to seduce the star of a high-school garage band.



Trailers and links to where to stream








Bully (2011)


Description: This year, over 18 million American kids will be bullied, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the U.S. The documentary THE BULLY PROJECT follows “a year in the life” of America’s bullying crisis, offering an intimate look at how bullying has touched five kids and their families. With an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices, the film offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children.



Trailer and links to where to stream







Sexual Assault on Campus



It Happened Here (2014)


Description: A compelling documentary explores sexual assault on campuses through the personal testimonials of five survivors who transform their experiences into a springboard for change.



Links to where to stream









The Hunting Ground (2015)


Description: From the team behind THE INVISIBLE WAR, comes a startling exposé of rape crimes on U.S. campuses, institutional cover-ups and the brutal social toll on victims and their families. Weaving together verité footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows survivors as they pursue their education while fighting for justice — despite harsh retaliation, harassment and pushback at every level.



Trailer and links to where to stream






Dropout Crisis


Unlikely (2019)


Description: In the US less than 50% of students who start college ever finish, making America’s college completion rates among the worst in the world. Now there are more than 35 million Americans who started college but never finished, leaving them saddled with debt, and behind their peers in earning power. Featuring interviews with LeBron James, Howard Schultz, and our nation’s leading voices in education, this penetrating and personal new film investigates America’s college dropout crisis through the lives of five diverse students as they fight for a second chance at opportunity.



Trailer and links to where to stream








Teen Drug Use


Thirteen (2003)


Description: The unhinged joy and high angst of hitting modern adolescence with full force is explored with honesty, clarity, and passion in Thirteen. The story follows the transformation of Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), who begins as a promising, pig-tailed student still playing with teddy bears and Barbie dolls. When Tracy enters the hyper-sexualized, peer-pressure cooker of junior high, she witnesses the power and hipness of Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed, co-writer of the script), who has become widely known as “the hottest chick in school.” Ultra-popular, model-gorgeous, and bewitchingly snobby, Evie represents everything Tracy suddenly wants, and needs, to be.


Trailer and links to where to stream






Euphoria (2019)


Description: Zendaya stars in this series that follows a group of high-school students as they navigate an unstable world.


Trailer and links to where to stream












Inspirational Stories of Teenagers


Freedom Writers (2007)


Description: Inspired by a true story and the diaries of the real Long Beach teenagers after the L.A. riots, during the worst outbreak of interracial warfare. Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank stars as Erin Gruwell, whose passion to become a teacher is soon challenged by a group of Black, Latino, and Asian gangbangers who hate her even more than they hate each other. When Erin begins to listen to them in a way that no other adult has ever done, she begins to understand that for these kids, getting through the day alive is enough- they are not delinquents but teenagers fighting “a war of the streets” that began long before they were born. Erin gives them something they never had from a teacher before- respect. For the first time, these teens experience a hope that maybe they might show the world that their lives matter and they have something to say.


Trailer and links to where to stream







Akeelah and the Bee (2006)


Description: The inspirational story of Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), an eleven-year-old girl from South Los Angeles with a gift for words. Despite the objections of her mother Tanya (Angela Bassett), Akeelah enters various spelling contests, for which she is tutored by the forthright Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), her principal Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong), and the proud residents of her neighborhood. Akeelah’s aptitude earns her an opportunity to compete for a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and, in turn, unites her neighborhood as everyone witnesses the courage and inspiration of one amazing little girl.


Trailer and links to where to stream








This article was created using Internet Video Archives’ database that includes metadata about movies and TV shows, poster art and trailers/clips available to clients via its APIs and editor’s interface Media Manager.  If you would like to learn more about how IVA can support your entertainment information needs to enhance your websites, applications or services, please contact