Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta

Some of Film’s Oldest High Schoolers


Well readers, with Labor Day here, another new school year is upon us — and, frankly, it makes us feel old. Now that it’s been over a decade since our last first day of high school, we no longer have any excuse to stock up on pencils and notebooks or spend hours agonizing over the perfect outfit. So, to make ourselves feel a bit better about our lost teen years, we’re following up our roundup of TV’s oldest high schoolers with a list of film’s oldest high schoolers. To our great relief, some of them even have a few years on us.

Sidney Poitier as Gregory Miller, Blackboard Jungle

If the ever-dignified Poitier looked like he was above the adolescent mischief his character caused (not to mention the violence he was wrongfully accused of) in this classic film about inner-city teaching, that might be because he was 28 years old when it was released. He quickly moved on to adult roles after this breakout performance, becoming the first black male actor to earn an Academy Award nomination, for his part in 1958’s The Defiant Ones, and win an Oscar, for 1963’s Lilies of the Field.

Steve McQueen as Steve Andrews and Aneta Corsaut as Jane Martin, The Blob

Famed badass Steve McQueen had his first leading role in this 1958 cult horror hit, about a blob-shaped alien that attacks a sleepy Pennsylvania town. But while he and co-star Aneta Corsaut play a pair of teenagers on steamy date, both were well past high-school age at the time — he was 28, and she was 24.

Richard Dreyfuss as Curt Henderson, American Graffiti

Technically, Richard Dreyfuss’ American Graffiti character, Curt Henderson, isn’t in high school — the California teen is has just graduated and can’t decide whether to go to college on the East Coast. Still, it bears mention that the lead in one of Hollywood’s most memorable tributes to youth culture was nearly 26 by the time the movie premiered.

Olivia Newton-John as Sandra Olsson and Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo, Grease

We won’t speculate on whether or not she was truly “lousy with virginity,” but we certainly wouldn’t blame Olivia Newton-John for having more experience than Sandy — she was, after all, only a few months shy of 30 when Grease hit theaters. Meanwhile, Stockard Channing was 34 when she appeared as Sandy’s bad-girl rival, Rizzo. Both characters’ boyfriends were played by younger men; John Travolta was 24 when the world met Danny Zuko, and Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) was 27.

Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, Carrie

Sissy Spacek always looked younger than she actually was. In 1973, when she was 23, Spacek got her big break playing the 15-year-old girlfriend of a psychokiller in Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Three years later, she played another iconic teenager — Stephen King and Brian De Palma’s bloody, telekinetic misfit prom queen, Carrie.

Maureen Teefy as Doris Finsecker, Fame

It must be difficult to be the most normal kid at a high school full of flamboyant artists. Although she was 26 when the film debuted, Maureen Teefy was entirely believable as poor Doris, a budding actress with an awful stage mother who finds her inner freak at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening.

Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, Back to the Future III

Michael J. Fox was already 24 when the first Back to the Future movie came out in 1985. Since his character wasn’t supposed to have aged in the years between that film and the third installment in the series, he was nearly 29 by the spring of 1990, when Back to the Future III hit theaters. Meanwhile, Christopher Lloyd, who looks positively ancient in those movies, was only in his mid-40s when he shot the original.

Selma Blair as Cecile Caldwell, Cruel Intentions

There’s a certain irony to noting that Selma Blair was the oldest actress to play one of Cruel Intentions‘ main characters. Like Sandra Dee, Cecile is portrayed as a naïve and curious teenager who is easily manipulated the film’s debauched rivals, Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe). But Blair was nearly 27 when the movie came out, while her co-stars were all in their early 20s.

Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite and Efren Ramirez as Pedro Sanchez, Napoleon Dynamite

As much as we complain about 20-somethings playing high schoolers on TV and film, the truth is that it gets much more difficult to find teen-movie protagonists older than 25 in the 21st century. One notable exception is Jon Heder, who bumbled and scoffed his way to fame with the title role in 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite. We may have been too distracted by his awkwardness to realize that Heder looked a bit old for a high schooler, but it turns out he was 26 when the film made its world premiere at Sundance. Efren Ramirez, who played Napoleon’s class-president sidekick, Pedro, was 30.