10 Film Characters Who Went Back to School


This Friday Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are heading back to high school in Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s adaptation of the late ’80s and early ’90s TV drama, 21 Jump Street . Hill and Tatum are taking over the roles that Johnny Depp and Richard Grieco made famous — two undercover agents busting drug baddies at a local high school. The Hill written and produced version (Tatum also has a producer credit) puts a comedic spin on things (obviously), as the duo ends up joining the secret Jump Street unit of the local police department. They also return to school on the DL, but find that their traumatic high school pasts often gets in the way of their investigation.

Whether film characters head back to class to reinvent themselves, chase lost dreams, or take on an entirely new identity, hitting the books for a second go-round always seems to inspire great hilarity and drama.

Back to School

Rodney Dangerfield had roles in well-known comedy classics like Caddyshack, but it wasn’t until his 1986 film Back to School that the darkly madcap comedian really came into his own. He plays Thornton Melon — a millionaire who enrolls at his disheartened son’s university to show him the ropes, but ends up learning a lesson or two about life while there. Dangerfield’s quick and smarmy one-liners, the appearance of Kurt Vonnegut (playing himself), and a slew of strong cast members make this a memorable entry in the 1980’s comedy canon.

Billy Madison

Was this the beginning of the end for Adam Sandler? Billy Madison features the former SNL cast member as a slacker who has to repeat grades one through twelve in order to prove that he can take over the family business. We probably don’t need to explain the goofy shenanigans that ensue. The film along with Happy Gilmore — is credited with breaking Sandler into the Hollywood industry, but atrocities like Jack and Jill are making us regret that ever happened.

Strangers with Candy

She was a boozer, a user, and a loser — but now she’s back in school! Though not as brilliant as the Comedy Central cult television series that Amy Sedaris co-wrote/created, we’ll take any opportunity to watch the actress and author’s comic alter ego Jerri Blank. The film is a loose prequel to the TV show and finds Blank just released from prison and starting over at Flatpoint High. The faces have changed, but the hassles are still the same — and so is most of the plotline. Even if the screen version isn’t rousing enough to wake daddy from a coma, it’s still gutsier and more original than a lot of what passes for funny these days.

Never Been Kissed

Awkward “Josie Grossie” is all grown up and working for a big newspaper, but she reverts to her gawky ways as soon as she takes an undercover assignment that sends her back to high school. Eventually she finds her stride with the cool kids — something she always wanted — but discovers that being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s sweet and sappy and predictable, but Drew Barrymore’s quirky charm won most audiences over.


The potential for embarrassing and hysterical situations is high when sending a grown-up back to school, but some films ignore the comedic quotient and opt for a serious approach. Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction is based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters — a high school dropout and single mom who worked tirelessly to free her brother from a murder conviction. The film stars Hilary Swank in the part of the underdog crusader who eventually gets her law degree and beats the system. Swank is always adept at playing the determined gal, and Sam Rockwell — who played Betty’s troubled brother Kenny — was fantastic as always.

Educating Rita

Before audiences got to know Julie Walters in the Harry Potter film series, she was making her feature film debut Educating Rita — a 1983 movie that found the actress as a working class Liverpool housewife and hairdresser who tires of the daily grind and enrolls in a college literature course. Michael Caine plays Rita’s discouraged, alcoholic professor, and together they help each other blossom while they navigate the new chapter in their lives. Their relationship is touching, and although the film didn’t win much praise upon release, Caine and Walters delivered notable performances.

Peggy Sue Got Married

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1986 comedy-drama stars Kathleen Turner as an unhappily married woman (with Nicholas Cage for a cheating husband). She returns to high school for her 25-year reunion, but after fainting during the event, wakes up and realizes she’s somehow time traveled back to 1960. Stuck in the past, Peggy gets to live life all over again (with 40 plus years of futuristic knowledge swimming in her head) — and while she makes some different decisions, it becomes impossible to escape her fate and marriage to her high school sweetheart. Coppola’s ability to create comedy while retaining a deeply heartfelt and dramatic sincerity is commendable. Turner’s performance as a teenager is fun to watch.


Figuring he’s destined for a working class existence, Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger settles for life at the local steel mill just like his dad instead of going to college. Tragic life events inspire him to follow his dreams, and he tries to find football stardom at his dream school, Notre Dame. He encounters more than a few setbacks, but the atypical footballer remains doggedly determined and proves his worth. Rudy wins points thanks to its sweet and spirited life study that exceeds the expectations of even the most staunch sports films haters.

Larry Crowne

Tom Hanks directed himself in last year’s romantic comedy, Larry Crowne. He stars as a divorced, middle-age veteran who gets fired from his job, but tries to better himself by enrolling in college. While there, he falls in love with an unhappy teacher (Julie Roberts). Despite the hardships they individually face, the couple unexpectedly learns valuable life lessons. Hank’s directorial approach is breezy and mawkish (he also co-wrote the film), but hopefully the only place the favorite everyman star can go from here is up when it comes to his next picture.

17 Again

It’s hard to believe that tween heartthrob Zac Efron would transform into a Matthew Perry type 20 years from now, but stranger things have happened. The High School Musical star swaps bodies with the Friends actor in 17 Again. Perry’s character was a badass in high school, but has grown into a lackluster adult. Soon he’s trading bodies with his former, popular self in order to re-live his youth. Efron surprisingly proves he’s more than just a pretty face, but don’t expect anything ingenious here.