It’s that time again, kids! Time to stock up on pencils, blue books and Trapper Keepers and start the mental preparation to go back to school! Time to rejoin the mass of struggling identities in a sea of cliques. In an effort to help you better understand the subtle social dynamics of the educational experience, we’ve put together a list of our 10 favorite student archetypes from motion pictures (and 10 runners-up)!
The Jock: Andy Clark in “The Breakfast Club” (1985)
The irony in choosing Andy Clark (Emilio Estevez) as the archetypical student jock is that you never see him play sports in “The Breakfast Club.” But that doesn’t matter. While all the characters in John Hughes’ exalted high school film are painted with ultra-broad strokes, in the case of Andy, it works (as anyone who’s ever been elbowed into a locker by a carb-fed doofus in a letter jacket can attest). But Estevez manages to evoke empathy for the pressure that varsity athletes often get from every angle, both in school and at home.
Runner-Up: Stef Djordjevic (Tom Cruise) in “All the Right Moves” (1983)
The Brain: Terry Griffith in “Just One of the Guys” (1985)
It’s a sad societal equation that a woman’s intelligence is often viewed as being proportionally inverse to her beauty. In this gender-swap tale, journalist Terry Griffith (Joyce Hyser) feels that she’s not taken seriously due to her gender. So she disguises herself as a (granted, effeminate) dude and enrolls in a different school to research a paper on her thesis. The movie’s a predictable ’80s farce, but back then, Hyser’s perfect balance of smarts and smart-ass made her a kind of thinking man’s Molly Ringwald for some smitten teens.
Runner-Up: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in “Spider-Man” (2002)
The Cheerleader: Torrance Shipman in “Bring It On” (2000)
The San Diego Rancho Carne High School cheerleading squad is good. Really good. In fact, the cheerleaders’ funky, competition-winning moves are the main reason anyone comes to the games. But things get messy when new head cheerleader Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) discovers that her predecessor stole their moves from a poor inner-city high school pep squad. Dunst’s usual spunky charm is a glove-fit for the cheerleader who wants to make things right in this predictable but fun crowd-pleaser.
Runner-Up: Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992)
The Annoying Overachiever: Tracy Flick in “Election” (1999)
In Alexander Payne’s pitch-black 1999 comedy, Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, the popular, upstanding student with the stellar extracurricular record and the aspiration to become class president … at any cost. The movie is a wicked satire on the American political process, both the Machiavellian duplicity of those running for office and the entrenched apathy of the voting public. Witherspoon shows a refreshing lack of vanity in her sublimely unattractive portrait of Tracy, and Matthew Broderick is tremendous as the teacher whose desire to see Tracy lose just once becomes a life-shattering obsession.
Runner-Up: Ben Manibag (Parry Shen) in “Better Luck Tomorrow” (2002)
The Geek: Farmer Ted in “Sixteen Candles” (1984)
Sammy Baker (Molly Ringwald) is having a crappy birthday. Her family is so distracted by her sister’s upcoming wedding that they completely forget the event. On top of that, she’s got a huge crush on hunky senior Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), but can’t shake the relentless pursuit of the smitten “Farmer Ted.” Anthony Michael Hall, smack-dab in awkward, voice-cracking adolescence, inhabits the scrawny, obnoxious (yet ultimately lovable) geek right down to the retainer (altho’ him hooking up with Jake’s girlfriend is a bit of a stretch).
Runner-Up: Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) in “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004)
The Outsider: Carrie White in “Carrie” (1976)
So many high school films revolve around the outsider that it’s really tough narrowing this field down. But when the evil popular kids (aren’t they always?) fix the ballots to elect the creepy, unpopular Carrie (Sissy Spacek) prom queen only so they can dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her upon coronation, it’s a bit more extreme than anything in “Mean Girls.” Unfortunately for the in-crowd, this outsider has the defense of telekinetic powers, so we’d advise backing off of the harassment! Whoops, too late!
Runner-Up: Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) in “Donnie Darko” (2001)
The Creative Visionary: Max Fischer in “Rushmore” (1999)
Granted, his grades stink, but it’s not that Max (Jason Schwartzman) is stupid, he’s just distracted by his many extracurricular activities. They include the beekeeper’s association, the Yankee Racers club, the fencing team, the dodgeball society and most of all, the Max Fischer Players, an ensemble that puts on elaborate stage productions like a version of the cop film “Serpico.” Even flunking out of Rushmore Academy and being sent to public school can’t squelch Max’s drive: Soon he’s planning a new play, an original Vietnam War epic, “Heaven and Hell” (complete with real explosions). His dreams and aspirations can be self-destructive and quixotic, but the great thing about Max is that he’ll never give up (he’s a live-action Charlie Brown), which makes him one of our favorite film characters ever.
Runner-Up: Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) in “Risky Business” (1983)
The Stoner: Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)
Come on, is it even a debate? No matter how serious Sean Penn becomes as an actor, he’ll never totally be able to shake the indelible image of surfer stoner Jeff Spicoli from Amy Heckerling’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Spicoli’s duels with the uptight history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), have become almost as iconic as Phoebe Cates’ bikini scene. As the most iconic character in one of the decade’s signature films, Spicoli probably single-handedly counteracted Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug program of the ’80s.
Runner-Up: Slater (Rory Cochrane) from “Dazed and Confused” (1993)
The Rebel: Jim Stark in “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)
Not just our pick because of the title, “Rebel” cemented James Dean’s legacy as the quintessential teenage iconoclast. As red-Windbreaker-ed loner Jim Stark, Dean embodied the new breed of teen whose restless alienation was finding catharsis in questioning authority (and rock and roll, but that element is strangely absent in the film). “Rebel” tapped into the zeitgeist in a more realistic way than most juvenile delinquent films of the ’50s, and its tragedy is compounded by Dean’s death in a car accident that same year.
Runner-Up: Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) in “Rock ’N’ Roll High School” (1979)
The Bully: Melvin Moody in “My Bodyguard” (1980)
Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace), the shy new student at Chicago’s Lake View High, uses his lunch money to hire huge troubled loner Ricky (Adam Baldwin) to be his personal protector against the school bully, Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon). The motorcycle-riding Ricky, rumored to be a killer by the frightened masses at the school, slowly builds a trusting relationship with Clifford that yields a terrifically cathartic climax. The young Dillon is pitch-perfect as Moody, his dark good looks and cocky sneer belying the ultimate cowardice that lies within all bullies.
Runner-Up: Biff Tannen (Thomas Wilson) in “Back to the Future” (1985)
The Clique-Crossing Everyman: Lloyd Dobler in “Say Anything” (1989)
Granted, the film begins as high school ends for the characters in Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t tell exactly who fit in where in their school.
Inhabiting the Clash-loving, trench-coat-wearing kickboxer Lloyd Dobler, John Cusack is completely credible as the kind of laid-back guy liked by everyone from the jocks to the brains to the stoners (who better to be the key master?). All socially inept valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) needs is one evening to fall for Lloyd, alongside a generation of teenage girls.
Runner-up: Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) from “Dazed and Confused” (1993)
And we haven’t even gotten to the punk, the preppy, the bad girl, the brown-nose, the Lothario, the class clown or the ingénue. Tell you what, meet us by the auditorium at lunch, we’ll skip out and go to the mall to discuss.
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