Graduation Movies: 5 We Love, 5 We Hate

Some movies graduate magna cum laude. Others are fifth-year seniors.

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Graduation can either come as a rude awakening or a beautiful escape.

Take high school: As it turns out, it’s an unstable, unpleasant society run by teenaged tyrants that amounts to very little in the long run. You were crowned at a dance. You were an undefeated mathlete. Good for you, but now you have to get packing, get a job, and get to know other humans using only your personality. Good luck with that.

And then there's college graduation. You feel so smart. You borrowed an irrational sum of money and now you’re going to pay it all back using your “English major.”

In truth, there are certain unpleasantries that come with graduation. Maybe that’s why we love to lose ourselves in dumb movies that gloss over the harsh reality. Not all of them are crap, though, so enjoy this list of some of the best and worst commencement-themed movies.

Five We Love

The Graduate

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The original poster explains it this way: "This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future."

“This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future.”

Dustin Hoffman portrays a diffident youth, Benjamin Braddock, who encounters an alluring older woman shortly after graduation. The infamous Mrs. Robinson plays a chilly femme fatale—a sexy cynic with legs that go for days. Of course, the unavoidable happens, thigh-highs go flying, and life gets more complicated for the befuddled graduate.

To make matters worse, he begins to fall for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter. The movie ends just as it begins, with Braddock’s blank, uncertain expression—but it’s everything in between that puts this classic on our list.


Ghost World

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Based on a cult-favorite comic, this film chronicles two high school graduates, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer—grumpy but uncommonly perceptive girls with uncool clothes and freakish habits. The two teens are played by Thora Birch (Coleslaw) and Scarlett Johansson (Doppelmeyer).

Oh, and did I mention Steve Buscemi? The snaggletoothed icon plays a marginalized record collector who connects with the much-younger Enid. In a series of laughable albeit everyday scenes, Ghost World embodies the anticlimax of high school graduation. Perhaps Enid Coleslaw says it best in her deadpan manner:

"Yeah. We graduated high school. How totally amazing."


Dazed and Confused

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Dazed and Confused is a winning cocktail of drugs, beer, tight jeans, and freshman oppression.

As an adult, this film makes you look back and laugh. It also makes you never want to have a baby, ever.

This is teen culture cast in the worst light, with a soundtrack that’s simply to die for. The teen graduation flick is based in Austin, Texas, circa 1976, on the very last day of school. As an adult, this film makes you look back and laugh. It also makes you never want to have a baby, ever.

(Or maybe that's just me.)

Most importantly: No one can play a high-school tyrant like Parker Posey. No one. She is terrifying. Her yelling, cussing, hell-raising depiction of a senior despot is simultaneously horrible and hilarious.

Viewers are also treated to a spectacularly stupid Ben Affleck (chasing young boys with a paddle) and Matthew McConaughey as a townie in his 20s who still hangs with high schoolers. The only thing that could make this movie better is a Led Zeppelin song or two, but Robert Plant said no.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

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What? It’s the final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, so technically it counts. And there are wizards, and evil sorcerers, and fire-breathing dragons. You can’t make me change it.

Fine, fine. There's also Ender’s Game... even though that’s a very bad graduation. I won’t say why.


Into the Wild

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Do yourself a favor and watch this first thing in the morning, with a loved one, on a beautiful summer day... definitely not alone, right before bed.

Do yourself a favor and watch this first thing in the morning, with a loved one, on a beautiful summer day... definitely not alone, right before bed.

Sean Penn fashioned this film after a nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer. The true story is one of flight, exploration, and liberation. Protagonist Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) has just graduated with honors from Emory University, but the next logical steps just don’t interest him. He commits a kind of social suicide, instead: He destroys all of his identification and credit cards, and he gives away all of his money.

He then dubs himself “Alexander Supertramp” and heads into the American wild. The expedition makes for a great anti-graduation movie, complete with Pearl Jam and beautiful scenery.

Five We Hate

Legally Blonde

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Blonde, cheerful women who love clothes seem really dumb, but Elle Woods subverts the stereotype and proves everyone wrong because she’s actually really, really smart!

This movie is incredibly annoying.


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

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So this is the one where they graduate, which gives me the chance to gleefully ridicule this saccharine, sickening movie series.

I like Kristen Stewart and her sullen face, but these movies are deplorable. Is this really what we're feeding our teens? Edward Cullen is an aged vampire. The romantic lead is an old pervert with boyish good looks.


I Know What You Did Last Summer

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Like a terrible speedboat accident, this movie leaves you feeling both sad and overwhelmed.

Remember this one? Like a terrible speedboat accident, this movie leaves you feeling both sad and overwhelmed. You will never regain the 99 minutes you just spent watching Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Anne Heche, and Freddie Prinze Jr. putting themselves (despite receiving threatening notes from a stalker) in mortal danger by scooting into obviously hazardous, secluded areas.

Be sure never to watch the sequels, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer—not even as a joke.


Cruel Intentions

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This 90s steamer bastardizes Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ great work, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in its attempt to re-tell it from within the privileged walls of a New York prep school.

The epistolary novel’s ruthless main characters—Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont—are rotten to the core, absolute masters of lies, sex, and society. These keen, unassailable devils are truly some of literature’s most disturbing villains.

The casting director of Cruel Intentions chose Ryan Phillippe, complete with infantile facial features, as the bone-chilling sex-god Valmont, and the yipping Sarah Michelle Gellar as the impassive, merciless Merteuil. It’s a butchery of a masterpiece. It’s the ugly baby of a failing comedy that mated with a soap opera.


She’s All That

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What a wonderful Cinderella story! An “art nerd” undergoes a makeover to suit society’s definition of beauty and winds up with a mainstream boyfriend and a slightly updated look. Turns out, the weirdo was sort of normal all along! Now everyone understands her!

You know what? My Fair Lady was bad the first time.


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