Private schools can be strict, formulaic, and suffocating. Then again, they can also be places where lifelong friendships, relationships, and connections can be made.
It's no wonder that there are so many great films about private schools—especially of the boarding school variety—because there are so many angles to explore when it comes to these institutions.
How are children affected when they're kept under one roof as they grow up together? What kinds of tragic love stories happen within the walls of a boarding school? Does being stuck in an uptight private school really mean you can't have fun adventures?
They're all memorable in one way or another! Here are our picks for the best movies about private schools and boarding schools.
10. Suspiria (1977)
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci
Horror (1h 32m)
Before J. K. Rowling had the idea to populate a private boarding school with wizards, famed director Dario Argento had turned his own boarding school into a coven of witches.
Suspiria remains one of the best—as well as one of the freakiest—films of Argento's career. It follows a girl who thinks she's studying at a dance academy, only to realize that the truth is much more sinister.
9. She's the Man (2006)
Directed by Andy Fickman
Starring Amanda Bynes, Laura Ramsey, Channing Tatum
Comedy, Romance, Sport (1h 45m)
She's the Man was somewhat ahead of its time as a film that wanted to show that girls could do anything just as well as boys could.
The plot follows Viola Hastings (played by Amanda Bynes), a girl who thinks she can play soccer at the same level as the boys in her class. And she can! But she's not given the opportunity to prove it.
That is, until she masquerades as a boy and sneaks into the male dormitories of a soccer camp. Over the course of the film, she proves exactly what she sets out to prove.
Fun fact: Interestingly enough, She's the Man was based on William Shakespeare's play called Twelfth Night!
8. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson
Adventure, Drama, Family (2h 7m)
One of the most fantastical movies about boarding schools—beyond that one magical franchise you're probably thinkg about—remains Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Jake Portman (played by Asa Butterfield) travels all the way to Cairnholm in an attempt to find the secluded home for "peculiar children." He's not entirely sure what that even means, but he's going to find out soon!
As it turns out, they're all children with magical powers. No, this is nothing like X-Men! The tone is completely different and the young adult story features love, danger, and fear of a man named Mr. Barron.
7. Madeline (1998)
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Starring Frances McDormand, Nigel Hawthorne, Hatty Jones
Comedy, Family (1h 28m)
A forgotten classic, Madeline centers on a young girl of the same name who attends a strict Catholic boarding school in France.
Across disparate tales and various plotlines that encompass four of the books on which the film was based, we watch as Madeline grows up, develops her first crush, and escapes a kidnapping attempt.
Oh, there's also Frances McDormand playing a tender and understanding Catholic nun, which makes it all the better.
6. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Directed by Mark Romanek
Starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi (1h 43m)
Never Let Me Go is set in a dystopian reality in which clones are created, raised, and sheltered within boarding schools until they reach the age when they can be harvested for their organs.
We follow the lives of Kathy H., Ruth C., and Tommy D. as a love triangle develops between them, plus all the other stuff that happens as they attempt to fight the inescapable loneliness that haunts them.
Knowing that their lives are incredibly finite, we watch as they form the bonds that define their short lives spent at a boarding school.
5. Rushmore (1998)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 33m)
In his second feature film, Wes Anderson turned his unique directorial eye to the eponymous private school of Rushmore.
The film follows Max Fischer, a boy who has fallen head over heels in love with one of his teachers. A pretentious kid, he tries his best to impress her in ways that he think an adult might.
However, he soon finds himself in competition with a parent (played by Bill Murray) and the results are as hilarious as you can imagine.
4. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Directed by Peter Weir
Starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke
Comedy, Drama (2h 8m)
Dead Poets Society was such an important film, if for no other reason than how it changed people's opinions on the strict, militant forms of teaching implemented by many private schools.
Complete with an iconic performance from Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society highlights the impact that teachers can have on their students and their lives. It also showcases how important it is to stand up for what you believe in, even if you stand out from the group.
A film that celebrates life, love, poetry, and individualism, it all takes place in an autocratic boarding school.
3. Scent of a Woman (1992)
Directed by Martin Brest
Starring Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, James Rebhorn
Drama (2h 36m)
Scent of a Woman comes in at number three on this list because it teaches the importance of standing up for yourself and what you think is right (even more effectively than Dead Poets Society).
The film takes place in a private boarding school and centers on Charlie Simms (played by Chris O'Donnell), who witnesses a prank take place in which the principal's car is vandalized.
While others decide to snitch, Charlie—the isolated outcast—stands up for what he believes is true and right.
2. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
Directed by Louis Malle
Starring Gaspard Manesse, Raphaël Fejtö, Francine Racette
Drama, War (1h 44m)
Little-known by even the most ardent cinephiles, Au Revoir Les Enfants (meaning "goodbye, children") is one of the most important portrayals of both humanitarianism and human depravity.
Set in a Catholic boarding school in German-occupied France during World War II, the story follows Julien (played by Gaspard Manesse), a tough French kid who's hiding how much he misses his mother.
He's asked to share his room with Jean Bonnet (played by Raphaël Fejtö), a new boy he doesn't like very much. But as he soon finds out, Julien might be hiding a softer side but Jean is hiding his entire identity—he's actually Jean Kippelstein, a Jew hiding from the Nazis.
What follows is a story that transcends its boarding school setting and forces us to look at it as a microcosm of the world itself.
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Adventure, Family, Fantasy (2h 32m)
If there was one private boarding school that all children actually wanted to attend, it would have to be Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Of course! Why wouldn't you want to go there?
Up until director Alfonso Cuarón gave children nightmares with the dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban, these films were a joyous and magical romp with only a little bit of threatening danger.
But even those children grew up—and then they wanted to go to Hogwarts even more, no matter how scary it was at times.
All we need to hear is the iconic theme and we're all transported back to that wondrous private school of magic. For that reason alone, it's enough for me to place it at the top of our list.