Typically, school in real life is filled with lectures, homework, and difficult classes, but movie schools can be much more exciting. From the magic of Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry contained in the Harry Potter films to the mutant powers contained inside Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men series, movie schools have an uncanny ability to fill audiences with wonder, delight, and possibilities.
When you think about it, an unusual school can be a great setting for a movie. It provides almost unlimited possibilities for a filmmaker, from visually striking cinematography to insane special effects. Some of the most timeless and best fantasy and adventure movies have taken place in unusual schools, and their scenes live in our minds rent-free forever.
While most people tend to associate special schools with television shows, from the animated series ¡Mucha Lucha! to the recent Paramount+ series of ghost students in School Spirtis to the highly anticipated Prime series Gen V. Yet there are plenty of films that have embraced the concepts, with some being off films and others spawning massive franchises. These are some of the best movies that take place in unusual schools.
10 The Harry Potter Series
In 2001, the Harry Potter film series was adapted from the popular novels by British author J.K. Rowling. Daniel Radcliffe stars as Harry Potter, a magical wizard who lives with his mean uncle and aunt because his parents died when he was a baby. Little does Harry know that he’s actually a wizard, and he’s being summoned to attend a very special school for kids like him: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At Hogwarts, Harry learns that many other kids share his magical powers, but one thing keeps him apart. At birth, he was spared from the evil Voldemort’s wrath because he was the chosen one.
Hogwarts’ is filled with moving staircases, talking pictures, and spells of all shapes and sizes, but it’s up to Harry to navigate these obstacles if he wants to stop Voldemort from returning. For over a decade and eight films, Hogwarts was a location audiences returned to time and time again, and it provided a sense of comfort and warmth for viewers. It was safe but also dangerous. It is magical and inviting but also exciting and filled with secrets. It was so popular a location that Universal made multiple theme park attractions where people could just visit and tour the school, something no other franchise can really boast.
9 X-Men Film Series
The X-Men films are known for their signature location: The Charles Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. While the setting has been featured in every mainline X-Men film, the first film is the one that truly sells the school as a special place for students. The audience is introduced to it through the eyes of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) as Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) explains that this is a safe space for mutants and for them to have a proper home, get an education, and discover who they want to be. The faculty also includes mutants like Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm.
The Xavier School is outfitted with an underground bunker that houses a training room, a jet that comes up from under the basketball court, and a security system that includes some of the strongest mutants to protect the students for anyone looking to start trouble. X2: X-Men United deserves a special mention for showcasing how important the school is, while X-Men: First Class details the origins of the school and how it came to be. In the 2000s every kid wanted to either go to Hogwarts or Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
8 Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a 2016 movie directed by legendary filmmaker Tim Burton. In many ways, the pitch is “Tim Burton’s X-Men.” It follows Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), a headmistress who runs a school off the coast of Wales for children with unusual abilities. The children are known as “Peculiars” and are taught how to harness and control their paranormal powers. The movie is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, which was released in 2011.
Everything about Miss Peregrine’s boarding school is unusual. Some of the kids have aerokinetic abilities and can manipulate air, while others have superhuman strength. One of the teachers can see invisible monsters, while another has the power to manipulate time. The film sadly suffered from poor reviews and a disappointing box office, but it is hard to deny it is a cool idea for a school.
7 Monsters University
Following the tremendous success of the animated film Monsters, Inc. in 2001, Pixar released a prequel called Monsters University in 2013. This quirky adventure follows Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) as they go to college, join a fraternity, and compete in several scare-offs to try to outdo each other. The two buddies start as enemies, but through the course of the film, they realize they have a lot in common and become friends. Notably, as of 2023, Monsters University is the only prequel Pixar has ever made.
The movie’s setting is Monsters University, an unusual school that’s just for monsters interested in learning how to scare. The point is that students graduate and eventually work at the Monsters, Inc. factory. Steve Buscemi also reprises his role as Randall “Randy” Boggs, a salamander-like monster who rooms with Mike. Sully and Mike don’t end up graduating from the school and end up working together in the factory mailroom. They work their way up and become the top scaring team at Monsters, Inc. The film might not be one of the most beloved Pixar films, but it is underrated, and notably, the Monsters U hats are a big seller at Disney theme parks.
The school in Bottoms, on the surface, appears to be a normal high school. But it is quickly revealed through the way people speak to each other to the excessive over-the-top violence this is not a normal world. In fact, that is a heightened world more like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon. The film follows two friends who start a self-defense class in an effort to hit on cheerleaders.
Bottoms is one of the most unusual schools in film, and what makes it so unusual is how normal it all looks on the surface. It looks like every other high school until you see other schools looking to kill students to win a football game and a massive bloody final fight that involves swords and explosives.
5 The School for Good and Evil
In the 2022 film The School for Good and Evil, two brothers found the titular school to create fairy tale characters. As the title suggests, some are good (heroes), while others are evil (villains). The two brothers get into an argument, and one kills the other, leading to a supposed curse being cast on the school. Fans seem to be split on whether the movie deserves a sequel or not.
Many years after the brothers’ rift, two friends named Agatha (Sofia Wylie) and Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) learn about the school but don’t know if it’s real or just a legend. Agatha is mischievous and enjoys pushing boundaries, while Sophie is obsessed with fairy tales and even dreams of being a princess. The friends are suddenly whisked away late one night and taken to the unusual school, where they meet all kinds of characters, both good and evil.
4 The Faculty
Before he directed iconic films like Spy Kids and Sin City, Robert Rodriguez was behind the lens for The Faculty. It’s an underrated sci-fi movie from the ’90s that stars Jordana Brewster, Josh Harnett, and Clea DuVall in leading roles. The film takes place at Harrington High School in Ohio, where a bizarre parasite has taken over teachers and caused some of them to do heinous acts to each other.
As the parasite moves through the school population, the students realize it’s up to them to stop it. They believe killing the alien queen will stop the infections from spreading. While the film seems to focus on an ordinary school at first, it notably becomes about a school that is actually filled with aliens.
Disney hit gold with their Descendants franchise. The basic premise of following the kids of their most classic villains attending a high school alongside the children of their most popular heroes was a genius move that many others have tried to replicate. Making it a musical franchise, directed by Kenny Ortega, who also brought High School Musical to life, makes this the ultimate collection of many of Disney’s best ingredients.
Descendants premiered in 2015 and was quickly followed by sequels in 2017 and 2019. A fourth film, Descendants: The Rise of Red, is in development and shows that this is a franchise that will continue to grow and invite audiences into a world where they can follow the kids of their favorite heroes and villains.
2 Doctor Strange
One MCU movie that (partly) takes place in an unusual school is 2016’s Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, a real-life surgeon who loses his ability to use his hands in the same way after a car accident. Strange learns about a magic school called Kamar-Taj that might be able to help him regain his livelihood.
Little does Strange know that Kamar-Taj is a special place. It’s a temple where students learn to use their powers to enter new dimensions, as well as shift time and space. Strange studies under the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and learns more about his newfound powers by reading the ancient texts contained there. Kamar-Taj is also a real-life ancient city in Nepal. This is, in many ways, a grown-up superhero version of Hogwarts, teaching magic to those who seek it. It returned in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where America Chavez is now studying there.
1 Sky High
Harry Potter and X-Men might be the two most iconic schools kids in the 2000s wish they could have gone to, but the most underrated was certainly the one in Sky High. An entire school based around kids with superpowers and teaching students to become heroes (or some choosing to become villains) is such a great idea for a pitch; it is shocking that Disney didn’t make multiple sequels and a Disney Channel series out of it.
The film focuses on Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), the 14-year-old son of two of the world’s greatest superheroes, The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). Yet Will has no powers and attends his first day at Sky High, unsure of his place in the world, and does not want to let down his father. The film features an all-star cast with already established talented like Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, and Kevin McDonalds and many future superstars, including Sucession‘s Nicholas Braun, The Flash‘s Danielle Panabaker, and Ahsoka‘s Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Sky High is one of the most underrated Disney movies of the 2000s and the ultimate wish fulfillment of a strange and unusual school.
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