Classic Movies About Boarding Schools

belles of st tBoarding schools have provided atmospheric settings for a wide variety of films‑sentimental tales of dedicated teachers, satanic thrillers, mischievous comedies, and student revolutions. Jean Vigo’s 1933 surrealistic classic Zero for Conduct blended revolution with comedy in the story of mistreated students who rebel against a regimented boarding school run by a midget principal. British director Lindsay Anderson expanded on the same premise in his 1968 film If…, in which defiant Malcolm McDowell and fellow students gun down the school’s faculty on Speech Day (or is this massacre merely imagined by McDowell’s character?). The girls known as The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1951) were rebellious too, but never mounted a revolt since they pretty much ran the school anyway.

Convent and church-run schools have been especially prone to attracting mischief-making students, as evidenced by The Trouble With Angels with Hayley Mills and Goodbye, Children. Dedicated teachers molded mischievous youths into mature students of life in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939 and 1969) and Dead Poets Society. In contrast, schoolmaster David Hemming’s students threatened to murder him‑-like they did his predecessor‑in Unman, Wittering and Zigo. Clint Eastwood found himself in a worse situation as a virile male hiding out in a girls’ school populated by lonely, jealous females in The Beguiled.

Pamela Franklin entered a girl’s boarding school to investigate her sister’s suicide in the 1973 TV-movie Satan’s School for Girls. Despite its title, it turned out to be a nicer place than the demonic school run by a witches coven in Dario Argento’s stylish Suspiria.

Many films such as Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist have been partially set in boarding schools. Below is a representative list of pre-1990 movies set in boarding schools.

Maedchun in Uniform (1931)

Zero for Conduct (aka Zero de Conduite) (1933)

Girls’ Dormitory (1936)

Housemaster (1938)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Tom Brown’s School Days (aka Adventures at Rugby) (1940)

The Happy Years (1950)

The Browning Version (1951)

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1951)

Her Twelve Men (1954)

The Belles of St. Trinians (1954)

Les Diaboliques (aka Diabolique; The Fiends) (1955)

Tea and Sympathy (1956)

The Ladies’ Man (1961)

13 Frightened Girls (1963)

The Trouble With Angels (1966)

If… (1968)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

The House That Screamed (aka The Boarding School) (1969)

Walk a Crooked Path (1969)

The Beguiled (1971)

Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971)

Child’s Play (1972)

Satan’s School for Girls (1973 TVM)

Our Time (aka Death of Her Innocence) (1974)

Suspiria (1976)

Boarding School (aka The Passion Flower Hotel) (1977)

Deadly Lessons (1983 TVM)

Goodbye, Children (aka Au Revoir, Les Enfants) (1988)

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and TwitterHe’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course! 

  • TrippyTrellis

    Two of my all-time favorite books, “Les Amities Particulieres” by Roger Peyrefitte and “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, were made into memorable films: “This Special Friendship” in 1964 and “A Separate Peace” in 1972 and again in 2004 (TVM).

  • John

    Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)….great performances by all….excellent screenplay that flowed well throughout the time period it covered. Definitely a heartwarmng classic.

  • Carolyn Ferrante

    Oh, you mentioned some great ones, all being in my DVD collection: Madchen In Uniform ( a young Romy Schneider!), If, Satan’s School For Girls….great films but definitely a matter of taste!

  • Kareng958

    I’ll always stop to watch The Trouble with Angels, which is much more fun than its sequel of sorts, Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.

    • Christine Harrison

      I remember watching The Trouble with Angels, thinking the setup of girls at a convent boarding school was going to be a recipe for slush. However, I was wrong – although it is a lot of fun, there are obviously several very moving moments which I think work because they are unexpected and not overdone. This could be as a result of the director, one-time tough girl Ida Lupino, who was one of the few successful female directors in Hollywood.

  • williamsommerwerck

    Uh… “These Three” and “The Children’s Hour”?

  • RayP

    How could you have left out one of the best teacher/student films of all time – “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody”

    • TrippyTrellis

      My favorite school-related film of all time but it doesn’t take place in a boarding school.

  • BAinOK

    Don’t forget a classic pre-Code, RKO’s 1934 film, “Finishing School,” with Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers. is a good look at the egoistic girls boarding school with the mission to prepare young ladies to assume a proper social position. If you haven’t seen it, take a look! Enjoy a sassy, young Ginger Rogers along the way!

  • Daisy

    Dare we include the Harry Potter movies in this? Yeah…Hogwartz and St.Trinian’s.