visiting the high schools from your favourite teen movies… in google street view

Does the magic remain?

by Oliver Lunn
05 August 2015, 8:45am

Let's be honest, no matter what group we associated with at school - geeks, cheerleaders, jocks, freaks or none of the above - we all wanted our school to be as cool as the ones we saw on the big screen. We all wanted to page our friends during PE, skateboard to school, or listen to our Walkman during biology. Sure, we had the same Jansport bags, the same bands' names scribbled on our textbooks - but it was never the same. Our school was never as cool as Ridgemont High or Rydell High.

Today, because we're still so curious about those high schools of our dreams, and because we have a little thing called Google Street View, we took a street-side look of said high schools to see if there was a trace of the magic that fuelled a thousand slow-mo corridor fantasies.

The disconcertingly hilarious ending to Heathers, on the steps of fictional 'Westburgh High', was not filmed in Sherwood, Ohio - where this 80s classic is set - but some eight states west of there, in California. In fact, three schools in total were used to create the fictional one we see, chief among them John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, where the bloody steps sequence takes place. Today the sign above the stairs doesn't read Westburgh High School, the building has had a new lick of paint, the doors are green not red, the grass is slightly more well kept, and there are a bunch of parking meters on the sidewalk. No Winona Ryder, no Christian Slater, no Heathers.

She's All That
She's All That featured an oddly familiar-looking high school. And there's a reason for that. Torrance High School was not only the setting for Beverly Hills 90210, All American High, Not Another Teen Movie, and The Wild Life, but - wait for it - Sunnydale High School in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which means, before Sarah Michelle Gellar roamed the halls brandishing a wooden steak, her future husband Freddie Prinze Jr. was ruling the school.

Today you can see the front of the high school hasn't changed much since the 1999 production: neatly cut lawns, sparklingly clean handrails, a smart looking entrance. There's just one thing missing: a lovelorn Freddie Prinze Jr. in a jock jacket, looking for the girl with the ponytail and glasses.

Rydell High School is about as real as the T-Birds or the Pink Ladies that populated its hallowed hallways. The building from the film, however, was real and it did - it does - house a student population. Google Street View unveils it as Venice High School in Los Angeles. As it turns out, the school's close proximity to Hollywood has made it a popular choice for filming high school scenes over the years - among others, A Nightmare on Elm Street, American History X, and Matchstick Men were also shot there. But arguably no film before or since has made the school as iconic as Grease has.

Napoleon Dynamite
Gosh! So that's the school Napoleon and his goofy buddies attended. Preston High School, Idaho. Apparently - I guess because the town was so proud of the movie - Preston held a Napoleon Dynamite Festival every summer from 2004 to 2008, celebrating the filming in Preston and nearby towns. The festival featured tater-tot eating contests, performances by the Happy Hands Club, a "sweet bike race" and presumably cartons upon cartons of 1% milk.

The Breakfast Club
Shermer High School is another fake. Director John Hughes dreamed it up. The high school you see at the beginning of The Breakfast Club, where Bender nearly gets mown down by Allison's parents' car, was actually filmed at Maine North High School in Illinois just after it closed down. Hughes loved the location so much, in fact, he returned to it the following year to shoot scenes for Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Today, as you can see, the Brutalist building houses the Illinois State Police, who presumably never let anyone film there because they're the police and the police are no fun. That said, they do have a little blue plaque to commemorate the film, apparently.

Mean Girls
A conspiracy lies at the dark heart of Mean Girls, a conspiracy pertaining to the film's geography. Let me explain. Cady Heron and Regina George are Canadian. That is to say their high school, which we're told is North Shore High School in Evanston, Illinois, is actually located in Canada. They're all in Canada - specifically they're in Toronto, at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute. Which is a fact we're never told in the film because, hey, there's a little thing called suspension of disbelief and viewers don't need to know about glaring geographical continuity errors. The truth is, North Shore High School in Evanston doesn't actually exist - it never has done - so don't go looking for it.

Dazed and Confused
I'm betting your last day of high school wasn't like the one in Dazed and Confused. For a start there was no girl squirting mustard and ketchup on a group of hapless "freshman piggies" in the parking lot, was there? And yes, this is that parking lot, in front of Bedichek Middle School, an actual high school in Austin, Texas. If you look to the right you can see the spot where those cool 70s pick-up trucks were once parked. But it's just not the same without Parker Posey screaming "Air Raid!" or Alice Cooper singing "School's Out", is it? 

10 Things I Hate About You
During the closing credits of 10 Things I Hate About You, the band Letters to Cleo perform I Want You to Want Me on the roof of Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington, while they're filmed from every conceivable angle by a circling helicopter. Yes, they actually did that. As if that didn't cement this high school as one of the most memorable in teen movies, Heath Ledger had to go and waltz across the steps above the football pitch, crooning Frankie Valli's Can't Take My Eyes Off You. That never happened at your school either, did it?

Pretty in Pink
A decade before Ethan Embry crouched down outside this very entrance in 1998s Can't Hardly Wait, Molly Ringwald was having some banter with James Spader - I say banter but really he was blocking the door to her pink Karmann Ghia (she likes pink) and generally being a douchebag. The school - John Marshall High School in LA - still stands today. It's not quite as clean but they're clearly doing some work to it and, with its rich filming history (School of Rock, Boy Meets World, The Wonder Years, Smart Guy, Sister, Sister, Grosse Pointe Blank, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hannah Montana, Space Jam and more), you can bet you'll see it on both the small and big screen in the near future.

High school entrances, specifically their steps, are popular places for arranging parties and making pacts to bid farewell to your virginity. That's basically the story for Superbad's Seth and Evan, who spend their last hours of high school plotting the big night. That school is El Segundo High School, in El Segundo, California - if you wanna go on a pilgrimage.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
80s teens knew how to party, as evidence by Amy Heckerling's decade-defining teen movie. In the film, students trash the facade of the school, lobbing loo roll across the steps and spraying the walls with angst-y graffiti while teachers just stand there with their hands on their hips. It looks like a lot of fun. But it completely contrasts with the clean-cut image of the high school today - Van Nuys High School in LA - where a cop car is parked out front, waiting to pounce on some unfortunate teenage miscreant.


Text Oliver Lunn

high school
teen movies
Street View