Back to School

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Back to School Movie Poster Image
Classic '80s comedy has lots of profanity, innuendo.
  • PG-13
  • 1986
  • 96 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

In its own way, this comedy shows the importance of hard work in achieving one's goals, as well as the importance of self-reliance in becoming who you want to be.

Positive Role Models & Representations

For all his faults, Thornton Melon is a self-made millionaire who must learn to put the same amount of work into getting his college education as he has into earning his fortune.


In one scene, a huge fight breaks out in a bar. Punches are thrown, tables and chairs are broken, and bottles are smashed. There is a joke involving homosexual rape.


Early in the film, the father of a son in college enters a dorm building looking for his son. He inadvertently looks into a shower stall and sees a woman's exposed breasts. This same man's wife is shown in the kitchen of their mansion engaged in foreplay. When his wife wants a divorce, the man shows her a series of Polaroids in which it's strongly implied that she has committed adultery on numerous occasions. Two male college students watch a female student walk by and make a lewd comment about her rear end. In one scene, the main character is shown shirtless from the waist up, moaning and making requests as if he's having sex; the camera pulls back to reveal he's getting a massage from his chauffeur. Overall, there is frequent sexual innuendo and sexual puns throughout the movie.


Frequent profanity: "f--k," "p---y," "goddamn," "bastards." In one scene, a history professor refers to Asians as "rice eaters." In another scene, while a character is admiring a painting by Gustav Klimt, Klimt's last name is turned into a pun to sound like the word "c--t."


Characters are often seen drinking from cans of Miller Lite beer.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Binge drinking is shown at a wild party. A college student, while trying to explain the party to the main character, is obviously intoxicated as he slurs his speech and eventually vomits on a tree. Characters drink beer at bars and champagne at parties. The chauffeur in the film is shown smoking a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Back to School is a 1986 comedy starring Rodney Dangerfield as a successful businessman who decides to attend the college his son attends to finally get his degree. There is brief nudity (bare breasts), frequent profanity (including "f--k" and "p---y"), and plentiful sexual innuendos in Dangerfield's frequent and hilarious quips. In one scene, a history professor refers to Asians as "rice eaters," and, in another scene, Dangerfield makes a joke involving homosexual rape. As an '80s college movie, there are the requisite scenes of blowout parties with binge drinking. Still, for teens and those older, Back to School is a classic of its genre -- a movie in which Dangerfield's pitch-perfect one-liners shine in every scene.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byPres September 30, 2020

Humor revolves around sexualizing women/nudity

Adult humor, if making fun of women and sexualizing their bodies is your thing. Not funny.
Every line is a sexual innuendo. Gratuitous female nudity.
Adult Written byLowe's man June 27, 2016

doesn't deliver

Although this movie isn't as innocent as one may remember (hence its PG-13 rating), the only problem areas are the occasional innuendos, brief nudity and m... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLukeCon February 5, 2021

Great, but iffy content still abounds in this comedy

This is a great comedy, especially enlivened by Rodney Dangerfield. But don't expect kids to be watching this--this is only meant for mature teens and adul... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byPenguinThatLike... November 26, 2020


Haven’t even seen the movie, but when I was watching parts while my mom was watching it, there was a scene where a guy looks in a shower and we see a lady with... Continue reading

What's the story?

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is a self-made multimillionaire who owns a chain of "Tall and Fat" stores throughout the country. He goes to visit his son Jason -- whom he believes has joined a fraternity and is on the diving team -- only to find out when he gets there that Jason wants to drop out of school. Determined to prove to his son that "you can be who you want to be," Melon decides to go back to college and earn the degree he never received when he was younger. Melon's antics endear him to most of the students and professors, and he even finds a potential love interest in his English professor (Sally Kellerman). But when he fully embraces the collegiate party lifestyle and delegates the writing of his papers to employees, Melon is threatened with expulsion and must actually get the education he signed on for and prove to everyone that he has what it takes to stay in college.

Is it any good?

In many respects, this thoroughly enjoyable comedy is a classic of its genre, the 1980s collegiate party movie. It's replete with blowout parties, bikini-clad women, and the eternal struggle between jock bullies and misfits. But what clearly separates Back to School from so many movies of this type from that time is Rodney Dangerfield, who uses this vehicle to do what he does best: make a constant barrage of jokes, quips, and one-liners. He's basically playing his stand-up comedy persona, and so many of his jokes are truly unforgettable, which makes this such a fun movie to watch, time and time again.

Although the overall story is as dated as Robert Downey Jr.'s "New Wave" haircut -- to say nothing of the sexism, racism, and homophobia that surface on occasion -- when it's funny, Back to School is truly hilarious. Dangerfield's execution of the "Triple Lindy" dive for the college's diving team stands as one of the all-time great comedic moments in cinematic history. Overall, Back to School is still a funny movie that has held up remarkably well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about '80s movies set in colleges. Why do you think this was such a popular genre during that decade?

  • What aspects of the movie seem dated to you? Do the dated aspects make this film more or less enjoyable? If you could remake the movie, who would you cast in the roles?

  • Could the story of the movie alone sustain interest, or is the entertainment value primarily from Rodney Dangerfield's constant quips and one-liners?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love to laugh

Themes & Topics

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