Three O'Clock High

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Three O'Clock High Movie Poster Image
Dated '80s teen comedy has bullying, cursing, violence.
  • PG-13
  • 1987
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

'80s high school satire shows a bully free to threaten a fistfight against a much smaller student without any consequences; authority figures are oblivious. Inappropriate relationship between a student and his English teacher. Fighting is shown to be the only solution to dealing with the bully. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Adult authority figures are either cartoonishly disciplinarian or else, in the case of the English teacher, they become attracted to the lead character and make out with him in the classroom and in front of dozens of other students. Students are little more than the cliques they represent. While the lead character does try to make peace with the bully who torments him, the movie's only solution for him is to fight the bully in the parking lot after school. 

Violence

A bully dips a much smaller kid's feet into a floor-length urinal and then throws him into a bathroom mirror. In another fight, the bully breaks the finger of a rival who is about his size, and then throws him into a library bookcase. Climactic fight scene with punches, kicks, blood, and brass knuckles. The bully knocks out one of the administrators and a security guard during this fight, and also throws a teen girl off of him, causing her to be injured. 

Sex

After the lead character takes on a "cool guy" persona to give a book report, his English teacher appears to be aroused, telling him how her favorite story is "Turn of the Screw" before they kiss passionately in front of the class; they later kiss again. The lead character's love interest talks of her interest in the paranormal and how they need to "bond" soon. 

Language

"F-g" is used as a punchline on two occasions. "F--k" used once. "S--t," "d--k," "a--hole," "pissed," "goddammit." 

Consumerism

Character shown with a can of Diet Coke. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

During a book report, the lead character lights up a cigarette and smokes it in class. Talk of how a bully is rumored to "deal dope." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Three O'Clock High is a 1987 high school satire in which a nerdy teen boy inadvertently arouses the ire of a notorious bully and must fight him after school. The word "f-g" is used as a punchline on two occasions. There's regular profanity, including a use of "f--k." An inappropriate relationship develops between an English teacher and a student, who make out twice in front of other students; the teacher also asks the student to come over to her place. Lead character lights and smokes a cigarette during a book report. Fights culminate in broken fingers and blood; cartoonish authority figures punched and knocked out. The movie shows how attitudes toward bullying have changed; it seems to suggest that the only solution to this issue is to get into a violent physical altercation. It's interesting to speculate how this movie would handle bullying if it were made today.

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What's the story?

Jerry Mitchell (), meek and mild-mannered, isn't having a very good start to his day in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH. He slept through his alarm, must drive his mom's crummy compact car to school, and flubs his interaction with the girl he has a crush on. The day only goes downhill from there, especially after Jerry, at the behest of his editor of the school paper, tries to initiate a conversation in the bathroom with Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson), an infamous bully who is now starting at Jerry's high school. When Jerry commits the unpardonable sin of touching Revell on the arm, Revell throws Jerry into the bathroom mirror, then tells him to meet him in the parking lot after school at three o'clock so that Revell can finish the job and beat Jerry to a pulp. Horrified, Jerry schemes to find a way out of what feels like a looming execution, but only manages to get himself into more trouble. As Jerry's very bad day edges ever closer to three o'clock, he must decide if he'll stand up to Buddy or find a way to escape with hair and hide intact. 

Is it any good?

While the cheese factor of this very dated teen comedy/satire will be enough for some, this movie falls short overall. The biggest problem is in the movie's lack of a clearly defined genre. Is this supposed to be a dark satire of high school life? A horror movie of sorts? An underdog story? Three O'Clock High can't seem to make up its mind, and vacillates among all three without rhyme or reason. This problem ripples into the problem with the bully. It's hard to get a handle on who this Buddy Revell bully is supposed to be. When it seems he's supposed to be an enigmatic force of nature best left alone, like Moby Dick in a leather jacket and mullet perm, he's then shown reading Steinbeck or solving trigonometry equations. But when it seems Buddy might be more James Dean than the biker in Raising Arizona, he reverts back to the mindless thug. 

The result is a mess of cliches, like the adult authority figures who are oblivious to the impending after-school fistfight but savvy to every false move Jerry makes, weird attempts at humor involving the lead character seducing his English teacher by wearing sunglasses and smoking during a book report, and an ending as forced as a bad sitcom episode. Again, while there's an endearing cheese factor that makes Three O'Clock High enjoyable for its own ridiculously 1980s sake, there are other teen dark comedies from around that time -- Heathers comes to mind immediately -- that find similar adolescent fodder to satirize and do it much more effectively. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullying. How does Three O'Clock High show bullying? How do the adult authority figures respond? 

  • How are adults and teens portrayed in this movie? Is it realistic?

  • How would this movie be different if it came out today instead of in 1987? 

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love the '80s

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