Counting Down the Top 10 Principals on Screen

Whether you loved them or loved to hate them, high school principals are some of Hollywood’s most memorable characters, and they have made a lasting impact in pop culture. Many of these audacious principals were the bane of teenagers’ existence, while others became endearing mentors to their Hollywood students. While the real world is usually nothing like the world portrayed on screen, prospective principals and school administrators can learn a great deal from these characters about how to (and how not to) lead a school. Take a look at this top 10 list of Hollywood’s most famous and infamous on-screen principals and see where you fit. 

 Top 10 On-screen Principals

 10. Mr. Snyder, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Life as a principal can be tough, especially when supernatural beings comprise your student body, including vampires, demons,witches and one far-out slayer. Despite the relative Armageddon outside the school’s walls, Mr. Snyder keeps the halls of Sunnydale High School in order and the students on the straight and narrow during his tenure as principal (all of three seasons). He is a no-nonsense administrator who likes order—no supernatural shenanigans allowed.

 9. Mr. Duvall, Mean Girls

From the mind of Tina Fey came North Shore High School, a somewhat skewed likeness of a typical high school, complete with quirky teachers, rampant gossip and vicious mean girls. The antics of the school reach a new level of outrageousness when scandal erupts because of the Burn Book, a mean girl bible that marks Ms. Norbury as a drug peddler. Mr. Duvall rises above the chaos to decipher the facts, clear Ms. Norbury and put the infamous Burn Book to rest.

8. Principal Figgins, Glee

Located in the heart of Ohio, William McKinley High School blasted onto the national stage with two championship teams on its brag sheet, including the Cheerios and the Glee Club. For most school administrators, dealing with the ego of Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester and the sensitive nature of Glee Club golden boy Will Schuster could present a challenge. However, Principal Figgins expertly coerces the pair into coexisting at the same school and effectively working as a team to teach the students valuable life lessons.

7. Principal Skinner, The Simpsons

Seymour Skinner is a case study in what not to do as a school principal. As the butt of many practical jokes by prankster extraordinaire Bart Simpson, Principal Skinner is the quintessential bad principal. His muddled ethics (such as stealing his commanding officer’s identity in Vietnam) and opportunistic approach to the job (as he constantly tries to impress Springfield’s superintendent) prevent him from ever winning the respect of his students, staff and peers and from effectively performing his job as principal of Springfield Elementary.

6. Mr. Strickland, Back to the Future

Mr. Strickland hates slackers, and as principal of Hill Valley High School, he is out to get Marty McFly—the ultimate slacker, in his opinion. Though he can’t one-up a hover board, Mr. Strickland tries valiantly to keep his school in order.

5. Edward R. Rooney, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller is the epitome of cool, and the hard-nosed, arrogant Mr. Rooney plays the classic role of his antagonist as the principal of Bueller’s Shermer High School. Mr. Rooney goes to extremes to keep a semblance of authority at his school, and putting a stop to the cool kid’s day of fun is a top priority!

 4. Mr. Feeny, Boy Meets World

Living next door to your garden-loving principal could send any kid over the edge, but Cory Matthews finds a mentor and father figure in Mr. Feeny throughout his years at John Adams High. While Mr. Feeny’s portrayal on the show focuses on his relationships with the Matthews brothers and Cory’s friends Topanga and Shawn, his character illustrates a great quality found in many principals: serving as a role model and friend of students.

3. Principal Joe Clark, Lean on Me

Who wouldn’t love having the indelible Morgan Freeman as their high school principal? As Joe Clark in Lean On Me, Freeman plays the role of a dedicated and passionate high school principal in New Jersey who struggles with low test scores, drugs, gangs and more. Principal Clark works tirelessly to bring his school back from the brink despite governmental pressures aimed at shutting down the low-performing school. He is even arrested for his acts of defiance, but the entire student body shows up to the jailhouse to demand his release and reinstatement as principal. Principal Clark is a champion of his students, and in turn, they become champions of him as well.

2. Richard Vernon, The Breakfast Club

As the baddest, meanest and most detestable principal on screen, Mr. Vernon ruins students’ Saturdays at Shermer High School throughout his tenure. He views all students as punks, and his tough-guy approach to leadership creates a great deal of tension and animosity in the movie and drives his character into 80s pop culture infamy.

1. Mr. Belding, Saved by the Bell

Mr. Belding is arguably the most iconic principal to grace the big or small screen. As principal of Bayside High School, he often blurs the lines between administrator and pal of the school’s coolest gang. While he blunders his way through Saved by the Bell and its spin-off, he remains focused on creating a fun and educational learning environment for his students even as he struggles to be as cool as Zack Morris and his crew.

So which on-screen principal are you? Real-world principals play an important role in creating a dynamic and positive educational experience for students and teachers alike. If you are ready to transition out of the classroom and into a leadership role, consider earning your Master of Education with an Educational Leadership Concentration to gain experience and knowledge about fostering an effective school community and learning environment.