Let's Rank The High School Musical Movies

The most intense debates any Gen Z kid has ever gotten into is not about politics, or school, or family drama, or anything like that. No, no, no. The most passionate arguments I have ever had are over High School Musical opinions. With the nostalgic original sympathizers, the die hard “Bet On It” stans, and the high budget Senior Year enthusiasts, everyone brings something different to the table. I am here to rank the three movies and try to figure out which movies have the best songs, plots, musicals, and X factor to see if I can definitively say, once and for all, which High School Musical is superior. 

 

Let's start with the heart of these movies: the music. 

All of the songs from each of the movies are endlessly catchy. Two years after Mean Girls took us through the lunch room pointing out different cliques, “Stick to the Status Quo” did it better in an epic dance number. And while I love the music from the OG, the fact that Zac Efron isn’t singing makes it fall a little short for me. (Side note: What happened in that casting decision? Did they just decide it was too much for Zac Efron to be hot and a good singer and pulled in Drew Seeley?) HSM3 has lots of generic love songs that will get stuck in your head for hours, as well as the world's greatest teen angst song, but overall nothing stands out. And then we have High School Musical 2. And I just cannot comprehend what happened here, but somehow every song from this movie was an absolute bop. “Fabulous” is still a cultural phenomenon 14 years later, “I Don’t Dance” is a gay fever dream, “Bet On It” is an over-dramatic masterpiece, and “Gotta Go My Own Way” has never failed to make me instantly start belting my heart out of both parts of the duet (don’t pretend you don’t sing both parts, too). Hands down, High School Musical 2 wins in the music category. 

 

While the music is amazing, the plots fall a little short in these movies. 

I stand by the fact that part of the charm of Disney Channel Original Movies is that they don’t have very strong plotlines. But the whole main conflict in the first High School Musical could be avoided if Troy and Gabriella said, “Hey Ms. Darbus, we have two very big conflicts this day, can we have our call back the next day instead?” Ignoring this, I feel like the first movie tells a pretty good story about balancing fitting in and being yourself. The second movie has much less of a plot. What even happens? It’s summer, Sharpay is a villain, songs are sung. There is a subplot where our white, male lead gets promoted before any of his equally hard working black and female coworkers which is...interesting. And while the third movie in the trilogy has a bit more plot, it really feels more like a slice of life movie. We aren’t going on some grand adventure. We are really just hanging out with these characters that we love one last time. And being back in East High, balancing theater and basketball, HSM3 just feels like they were trying to do the first movie over again with different songs. 

 

Movie Musicals have such a specific vibe. 

Despite being called High School Musical and being advertised as a movie musical, there aren’t very many songs to progress the plot. More than half of the songs sung in this movie are at times when it would actually be appropriate to break into song. There are some numbers like “Getcha Head in the Game” and “When There Was Me and You” where the characters are actually singing how they’re feeling, but there’s much less of these than you would expect from a movie musical. Both sequels do this better than the original, with most of the songs being musical numbers in the traditional sense, while still having some songs like “You Are The Music In Me” and “A Night To Remember” that exist as songs in universe. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it's a problem to have the characters actually singing songs. I just feel like if it is going to be a musical, those classic musical elements must be included. 

 

There are so many little things to love about the High School Musical movies. 

Each of these movies have smaller quirks that make them the nostalgic classics that we all keep revisiting. HSM1 has crème brûlée and the iconic dance moves from the “We’re All In This Together” number that we all learned from the Disney Channel Dance Along Specials. High School Musical 2 gave us the “T as in Troy” meme format that never gets old, a Miley Cyrus cameo, a questionable amount of Hawaiian cultural appropriation, and an hour and 51 minutes of trying to figure out if that character just said “Bolton” or “Fulton.” High School Musical 3 brought out this iconic hair flip, the idea that Troy Bolton who had been in one theatrical production was being scouted by Julliard (which as a 7 year old I thought made sense but as a college student makes me cackle), and a “We’re All In This Together” reprise that my friends and I all cried to before our own high school graduation. 

All three of these movies hold such a special place in the hearts of so many people, I don’t know if I can accurately say which is hands down the best movie. They all excel in their own ways. If I had to choose, High School Musical 2 comes out on top with its stand out music and the way it feels so different from the other two. But one thing I am certain about is that I need to have a HSM movie marathon very, very soon to relive all the magic packed into these movies.