top of page

The Definitive Ranking of High School Musical

By Harry Creevey

The High School Musical franchise single handedly set an unrealistic expectation of high school for a generation. The three films have great nostalgic value but all deal with the central struggle of Troy wanting to be more than just a basketball player. This is completely resolved in the first film but then continues throughout the following two films and results in Troy (the ultimate Mary Sue) being great at everything and eventually getting everything he wants. While Troy gets everything he wants, Sharpay gets shafted at every opportunity. This is resolved at the end of each film but then by the beginning of the next film she’s reset in the role of the antagonist. The only character that has any worthwhile character development is Ryan who goes from Sharpay’s bitch little brother to the winner of the Juilliard scholarship.

When thinking of ways to rank the three films, the music seemed like an obvious choice but all three films turn in absolute bangers interspersed by slightly shitty forgettable tunes so I had to come up with more specific categories to rank them on. These are: Troy and Gabriella’s solos, how hot the cast are, how good the costuming is, how problematic they are and the overall enjoyment I had re-watching them.


High School Musical 1

The first film begins with a shot of snowy mountains scored by a cheesy flute theme and quintessential wind noises. This leads into the introduction of our leads. Gabriella is introduced with the line “it’s New Year’s Eve, enough reading” and Troy has to be dragged away from playing basketball with his DILF of a dad. This immediately sets up the forbidden love narrative between the nerd and the jock. As soon as Troy starts singing Start of Something New it’s clear that Zac Efron is lip-syncing and this lack of fidelity when combined with terrible sound editing has a hilarious effect that is noticeable throughout the rest of the film. In the opening school scene I was shocked to realise that skinny jeans were yet to become a thing and straight cut jeans reign supreme in all three films.

Troy and Gabriella’s solos = 2

How hot the cast are = 1

How good the looks are = 2

Least problematic = 3

Enjoyment = 2

Total = 10


High School Musical 2

The second film has some of the most iconic imagery from the entire franchise with both Bet on It and Fabulous. However, it also has some classist undertones that makes the film weird to watch. This begins with privileged high schoolers who live in giant suburban houses getting jobs at the local country club. They’re all put out by the demands of the jobs and need a musical number led by Troy to Work This Out to rally together and make the most of the fairly normal roles. The line “bottom of the heap” from the song implies that these jobs are somehow below them and the fact that some parents will “double anything I save” shows the

privilege of the students. This class divide is driven by Troy who is given social mobility through Sharpay and struggles with taking advantage of the benefits and staying true to himself and his friends. Troy being Troy is able to transcend these manipulations and his friends end up sabotaging Sharpay’s plans and giving him a chance to redeem himself at the cost of a free-ride scholarship. They also randomly name the nerd who likes hip-hop Martha and try to make her a major character despite her having no character development or lines outside of this in the first film.

Troy and Gabriella’s solos = 3

How hot the cast are = 2

How good the looks are = 1

Least problematic = 1

Enjoyment = 3

Total = 10


High School Musical 3: Senior Year

The first thing that struck me watching the third film was how much hotter Zac Efron got, please take note of his arms. This is especially noticeable in Troy’s solo scene where he dances in a thunderstorm of basketballs. The production value in the third film is way higher than in the other films and the looks in the prom number are some of the best in the franchise. This prom scene also sets up the heteronormative roles in the film. In the lyrics they talk about the girlfriend's mother and father which is weird because Gabriella’s mum is a solo mum. These heteronormative roles are perpetuated in another scene where Chad and Troy’s parents have dinner and the two wives bring their husbands' and sons' food and then stand behind the table while they eat. This is also shown with the narrative of Ryan pursuing Kelsey, despite Ryan being written as a very non-straight character. The film has unsettling sexist vibes at several points. Gabriella specifically tells Troy she doesn’t want to go back to Albuquerque because it will be too hard for her to see him again so he drives all the way to see her against her wishes and this is painted as romantic. Then, at the end of year graduation instead of her scholarship being announced, Troy announces it to tell everyone he’s going to Berkeley (he just happened to get into the best public university in the world) because it’s close to Stanford.

Troy and Gabriella’s solos = 1

How hot the cast are = 3

How good the looks are = 3

Least problematic = 2

Enjoyment = 1

Total = 10


In summary: I ranked all of the categories separately and came out with the same score for every movie and I think that’s pretty fitting. None of the movies are stand-out, they’re all great fun to watch, give you a kick of nostalgia and make you realise that we’ve come a long way since the early '00s.


bottom of page