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The 10 Greatest Fictional School Principals

principals

This week marks the premiere of Girls Meets World, the sequel of sorts to beloved TGIF staple Boy Meets World. While most of Boy Meets World‘s original fans won’t translate to the Disney Channel redux — featuring Cory, Topanga, and their tween daughter Riley in the lead role — the mere creation of Girl Meets World has sparked a renewed interest in its predecessor, 14 years after its ending.

At the heart of Boy Meets World was its depiction of school life, full of tough love and humor. Mr. Feeny — Cory’s teacher, the Matthews family’s next-door neighbor, and later the brothers’ principal/college professor — was crucial in this, so much so that the show kept creating roles for him to fill as the cast grew up and transitioned to high school and then college. In honor of Feeny, who does appear in Girl Meets World, we’ve compiled a list of his peers: ten of the greatest fictional principals. Feeny, played by actor William Daniels, sits at the top of the list.

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10. Principal Angela Li — Daria  

The brilliance of Daria stemmed from its scary-accurate satire of high school clichés. Teachers were no exception to this rule, with Lawndale High’s tyrannical principal, Angela Li, representing the post-Columbine scare tactics of schools across the country. Elaborate security methods took priority in Li’s world (and school budget), while routine repairs and basic human decency for the students played second fiddle. “Voluntary urinalysis of all students will be instituted,” she booms in one episode. “Sign up now and receive a free fanny pack.” 

 

9. Principal McGee — Grease

The star power within Grease‘s cast is staggering, but Eve Arden’s role as Rydell High’s uptight principal remains one of the most underrated performances in the 1978 movie musical. The stage and screen legend is perhaps best remembered in that specific role within the context of a pair: Principal McGee and her xylophone-playing secretary doing the morning announcements. But let us not forget her putting greaser Sonny in his place, or this sarcastic dispatch over the Rydell loud speaker: “We have pictures of you so-called mooners. And just because the pictures aren’t of your faces doesn’t mean we can’t identify you. At this very moment those pictures are on their way to Washington where the FBI has experts in this type of identification. If you turn yourselves in now, you may escape a Federal charge.”

8. Mr. Duvall — Mean Girls 

In the ten years since the release of Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s homage to high school’s hellish politics has turned into a quotational force of nature. Even Tim Meadows, who plays a tough principal who’s in over his head with the Plastics, gets in a few good lines. “Oh hell no, I did not leave the south side for this,” Mr. Duvall says as he smashes a fire alarm, the only way he knows how to break up girl-on-girl crime. Ultimately it’s Tina Fey’s Ms. Norbury character who facilitates the intervention, but awkward Mr. Duvall means well enough.

7. Principal Mullins — School of Rock 

Jack Black knows: a woman like Principal Mullins, played by Joan Cusack, is secretly A Stevie Nicks Girl. She’s in need of a friend, and though Black’s character, Dewey Finn, is merely a slacker musician posing as a substitute at the prep school Rosalie Mullins runs with an iron first, she’ll take any kindness she can get. “You cannot be funny and be the principal of a prep school,” she confides in Dewey before dubbing herself a bitch. He proceeds to get her drunk and manipulate her, but hey, who doesn’t love a buttoned-up librarian letting her hair down?

6. Assistant Principal Vernon — The Breakfast Club 

Paul Gleason plays the quintessential dickhead principal in the quintessential high school movie. Assistant Principal Vernon takes not an ounce of lip from the Saturday detention crew, demanding they stay silent while forcing them to pen an existential essay. Judd Nelson’s bad-boy archetype, Bender, gets a particularly nasty (and now-legendary) tongue lashing from Vernon after he fails to abide: “I make $31,000 a year and I have a home and I’m not about to throw it all away on some punk like you. But someday when you’re outta here and you’ve forgotten all about this place and they’ve forgotten all about you, and you’re wrapped up in your own pathetic life, I’m gonna be there. That’s right. And I’m gonna kick the living shit out of you. I’m gonna knock your dick in the dirt.” Vernon wields the small kernel of power he has because he’s miserable himself.

5. Professor Dumbledore — Harry Potter 

Even before his complicatedly noble death at the hands of Snape (instead of Draco) in the Half-Blood Prince, Headmaster Dumbledore was the most beloved member of the Hogwarts faculty. Where other professors’ moral compasses appeared far left of center, Dumbledore innately understood when and how to wield his great powers. We find out more about his complicated early life following his passing, but a passage from his obituary, written by his friend Elphias Doge, speaks to what was known of him: Albus Dumbledore was never proud or vain; he could find something to value in anyone, however apparently insignificant or wretched, and I believe that his early losses endowed him with great humanity and sympathy. I shall miss his friendship more than I can say, but my loss is as nothing compared to the wizarding world’s. That he was the most inspiring and the best loved of all Hogwarts headmasters cannot be in question.” 

4. Principal Skinner — The Simpsons

High school principals tend to be bit parts, but leave it to The Simpsons to give Seymour Skinner an incredibly nuanced backstory. On the surface, Skinner is a traditional disciplinarian, at times evoking militaristic approaches and constantly battling budgetary constraints. Underneath his bright blue suit sits a former Green Beret and Vietnam vet with raging PTSD, a mama’s boy, a Mensa member, a lover of Edna Krabappel, and in later seasons, a Don Draper/Dick Whitman-style imposter. “Spanky” got dimensions!

3. Mr. Belding — Saved by the Bell 

Fun fact: Dennis Haskins began his role as Mr. Belding even before Saved by the Bell was Saved by the Bell. The quintessential teen series actually began as Good Morning, Miss Bliss on Disney Channel; by the time Saved by the Bell reached NBC in 1989, Mr. Belding was the only member of Bayside High’s faculty to stay intact. Belding remained a force even through Saved by the Bell‘s college years, in part because he makes the perfect foil to Zack Morris: the quintessential dork principal who thinks he’s in total control despite being easily duped.

2. Mr. Rooney — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

There would be no Ferris Bueller without Principal Rooney as the primary antagonist. Played by Jeffrey Jones, Ed Rooney makes it his sole mission to destroy this 1986 film’s truancy nightmare namesake, not stopping at telling off what he’s lead to believe is Sloane’s dad (nope, actually just Cameron) and breaking into Ferris’s house. Rooney gets as many classic scenes to himself as Ferris does, and who can forget the closing credits? He’s a man with so little in his life, and so little control over those who are within his kingdom.

1. Mr. Feeny — Boy Meets World

How many principals warrant a distinct greeting call from their students? Eric Matthews’s “Feeny Call” is known among all Boy Meets World fans, as are the lessons Feeny teaches Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and co. through junior high, high school, and even college. He’s their stone-faced arbiter of reason and comedic foil, dispelling tough love as much as deserved detentions. Throughout the show’s seven-year journey, Feeny’s moral compass guides the students perhaps more than their own parents.

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