These two movies are the best examples of both of those kinds of high school movies and polar opposites of each other. One is a heavy drama, inspired by a non-fiction book by a psychologist and the other is a comical farce about a kid, with a habit of skipping school, being pursued by an obsessive principal.
These movies have staying power because they have managed to stay current through the next generations.
Rebel was far ahead of its time. It deals with problems, such as the "new kids in school," underage drinking, bullying, gangs, sexual orientation, animal abuse, abusive parents, abusive relationships, reckless driving, gun violence, cranky adults, school brown-nosers and over-zealous cops. Ferris Bueller is a brighter world, but every generation encounters boring teachers, school rules, gossip, loquacious stoners, mean principals, jealous siblings, snooty waiters and borrowing a parents car without permission.
One thing that makes these films transcend generations and universal is the fact that they are average kids. Not popular preppies or jocks, just kids. Not a caricature of what an adult believes a kid is like or something to be ridiculed, but the kids in both films are humans with dignity.
However, it is the overall theme that connects these two movies and have made them popular after the number of years since first released (Rebel will soon be 60 years old, Ferris is over 20 years old) is the theme of freedom, something all teenagers long for. The freedom to be yourself and escape a structured environment. Ferris, Cameron and Sloane skip school and go into the city, whereas Jim, Judy and Plato take refuge in an abandoned mansion.
What I identify with in these films is Jim Stark's need to find friends and a sense of comfort away from bullies and his bickering parents. I identify with Ferris on an intellectual level. He seems to be smarter than the adults in his world and I have always thought I was smarter than most of the people I encounter. His philosophy on life is similar to mine.
It is unusual that two movies, made 30 years apart, could become iconic rites of passage for young people.
"If I had one day when I didn't have to be all confused and I didn't have to feel that I was ashamed of everything. If I felt that I belonged someplace. You know?" Jim Stark - Rebel Without a Cause.
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Ferris Bueller - Ferris Bueller's Day Off.