Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is a precocious and eccentric 15-year-old attending the prestigious boy's school Rushmore Academy. Max is the president, and in some cases founder, of numerous extracurricular clubs and organizations within the school, and is infinitely more devoted to these activities than he is to his regular schoolwork, eventually causing him to be placed on "sudden death academic probation" by Rushmore's headmaster Dr. Guggenheim (Brian Cox). Despite the warning that one more failed class will result in expulsion, Max is determined to stay at Rushmore for as long as possible.Max's widowed father Bert (Seymour Cassel) is a blue-collar barber and a wise, loving father to Max, his only child. Max's mother Eloise died of cancer when Max was seven. The contrast of Max's middle-class background with the wealthy and privileged lives of most Rushmore students feeds Max's determination to make a name for himself. Max is a scholarship student, accepted to Rushmore on the strength of a one-act play he had written in second grade. During a chapel assembly, Max is deeply impressed with a brief speech delivered by local industrialist Herman Blume (Bill Murray), who seems to be addressing the non-wealthy underdogs like Max, reminding them that the rich kids "can't buy backbone." Though Blume, in reality, is a glum and disillusioned man despite his fortune, he is struck by Max's enthusiasm and confidence when the two meet after the assembly.After finding an intriguing quote handwritten in the library book he is reading, Max attempts to track down the person responsible. The search leads him to Ms. Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), Rushmore's new first grade teacher. Max develops an instant crush on her, and he introduces himself one afternoon when the two are alone on the bleachers. Ms. Cross, while slightly startled by Max's forward nature, is impressed by his intellect, and they strike up a conversation, during which Ms. Cross expresses displeasure at the school's decision to cancel the Latin program. Max, despite having tried to get Latin cancelled for years, switches courses immediately in order to win Ms. Cross's favor, and circulates a school-wide petition to keep Latin in the curriculum before making a personal plea to the school executives. The effort not only restores Latin, but makes it a mandatory course. Ms. Cross and others, including Max's younger friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble), are impressed by Max's tenacity, while other students, including the brash and aggressive Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole), resent Max's ability to manipulate authority, seemingly on a whim, to the point where the entire school body is affected.Max also finds a friend in Herman Blume, whose numbskulled and bratty twin sons Ronny and Donny (Ronnie and Keith McCawley) are students at Rushmore. Max falsely tells Blume that his father is a neurosurgeon rather than a barber, still feeling the need to impress the successful industrialist. Max is soon a regular visitor at Blume's plant. Blume is amazed at Max's cocksure attitude and dedication to goals, while he himself is in a failing marriage and a downward spiral.Max continues to pursue Ms. Cross, visiting her classroom after school. He learns that her late husband was a former Rushmore student, which directly influenced her decision to teach there after his death the previous year. Seeing that Ms. Cross has an interest in marine life, due to the fish tanks in her classroom and the library book by Jacques Cousteau they had both read, Max approaches Blume for $35,000 to build an aquarium at Rushmore. Though Max had not told anyone else, including Dr. Guggenheim, about the project, Blume indulges him with a check for $2500.Ms. Cross soon becomes concerned about Max's clear feelings for her, and attempts to make it clear that a romantic relationship will never happen between them. Max,though disappointed, appears to get the message.However, when Max's next play has its opening night at Rushmore, he is openly annoyed to see that Ms. Cross brought along a male friend, Dr. Peter Flynn (Luke Wison), as a guest. Blume, also in attendance, is introduced to Ms. Cross, and the four of them go out to dinner. Blume notices Max's irritation at Dr. Flynn's presence, and unwisely buys Max alcohol, which worsens his behavior. Max insults Dr. Flynn for coming along uninvited, and he admits to Ms. Cross that he is in love with her.A few days after the incident, Blume visits Ms. Cross at Rushmore to deliver an apology letter from Max, to whom she had not spoken to since. Blume develops an infatuation with Ms. Cross, and later tries to casually dissuade Max from continuing to pursue her. Max and Ms. Cross patch up their friendship nonetheless.When Max finally attempts to break ground on the aquarium project, for which he had never sought the school's approval, he is officially expelled from Rushmore. Max is crushed, but changes neither his attitude nor habits when he begins attending a local public school, Grover Cleveland High. He continues to engage in and start up multiple extracurriculars, though the other students don't show interest. Classmate Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka) attempts to befriend Max, only to be ignored.Blume and Ms. Cross begin a secret relationship, which they take care to hide from Max, with whom they still spend time as a trio. Though Blume is married, he has long suspected his wife of infidelity, and feels something new and liberating with Ms. Cross.Max still visits the Rushmore campus on occasion, feeling angry and lost about his expulsion from the main focus of his life. Magnus Buchan taunts Max, accusing him of only being friends with Dirk Calloway because of Dirk's beautiful mother (Connie Nielsen). Max crassly tells Magnus that half the reason he was expelled was because he got a handjob from Mrs. Calloway in the back of her car. Magnus is unconvinced, but the rumor spreads, soon reaching Dirk, who becomes furious with Max. Dirk, aware of the secret relationship between Ms. Cross and Blume, ousts the affair to Max in hopes of hurting him.Max loses all sense, and confronts Blume about the affair. Blume admits to being in love with Ms. Cross but that neither of them wished to hurt Max's feelings. Max is unmoved, and promptly rats Blume out to Mrs. Blume (Kim Terry), who files for divorce, resulting in Blume taking up indefinite residence in a hotel. Max sneaks in, disguised as a waiter, and infests Blume's hotel suite with bees.Knowing Max is responsible for telling his wife about the affair and for the bee incident, Blume runs over Max's bicycle with his car. Max, in turn, cuts Blume's brakes, for which Blume has Max arrested. After being bailed out by his father, Max attempts to get Ms. Cross fired from Rushmore by showing Dr. Guggenheim photos of her and Blume together, but finds out she had already resigned. Max visits her in her classroom as she is packing up, and she angrily asks him to leave. Max gives up the revenge game and his former tenacity drains away. He stops attending school and begins working in his father's barbershop.Near Christmastime, Dirk stops by the barbershop to visit Max and make amends. He presents Max with a personalized Swiss Army Knife, commemorating his legacy at Rushmore. Dirk also brings the news that Dr. Guggenheim is in the hospital after suffering a stroke, and that Max should visit him. Max does so, and Dr. Guggenheim's rage towards Max results in him speaking for the first time since the stroke. Blume was visiting as well, and he and Max patch up their friendship. Blume, who is an outward mess, tells Max that Ms. Cross had ended the relationship. This news sparks Max's passion for extracurriculars again, and he goes back to Grover Cleveland High with renewed vigor. He finally accepts friendship from the kindhearted Margaret Yang, and casts her in his latest play.Max makes an irrational final attempt to romance Ms. Cross by pretending to have been hit by a car and climbing through her bedroom window with fake blood on his face. She sees through the ruse, but answers his questions about why she broke up with Blume. Ms. Cross says she ended the relationship because Blume was married, self-loathing, and petty enough to destroy Max's bicycle. Max tells her Blume's theory: that Ms. Cross is still in love with her late husband, Edward Applebee. Max leaves through the window, finally accepting that he will never win Ms. Cross.After apologizing to Dirk and Margaret Yang for his poor behavior, Max puts together a new play, partially inspired by the Vietnam War, of which Blume is a veteran. He casts Margaret, Dirk, and surprisingly Magnus, in leading roles alongside himself, and invites Ms. Cross and Blume to the premiere, assuring that they are seated beside each other. He also invited Dr. Peter Flynn as a means of atonement for past behavior. Max dedicates the play in part to "Edward Applebee-a friend of a friend." The play is a huge success, and Max, Blume, Ms. Cross, Margaret, and and incredibly proud Bert congregate at the party afterward.Blume and Ms. Cross consider giving their relationship another try, while Max and Margaret Yang become closer. Blume asks Margaret for a dance, leaving Ms. Cross and Max alone. Max signals the DJ, who begins to play The Faces' "Ooh La La" as Max and Ms. Cross approach the dance floor together.