Close up of Troy Bolton in the middle of the big championship game against the West High Knights basketball team. The buzzer sounds, and East High is down. The Wildcats sulk back to their locker room, but Coach Bolton tells the team to ignore the x's and o's. There are only sixteen minutes left in this game, and only 16 minutes left for the seniors to wear a Wildcats basketball uniform. Troy and Chad then lead the team out, to the song "Now or Never". They win, to thunderous applause and with Troy actually drawing the attention of the rival team away before passing to sophomore Jimmie "The Rocket" Zara for the final basket.
Troy and Chad are next seen pushing Troy's smoking pickup truck in front of Troy's house, where a huge party is being held to celebrate the Wildcat win. Troy's dad introduces him to the coach of the basketball team at the University of Albuquerque, and everybody seems to accept that both Troy and Chad will be going there in September. Jimmie pops up to show Troy the photo he took of Troy's room, but Troy dodges everyone to take Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) up to his tree house. In the tree house, Troy sings "Right Here, Right Now" with Gabriella, where both affirm that wherever their futures take them, their hearts are together. Gabriella finds some old toys that Troy left in the tree house, but the pair finally leave when Troy's mom threatens to come up to bring them down.
The following day, Sharpay arrives in standard style at East High, separating students with a wave of her hand as her tasseled high heeled boots click clack down the hall. She asks Troy, "When's the big game?" without noticing that Zeke and the other basketball members are placing the new trophy in the cabinet behind her, and saying, "Good luck," after Troy explains that the game was yesterday. Sharpay proceeds to her double locker, pausing to kiss her snow globe with the photo of her dog before noticing the girl behind her. "What are you?" she snaps. The girl explains that she is Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Brown) and she is applying to be Sharpay's personal assistant. After proving that she knows Sharpay's schedule and preferences already, Sharpay accepts Tiara, remarking that she likes Tiara's British accent.
In homeroom, Miss Darbus is sitting on the throne while checking attendance, before letting Taylor address the group. She mentions that seniors can get their prom tickets from Martha Cox, and also talks about handing in yearbook photos and other activities. Chad tries to tease her by asking what's the lunch special, to which Taylor has an answer. Miss Darbus then asks Sharpay to outline her plans for the "spring musicale", and Sharpay says that with all the activities taking so much time for everyone, she thought maybe it should be a one-woman show. Kelsi immediately starts writing at great speed on a clipboard, and when Miss Darbus asks if sign-ups are that light, Kelsi replies that no, there's a good turnout, actually. Miss Darbus looks at the sheet, and says that it seems everyone has signed up, and she'll look forward to seeing all of them during free period, as well as being able to make a special announcement at that time.
Kelsi is followed by a horde of complaining students, all saying they had different plans for their free period instead of rehearsing a musical. Tiara follows Sharpay in, and thus is able to catch her when Sharpay faints on learning that the spring musicale is about "all of you"-- the entire senior class, and their last year in high school. But Gabriella makes a plea for them to consider doing the musical, as their last chance to do something together. The main group still are interested, until Troy declares that he's in.
Miss Darbus also shares her big news: four students in that group are being considered for one scholarship at the pre-eminent Julliard School of the Performing Arts in New York: Sharpay, Ryan, Kelsi, and Troy. Troy asks who the comedian is, obviously thinking this is a joke. Miss Darbus asks him whether something is wrong. Troy says he never heard of Julliard, but Miss Darbus tells him that Julliard has obviously heard of him. Although he says he has no interest in Julliard, he still starts flipping through the catalog that Miss Darbus hands to him.
Miss Darbus asks some of the students what they envision for the future, leading inevitably to Sharpay announcing that she sees it all ending one place--with her, center stage, in a spotlight. She then follows Ryan to the cafeteria for lunch, leading to the big number "I Want It All". The cafeteria becomes a stage, with all the students becoming flunkies in the Ryan and Sharpay success story. At one point, Troy is a crazed fan, lurking at the edge of a film premiere with a heart tattooed on his arm and a rose for Sharpay, in this dream sequence.
The next day, Gabriella and Taylor get together outside of the school in the morning, talking about the special honor program that Gabriella is being considered for that would allow her to start studying at Stanford University in two weeks' time. Gabriella starts to express reluctance to leave high school any sooner than she has to, when she gets a call from Troy. He's in the rooftop garden, and wants her to come up straightaway. When she gets there, he shows her a few different suit jackets, and asks her to pick which one he should wear for their prom. Gabriella says hasn't been asked to a prom before, but she thinks that was an invitation. Troy says he hasn't been to a dance before, and is afraid they might really have to waltz, since the theme of the prom is "The Last Waltz". Gabriella shows him how she danced with her father when she was a little girl, and they begin singing, "Can I Have This Dance?" even when it starts pouring with rain.
Troy and Chad then find Jimmie and his friend Donny coming out of the showers from gym class, and since the younger boys both want their idols gym lockers, Troy and Chad explain that those lockers have to be "earned". They then race through the gymnasium and a girls' volleyball game, the auto shop, and into the drama department with the boys' clothes, while Jimmie and Donny clutch towels around their hips and run to try and catch up. They suddenly stop on stage, and Taylor quickly snaps a photo for the yearbook while Miss Darbus states that while the stage is a wonderful place to discover oneself, at East High it is best to do so clothed.
Troy then takes Gabriella home after school, and while they sit in her backyard, she chides him that he should be able to tell his dad and Chad that he actually enjoys performing. He replies that while she and her mom both chose Stanford as the place she should be, he feels that University of Albuquerque was chosen for him, not by him. Mrs Montez interrupts the moment, but Troy is clearly unsure where he should go after high school.
Troy and Chad are next seen presenting Taylor with a tray of something Zeke baked fresh from the oven. Taylor and Gabriella congratulate them on kissing up to the editors of the yearbook, and Troy teases that Chad is hoping to have two pages fully to himself, with a third page solely for his hair. Chad then casually refers to Taylor going with him to the prom, and she stops him by saying that she wants an invitation, which that wasn't. Troy then meets Chad in the cafeteria, and gives him a bouquet of wildflowers from the roof garden. Chad tries to ask Taylor to be his date, but she pretends to misunderstand because of all the noise. Troy hollers for quiet, and Chad stands on a table opposite Taylor, Gabriella, Kelsi and Martha, before pleading for Taylor to be his date to the dance. The four girls huddle as though talking the pros and cons over, before Taylor stands and accepts him with an enthusiastic hug.
"A Night to Remember" follows, going between the boys getting tuxes and not being sure about all the fuss while the girls are gleeful about everything. The scene moves into bits that are parts of the Spring Musicale, with the boys collecting the girls from their parents' houses and being blown away by how beautiful the girls are, etc. Kelsi and Ryan make a particularly spectacular entrance during this song, and Chad's tuxedo has his surname Danforth and the number 8 on the back. When the dance number ends, Miss Darbus applauds from the audience, congratulating everyone on how things are going.
The next scene is in the yearbook office, and Gabriella shows her acceptance letter to Stanford's program to Taylor. Neither girl realizes that Tiara is standing there the whole time, until Tiara hands over an enormous box of "Sharpay's yearbook photos". Sharpay reluctantly meets Tiara in the library, but is thrilled to learn that Gabriella won't be in the show because of the early start up for the honors program.
Ryan turns up for school early on his moped one morning after this, following Sharpay's advice to get closer to Kelsi since Kelsi always writes her best songs for Troy and Gabriella. Ryan sits next to Kelsi and plays the song she's working on, "Just Wanna Be With You," and he then asks her what she's doing for prom. She rattles off a number of things related to preparing the musical, but he stops her by saying, "Great. Pick you up at eight." Kelsi blushes, and the pair settle back to play the full song, which fades into Troy and Gabriella singing it during rehearsal while Ryan choreographs their movements during the song. But throughout, Sharpay seems unfazed, and only asks Ryan if he's got the song yet. Ryan smiles and says he's taking Kelsi to prom, and then goes further, telling Sharpay that she isn't Gabriella. She indicates that things are about to change, and leaves with Tiara in her wake.
Troy and Chad are next in a car parts junkyard, and the owner congratulates them both, telling them he's already bought season tickets for the next basketball set for the University of Albuquerque. Troy starts to explain to Chad that he might want to do different things in the future than what they originally always planned, and "The Boyz Are Back" follows, with a big "Thriller" style dance number in the junkyard, even briefly showing the boys as eight-year old versions of themselves playing in the same yard.
Troy meets Gabriella at her house, with a special picnic in her room, and tries to encourage her to accept the honor program at Stanford. She finally says that she's had a lot more practice at saying goodbye than Troy has, which confuses him, as he expects her to return for the prom and graduation ceremonies. Gabriella sends him off, and sings "Walk Away", over a scenario showing her room being emptied and the house going for sale before she gets in her mother's car to head to Stanford.
At East High, things have gone rather badly downhill. Ryan takes Troy through the new choreography for "Just Wanna Be With You" with Sharpay in the role, and Troy whispers that Ryan is a better dancer than Sharpay. The set behind them crashes, and Kelsi tries to comfort Troy from the orchestra pit, saying that without Gabriella, it would've always been the Sharpay show from the beginning. In the next scene, Troy and Chad come into the Bolton kitchen, and Troy shows his mother the suit he collected from the rental place for the prom in two days. As if on cue, Gabriella phones, but Troy is soon heartbroken when she explains that she won't be coming back for either prom or graduation.
Chad tells Troy that "you don't take the girl from high school with you," and says that Gabriella is one step ahead of them as usual. He says that she'll be there at Stanford, while he and Troy will be in Albuquerque, and it'll be a "whole new ball game". But Troy says he isn't sure he wants his life to be a ball game anymore, leaving Chad perplexed. Chad then says Troy should be with his friends for the prom, and Troy responds that he doesn't plan to miss it.
Troy tries to explain to his dad that he might want to do something different than University of Albuquerque and basketball, and ends up heading to East High. While a lightning storm rages outside, Troy faces the specter of past glories and present expectations, moving from the locker room and the gym to the drama stage, singing the song "Scream". When he finishes, he sees Miss Darbus sitting there. She admits that she sent his name to Julliard, and offers an apology if she overstepped herself. Troy says he isn't mad, but he doesn't know what to do. Miss Darbus says that it's better to look at opportunities now instead of ten years later, and says the last one to leave should turn out the lights.
At Stanford, Gabriella comes out of a university building, only to see what looks like Troy's pickup truck in the parking lot ahead of her. Then she hears a familiar voice from a tree saying, "I figured you'd be the last one out of the building." It's Troy, wearing the suit he rented for their prom, and he jumps down in front of her. He explains that for him, the prom is wherever she is, and they begin dancing to a reprise of "Can I Have This Dance?", which also seems to show them at the East High prom, taking turns waltzing with their other friends as well.
Back at East High later on, Sharpay is warming up for the musical, telling people to send Troy to practice their duet, and avoiding Jimmie, who now thinks Sharpay has a secret crush on him. Jimmie proudly announces that he's wearing a special cologne, Babe Magnet, that makes Sharpay sneeze violently. She hurries away, not noticing that Jimmie is receiving a text from Troy. Troy has been "driving all night", but thinks he may not be back before the second act, so Jimmie will have to sing with Sharpay. Sharpay won't let anyone tell her about Troy, and only realizes that Troy isn't there when her musical cue isn't picked up. She has to sing it three times, with long pauses between, before Jimmie finally jumps onto the stage wearing an odd collection of things from the drama wardrobe, and her number turns into her backing away from Jimmie until his cologne overwhelms her again, and she runs offstage. As she does, Ryan follows, and both see Troy and Gabriella rush in. "Oh, great, save the day," she mutters, and Ryan leads the pair to their places.
Throughout the show, two representatives from Julliard continually are accessing the various performances, and both seem quite impressed when Troy finally comes in, singing to Gabriella. Meanwhile, Sharpay stalks back to her dressing room, only to be dumbstruck when she sees Tiara wearing a royal blue dress and tiara. The English girl says she took the job as Sharpay's assistant so she could learn the ropes of East High, and says that her humility and sweetness were all an act. She then goes to perform "A Night to Remember" in a version like Madonna's "Material Girl" or Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", but Sharpay decides that if East High is going to remember one Sharpay, it ought to be the real Sharpay Evans. She comes down from the ceiling during Tiara's number, and the two girls battle for the center of the stage and attention, but Ryan uses his stage control to sink both divas into a pit onstage.
The musical proceeds to a scene where the seniors, in caps and gowns, move forward. Miss Darbus then announces where they will be going, including the revelations that Kelsi and Ryan have both been offered Julliard scholarships, and that Sharpay will be studying at the University of Albuquerque while also helping teach in the drama department at East High next year, which sends Tiara off in a huff. Miss Darbus finally reaches "a Wildcat, who I believe has a decision to make." Troy steps forward, and declares that he has chosen basketball, but also theater, and that the University of California, Berkeley, will let him pursue both. Most of all, he has chosen to follow his heart, and chosen the school that is only 32.7 miles from where Gabriella Montez will be going to study pre-law.
Miss Darbus starts to announce where Chad will be, only to see that young Danforth has fled the stage. Troy knows where his best friend will be, and finds Chad shooting hoops in the gym again. Chad stops, and asks seriously whether Berkeley will play basketball against Albuquerque, and Troy grins. "I believe we'll be kicking Redhawk butt in November," or something to that affect. The boys start chasing each other with the basketball, until Troy's dad shouts for them to get back on the stage.
The scene changes to a graduation ceremony on a football field, where Troy is addressing the entire group, saying how one person can change everything, and how East High has encouraged them all to shake off the status quo. The students race and form a Wildcat design before singing "High School Musical". That scene turns back into a stage, with Chad, Sharpay, Troy, Gabriella, Ryan and Taylor coming forward to take bows to the audience at the musical.
The credits run over a yearbook style collection of photos and signatures, showing the main characters against their pictures from all three films at various times before showing a collection of outtakes. Then the winner of a contest to be "in the picture" is singing with a group of High School Musical lookalikes over the production credits, and finally the credits for the songs take over the screen for the last couple of minutes.
- Zac Efron as Troy Bolton
- Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez
- Ashley Tisdale as Sharpay Evans
- Lucas Grabeel as Ryan Evans
- Corbin Bleu as Chad Danforth
- Monique Coleman as Taylor McKessie
- Olesya Rulin as Kelsi Nielsen
- Ryne Sanborn as Jason Cross
- Chris Warren Jr. as Zeke Baylor
- Kaycee Stroh as Martha Cox
- Alyson Reed as Ms. Darbus
- Bart Johnson as Jack Bolton
- Leslie Wing as Lucille Bolton
- Matt Prokop as Jimmie Zara
- Justin Martin as Donny Fox
- Jemma McKenzie-Brown as Tiara Gold