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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

These are the top 20 movies every educator should watch. While every movie is not specifically about educators, there is definitely something to take away from each. These movies are not listed in order of importance, just the order they came to me. Each title is linked to their IMDB page.

Summer School
Mark Harmon tries to be the teacher he is not and only succeeds in reaching his students when he is the teacher they need him to be. Be true to yourself and the students will listen.

Lean on Me
Morgan Freeman plays Joe Clark, the principal who is willing to do anything it takes to help make his school safe and create an environment for all students to learn. Sometimes doing what's tough is what's best for kids.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
As a teacher, this movie is a bit funnier when you think about the things Ferris is able to pull off and the craziness Edward Rooney, the principal, must have had to deal with to push him over the edge.

Dead Poets Society
One of the main reasons I wanted to be an English Teacher my captain, my captain.

Stand and Deliver
This is a great movie about reaching students who feel like they have no hope of success in their life. Looking at it now, it also has something to say about standardized testing.

Searching for Bobby Fischer
A young chess prodigy is pushed by his father and chess teacher to be the best, when he just wants to play. Thought provoking story about how we treat gifted children. Do we really know what is best for them?

The Karate Kid
A wimpy kid is trained to defend himself by a old Japanese man. What I always take away from this movie is the unconventional ways that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel. Sometimes the unconventional is the way to go.

Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman, is the student that seems to be involved in everything, but can't seem to get his studies done. Bill Murray should have won an Oscar for his performance. I think every school has a Max, but how do we reach them?

Besides being the right thing to do, Carrie showcases a great reason on why kids should never bully other students. You never who has telekinetic powers, so be nice to everyone.

Mean Girls
Tina Fey does a great job with this script showing how high school gossip and overall cattiness plays out. It is a funny take on a serious issue in some high schools.

Reese Witherspoon and Mathew Broderick (now playing a teacher) are amazing in this film showing the dark underbelly of student government. It is a funny movie that, as a teacher, makes you wonder what student leadership is all about.

It might seem like a bit dated for today's schools, but Heather's commentary on cliques is still relevant. Heathers is an excellent movie that still packs a punch today.

Dazed and Confused
Forget about the herbal parts of the movie and focus on Jeremy London's character. He is supposed to be "the jock" and commit to being a certain person. He fights to be himself and that is something to be admired.

The Breakfast Club
A movie that is a must-see for everyone. When I watch the movie now, it reminds me that no matter how I might perceive a student to be, there is a good chance they have some darker parts they are just waiting to share. Sometimes they just need someone to ask.

Finding Forrester
One of Sean Connery's last movies before he retired and he is magnificent. A young man gets into a fancy prep school on a basketball scholarship, but it turns out he is a great writer who butts heads with his tyrannical English teacher. Connery is reclusive writer who helps the student find his voice. There is more to students than we realize at times.

The Mighty
This is a story about two unlikely friends that have much to learn from one another. I stumbled upon this movie a few years ago and loved it. I will always stop and watch it.

Real Genius
Val Kilmer is very funny in this movie. He mentors a young kid who skips ahead to college. It's interesting to see what the pressure of being a "genius" can sometimes do to a person.

School Ties
This has an all-star cast dealing with bigotry during the 1950's. Even though it deals with anti-Semitism, the story truly applies to all types of discrimination students might face in schools.

Super 8
The reason this movie is on the list is because I feel it nailed the type of relationship young boys have at a particular age. JJ Abrams did an amazing job of writing exactly how young boys act when they are goofing around or when there is a girl in their midst. When dealing with boys in the classroom, this movie might help you make sense of their actions.

Stand by Me
This is another example of boys being boys, but also young kids being forced to deal with unfair expectations or labels based on their families. Whether it's not living up to your all-star brother or trying to escape the reputation of a criminal brother, fighting to be yourself is never easy.

What other movies would you add to this list? Please add to the comments section below.

Do you have an education-related list of 20 you'd like to submit? Please send to community AT edutopia. Be sure you have a profile on Edutopia.org with a photo and bio included.

Comments (136)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Marcia Nunes's picture
Marcia Nunes
Teaching English as a Second Language

Great movies I've seen and even used in the classroom:
- The Freedom Writers
- Temple Grandin
- The Ultimate Gift

Claire's picture

Two classic British "teacher" movies are To Sir, With Love and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Great actors in both leading roles! To Sir, With Love is pretty dated in some ways but I think it's a great reminder that helping your students to be successful can sometimes mean more than just helping them academically. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is somewhere between inspirational and cautionary--bring your students the thrill of learning, but also think about what power you can have over them. Well...and so much more! Thought provoking movies.

Deb's picture
Middle Grades ELA in Minneapolis

The film, The Mighty, is an adaptation of the YA novel, Freak the Mighty. The novel is a perennial favorite of my sixth graders. Two very different boys form a unique friendship.

Patti Krivosh's picture

The Ron Clark Story is very inspiring as well as Front of the Class which is a true story about a young man who wants to be a teacher but suffers from severe Torrette's Syndrome.

Maria Weir's picture
Maria Weir
9-12 Language Arts and Academic Support, PA Virtual Charter School in PA

And the international list above, by Carol Parker- Ditto! I would add Smoke Signals to it.

Michelle Yee's picture

The Wave, 2008, is riveting. Teaching by doing, a teacher creates an simulation of a dictatorship. The students are positive they cannot be led into such control, and feel the current Germany could not go for any dictator regardless of the past. The acting is perfect, and the story is fascinating.


Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

The Ascent of Man is awe-inspiring and shows you that history need not be dull.

Gettysburg brings the Civil War to life, a great view of the Great Rebellion.

I'm a scientist and am disappointed in the lack of good science movies. However, you can find many excellent books.

Claire's picture

Someone mentioned science movies--I remember watching "Race for the Double Helix" and "GATTACA" in biology. They caught the interest of even the more tuned-out students...and made genetics all the more lively.

Helen Andrews's picture
Helen Andrews
High School Business Education and Social Studies teacher

I showed this in the final unit of my world history class last year. We examined the poem and it's meaning, learned about South Africa, Nelson Mandella and apartheid, and watched an awesome movie about Rugby! I recommend reading the book first, it provides some invaluable background info. It took a couple of class periods, the movie is over 2 hrs long. But it resonated with my students and was a great positive note to end the year. In my school, other world history teachers show Hotel Rwanda at the end of the year, closing with a unit on genocide. Instead, I was inspired by one of my special ed students who struggled all year, and is a rugby player. I think it was meaningful for him. For that unit, he was the expert in the room!

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