Edutopia List: Best School Movies

Whether you're a school teacher, student, or neither, here are some must-see flicks.

Whether you're a school teacher, student, or neither, here are some must-see flicks.

Is it still an escape if the rental you're watching reminds you of what you do all day? We think so, since you can happily while away a long winter's night watching these staff favorites.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) There are several filmed versions of this story, but the first is the best. Robert Donat is top drawer as Charles Chipping, looking back on a long career at an English boarding school. Get out your hankies.

Blackboard Jungle (1955) Glenn Ford, as "Teach," takes on Vic Morrow, Sidney Poitier, and other young toughs in the '50s template for dozens of no-wild-child-left-behind films.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) The definitive statement on '80s West Coast education. Sean Penn as a stoner in long blond locks steals the movie.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) A triumph of truancy. Not much in-school action -- after all, it's about ditching -- but the classroom scene where Ben Stein drones on to his stultified students is a fine how-not-to primer.

Stand and Deliver (1988) Edward James Olmos, sporting a really bad comb-over, earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Jaime Escalante in this true tale of kids transformed by good teaching.

Dead Poets Society (1989) A restrained Robin Williams proffers rhyme and resistance to privileged but prosaic private school boys. Carpe DVD.

Hoop Dreams (1994) The gritty, realistic, and inspiring documentary about William Gates and Arthur Agee, inner-city Chicago kids who yearn for basketball scholarships and get a chance to attend a suburban school with a famous coach. Not to be missed, even if you've never had a hoop dream yourself.

Mr. Holland's Opus (1995) Music education goes tone deaf from budget cuts, so Richard Dreyfuss teaches students to play his own composition. Yet another spin on teacher as saint, but at least it's the concert version.

Election (1999) This might be called Ferris Bueller Grows Up. Not. Now in the role of high school career counselor, Matthew Broderick sabotages a campaign for student council president by Reese Witherspoon (hatefully perfect as Tracy Flick).

School of Rock (2003) Jack Black, as out-of-work musician-substitute teacher Dewey Finn, pulls a Mr. Holland with back beat and amplifiers. Pay attention, kids: this guitar riff will be on the final.

Owen Edwards is a contributing editor for Edutopia and Smithsonian magazines.

What's your favorite school movie?

This article originally published on 2/8/2005

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Comments (48)

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I agree with the poster who

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I agree with the poster who suggested To Sir With Love. Honestly, the movie confirmed my desire to become a teachers, and years later when I watched it again, I knew it still spoke to me about what is most important in education.

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I too was inspired by To Sir With Love--and have watched it again and again through the years. Wow. It drew me to teaching and is as relevant to me today (after more than 38 years in the classroom and working with teachers) as it was when I first saw it.

Instructional Facilitator NE Regional Office

Great choices so far, but do

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Great choices so far, but do not forget Dangerous Minds based on the book My Posse Don't Do Homework.

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I still love Dangerous Minds! But I can't wait to see some of those recommended above!

Up the Down Staircase!

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Up the Down Staircase!

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Up the down Staircase!

Teachers

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I get a huge chuckle how the best teacher, played by Richard Mulligan, in the movie is the one that is "mentally imbalanced". How telling that you need to be a little (or a lot) crazy to be in this profession.

Teachers

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The fact that the best teacher, played by Richard Mulligan, is the one who is from the looney bin never ceases to make me laugh. How fitting that you do indeed need to be a little (or a lot) nuts to be in this profession.

Most of these movies are terrible!

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Most of these are TERRIBLE movies to show students! Why would a teacher show Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Drugs and sex? And Election--a teacher has nightmares about having sex with his overachieving student and has a hotel-room affair with his neighbor until his wife finds out? Who came up with this list?

This list is questionable

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Movies to be shown in classrooms should have some qualities....many of these movies are just trashy

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