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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia List: Best School Movies

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

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?

Comments (49)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Dawn Pellerin's picture

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

Dan Cohen's picture

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.

Dan Cohen's picture

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.

Terry J. NeSmith's picture
Terry J. NeSmith
Instructional Facilitator NE Regional Office

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

Mary Redman's picture

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.

Mary Redman's picture

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.

Nancy Scofield's picture
Nancy Scofield
high school and college English, Colorado

How did Freedom Writers NOT make this list? It's one of the most inspiring education stories ever. The best part is, the story is true. The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell are real people, with a real foundation, working to help real teachers. Last September my junior and senior students had the awesome privilege of a one-hour video chat with one of the original Freedom Writers -- definitely the coolest moment in my teaching career.

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