George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Edutopia List: Best School Movies

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

February 8, 2005

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.

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