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25 Inspiring Movies About Teachers

All the world's a classroom--and all the teachers merely actors who played them in these unforgettable movies.
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Most people have “that one teacher” who left a lasting impression on them, but not everyone met their biggest and best influences in the classroom. Once in a while, we sit down to watch a movie and meet the most inspiring teachers we’ve ever witnessed in action.

Some of these portrayals will take you back to days spent with your favorite teacher. Others might introduce you to a new one. But I bet almost every educator-centric classic on this list will awaken the student within. Here are 25 of the most inspiring movies about teachers.

Dead Poets Society

Touchstone Pictures/Silver Screen Partners IV

Directed by Peter Weir, Dead Poets Society is the inspirational teacher movie that all others are compared to. John Keating (Robin Williams) is a prep-school English teacher who shakes things up and opens his students’ minds with his unconventional teaching methods and unbridled passion for literature.

The students mostly come from well-to-do families, but you know how it goes: mo money, mo problems. Keating ignites a fire within each of his students, teaching them how to break free of conformity, cope with the pressures they face, and “seize the day” like it’s the only one they’ve got.

Freedom Writers

Paramount Pictures

Based on a true story, this inspirational teacher is played by Hilary Swank. Well-produced and carried by all-around powerful performances, it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve ever seen. Erin Gruwell starts teaching literature at an inner-city L.A. school to a class of “at-risk” high school students. At first, she can’t get through to them, but when she does, the bond they cultivate proves life-changing for all involved.

Gruwell sees they need someone to believe in them, to push them, and to stick around. She becomes determined to bring out the best in her students, no matter how many other teachers tell her it’s not possible. After someone passes around a racist drawing, she learns only one student knows about the Holocaust. She pays for copies of The Diary of Anne Frank out of her own pocket and gives the students journals to write their own stories. Going from enemies to friends to family, her class blossoms into the Freedom Writers.

Coach Carter

MTV/Paramount Pictures

Directed by Thomas Carter, Coach Carter is a quality sports drama based on real-life events. The music is great, and the message is impactful. Samuel L. Jackson takes the titular role seriously, and so will you.

Per the Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus, “Even though it’s based on a true story, Coach Carter is pretty formulaic stuff, but it’s effective and energetic, thanks to a strong central performance from Samuel L. Jackson.”

Pay It Forward

Bel Air Entertainment/Tapestry Film/Warner Bros./Pathe

In Pay It Forward, the most inspiring character is the student who starts a movement of kindness. Played by child star Haley Joel Osment, it’s one of his most heart-wrenching performances. Not all critics were in love with this film, but I disagree.

Sure, this movie about human decency is not perfect by any means. But it still sends an important and hopeful message about the profound impact a teacher–and sometimes just one assignment–can have on someone in their formative years.

Precious

Tyler Perry Studios/Harpo Productions/Smokewood Entertainment Group/Lee Daniels Entertainment

Teachers have the power to transform lives for the better, and forever. That’s the driving force of Lee Daniels’ award-winning inner-city drama. Gabourey Sidibe stars as Claireece “Precious” Jones, a 16-year-old unable to read or write, impregnated by her father, and dealing with daily emotional abuse from her mother (Mo’Nique). She’s also brimming with potential, but most days look perpetually grim.

After being transferred to an alternative school, Precious strikes up a relationship with a smart, sympathetic, and self-sacrificing teacher named Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). Gradually, she helps this teen deemed a “lost cause” find her inner strength and newfound hope.

Lean On Me

Warner Bros. Pictures

Of all the redemptive movies about hard-knock students and tough-love educators, Lean On Me is first in its class. Morgan Freeman stars as Joe Clark, a retired teacher who agrees to sign on as the principal at New Jersey’s worst school.

Before he can turn F’s to A’s, there are some more serious issues to deal with, and he wastes no time turning things around. What sets this one apart is that the movie doesn’t go overboard making the teacher likable. He commands respect, pulls no punches, and gets lasting results. And that’s worth rooting for.

Mr. Holland’s Opus

Interscope/Hollywood Pictures/PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Craving a tear-jerker that leaves a lifelong lump in your throat? Look no further. This drama is about a devoted music teacher (Richard Dreyfuss) who learns as much from his students as they do from him over his 30+years on the job.

Mr. Holland’s Opus masterfully shows how a really good teacher doesn’t give up doesn’t just impact a class, but sometimes an entire community. And again, don’t forget those tissues. As Rotten Tomatoes puts it, this one “plucks the heartstrings without shame — and with undeniable skill.”

To Sir, With Love

Columbia Pictures

Sidney Poitier stars as an out-of-work college grad who takes a teaching job to make ends meet. Learning about himself in the process, Thackeray transforms into an idealistic teacher who starts getting through to a group of students from London’s East End.

While a bit dated in some ways, Poitier carries the heavy-hitting plot in a way only he can do. The year To Sir, With Love was released, Poitier was also the star of In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In 1967, he was one of the silver screen’s most magnetic stars, making Poitier the perfect actor to portray the kind of teacher who is calm, captivating, and can make a real difference.

Akeelah and the Bee

Lionsgate/2929 Entertainment/Cinema Gypsy Productions/Spelling Bee Productions

In this heart-tugging indie movie about underdogs who break the mold, an 11-year-old girl from South Central L.A. feels out of place, no matter where she is. But she has an incredible gift that just needs cultivating, and it soon helps her believe in herself.

Thanks to the push of her mentor (Laurence Fishburne), she makes it to the annual National Spelling Bee. No matter who says she cannot pull it off, Akeelah vividly has what it takes. Having the right kind of encouragement takes her a very long way, and the whole journey is I-N-S-P-I-R-I-N-G.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

MGM/Denham Film Studios

Peter O’Toole received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a tightly wound and shy Latin teacher whose life changes when he learns the language of love.

In this musical drama, Mr. Chips falls in love with a London showgirl. This former stickler for the rules learns to open up and show his tender side. With a restored sense of hope and vigor, he goes from grumpiest guy on campus to class favorite.

Good Will Hunting

Miramax/ A Band Apart/Lawrence Bender Productions/Be Gentlemen Limited Partnership

When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting, they couldn’t have possibly known the level of critical claim it would go on to receive for years to come. But they clearly knew what an inspiring teacher looked like.

Robin Williams plays the therapist to reluctant, troubled boy-genius Will Hunting. After some legal trouble, his smarts help him get an unusual deal where he’s forced into therapy and math lessons. Williams’ character not only helps him harness his gifts and deal with his pain, but he also helps Will Hunting grow up and live up to his potential.

The Great Debaters

Harpo Productions/The Weinstein Company

Based on the true story of a professor at Wiley College Texas, this old-fashioned, feel-good flick tells the tale of Melvin B. Tolson and the students he inspired to form the first ever debate team for their school in 1935.

Despite the odds, Melvin’s team of underdogs goes on to challenge Harvard in the national championship. Directed by (and starring) Denzel Washington, it’s touching, terrifically acted, and powerful where it needs to be.

The Karate Kid (2010)

Columbia Pictures

This might not be your typical teacher movie, but as we all know, teaching is not just something that happens in the classroom. Teachers come in many forms. And Mr. Han is undoubtedly a teacher.

While his pupil learns karate rather than arithmetic, the deeper lessons are applicable to all things. He teaches the new “karate kid” (Jaden Smith) discipline and obedience, and how everything is connected. While wise, Mr. Han isn’t perfect. Because learning is never done, their teacher-student relationship proves mutually beneficial.

Sister Act 2

Touchstone Pictures

Sister Act 2 may be doomed to forever live in the shadow of the original Sister Act, but the inspirational teacher story saves it from failing. Well, that, and a young Lauryn Hill stealing the show like the beautiful songbird that she is.

Per her nun friends’ request, Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) has to drop her Vegas act and teach music to troubled teens at a school on the verge of being closed. However, her job quickly goes from keeping the doors open to keeping the faith of her students alive.

October Sky

Universal Pictures

Sometimes, all it takes is one person believing in a kid’s dreams when no one else does. That’s the premise of October Sky. Based on real events, a young Jake Gyllenhaal plays an outcast teen with a raw passion and vision for rocket launching.

The only problem is that he’s from a 1950s coal-mining town where nobody dares to break with convention. Thanks to the support of one special teacher, he carves out a new path for himself, making it to the state science fair, college, and ultimately, NASA.

Stand And Deliver

Warner Bros. Pictures

If you think a movie about the AP Calc exam couldn’t be inspiring, you wouldn’t be the only one. But you’d be wrong! Based on a true story, Edward James Olmos teaches calculus at an East Los Angeles high school and winds up saving way more than his students’ GPAs.

Per Rotten Tomatoes, “Stand and Deliver pulls off the unlikely feat of making math class the stuff of underdog drama — and pays rousing tribute to a real-life inspirational figure in the bargain.”

School of Rock

Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions

Cathartic, heartwarming, and consistently funny, School of Rock is one lesson you don’t want to miss. Jack Black stars a failed musician who signs on as a substitute elementary music teacher. He’s also pretending to be his roommate, who actually landed the gig.

Inevitably, he realizes maybe this is what he was really meant to do and brings the wisdom of his experience to the classroom. He helps his students find confidence and does it entirely his way, no matter what the school board says.

The Kindergarten Teacher

Pie Films/Maven Screen Media

Spotting extraordinary promise in her five-year-old student, one teacher (Maggie Gyllenhal) goes above and beyond to protect and harness his natural gifts. Sometimes we root for her and sometimes we wonder what’s going through her head, but The Kindergarten Teacher will get you thinking.

One top critic wrote, “Throughout, I was mesmerized by the ambiguity that this smart, sharp film maintains, entranced by the deceptive simplicity of its complexities, unsettled by questions that are left deliberately unanswered.”

Music of the Heart

Miramax/Craven-Maddalena Films

Believe it or not, Music of the Heart was directed by horror maestro Wes Craven. Meryl Streep stars in this underrated classic about a New York City woman doing her darndest to teach underprivileged students in Harlem to play the violin.

In this timeless tale of how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things, you’ll be reminded of what it means to be motivated. Frankly, if you don’t walk away feeling inspired, I’m not sure you were paying attention.

Detachment

Paper Street Films

In this gripping drama, we’re given an up-close look at the school system through the eyes and stories of its unsung heroes. Most critics agree that Adrian Brody gives a world-class performance.

“It’s a film so well-paced with a message so relevant that it deserves an audience bigger than what it got and it deserves more of an emotional impact than will resonant throughout,” per HeyUGuys.

Remember The Titans

Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Technical Black

For many, coaches can be as influential as the most memorable teachers. And who better to play another “true teacher” than Denzel Washington? Remember The Titans is a well-rounded, feel-good full package.

Based on real events, this heartwarming and uplifting film is about a man who replaces a popular coach in Alexandria, Virginia, and he’s got his work cut out for him. Former racially segregated players learn to become more than just football champions as they become a real team.

Half Nelson

Casper Østergård/Journeyman Pictures

Subtly brilliant, this cult classic indie follows a teacher with a drug problem and a 13-year-old student with a troubled home life who form an unlikely friendship.

It’s unusually unsentimental for an inspirational teacher movie, but Half Nelson feels true to life. These are real people with real problems who learn from each other.

Dangerous Minds

Hollywood Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in Dangerous Minds is a solid example of why she makes the big bucks. Here’s how the story goes: Former Marine Louanne Johnson takes a job teaching in a notorious school full of underachieving teenagers in a pilot program. It goes anything but well at first.

Seemingly soft and unprepared, the kids don’t take her seriously. But then she applies what she learned in the Marines, commanding the room with her no-nonsense attitude. Throwing the dusty syllabus out the window, Louanne starts connecting with them in more honest ways. And the soundtrack still gets an A+.

Chalk

Gravitas Ventures

This mockumentary is sorely underrated. Many real-life teachers have applauded Chalk, deeming it an honest ode to “a day in the life” of a hardworking, “never thanked,” underpaid educator.

As the Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus says, “Chalk approaches its potentially rich subject matter with a light touch, but still emerges with a humorous, heartfelt tribute to a noble profession.”

Matilda

Matilda might have been everyone’s favorite child prodigy in the 90s, but her favorite teacher was just as crucial to her survival and success in this Roald Dahl adaptation.

When Matilda feels she can’t trust the adults in her life, only one teacher has her pupil’s best interest at heart. Through being able to count on miss Miss Honey, the powerful nine-year-old learns to trust herself and open her heart.