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Whether you are looking for a movie to support a lesson you’ve been teaching or a book your class has read, or if you would like to offer a reward for hard work well done, these movies offer education, inspiration, entertainment, and sometimes, even a warning. Most of these films are appropriate for high school and college-aged students, but some are even great for the younger set. Be sure to preview them yourself if you have concerns about content.
History and Social Studies
There is plenty of inspiration to be found in these stories, some fictional and some true, that depict historical events or people.
- Schindler’s List. This story tells the heroic effort made by a businessman in Nazi Germany to save thousands of Jews from death.
- Gandhi. This biography tells the story of the famed leader of India, from his beginnings as a lawyer to his eventual embracing of non-violent protest to his assassination.
- The Duellists. Based on a story written by Joseph Conrad, The Duellists explores fencing as a means to induce justice and honor.
- The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck‘s classic novel about life during the Great Depression is brought to life in this film, which has also reached classic status.
- Philadelphia. A lawyer fired from his firm because he has AIDS fights for his rights in this film.
- Mississippi Burning. Two FBI agents arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of civil rights activists and each uses their own approach to uncover the atrocities occurring.
- The Color Purple. Based on Alice Walker’s book, this film details the life and struggles of an African-American woman in early 1900s America.
- Hotel Rwanda. This film tells the story of real hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who saved thousands of refugees fleeing the dangerous militia that had taken over Rwanda.
- The Fog of War. Former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara shares lessons he learned about modern warfare.
These stories of survival serve as an inspiration to any viewer and work well with almost any lesson plan.
- Into the Wild. A free-spirited young man heads off into the Alaska wilderness to try his hand at survival with devastating results.
- Alive. This movie tells the true story of a rugby team from Uruguay that must survive in the Andes mountains after a plane crash.
- Touching the Void. This true story follows two climbers as they scale Siula Grande in Peru, the disaster that occurs, and how the two survive.
- Swiss Family Robinson. Based on the novel by Johann David Wyss, this film tells of a Swiss family deserted on an island and their journey to learn to survive.
- Cast Away. A white-collar executive must learn to survive when he finds himself alone on a deserted island after a plane crash.
- The Blue Lagoon. Two children are shipwrecked on an island and grow up together. Be aware this film does contain nudity.
Health and Environment
Show your students these films to inspire them to learn about responsible care for their bodies and the environment.
- Super Size Me. See what happens when one man lives on only McDonald’s food for 30 days. You may be shocked to learn what a fast food diet does to your body.
- Erin Brockovich. Based on a true story, this film is about an ordinary woman who takes up a cause when she learns about dangerous pollution in the water.
- WALL-E. This touching animated film envisions a future that could be where modern culture takes itself without restraint.
- Earth Days. This documentary takes a look at the modern environmental movement through nine individuals who helped bring the issue into the public eye starting as far back as the 1950s.
- Food, Inc. The corporate culture that has taken over the food industry has created something far from healthy. This documentary has gotten lots of press recently.
- The Future of Food. Take a look at what is really in the food found on grocery store shelves in this eye-opening film.
- Be the Change. This documentary looks at people who have made the choice to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
- Hoot. A young man starts a fight to protect the owls whose habitat is threatened in his newfound home in Florida.
- Shooting Vegetarians. A young vegetarian is forced to go into his father’s business as a butcher and finds a strange way to exact his revenge for it in this quirky movie.
- Up. This animated film deals with issues of urban sprawl, ecology, and responsible stewardship in the midst of a touching story about unexpected friendships.
- The Cove. This documentary takes a look at both the massive slaughter of dolphins that occurs annually in a small Japanese fishing village and the dangerous health impact of mercury poisoning.
- Silkwood. Based on a true story, this movie recounts the story of Karen Silkwood, an employee at a nuclear processing plant who blew the whistle on worker safety issues going unchecked at the plant.
- Gorillas in the Mist. Another film based on a true story, this one focuses on the work of Dian Fossey as she lived with and studied the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. After fighting against the illegal poaching of the gorillas, she was mysteriously murdered.
Bringing literature to life through film is an excellent way to inspire students to appreciate what they are reading.
- Romeo + Juliet. This popular film retells the Shakespeare classic and is a great way to bring the drama to life.
- Master Harold and the Boys. This drama written by South African Athol Fugard tells a semi-autobiographical story of a teenage boy and his relationship with a black man in the era of apartheid. A new version of this movie is set to be released this year.
- Fahrenheit 451. A firefighter meant to burn all books begins reading a few of them and his eyes are opened to a new perspective.
- Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte’s novel comes to life in this film version.
- Macbeth. Like Romeo + Juliet, this film offers a modern version of the Shakespearean classic.
- A Streetcar Named Desire. This adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play is an excellent version to show your class.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A popular choice in college-level English classes, this movie is not only filled with classic British humor, but also provides examples of the idea of the literary quest, allusions to the legend of King Arthur, and more.
- Dead Poets Society. This film provides a great chance to study the poetry mentioned within as well as show an inspirational film to your students.
- Freedom Writers. A high school teacher inspires her students to reach beyond their tough lives through writing.
If your music class could use a burst of song and inspiration, try these movies.
- The Sound of Music. This famous and much-loved film about the Von Trapp family is a must-see.
- Woodstock. As much about history as it is music, this film chronicles the famous 1969 festival.
- Almost Famous. Following a rising rock band, a young man in high school writes a story for Rolling Stone Magazine on the band.
- West Side Story. The Jets and the Sharks are gangs at odds, but when a member of the Jets falls for the sister of the leader of the Sharks, the story really takes off.
- The Phantom of the Opera. Share this beloved story of a disfigured musician who lives hidden in the Paris opera house and his desire for a young woman.
Science and Technology
From a view of insects in their natural environments to a look at the beginnings to two major computer companies to fictional accounts of science and technology in action, these movies have it all.
- Microcosmos. This French film shows close-ups of insect life in their natural habitats.
- Manhattan Project. When a high school science project becomes larger than expected, chaos ensues.
- Pirates of Silicon Valley. This film provides a biographical peek into the early days of Microsoft and Apple and their founders.
- Project X. When a new recruit to the military is assigned to look after the chimpanzees in Project X, the military gets more than they bargained for.
- TRON. A hacker trying to prove that several computer programs were stolen gets transported into a computer, where he fights evil forces in an effort to replace them with a system security program.
- Antitrust. A computer whiz becomes unintentionally embroiled in a dangerous company.
- WarGames. When a young man accidentally hacks into the US government’s computer system, where he is invited to play a game that is actually initiating World War 3.
- Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs are brought back to life with dangerous consequences.
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