Teachers have a hard and often under-appreciated job educating, mentoring, cheerleading, encouraging and providing for their students, often without much acknowledgement. But Hollywood has long taken notice and celebrated some of these everyday heroes in some pretty fantastic films. In honor of the 30th anniversary of "Stand and Deliver," which hit theaters on March 11, 1988, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the best teacher movies starting with the 1988 classic itself. "Stand and Deliver" stars iconic actor Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante — a real-life high school math teacher who invested in his students and gave them the skills to succeed at AP calculus. "Stand and Deliver" is considered one of the best films of all time and was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 2011. Edward also was nominated for an Academy Award for his gripping performance. Keep reading to see what other films about teachers made the list…
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"Dead Poets Society" is truly the definition of an amazing teacher movie. The film tells the story of an English teacher — played by the late, great Robin Williams — who used poetry to inspire his students at a fictional Vermont private school. The 1989 film was an instant success, earning critical acclaim and grossing $235.9 million on a $16 million budget. "Dead Poets Society" was also nominated for four Academy Awards. It won the Oscar for best original screenplay.
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"The Great Debaters" is an impactful movie that deals not only with the difficulties of teaching, but also with the hardships of racism in the 1930s. The 2007 film tells the story of real-life debate coach Melvin B. Tolson and his battle to place the debate team at historically black Wiley College on equal footing with white teams in the South. The movie was directed by its star, Denzel Washington, and received critical acclaim upon its release, earning a best picture Golden Globe nomination.
Robin Williams makes another appearance on our list thanks to his phenomenal film "Good Will Hunting." The 1997 drama was written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck when they were unknown, struggling actors and catapulted them onto the A-list. "Good Will Hunting" tells the story Will Hunting, a young Boston laborer who is also an unrecognized mathematical genius. Matt stars as Will, who becomes the client of a teacher and therapist played by Robin. The movie went on to earn nine Academy Award nominations and win Oscars for best original screenplay (for Matt and Ben) and best supporting actor (for Robin).
"Half Nelson" takes the typical teacher story and flips it on its head. The 2006 movie tells the story of a middle school teacher, played by Ryan Gosling, who develops a friendship with a student after she discovers that he uses drugs. The surprising film earned critical acclaim and was a money-maker too, grossing $4.9 million on a $700K budget! Ryan was so extraordinary in the movie that he was nominated for a best actor Oscar!
If anyone can portray a strong but loving principal on-screen, it's Morgan Freeman. The actor starred as real-life New Jersey high school principal Joe Louis Clark in the 1989 film "Lean On Me." The movie tells the story of Joe's struggle to improve students' test scores in an inner-city school where crime and drugs have overtaken education. "Lean on Me" was praised by critics and audiences alike when it was released and earned more than $31 million at the box office.
"Mona Lisa Smile" is a perfect melting pot of feminism, history, drama and teacher appreciation. The 2003 film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Ann Watson, a 1950s art history professor at Wellesley College who challenges her students to think beyond traditional roles for women. The movie faced some criticism from reviewers but was well-received by audiences, earning over $141 million worldwide.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern star in one of the most heart-wrenching and hopeful teacher movies ever released, "October Sky." The 1999 film is about the real-life Homer H. Hickam Jr., a young man (played by Jake) who, inspired by the Soviets' 1957 Sputnik launch, decides to pursue rocketry against his father's wishes. Homer achieves his dream with the help of his teacher, Freida J. Riley (played by Laura). Critics loved the film, which has a 90 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie was also a hit at the box office, grossing $34.7 million.
"Remember the Titans" is not about a teacher per se, but does the tell the story of a high school football coach who was just as influential. The 2000 film stars Denzel Washington as real-life coach Herman Boone, who integrated T. C. Williams High School's football team in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. The movie was an instant success, grossing $136 million on a $30 million budget as it earned accolades from critics and audiences. Nearly 20 years after its release, "Remember the Titans" is considered one of the best films about teaching of all time.
Who says all great teaching movies have to be dramas? "The School of Rock" is a musical comedy that is just as impactful and entertaining as many of the other movies that made our list. The 2003 flick stars Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a musician who is kicked out of his band and subsequently disguises himself as a substitute teacher at a prep school. The super-fun film was a big success, grossing $131 million worldwide on a $35 million budget and serving as the inspiration for Broadway and TV adaptations. "School of Rock" was so successful that it was the highest grossing musical comedy of all time until it was overtaken by "Pitch Perfect 2" in 2015.
"Mr. Holland's Opus" is a powerful film that tells the story of a high school teacher who works to educate his students about the importance of music. The 1995 film, which stars Academy Award-winner Richard Dreyfuss as the titular teacher, Glen Holland, was critically acclaimed and grossed more than $106 million. "Mr. Holland's Opus" went on to earn two Golden Globe nominations and one Academy Award nomination.
"The Miracle Worker," released in 1962, truly shows how influential, miraculous and loving teachers can be. The film tells the story of Anne Sullivan, deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller's real-life teacher, and is based on Helen's autobiography. The movie was an instant classic that received widespread praise from fans and critics. "The Miracle Worker" was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best director for Arthur Penn, and won two: best actress for Anne Bancroft (who played Anne) and best supporting actress for Patty Duke (who played Helen).
"Dangerous Minds" is another teacher film that celebrates educators who persevere. The 1995 drama is based on the autobiography of retired U.S. Marine and former teacher LouAnne Johnson. LouAnne uses unconventional but effective ways to reach her students in an inner-city California high school. "Dangerous Minds" did not receive the best response from critics, but audiences (including us!) loved it. The film grossed more than $179 million, leading to a TV series, and its soundtrack featuring Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" went three-times platinum and topped the Billboard 200 chart.
Who knew James Bond was also a teacher? "Finding Forrester" is not a teaching movie in the traditional sense, but it does show how education can occur outside of the classroom. The 2000 movie stars Sean Connery as a reclusive writer who befriends a student at a prestigious high school and teaches him how to refine his writing and discover his identity. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $80 million and earning rave reviews from critics.
Another 1960s flick on our list is "To Sir, With Love." The British drama stars iconic actor Sidney Poitier and tells the story of the racial and social issues plaguing a school in inner-city London. The movie was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $42 million on a $625K budget. In addition to being a hit in theaters, "To Sir, With Love" also produced a hit title song that reached No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts in 1967 and became Billboard's No. 1 pop single for that year.