Top 5 Movie Guide: Educational Dramas

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we turn to this weekend's "Won't Back Down" for inspiration and compose our lists on some of the other notable educational dramas. "Won't Back Down" tells the story of two mothers who will stop it nothing and go to any lengths fighting for reform in the inner city school in which their children attend. Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, the film, similarly to many of the titles featured below, is sure to be courageous and elicit a few tears.

For the sake of the list, and to keep this post as in-line with this newest film as possible, we decided to refine our selections only to movies which are pre-college. Kindergarten through high school though, all of those were fair game. It's not too surprising that this isn't the deepest category we've ever dug into, but even with seemingly less overall quality titles available, it's still a powerful one and one worthy of its own post.

As you'll see in most of the writers' personal descriptions, most took the list in their own specific ways, focusing on certain aspects of the educational process that seemed most important and/or relevant to them. But regardless of how they chose to define the selections, all of the titles featured after the break are quality dramatic works, featuring inspiring educators doing what they do best.

Alex Schopp -
There are a lot of films that you could classify as "school dramas", but I tried to focus more on the educator aspect. Most of these take place in a pretty traditional school, but even for the ones that don't, the educator-student relationship is still strong in all.

     1. Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)

This is just a beautiful film, and awesome to watch unfold over the course of an inspiring teacher's entire career. Richard Dreyfuss is phenomenal in this role. This one will tug at your heartstrings for sure.
     2. Dead Poets Society (1989)
There are aspects of this film that I don't much relate to, but it's still a powerful, inspiring and heartwarming film. Plus, Robin Williams provides a great performance as the unconventional educator (a style he'd revisit in 1997's "Good Will Hunting"), proving he has a great knack for this type of character, one so against his normal persona.
     3. Finding Forrester (2000)
This one doesn't take place much in the classroom, but it's still a teacher of sorts providing knowledge and guidance to a young teen. This is an enjoyable watch; director Gus Van Sant clearly has a knack for the misunderstood prodigy/protégé.
     4. Lean on Me (1989)
In one of Morgan Freeman's earliest movie roles, he commands the screen as a no-nonsense school administrator. Based off of a true story, this one is probably most akin to the film releasing this week, though in a much more rigid and raw approach.
     5. The Substitute (1996)
This movie is a little cheesy, but it's a pretty sweet storyline and Tom Berenger is awesome in this role. It's definitely worth a watch for the entertainment factor.

Ben Foutch -
I based this list on the plight of the teacher. Each one of these films represents different struggles they might face, and in some cases how they influence and inspire their students. If this was a more of a general "school" drama list with less restrictions, you could expect more 80's films. Maybe another time...

     1. Mr. Hollands's Opus (1995)

This is just an overall, highly enjoyable film. Anyone could like this one.
     2. Dangerous Minds (1995)
Yeah, its a bit cheesy, but it's a product of its generation. Very easy to watch.
     3. The Substitute (1996)
A mediocre film that is kept afloat by an intimidating performance by Tom Berenger. Guilty pleasure for sure.
     4. 187 (1997)
This movie is angry!
     5. Pay It Forward (2000)
This would probably score higher if it wasn't for the emotional manipulation.

Derek Clem -
I wanted this list to focus more on schools and their faculty and less on the students.

     1. Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)

A great walk through many decades through the eyes of an inspiring teacher.
     2. 187 (1997)
This is one of Samuel L. Jackson's greatest performances. A great character study where Jackson plays a high school teacher surrounded by gang tensions.
     3. Lean on Me (1989)
A fallen school picks itself up through one man's strong yet controversial vision.
     4. Doubt (2008)
It's obvious Meryl Streep's character was not one of the nuns from Sister Act. Man is she sneaky!
     5. Dangerous Minds (1995)
This movie has aged really poorly. Luckily Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise gave it enough oomph to make my list.

Andy Schopp -
I tried to think outside of the box a bit for my selections. Everyone knows the popular titles from this category, so I wanted to try and bring some new films to the table. Most of these selections probably aren't traditional, but all feature dramatic aspects of the educational/school experience in some way or another.

     1. The Breakfast Club (1985)

It's unavoidably good. I love this movie and everything it stands for.
     2. American Graffiti (1973)
Too man people haven't seen this classic. It's a classic for a reason and you will understand why as soon as you watch it.
     3. Carrie (1976)
I'm not sure this technically counts as a "drama", but it is certainly dramatic!
     4. Jack (1996)
Yes it's funny, but it's still a drama in its heart. It's sad but also full of life.
     5. Rocket Science (2007)
I like the characters in this a lot. It's not very well-known, so if you come across it, check it out!

Sp there we have it, folks. For a list that going in seemingly had limited variety, there were a surprising number of titles represented, and very few duplicates. Of course we were only met with four lists this week compared to the normal five (or even six), so that probably had a little something to do with it, but still, there proved much more diversity than expected. The clear favorite this week though was "Mr. Holland's Opus". The film earned votes on three of the four lists, and was the number one selection on each. This film, which chronicles a music teacher entire journey through life, is a great dramatic piece, and definitely worth a watch. It's guaranteed to choke you up, and the passion he has for music and his students is incredibly inspiring.

Outside of that film though, there were four other titles with two selections, but the only other films with multiple. "Lean on Me", "The Substitute", "187", and "Dangerous Minds" each appeared on two lists, and proved as minimal favorites over some of the other titles this week. With only four lists though, it was hard for much to really stand out. But regardless, there are still plenty of great titles provided, so keep the duplicates in mind first when further exploring this category, but be sure to give all of the above selections a chance.

As always, we hope that each of these selections helps you to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this category has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!