The 10 Best Films About Teachers and Students, Ranked

The relationship between teacher and student is always unbalanced, making it ripe with dramatic potential—as these amazing movies show.

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For many who enter the teaching profession, they have one true goal in mind: to help and inspire young people breaking into the world.

But that optimism and enthusiasm can quickly melt away in the face of bureaucratic school administrations, the lack of respect from parents and society at large, and angsty teenage rebellion from students.

From zany substitutes to borderline alcoholics, here are our picks for the best movies about teachers and their students.

10. The Professor (2018)

Johnny Depp has had his fair share of eccentric roles. One of his lesser-known ones is as Richard Brown, a disillusioned English teacher whose cancer diagnosis reignites the flame of his life.

After finding out he has six months left to live, Richard embarks on a wild journey of self-destruction. He drinks all day, sparks up with his students, and says whatever is on his mind.

Living this newly uncensored and daring life ironically gives him more passion for life. And in ditching his usual style of monotonous teaching, his class shrinks in size but doubles in effect.

Richard’s ability to take risks and speak only cold hard truths inspires his students to get out there and live the life that he lost to the mundane—and, eventually, cancer.

9. Nativity! (2009)

A festive favorite for the whole family, Nativity! stars Martin Freeman as a grumpy primary school teacher in Coventry.

His short fuse is put to the test in two ways: first, he’s forced to organize the school’s nativity play, which went disastrously wrong last time; second, he has to endure his new teaching assistant, Mr. Poppy.

Mr. Poppy (played by Marc Wootton) is like a child within himself—an irritating but lovable man-sized child. After Mr. Poppy accidently tells the class that Hollywood is coming to film them, the whole city finds out.

And it’s up to Mr. Maddens (played by Martin Freeman) to turn this lie into reality. In reverse to the usual teacher-inspires-student trope, the optimism and innocence of his class inspires Mr. Maddens to examine and mend his broken heart.

8. Bad Teacher (2011)

Being boozy and foul-mouthed doesn’t necessarily make you a bad teacher. But in the case of Elizabeth, it does.

Played by Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth is a lazy chain-smoking gold-digger who plans to quit her job for a rich husband. When this plan falls through, she hones in on the cute and wealthy substitute Scott (played by Justin Timberlake), but faces competition from a preppy coworker.

Despite all her schemes, traps, and seductions, Elizabeth fails to find true happiness. In the end, it’s a heart-to-heart with one of her students that prompts Elizabeth to change her empty and destructive ways.

The success of Bad Teacher was followed up with a sitcom remake in 2014 starring Ari Graynor.

7. School of Rock (2003)

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Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black) never planned on becoming a teacher. In fact, he dreams of quite the opposite—being a boozy rock guitarist, stage-diving into crowds of fans.

A slacker who lives off his best friend’s waning generosity, Dewey accidently finds himself subbing at a fancy prep school. Hungover and underqualified, Dewey wiles the hours away in recess before having a miraculous idea: to turn the class into a band.

Sniffing out each student’s musical talents, the class enters the Battle of the Bands on one condition: that it remain a complete secret. This fun new project brings the kids closer than ever before.

School of Rock was an immediate hit, mostly thanks to Jack Black’s hilarious and unique style of comedy as the now-iconic substitute teacher Mr. Shn… Shnee… Shneb… let’s just stick to Dewey.

6. Another Round (2020)

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Another Round isn’t really about students, as they’re more background noise to the chaotic life of four disenchanted teachers in Copenhagen.

Run down by their boring lives—both at work and at home—the four friends decide to experiment: based on the Finn Skårderud theory that our bodies are 0.05% alcohol deficient, Martin (played by Mads Mikkelsen) and his colleagues decide to drink a small amount of booze every day.

Immediately, their lives become more impassioned, relaxed, and seemingly richer. Their lectures turn from mind-numbingly boring to utterly profound. However, there’s only so much alcohol one can drink on a regular basis before it turns into an addiction.

Another Round won the Oscar for Best International Feature and was praised by critics and viewers alike.

5. Half Nelson (2006)

Dan Dunne may be a hungover cocaine-addicted mess, but his students love him. Rejecting the standard curriculum, Dan acts as a friend to his Brooklyn history students, opting for discourse over discipline.

However, the line between his work and personal life begin to blur, and one of his students find him high and paranoid in a locker room. Ryan Gosling brilliantly embodies this role as the troubled-but-well-meaning teacher, and was highly praised for his humble performance.

Half Nelson rejects the sentimentality of drug culture, painting a brutally honest portrait of what it means to be lonely. For Dan, it’s the possibility that he could truly help or comfort his under-privileged students that keeps him fighting on.

4. Freedom Writers (2007)

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At the start of Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell has one goal in mind: to teach her students to the best of her abilities. Yet, over time, this ambition morphs into something much deeper.

Beyond the book reports and memory tests, Erin does everything she can to create a safe space for her at-risk students—a home or a refuge rather than simply a classroom.

But that, of course, isn’t easy. Most of the class is split between rival gangs as racial tensions bubble through 90s California. Teaching becomes far more than just an everyday job for Erin; her efforts to reform and befriend her students takes over her entire life.

Hilary Swank stars as the sheltered-but-determined real-life English teacher, who wrote the The Freedom Writers Diary in 1999 (which this film is based on).

3. To Sir, With Love (1967)

“You will show respect to me and each other at all times. You will address me as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr. Thackeray.'”

To Sir, With Love was a definitive movie of the 60s. The British drama dealt with tense social and racial issues of the time, commentating on how the image of black men was portrayed in the media. For once, the character wasn’t a criminal, gangster, or thief, but a respectable professor.

Sidney Poitier is Mark Thackeray, an immigrant from British Guyana who takes up teaching as a temp job. Like many films on this list, his class is made up of bullying rebels and troublemakers, but Mark refuses to let them break him.

2. Whiplash (2014)

Terence Fletcher (played by J. K. Simmons) may have granted young Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) a seat in his prestigious Shaffer Conservatory Studio Band in New York, but the journey is far from comfortable, glamorous, or inspiring.

Instead, Fletcher screams, manipulates, and abuses Andrew on his path of glory. Swapping out the blackboard for a drum kit, Fletcher is a brutal one-of-a-kind music teacher with complete disregard for emotional well-being. In fact, his methods are so extreme that Fletcher is fired.

Despite the strain of Andrew and Fletcher’s student-mentor relationship, Andrew continues to work under his wing, drumming ’til his hands literally bleed. This psychological thriller was originally a short film, later adapted into a feature film that won numerous Oscars.

1. Dead Poets Society (1989)

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“O, Captain! My Captain!” are the words of infamous poet Walt Whitman, popularized by American teen drama Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams was an inspiration within himself, so it’s no surprise he played such motivating roles with ease.

Think Patch Adams meets Good Will Hunting. Williams’ use of the Latin phrase carpe diem (“seize the day”) has become infamous in his role as an unconventional English professor.

Set in the late 50s, the Welton Academy is a boarding school of strict sophistication, so the boys are surprised to find professor John Keating (played by Robin Williams) ripping up textbooks and standing on tables.

His unorthodox methods revive the unsanctioned Dead Poets Society, which his students host in a cave after lights-out. A touching story that pays tribute to the arts, Dead Poets Society will have you reaching for the stars in no time.

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