Top 10 Films All Schools Should Show

There are some films that should be shown as part of the national curriculum. I’ve always thought that. Seeing a life changing, mind altering film can have a greater effect on your learning and development than any text book, lesson or exam. The great thing is that not all such films have to be based on real people or historical events. In fact some of the best teachings on life come from the things that are complete fiction (hooray for writers!). So here’s my list of the 10 films all schools should show to the youth ASAP! Let cinema turn children into better people.

Oh and cool fact: There are 2 films with the number 12 in the title and two films featuring an X. Not sure what that means but hooray for the co-inkydink!

10. It’s A Wonderful Life


School is a place where it’s easy to feel like nothing matters, including yourself. With naivety and raging hormones can come feelings of isolation and loneliness; that you don’t matter to anyone. But It’s A Wonderful Life is the film to show that almost every decision you make counts. It shows you that you literally change lives all the time, in ways you could never imagine. And though we can’t all have the benefit of a guardian angel to show us just how important we are, the take home message is one of a new purpose and self-fulfilment. It’s also perfect to show in December – two birds with one stone!!!

9. The Breakfast Club


High schoolers suffer from a syndrome called “you don’t get it”. They always think they’re the first to have the problems they have. They put it down to the modern age being “different to how it used to be”….”the old days”. But a film like The Breakfast Club not only shows them that teenage problems have been the same forever, but that dealing with them means facing them head on, even if that means confiding in the most unlikely of people. The brilliance of John Hughes’ screenplay is that it shows us even the most outwardly confident people have demons, and that opening up to each other isn’t such a bad thing.

 8. 12 Angry Men


In life we are all guilty of judging people too quickly, based on either minimal information or worse just on how they look. This masterpiece of cinema teaches us that we should take the time with people; go deeper than the surface and really think before making a damning decision about someone. It also recognises that our reasons for making swift judgements in life often come from our own fears and prejudices. We need to learn to address the worst in ourselves before handing out any such decisions.

7. Milk


Acceptance is something that people struggle with their entire lives. Some people are just destined to struggle with allowing the diversity of modern society to prevail. That’s why historically we have had to rely on pioneers to change popular thinking. Harvey Milk was one such trailblazer. His seemingly unlikely rise to political prominence saw a true shift in the way the world treated gay men and women. This film turns that story into something both accessible and educational in a way that is brilliantly cinematic. As befits any film about social change, the turn by Sean Penn as Harvey Milk is a world beater, and would teach more to a class of young adults about love and acceptance than text books ever could.

6. 12 Years A Slave


To me, Steve McQueen’s award winning masterwork is more of a documentary than a film. It feels so heart wrenchingly real that it would definitely not look out of place as part of a High School curriculum. My only worry would be that it is too much for a young audience to take. Of course that’s probably the reason it would work all the better; cutting through the desensitised minds of today’s teens to grab them and shake them to attention in learning the horrors of such sadly recent history.

5. Mrs Doubtfire


So far I’ve only really covered films that would play to a mid-late high school audience. But what about younger students. Mrs Doubtfire may seem like an odd choice but to me it is still the very best film about the effects of divorce on children. Yes it is largely comedic, but that makes the pangs of true drama all the more visceral. It lets us see the difficulties of parental separation from both sides in a way that is even handed with regard to who is in the right, whilst also capturing that ‘forced fun’ element of two competing parents vying for their childrens’ love. And with the final scene of the film, Robin Williams (as Mrs Doubtfire) delivers a speech that completely sums up the fears of children and the undying love of a parent, despite how unfortunate their situation may end up.

4. Stand By Me


Another one for a younger audience, although also perfect for anybody. This film is all about the small moments in friendships that turn out to form who we are as adults. It takes a fairly basic premise and makes it a meditation on life that explains the unending importance of friends. It shows who our best friends are; the ones we can trust, who are loyal and would stand up for us no matter what. And it tells us that those things matter the most for the rest of our lives. When you look back on your life, it’ll be the people who cared about you that you remember. So it’s always best to be that person yourself.

3. American History X


Prejudice is the thing most school kids fear. Everyone at school is made to feel ‘different’ and therefore bad at some point. This leads to a microcosmic segregation system that exists within the walls of every learning institution in the country. With this in mind teenagers need to see American History X. No film better displays the horror of unnecessary violence more aptly than this; that entire gangland infrastructures exist purely to fight someone that has different coloured skin than them. It shows that in these situations people will always make up reasons to fuel their hatred and treat them as the gospel truth. It also shows that a life of hate only leads to a wasted life. Yes it is disturbing, but the truth often is.

2. Malcolm X


This is the best example of what it means to stand up for something you believe in. Denzel Washington’s performance of the titular civil rights activist captures the gut wrenching horror of persecution on all sides when you speak out for a cause. It also brings history to life in a way that no text book could come close to. This is such recent history, and yet it is something most people know too little about. It is such a great double lesson for any school student as it not only incites passion and motivation for change, but also describes the lengths you must go to if you truly believe something.

1. Schindler’s List


I’ve written about the educational quality of this film before and I stand by it now. This is a film that goes beyond cinema. It is something that should be prescribed viewing for every human being on the planet. It depicts the true evil that man is capable of; the dark places people are prepared to go when driven by fear and oppression. But crucially it shows the importance of hope, and that you must always do what is right, even in the face of insurmountable odds. The fact that this is wrapped in a true story is mind boggling. It is testament to the horror of the Nazi regime that to this day I cannot look at the “Arbeit Macht Frei” prison gates without welling up with tears of anger. This film captures all sides of the story in a way that creates an understanding of its impact and an emotional wallop you won’t soon forget.

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

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