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Holiday Goodie Rerun II: 10 movies every social studies teacher should see

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much, and enjoying the occasional nap.

Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read some of the top posts of 2014. I may decide to jump in with something current but if I don’t, enjoy this Holiday Goodie rerun.


Okay, I lied.

I started off with the idea that I could create a short little list of my ten favorite social studies related movies. But I was wrong. As I started thinking about great history movies and talking with others, the list grew quickly. And I couldn’t narrow it down to just ten. Then it got worse. This month’s Social Education journal showed up in my mailbox with their movie list.


Things have changed. I created a list of my ten favorite history movies, a list of other history movies, and another list of great feel-good teacher movies. The criteria for inclusion on the list is pretty simple – if the movie appears while channel surfing, it takes control of the remote and must be watched through the credits.


My favorites in no particular order:

  • Band of Brothers
    Yes, technically a mini-series. But I love the story of Dick Winters and the others who were a part of Easy Company.
  • Glory
    Robert Gould Shaw leads the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices of both his own Union army and the Confederates.
  • Gettysburg
    Based on the book The Killer Angels, this is a long movie but it does a good job of depicting weapons, tactics, and beliefs during the Civil War.
  • Schindler’s List
    Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. A testament for the good in all of us.
  • The Help
    Unlikely friendships, empowerment, and the 1960s segregated South. What else do you need for a great story?
  • All the President’s Men
    Not as detailed as the book but easier to follow, this is basically a documentary about the Bill of Rights.
  • 1776
    Yes. It’s a musical. But a funny, fairly historically accurate musical.
  • The Mission
    Perhaps the best I’ve ever seen for depicting European colonization and expansion.
  • Hotel Rwanda
    Danger. Bravery. Evil. Courage. This story of genocide exposes both the good and bad in people.
  • Gandhi
    An awesome story depicting human courage fighting for human rights against the machine of British colonialism.

Other great history movies

  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • Dances with Wolves
  • Mississippi Burning
  • The Boy in Striped Pajamas
  • Gladiator
  • Braveheart
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • To Kill A Mocking Bird
  • Memphis Belle
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Amistad

Feel-Good Teacher Movies

  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    As social studies teachers, this is about the best non-example I can think of. Plus, well . . . it’s hilarious.
  • The Freedom Writers
    Teaching tolerance and grading tons of papers is not easy.
  • Dead Poet’s Society
    Captain, my captain. Emotional connections to content make all the difference.
  • October Sky
    Perseverance and supportive teachers can change lives.
  • Stand and Deliver
    This is a great movie about reaching students who feel like they have no hope of success in their life.
  • Teachers
    “Half of these kids aren’t coming back.” “Yeah. But the other half is.” Best line ever.
  • School of Rock
    Differentiated instruction and Jack Black. Enough said.
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer
    Pushy parents and pushy teachers are not always the best thing for bright kids.
  • The Emperor’s Club
    I like the interaction between teacher and students. And the teacher’s concern for quality.
  • Akeelah and the Bee
    There are all sorts of ways to learn and to make friends.

What would you add to the list? What you would delete?

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. No qualms with your favorites. I would say Black Robe is just as good if not better (it is more realistic) than The Mission for showing missions alb. But not as viewer friendly for a teenager.

    Some of your good history movies I would put as horrible history movies:

    Mississippi Burning: There are more scathing critiques in journals.


    Gladiator is a more mixed bag:

    These three are all engaging movies, and of all the movies I have seen MS Burning the most, but it is so far off that I do not consider it a history movie any more than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which I have not seen yet). Just cuz a movie is set in the past does not make it a history movie.

    Oh, and Thin Red Line should be in there somewhere:
    Interestingly, no Vietnam movies…

    December 24, 2014
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the additions! Will need to watch Black Robe. And yes, historical movies are often inaccurate. It was very seldom that I ever showed an entire video. Most clips were used to provide emotional connections, context, and a sense of place. This is especially true of Mississippi Burning and Gladiator.

      Yes! Forgot about Thin Red Line. And I did struggle with Vietnam era movies. Born on the Fourth of July? Apocalypse Now? Platoon? Other suggestions?

      (Also keep in mind that the list is a list of my favorite movies not necessarily my favorite movies to share with students.)

      Thanks for the comment!


      December 24, 2014
  2. One of my favorite movies about the historical process is Memento [warning: brutally violent].
    Twelve Angry Men is also good in this regard, as is Lone Star [spoiler alert: something taboo].


    December 24, 2014
  3. Excellent list. I actually used Band of Brothers in my 8th grade com arts classroom. We read the dramatization of Diary of Anne Frank each year and kids would invariably ask about concentration camps. I showed clips from episode 9 that show the camp at Landsberg. I had one class who laughed and joked about the Holocaust until we watched that, they then left the room absolutely silent. I also used to show the Omaha Beach part of What Have We Learned Charlie Brown? There is a movie version of Anne Frank that is good, and Miracle at Midnight by Disney that tells the story of how the Danish people saved 90% of their Jewish population (we watched that in 6th grade after reading Number the Stars). Also Devil’s Arithmetic. I’d also say depending on the version you pick A Christmas Carol could be used to discuss 1800s life. Teacher movies: Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, To Sir With Love, Lean on Me, and Dangerous Minds.

    December 24, 2014
    • Forgot to add my fave teacher feel good movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, makes me cry every time.

      December 24, 2014
      • glennw #


        I had forgotten all about that one. Thanks for sharing!


        December 24, 2014
    • glennw #

      Awesome list. I like using the clip from Episode 9 to provide some Holocaust context.

      Thanks for sharing!


      December 24, 2014
  4. Reblogged this on One Educator's Life and commented:
    Excellent list and could be used by more than just Social Studies teachers.

    December 24, 2014

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