‘Life Lesson’ Movies to Stimulate Healthy Family and Classroom Discussions

Timi Tullis, AASB Associate Executive Director

During a breakout room at the Fall Academy one group was discussing how cooking, hunting, fixing a 4 runner or car have all become ‘classroom lessons’ for their kids/youth. School board members said that as the weather is turning and the days are getting shorter they wondered what movies might be good to watch that might have a lesson. I told them I would dig into the topic and try to come up with a list worth sharing. 

I took the opportunity to ask friends near and far what movies they would suggest watching that include some life lessons, and that would allow for good, healthy discussions and an opportunity to use movies for teachable moments. Boy did I get some ideas! 125 of the movie suggestions I received are listed at the following link.

Here’s a link to the full list of movies I’ve gathered. Each listing includes a short synopsis of the movie taken from Internet Movie Data Base (IMdB). I have NOT watched every one of these movies, but I did do some research on appropriate viewing ages, which are also listed.

Before you get to the full list, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites. Each movie listed below includes a short list of possible topics that could be used to discuss with youth after watching the movie together. We at AASB hope these ideas can provide opportunities for meaningful discussions with your students.

Younger/Elementary ages 8 and older

  • It’s a Wonderful Life – depression, suicide, hope
  • Fly Away Home – deep sadness and loss, finding hope
  • Sandlot – neighborhood role models, friendship, baseball 
  • Paperclips – the Holocaust, school class projects, youth as advocates
  • Spare Parts – cultural differences, robotics, completion
  • Radio – football, mental disability, friendship
  • Truman Show – how ‘life behind camera’ is different than reality
  • Wonder – bullying, compassion

Middle School ages 12 and older

  • Gifted – non-traditional families, child prodigy, unique learning
  • Nanook of the North – Inuit culture, hunting, fishing, historic
  • On the Basis of Sex – judgment on equal rights for women
  • Greater – sports, football, against all odds
  • The Pursuit of Happyness – homelessness, poverty, stick to it
  • A Monster Calls – telling the truth, bullying, illness  
  • Apollo 13 – historic mission, goals, space

High school ages 14 and older

  • Grand Torino – preconceived judgments, friendships, gangs, Asian stereotypes
  • Little Miss Sunshine – depression, suicidal tendencies, loss of dreams, following dreams
  • Lee Daniels’ The Butler – classism and job status, US Presidents, pride in work
  • Shawshank Redemption – legal system, stereotypes, wrongly accused, odd friendships
  • Schindler’s List – Holocaust, hope, kindness of one person, change the world
  • Lean on Me – drug abuse, gang violence, hope, importance of schools
  • Pay it Forward – alcoholism, abuse, changing the world
  • Temple Grandin – autism, love of animals, persistence