5. Take the Lead (2006)
In this film Antonio Banderas plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in detention and inspires them to love
education through the magic of ballroom dance. Based somewhat on real events the teacher takes it upon himself to teach a bunch of punk kids respect with the alluring power of dance. This movie is pretty weak overall and feels like a lite version of others you'll find on the list. There are conflicts (scoffing students, one kid getting involved in a dangerous ordeal, doubtful school directors, etc) but each seem too easily overcome. A highlight of the movie is when Antonio demonstrates the raw sexual energy of a tango to the students and immediately gets them involved. Antonio! Ees too sexy! ... But I must!
4. Renaissance Man (1994)
3. Freedom Writers (2007)
In this film Hilary Swank plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in public school and inspires them to love education through the magic of writing. When Hilary takes on a teaching position at a new school she finds herself burdened with a classroom of "unteachables" and goes on to face a goddamn tsunami of obstacles. This movie is really really good actually, and the story is packed with staples of the genre: bad students, racism, intolerance, doubtful boss figures, divorce, murder, unorthodox teaching methods, and lots of life lessons. You care about the characters and the payoff is worth the struggle.
2. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
In this film Whoopi Goldberg plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble-making students in public school and inspired them to love education through the magic of song. Out of any in the genre, I've seen this movie the most. We all have movies that we will watch without fail when it comes on TV; this is one of those movies for me. Whoopi reprises her role as "Sister Mary Clarence" and changes the lives of a group of students with her powers of sass and good sense.
While the class she has to contend with are troublemakers, they aren't in danger or as dangerous as other students from similar films, instead they are just a bunch of jerks that ignore the teacher. And thankfully, just like everyone in the world, they are all amazing singers with untapped potential. Sister M.C. (was that intentional?) harnesses that power and turns them into a bitching choir and ends up saving the school. The highlight of the film is the performances and shenanigans that take place at the state championship.
1. Dangerous Minds (1995)
In this film Michelle Pfeiffer plays a teacher who wins over the hearts of a group of trouble making students in public school and inspires them to love education through the magic of Bob Dylan. In a lot of ways this is the quintessential "How-do-I reach-these-kids?" film. It's got all the key conflicts and plot points, and it really handles all of them well. I actually didn't see this film until very recently, but I was impressed by how much I liked it and how it still managed to feel fresh and original even though I've seen it all before.
Michelle plays an ex-marine who takes on a temporary position teaching the worst class in the school and struggles to get them interested in learning; she ends up teaching them karate, appeasing them with candy and prizes, and then finally fools them into ready poetry as she teaches them Bob Dylan lyrics and transitions to Dylan Thomas. I really liked Michelle Pfeiffer in this movie. Throughout the whole film I felt tense and nervous for her, and I felt her frustration and fear as she went from one bad situation to the next.
The film doesn't end on a very uplifting note. There's no big dance-off or singing competition to win at the end. There's no graduation, or great moment of success. There are no conclusions of comeuppances for the people responsible (directly or not) for a student's death. And while the teacher did make a difference in their lives, the future for the students still seems pretty bleak and uncertain. It stands out for me as the best of the bunch among these films and I definitely recommend it.