20 Great Movies For Students To Watch: Everybody needs a dose of motivation, hope, and positivity from time to time and in the words of John Keating, one of the most famous characters played by the great late Robin Williams, “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” The profound impact a piece of art can have on us humans is beyond explanation. Sometimes watching a film can feel you with a plethora of emotions that can’t even be explained logically, or looking at a painting transports us to a different time period. Juggling between school, assignments, exams, and life; art can be both a symbol of comfort and hope for the ones searching for them.
Here we have compiled a list of 20 films that students must watch to get that little dose of motivation, hope, and above all, much-needed relaxation from their stressful and hectic lifestyle.
1. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Dead Poets Society is the most cliched film to appear on a list like this, but it is a cliche for a reason. It is a holy grail for teachers and students alike. In one of his most iconic characters, Robin Williams plays the role of John Keating, a progressive English teacher at the strict all-boys Welton Academy. He is not an ordinary teacher, and he makes it very clear right from his first interaction with his class. Not only does he understand his students, but he also encourages them to transcend the boundaries of normalcy decided by society. He inspires them to be free thinkers and to choose their own paths in life, regardless of what society wants for them. The liberation of his students from the orthodox way of learning and leading lives is truly heartwarming to watch. Mr. Keating uses poetry as a medium to teach his students to seize the day, celebrate their youth, and live their lives to the fullest.
Also Read: 10 Best Robin Williams Performances
2. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Ghibli studio films are known to take a deep dive into the realms of mysticism and magical realism, but this 1995 masterpiece is a coming-of-age film that tries to make sense of growing up, understanding one’s aspirations and dreams while also going through the teenage phase of having crushes and falling in love with someone. Feelings of love and affection are universal for anyone, but what the film does brilliantly is that it never forces the protagonist Shizuku, or Seiji, the boy she likes to lose their identity. Their love for each other transcends any negative feelings that may exist between two people and strives to be something that pushes both of them to achieve excellence in their respective fields of interest. Teenage romances often suffer from a sense of personal identity and overbearing emotional weight, but this film showcases how two young people can be in love and work towards their goals, something missing from numerous coming-of-age romance films.
Also Read: All Studio Ghibli Movies Ranked
3. The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher’s fast-paced drama might be an odd choice for the list, but it makes perfect sense to be included here. Based on the founder of ‘Facebook’ Mark Zuckerberg and how he created a multi-million dollar organization from his dorm room; a company that has grown to become one of the biggest technology conglomerates active in the market. The sheer determination to create something unique and necessary fueled Zuckerberg to work on ‘Facebook’, and that is just one of the things that students can gain from this Fincher-fueled drama which feels like psychological warfare at times. Zuckerberg is a true genius, and he offers so much hope and belief that turning your dreams into reality isn’t as difficult as many people make it out to be. If a student has the power to imagine and dream, they have the power to turn it into reality.
Also Read: All David Fincher Movies Ranked
4. Lakshya (2004)
Farhan Akhtar’s sophomore effort Lakshya wasn’t exactly a game changer in Indian cinema when compared to his debut Dil Chahta Hai, but the manner in which it explored the lackadaisical youngsters of a generation who are indecisive and struggle to find their goals is a worthy watch. Karan Shergill’s (Hrithik Roshan) journey from a lost young man to a confident army officer is one of the best coming-of-age films made in Indian cinema that reaffirms the fact that the journey of self-discovery is an arduous yet important one. It is a film that surely encourages one to find their targets ‘Lakshya’ in life and work towards achieving those. Another fact that should not go unnoticed is that despite being a war film, it always tries to focus on the emotional relationships and personal growth of an individual instead of chest-thumping jingoism, while constantly reaffirming its anti-war ideology.
5. Where is the Friend’s House? (1987)
Abbas Kiarostami’s first installment of the Koker trilogy gives us a glimpse into the psyche of a child and raises questions about one’s inherent kindness irrespective of the environment they are brought up in. This simple film focuses on Ahmed, who is determined to find his friend Nematzadeh’s house and return his notebook to ensure he isn’t expelled from school. Ahmed’s literal and symbolic journey is reminiscent of the innocence of a child, a rollercoaster of emotions and compassion one feels towards others while on this journey of life. This might be an odd choice for the list, but at times it becomes important to empathize with others and learn necessary lessons about human emotions and life in general. A student might not gain much motivation from this film to achieve their goals or realize their dreams, however, a lesson in humanity and friendship is equally important in life.
6. Good Will Hunting (1997)
This Gus Van Sant drama is a poignant and tender story about mental health, building relationships, and realizing one’s endless potential. The film focuses on Will Hunting, a janitor working at MIT who has a genius-level IQ but is misguided and troubled with his past and emotions. Good Will Hunting is less about a student realizing his potential and more about a young boy understanding his own self, learning to fight his inner demons, and standing up for what he wants in life. Robin Williams as Sean Maguire is the driving force for the film and also a mentor that every student could dream of getting. The love, charm, and warmth he exudes in each and every scene can comfort you and his laugh can reassure you that all is not lost during testing times. Another film that just doesn’t focus on the teacher-student classroom relationship, but inspires us to be much more and succeed.
7. A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
Edward Yang’s 237-minute long coming-of-age film explores so much about the life of teenagers and the plethora of emotions they go through at a tender age. Even though the film takes place in a different time and place, its universality is seeded in the way it looks at the pressure of dealing with familial expectations, bullying, and loss of identity. Teenage angst is one of the most important topics that is rarely covered with conviction, but A Brighter Summer Day delves deep into the search for one’s identity and the existence of angst while growing up amid external troubles. Students and teenagers are the ones who struggle with understanding themselves and making sense of their actions and emotions, but the way Yang showcases the journey of Xiao Si’r’s loss of innocence in search of a false sense of identity makes it a must-watch for students and teenagers. The film never tries too hard to force what the character feels, but slowly brings about the emotions through his journey from being a studious and ambitious young boy to one plagued with insecurity and jealousy amid a struggle to come to terms with one’s emotions.
8. Udaan (2010)
Student life is often associated with dreaming big and aspiring to change the world and make a name in some way. Some might succeed at achieving their dreams, while others never get a chance to even try to do something they want. Udaan is the story of Rohan; expelled from boarding school, and aspires to be a writer but his stern and abusive father has other plans for him. Vikramaditya Motwane’s film gives a voice to each teenager who faces trauma and abuse at home and never gets a chance to fulfill their dreams. Rohan is every teenager who wants to break the shackles, fly high and realize their aspirations. The film celebrates being rebellious, to be a maverick, but not for the sake of it. Everyone might not be able to relate to the abusive and controlling nature of the relationship, but those who do know how much strength is required to take that first flight.
Also Read: 25 Finest Hindi Movies of the 2010s Decade
9. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club is a perfect coming-of-age film, whose clarity in its themes is quite impressive. Five students are given detention, each of whom represents a common high school stereotype- a criminal, a popular princess, a weirdo, a nerd, and a jock. What starts with hostile comments towards each other turns into a heartfelt confrontation, where the students see each other as more than the restrictive labels they’re boxed into. It portrays teenage angst in a way many movies fail to achieve and focuses on the troubled minds of the kids. Each character is prey to their own insecurity, which is largely subjected to either their own family or society. And the best part about the film is the way all of these themes are depicted; full of iconic lines, iconic scenes, and the iconic dance sequence, in the end, the film is a treat to watch.
10. Inside Out (2015)
Inside out is one of the most beautifully honest Pixar films that cater to both young and old minds alike, and encourages them to introspect their feelings. The film is about the feelings of a young girl Riley (quite literally) whose life is in a transition after her family moves to another city. Her emotions- Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness are trying their best to handle this situation. No matter how much Joy tries to make Riley happy, it was sadness that played a role in her true happiness. Both positive and negative emotions are crucial for our mental well-being. Even when Joy tries to bind sadness within a circle, she can’t achieve what she wants. Emotional suppression can never be the answer to a healthy mind. Instead, mindful embracing of all your emotions leads to true catharsis, and a happy mind, which was just what happened with Riley.
11. Dazed & Confused (1993)
Alright! Alright! Alright! This list was never going to be complete without this Richard Linklater masterpiece who finds so much beauty in the simplicity of life and the mundane of everyday life. His 70’s high school coming-of-age film never tries too hard to force an issue or a conflict, but instead puts forth a visceral experience whose honesty and feelings linger with you long after the film is over. A nostalgic piece of cinema for those who have lived through high school to revisit in order to feel young, free, and wild. Student life is often filled with pressures from parents, teachers, peers, and even oneself. So blowing off some steam and enjoying the experiences that life has to offer becomes much more important and relevant. A film that shows human connections and friendships before we started to spend more time with our cellphones than we spent with our own thoughts. The film is not about being irresponsible, but about living life with spontaneity and zeal.
Also Read: 10 Films To Watch If You Like The Cinema of Richard Linklater
12. Wake Up Sid (2009)
Ayan Mukherjee’s eloquent debut Wake Up Sid was a game changer in the type of coming-of-age film where Mumbai feels like a character in itself. The relatable duo of the laid-back and irresponsible Sid along with the responsible and mature Ayesha acted as the perfect foil to tell the story about learning the importance of responsibilities and independence. Student life is a phase in everybody’s life that we might hate or love but never fully understand. When teachers speak of the protective bubble that one experiences as a student, this is the perfect film to understand what they meant as life suddenly hits you on the face with bills and responsibilities even before you might be ready. But the beauty in Wake Up Sid lies in the way it reassures that it’s never late to start working hard and finding your true calling on the path of self-discovery.
13. Lady Bird (2017)
One of the most popular coming-of-age dramas in recent times, Lady Bird beautifully captures the essence of growing up. Through fights, fears, insecurities, betrayals, and misunderstandings, Greta Gerwig beautifully sums up the meaning of average high school life. Yet she doesn’t shy away from showing the hardships of the parents, something which is not often portrayed in coming-of-age dramas. Christine (Lady Bird) is at a cross with her strong-willed mother and has plans to escape her small-town life by going off to study in New York, which her mother disapproves of. There are too many things that teenagers, young adults and even adults will relate to in this film, the foremost being differences with their parents. Lady Bird beautifully depicts how both children and parents fail to understand each other and end up regretting their rash choices. The rebellious spirit of Saoirse Ronan is unmatched and the energy she brings into this savage role is truly worth watching.
14. Whiplash (2014)
There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job.” Damien Chazelle’s breakout film about a promising drummer who enrolls in a cut-throat conservatory under a mentor who would go to any lengths to realize the potential of a student is a scary and mind-boggling tale. As a student, you come across teachers who want to help you more than anything to nurture and support you, but what J.K Simmons’ Fletcher does in Whiplash is something that is unforgettable and unforgivable. Whiplash leaves a lot to be figured out about the ending, and whether Neiman achieved the greatness he was after, but what was clear as day was the fact that as a student achieving greatness should never come at the cost of physical, emotional or mental damage. Because what will the greatness be for if you can’t even be there to witness it unfold in front of you?
15. Brooklyn (2015)
Brooklyn is an unusual pick for the list, but it’s relevant here nonetheless. Brooklyn isn’t just about romance, it is about homesickness, the courage to enter the unfamiliar, and sticking to the difficult choices you make. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) decides to leave her Ireland and move to Brooklyn in search of better job opportunities and quality of life, but her journey is not easy. Plagued by the longing for her hometown and her family, she discovers her new self and builds new relations on the way. The gut-wrenching feeling of considering yourself insignificant in a new world yet trying your best to enshroud those feelings is what Brooklyn portrays in the most beautiful way possible. Eilis’s family sacrificed a lot for her to move to New York and that guilt creates a lot of pressure for her to not only survive in the new city but also succeed. In every student’s life, there comes a time when they have to leave their home behind or make a tough decision for better opportunities. This film makes your heart ache but makes you feel hopeful at the same time.
16. The Blue Umbrella (2005)
Ruskin Bond is a writer whose stories we all must have read during our childhood or school days, filled with simplicity, moral values, and above all a profound beauty that explores the magic of growing up. The Blue Umbrella is also one such story that looks at the morality of adults and the purity in the heart of children. The story revolves around a young Biniya who comes across a Blue umbrella which somehow becomes the symbol of respect, admiration, and power amongst the villagers as we see adults plotting to steal it. Nandu, the local shopkeeper, goes one step ahead and actually steals the umbrella and poses it as his own. This was a film that I saw on one of my school trips but could never understand till I saw it again years later and grasp what the film actually tries to critique and tell. Success or respect can never be bought but can only be earned through one’s actions and hard work which is true in every walk of life.
17. The Breadwinner (2017)
This brilliant animated film is about a strong-willed girl Parvana, who, despite the atrocities towards her gender, manages to do what she sets her mind to. Parvana’s father is ambitious for his bright daughter and instills the importance of stories in her mind, both as a way to distract her from the horrors of their worlds and to prepare her to bring about a change. When Parvana’s father is arrested by the Taliban, she shoulders the household by pretending to be a boy and kick-starts her mission to find her father. Despite catering to such a serious topic, the film avoids a rasping approach and instead embraces an inventive one- full of visually splendid images and fable storytelling. There are two things that the film manages to put forth, the perseverance of a daughter and the courage of a girl under the oppression of the Taliban. It is a necessary watch for everyone, especially students, to be aware of the kind of hardships faced by their peers in countries like Afghanistan.
18. Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood (2022)
Experiencing someone else’s nostalgia does not fall in the same category as learning from someone else’s experience, but it’s still rewarding. Apollo 101⁄2 takes place around the time of the Apollo 11 mission and that is something which we might not be familiar with, but the manner in which the film talks about dreams and imagination makes it one that can be appreciated universally. It focuses on the concept of being close to your roots and how one’s experiences shape their outlook on life and how one perceives the outside world. The way in which the film also encapsulates the fun of growing up without worrying too much about trivial things makes it a ride that you can enjoy throughout without feeling out of place at any point. Richard Linklater knows how to talk about the most simple and mundane things and find something extraordinary and interesting in them and it’s on full display in this nostalgia-driven film from the maestro.
19. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
One of the most loved diaspora films by Gurinder Chaddha, Bend it Like Beckham centers around Jess, an aspiring footballer who has a hard time following her passion because of her orthodox Indian family. With a family who believes playing football is just a means of “showing off bare legs”, Jess fuels her dream of playing for the national team of England. It is a feel-good coming-of-age film that has sports, romance, weddings, drama, and everything in between. However stereotypical it might feel, it is an honest portrayal of an Indian immigrant family for whom being able to cook Aloo Gobi is much more prestigious than being an athlete. But the spirit Jess shows in order to accomplish her goals is truly inspiring. Making mistakes along the way, Jess shows the spirit of a dreamer, who will overcome anything to Bend it like Beckham.
Also Read: 25 Best Sports Movies of All Time
20. CODA (2021)
The 2022 Oscar winner isn’t just your simple coming-of-age story, it’s about empowerment and giving a platform to the marginalized. The simple, yet beautiful story focuses on Ruby, CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) who aspires to be a singer. Singing is something her parents and brother can never experience or fully appreciate, yet her will to fulfill her dreams and take care of the family business and help her parents through thick and thin stands out. A strong determination to work towards one’s passion is something that can be hard to muster yet the way in which Ruby balances her life and passion is what one can learn from. Follow your passion; give your best, and don’t lose hope or put too much stress on attaining a result because if you give your everything, you are bound to reap the rewards for all you have put in.