50 Informative Movies for Teachers and Students

50 Informative Movies for Teachers and Students

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Whether you’re a teacher trying to switch things up in your lesson plan or a student looking for a fun way to get into a research topic, you have to admit that movies can be useful tools for class, too. And while many filmmakers set out to entertain us or express themselves through cinema, just as many also seek to educate or bring a little-known subject to light—be it through documentaries or through stories inspired by real situations. So we at agoodmovietowatch have compiled a varied selection of little-known but highly-rated movies that we think could teach you something new and keep you engaged in the process.

20. Apollo 11 (2019)

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Todd Douglas Miller

Actors

Buzz Aldrin, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell

Moods

Instructive, Sunday, True-story-based

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

19. Official Secrets (2019)

best

8.0

Country

China, Switzerland, UK

Director

Gavin Hood

Actors

Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen

Moods

Instructive, Suspenseful, True-story-based

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn’t happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

18. Skin (2018)

best

8.1

Country

Brazil, Canada, China

Director

Guy Nattiv

Actors

Ari Barkan, Bill Camp, Colbi Gannett, Daniel Henshall

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Thought-provoking

This true story of a white-supremacist and the civil rights unit that tried to stop his group was so gripping. 

You might recognize the title from the Oscars ceremony, as a shorter version of Skin (same director but different actors) won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. 

The longer movie provides much more time for the characters to develop, and room for more of a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S.

Fun fact: see that scary man in the picture? That’s Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell who went through a transformation for the role, including always wearing a device to pull his ears closer to his head because they were “too cute”.

17. The Death of Stalin (2017)

best

8.1

Country

Belgium, Canada, France

Director

Armando Iannucci

Actors

Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Andrea Riseborough

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Funny

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin’s death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they’re really smart, but what’s actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.

16. Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

best

8.2

Country

Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France

Director

Female director, Jasmila Žbanić

Actors

Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Emina Muftić

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

15. Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Actors

Adam Carolla, Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser, Chase Austin

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Instructive

“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.

The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.

This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.

14. Woman at War

best

8.2

Country

France, Iceland, Ukraine

Director

Benedikt Erlingsson

Actors

Björn Thors, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Bersi Björnsson, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring, Sunday

A calm choir leader lives a secret life as eco-warrior in this visually stunning and intelligent story about our complex times. If you’re familiar with Icelandic movies, this one has just the right amount of that Icelandic quirkiness – making it a proper feel-good movie with a message. This is added to the superb acting and an off-beat musical score. Not to be missed.

13. The Whistleblower (2010)

best

8.3

Country

Canada, Germany, United States of America

Director

Female director, Larysa Kondracki

Actors

Adriana Butoi, Alexandru Potocean, Alin Panc, Anna Schafer

Moods

Challenging, Touching, True-story-based

Based on a true story, The Whistleblower is the biography of a once Nebraskan police officer who volunteers for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in post-war Bosnia. Once there, she uncovers a human trafficking scandal involving peacekeeping officials, and finds herself alone against a hostile system in a devastated country. Rachel Weisz plays the whistleblower in a powerful lead role, but the true star of the movie is its director, Larysa Kondracki, who thanks to near documentary-style film-making delivers a perfectly executed political thriller with utmost authenticity.

12. This Is Not a Film (2011)

best

8.4

Country

Iran

Director

Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

Actors

Jafar Panahi

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Thought-provoking

Everything about This Is Not a Film revolves around state censorship. Documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb records Iranian cinema giant Jafar Panahi’s life under house arrest, maneuvering through the legal loopholes on Panahi’s 20-year ban on filmmaking and screenwriting. Here Panahi describes one of his unmade films that was rejected by the Iranian ministry, creating makeshift sets out of tape and his apartment’s living room, further emphasizing the ridiculousness of the state-imposed limitations on his artistic freedom. The result is a quasi-documentary that functions paradoxically, its un-cinematic quality essential for aesthetics as well as narrative. That this film had to be smuggled from Iran to Cannes on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake is a testament to political cinema’s power to be a vessel of pro-democracy sentiments, a fist raised proudly against state censors.

11. Athlete A

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Bonni Cohen, Female director

Actors

Géza Poszar, Gina Nichols, Jen Sey, John Nichols

Moods

Discussion-sparking, True-crime

This groundbreaking documentary follows the USA Olympics sexual abuse case that made headlines in 2015. Through interviews with Olympians, their families, and investigative reporters, it’s also a documentary on the overall culture of abuse in gymnastics: sexual, physical, and emotional.

In one scene from the 1996 Olympics, gold medalist Kerri Strug has to run, vault, and land – all with a severe foot injury that was covered up by her coaches. She does this twice, limping between attempts and crawling off the mat on the second, crying. Meanwhile, her family, her coaches, the spectators – the World – is celebrating.

When she’s carried off, it’s Larry Nassar, the pedophile at the center of the documentary, who carries her.

Athlete A is groundbreaking exactly because it illustrates that the problem is not only with one doctor, or the 54 coaches who were also found guilty of sexual abuse, or the morally bankrupt leadership of USA Gymastics; it’s also about what went so wrong with society to see the abuse of young girls as cause for celebration.

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