50 Informative Movies for Teachers and Students

50 Informative Movies for Teachers and Students

June 7, 2024

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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.

41. Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012)

best

8.2

Country

Japan

Director

Nobuhiko Obayashi

Actors

Akira Emoto, Bengal, Chōei Takahashi, Hirona Yamazaki

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

As time goes by, the youth doesn’t recognize how connected they are to previous tragedies, more so when it comes to war. Some even say that they have no part in it. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s later years have been preoccupied in countering this idea. Casting Blossoms to the Sky is the first of Obayashi’s anti-war trilogy, with the film inviting its audience to follow a journalist rediscovering the city of Nagaoka after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. There’s a certain dreamlike approach to the way the various war stories are weaved together, with vibrant frames, simple CGI, and prominent green screen that grants some distance between the audience and the actual wartime reality, but it’s no less potent as Reiko interviews those that remember the scars of the past, and the rituals, practices, and art they’ve taken up in response. Casting Blossoms is a depressing story about war and disaster, one that is a tough one to watch. But it never forgets the humanity, the kindness and love that allowed Japan to recover, the very qualities we must protect and remember in ourselves.

42. The Death of Stalin (2017)

best

8.1

Country

Belgium, Canada, France

Director

Armando Iannucci

Actors

Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Alla Binieieva

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.

43. Skin (2018)

best

8.1

Country

Brazil, Canada, China

Director

Guy Nattiv

Actors

Ari Barkan, Bill Camp, Cecil Blutcher, Colbi Gannett

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”.

44. Die Beautiful (2016)

best

8.1

Country

Philippines

Director

Jun Lana, Jun Robles Lana

Actors

Adrian Alandy, Albie Casiño, Cedrick Juan, Christian Bables

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Emotional

It is hard to be unmoved by how Die Beautiful defies conventions and explores the essence of identity, acceptance, and resilience. Centered around the life of Trisha, a transgender woman with a passion for beauty pageants, the film takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions as we witness Trisha’s life unfold, both in joyous moments and in the face of painful degradation and assault. The film seamlessly weaves together humor, tenderness, and raw vulnerability, delivered stunningly by its lead, Paolo Ballesteros. With other films such as Kalel, 15 and Bwakaw under his belt, director Jun Lana continues to meld reality with hope, injecting kindness and heart into much-needed queer stories.  

45. Shinjuku Boys (1995)

best

8.1

Country

Japan, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Jano Williams

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Thought-provoking

Directed by Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, this documentary combines intimate interviews, fly-on-the-wall observation, and striking cinematography to present a compelling glimpse into the lives of three transgender individuals working as hosts in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district. With unprecedented access to the subjects’ lives, the documentary delves deep into their emotional journeys, capturing their hopes, fears, and aspirations surrounding identity, gender, and societal acceptance.  An eye-opening documentary that wastes none of its 53-minute runtime, Shinjuku Boys challenges preconceived notions and invites viewers to empathize with individuals navigating a world that often marginalizes them. 

46. Against the Tide (2023)

best

8.0

Country

France, India

Director

Sarvnik Kaur

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Slice-of-Life

Shot and edited in an immersive, unembellished style that makes it seem more like a work of narrative fiction than a documentary, Against the Tide begins from a personal place—the friendship between two Indigenous fishermen—before branching off into an exploration of a myriad of issues that these men and their families are involved with. Major credit goes to director Sarvnik Kaur not only for capturing life in Mumbai with loving (but never whitewashed) detail, but also for being a truly silent, invisible observer who never uses her camera to frame any of her characters as right or wrong. There’s a dizzying amount of material that Kaur manages to tackle even in the simplest, candid conversations: class, caste, gender, the environment, technology outpacing the communities most affected. And to see the film’s central relationships slowly be chipped away by all this change is as heartbreaking as any fictional tragedy.

47. Selma (2014)

best

8.0

Country

France, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Ava DuVernay, Female director

Actors

Alessandro Nivola, Andre Holland, Carmen Ejogo, Charity Jordan

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Gripping

The award-winning third feature by director Ava DuVernay, Selma, was released around the 50th anniversary of the historically significant marches (Selma to Montgomery) that aided the civil rights movement’s efforts to assure African-American citizens can exercise their constitutional right to vote, harassment-free. The film has been celebrated not only as an artwork, but also as a historiographically accurate one. While it features the role Martin Luther King Jr. played in the marches, it does not reduce the activists’ effort and struggle to make it come to fruition. With her uncompromising directorial approach, DuVernay crafts a thrilling period film that has all the markers of a well-done genre feature, but uses its mechanisms to tell an emotionally potent story about both the peaceful marches and the nation-wide outcry resulting from the violence they were met with.

48. The Resurrection of Jake The Snake (2015)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Steve Yu

Actors

Adam Copeland, Aurelian Smith Jr., Chris Jericho, Cody Hall

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Inspiring

This journey is as much about Jake Roberts overcoming his addiction and damaged self-outlook, as it is about the heroic, life-changing efforts that DDP made to get him there. DDP’s brand of aggressive wholesomeness and belief in Roberts is palpable, and the rawness of the presentation only accentuates how real this friendship is, and how urgent DDP’s mission is—he will do this himself because no one else can. The documentary is inspiring with its vulnerability alone, as the underlying story is of men renouncing toxic behaviors that keep them looped into destructive habits. It doesn’t waste time with fluff minutes or details, just straight to your heart from start to finish.

49. Turtles Can Fly (2005)

best

8.0

Country

France, Iran, Iraq

Director

Bahman Ghobadi

Actors

Abdol Rahman Karim, Avaz Latif, Emre Tetikel, Hiresh Feysal Rahman

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Regardless of where, when, and why war came to be, war inevitably makes children grow up faster than they ought to. Turtles Can Fly depicts one such boy, a thirteen year old refugee nicknamed Kak Satellite whose limited English and resourcefulness transformed him into a leader for the rest of the children as they scrounged for scraps, sweep for landmines, and set up satellites for news. It’s a harrowing experience. Writer-director Bahman Ghobadi depicts it in a grounded, real way, with the Kurdish cast directly re-enacting the same horrors that they’ve gone through the year before, and the same practical nonchalance that they cling to for survival. Regardless of how viewers feel about the Iraq invasion, or other wars with refugee crises, Turtles Can Fly simply asks viewers to see their faces.

50. Godzilla Minus One (2023)

best

8.0

Country

Japan

Director

Takashi Yamazaki

Actors

Akio Nakadai, Eisuke Sasai, Etsuji Harada, Gohshuu

Moods

Action-packed, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

The film starts with an atmosphere of almost peaceful defeat. We see a rather stealthy Godzilla, but it doesn’t last long until we’re back to regular programming with the metal-chewing monster. Time spent without Godzilla is spent on people trying to be heroes, armed with admirable optimism. The many scenes of wreckage turn this into a very human story about shared trauma. Godzilla vs other kaiju is usually an easy sell, but Godzilla vs people is a hard story to root for, just because of how unbalanced it gets. But the film finds a way to make it work—the final battle is epic, packed with a lot of heart and preparation.

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