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Recommended Films

Published: 09.02.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Hollywood - Home of American Film Industry

This list of films may be used to teach essential topics in Social Studies English. For each film there is a brief description of contents and theme as well as links to relevant websites.

Old film camera. Photo.Old camera
Opphavsmann: Janke
 From an educational point of view the use of films in class may be a good way of combining entertainment with learning. Films may broaden students' perspectives and inspire to further reflection, learning and research. The list of films you see below may be used in teaching English Social Studies. The suggestions are based on recommendations of teachers and students over many years. However, the list is in no way complete; we will update and revise it with new films and documentaries as they are released. To make this site a useful tool, we would appreciate your tips and recommendations.

The list of films below may be used to teach essential topics in Social Studies English. For each film there is a brief description of contents and theme as well as links to relevant websites. We would also like to remind you that Film Education offers an alphabetical list of films and suggests suitable ways of working with them. There are other websites that offer resources suggesting suitable ways of working with films, but you often need to subscribe and/or pay for their service. However, your school or library may agree to take out a subscription for the Norwegian online site Filmrommet. This site offers a variety of films and documentaries related to many of the topics in our course. (Most of the subtitles are in Norwegian.) NDLA now has permission from Filmrommet regarding the use of some films. We have indicated in the review of each individual film if you are able to view the entire film on this licence. It might also be a good idea to watch some of the film trailers. You may search for trailers, films and actors on such sites as MovieClips and Video Detective.


Films Released in 2009 - 2013

A Thousand Times Good Night (2013) Rebecca is one of the world's top war photographers. While documenting a group of female suicide bombers in Afghanistan she is severely injured. While recuperating at her home in Ireland, we understand that her job as a top war photographer comes at a cost. Her husband admits that he is unable to live with the uncertainty of ever seeing her again each time she leaves on a mission and thus forcing her to choose between covering war zones, or prioritizing her family. Watch the film trailer.  

Jobs (2013) is a biographical film based on the life of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. It covers the period from when he was a student in 1974 until 2001. The film received mixed reviews. Joe Neumaier in the New York daily News said that it takes "...a sharp look at the late Steve Jobs and the technological and cultural changes he brought about..." Watch the film, Jobs. You will find more information about Steve Jobs here: The Legacy of Steve JobsStay Hungry – Stay Foolish

12 Years a Slave (2013) is a historical drama about Solomon Northup a free- born African American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. He worked on the plantations there for twelve years before his friends secured his release. The film is an adaption of the memoir written by Northup in 1853. Work with the film at 12 Years a Slave .

Lincoln (2012) Steven Spielberg's film about the 16th American President, Abraham Lincoln, was released in January 2013. It deals with Lincoln's fight to end slavery. What is it about Lincoln that makes people line up to see the film? Watch the film trailer here. Here you can find out more about Lincoln and work with tasks: Abraham Lincoln - An Icon? .

The Iron Lady (2011) portrays Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep), Britain's first female Prime Minister. She was controversial, both as Leader of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister, an office that she held for 11 years. Follow this link to watch the The Iron Lady   trailer. Work with tasks here

The Help (2011) is the filmatization of Katryn Stockett's novel by the same name. She has explained that the idea behind the novel was born in the aftermath of 9/11. Living in New York, she was unable to reach her family in the South, because of the impaired phone and mail services. She was really homesick and started thinking about the maid she had had when she was growing up. In the novel, she gives voice to the African American domestic maids in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s, where the policy of segregation was merciless. Watch the trailer. You will find educational resources at The Help - Educational Resources.

Inside Job (2010) is an award-winning documentary that examines what caused the current financial crisis. Charles Ferguson, the director of the film, blames "the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the corruption of that systemic corruption." Inside Job is divided into five parts, and it starts out with Iceland and how the country's banks were privatized. The film is narrated by Matt Damon. This website offers trailers, glossary and valuable educational resources regarding the economic recession. Inside Job resources.

Fire In Babylon (2010) is a documentary about the West Indian cricket team that was unbeaten in a series of test matches in the 1970s and 80s. The legendary team even knocked out their former masters - the British. The supremacy this team attained was symbolic in many respects, and had an impact on black politics and culture. Watch a trailer and read a review at Fire In Babylon.

The Social Network (2010) is the story behind the foundation of Facebook. It all started at Harvard University back in 2003 when the two students and friends Martin Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg) and Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield) came up with the idea that sparked Facebook. Film Education on The Social Network 

The King's Speech (2010) When King George V of England died in 1936, his son Albert, Duke of York, was quite unprepared mentally and physically to take over the throne after his father. He was second in line, and no one had expected his elder brother to abdicate. As a king, you have to talk to your people in public, something Albert dreaded more than anything due to an ufortunate stammer. Albert (as a King George VI) is played by Colin Firth. If you want to work with the film, follow this link, The King's Speech or work with assignments here. If you would like to watch the entire film you may watch it here.

Sarah's Key (2010) is a dramatic story revolving around the Vel' d' Hiv Roundup of Jews in German occupied Paris in 1942. It is based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. The film alternates between two stories, one about Sarah Starzynski, a 10 year-old French Jew, and her experiences in 1942 and the second about a journalist researching the Vel' d' Hiv Roundup in 2009. You can search for a trailer on the web, or watch the whole film, Sarah's Key. A summary and discussion questions are available here

Oranges and Sunshine (2010) Based on a shocking true story, Oranges and Sunshine stars Emily Watson as Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who uncovers a dark National secret. For decades, children in care were being forcibly deported from the UK to
Australia and Canada. Margaret Humphreys brought worldwide attention to
the case and reunited estranged families. Watch the trailer. A study guide is available at Film Education.

Howl (2010) In the film you may listen to the poem recited, learn what inspired Allen Ginsberg to compose it and through the legal process about censorship see why the poem agitated and provoked the Establishment of the 1950's. Even today the poem raises questions; are the issues discussed still controversial, what is blasphemy, and what is not, and should there be any limitations to the freedom of speech? Watch a clip from the film here and work with the poem here.

My Name Is Khan (2010)  Rizwan Khan, a Muslim immigrant from India moves to San Francisco. Khan suffers from Asperger's disease. Much to the dismay of his parents, he marries Mandira. Then September 11 arrives, and attitudes towards Muslims undergo a dramatic change - for the worse. This creates a strain on his marriage as well, and in order to win his wife back, he wants to convince the president of the USA in person that the surname Khan is not synonymous with the word terrorist. Watch a trailer here. You may find  resources here.

Armadillo (2010) was awarded a prestigious critics' prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.The jury described the Danish film as: "a journey into the soldiers' minds and a unique film on the mythological story of man and war staged in its contemporary version in Afghanistan". We follow a troop of Danish soldiers from a few days before departure to their base (Armadillo) in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In the film we meet the soldiers in their leisure time and on patrol, we see them handing out candies to the children and dealing with the civilians, and in fierce encounters with the Taliban. A lot of issues are raised in the film, but the statement by one of the soldiers who said that they:...." liquidated wounded people and piled up the dead to take pictures of ourselves as heroes" raised public anger. Many saw a parallel to soldier attitudes demonstrated in Abu Graib prison and demanded that the Danish troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan altogether. Watch a trailer here.

Avatar
(2009) James Cameron's science fiction epic about the Na'vi people on the planet Pandora was filmatized with the latest 3D technology available in 2009. The aboriginals on Pandora are exposed to human greed, as they have got something that people on Planet Earth really crave - a precious metal. The themes in this film are linked to curricular issues in our International English course; intercultural communication, the conditions of indigenous peoples, environmentalism and sustainability to mention a few. Follow the link to find educational resources Avatar - Unique Box Office Success.

Desert Flower (2009) is a film based on the Somali top model and human rights activist Waris Dierie's autobiography. The film debates culture clashes and female circumcision. Watch the trailer. Diere has dedicated the last twelve years to fighting against female genital mutilation as a UN Ambassador and as a founder of the The Desert Flower Organization.

Invictus (2009) Read The Guardian's interview with Morgan Freeman who portrays Nelson Mandela in the film about the legendary South African leader. On the same link you can watch a trailer from the film. Morgan Freeman about Invictus  

Films Released 2000 - 2008

The Hurt Locker (2008) builds on the accounts of the war reporter, photographer and director Mark Boal. In 2004, he joined up with an American bomb sqad that served in the Iraq War. His experiences are mirrored in the screenplay he wrote. On the release of the film, that he co-directed with Katryn Bigelow, he explained that they wanted it to be the first film from the Iraq War from the point of view of the soldiers. They wanted to expose things about a soldier's life "that you can't see on CNN." The film focuses on what makes certain personality types more ready to volunteer for certain conflicts than others, and how the bomb squad soldiers are motivated to attack, when everyone else wants to flee. It was awarded 6 Oscars. Watch the trailer. A study guide is available here.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is the filmatization of the Indian diplomat and author Wikam Swarup's novel, Q and A. In the film version we meet the young waiter Jamal Malik from the Mumbai slum. No question about it; Jamal, poorly educated and a former street child, is the definite underdog as a contestant in the fictionial quiz game Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Against all odds, he answers all the questions correctly. When one question remains, though, he is interrogated by the police and accused of cheating. How can a "slumdog" know all the right answers? The film revolves around the explanation Jamal gives his lawyer. By revealing facts about his life in the slum, WE get to know all the answers, and above all, the message comes through: You should fight prejudice! Watch a trailer Slumdog Millionaire - Trailer or watch the entire film here. You will find resources here.

Into the Wild (2007) is a film drama based on John Krakauer's biographical book about the adventurer Christopher McCandless who abandoned everything and everyone and set off on a solitary trip to the Alaskan wilderness. By making this journey he highlighted essential existential questions: How does living in a civilized world restrict us? Is it possible to live without these restrictions? Why is the wilderness considered attractive? Do we need other people to give our lives meaning? And do we really need modern technology? Watch trailer. You will find educational material on this blog: Into the Wild educational resources.

Atonement (2007) is the fimatisation of Ian McEwan's novel. It is a gripping tale from its beginning in pre-war England to the nightmare of one of the protagonists, Robbie Turner, on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. Cecilia Tallis is the love of his life. For Robbie, as the son of a cleaning woman, Cecilia, the daughter of a wealthy estate owner, is considered far out of reach. In pre-war England class restrictions regulated most personal relationships. Their kindling romance is also forcefully interrupted by Cecilia's sister, Briony. She wrongly accuses him of raping a young girl. Briony has been an aspiring writer from an early age, and through her biased narration we perceive her efforts to come to terms with her feelings of guilt. Watch trailer. If you want to work further with the novel/film, take a look at Atonement Study Guide. 

Outsourced (2006). Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) suddenly finds out that his job is outsourced to a call center in India. The film gives a humorous account of what happens when Todd goes to India to train his replacements. Outsourced - Working with the Film  

This is England (2006) takes us back to 1983 and is based on the director Shane Meadow's own childhood experiences. He lost his father in the Falklands War and is looking for male role models. He finds them in a skinhead gang that harasses the ethnic minorities in the local community. This is England - Trailer. Look up educational material at Film Education on This Is England.

Babel (2006) Babel is a multi-plot film by the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu set  in Morocco, Japan, the USA and Mexico.  Above all, this is a narration of how difficult it is to communicate across borders, no matter if they are physical, geographical, cultural or psychological. A main plot revolves around Mexican Amelia (played by Adriana Barazza), who works illegally as a maid and nanny for the Jones family (starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) in the USA.  Amelia is in charge of their two children, when the couple sets off on a vacation trip to Morocco to save their faltering marriage. The Morocco vacation turns into a nightmare, and the couple are unable to return to the USA. This puts Amelia in a critical situation; she has to bring the children with her to her son’s wedding in Mexico. The encounter with the US border police when crossing La Linea becomes devastating.  Babel - Film Analysis, Babel - TrailerBabel - Assignment.

House of Sand and Fog (2003). The screenplay builds upon Andre Dubus III's novel from 1999. Ben Kingsley stars in the role of the Iranian ex-colonel, Bahrani. The film portrays a tragic clash of cultures which revolves around the possession of a house located on a desolate beach in California. It gives a heart-rendering and disturbing picture of the vulnerability of a young "white-trash" American girl and a proud, hard-working Iranian immigrant and how much they have in common without realizing it.  Watch the trailer.  

Cold Mountain (2003), a mountain located in North Carolina that rises 6,030 feet above sea level, has given its name to Charles Frazier's novel and the film adaption. Through the eyes of the Confederate soldier, J.P. Inman (Jude Law), we see how the horrors of the American Civil War affect three different characters. In the film's opening scenes we are thrown right into a battle in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864, when Inman is seriously injured. Abhorrence of the cruelty of the war and a longing for his sweetheart, Ada (Nicole Kidman), makes him decide to desert and start a long and perilous journey back to Cold Mountain. Watch the trailer. If you watch the entire movie, it is a good idea to compare how this novel excerpt is incorporated: Cold Mountain excerpt.

The Queen (2006) Helen Mirren stars in the role as Elizabeth II. The film takes us back to 1997. Tony Blair has just taken office as Britain's new Prime Minister, when Lady Diana tragically dies. England goes crazy with mourning. How do the new Prime Minister and the Queen deal with this situation? Watch the trailer. Further study at Film Education on The Queen.  

Sicko is a Michael Moore documentary (2007) where he scrutinizes the US health care and insurance system along with the pharmaceutical industry. He compares the domestic health policy to that of other countries, e.g. Norway. In comparison, Norway's health care system appears "too good to be true". Watch the trailer.

There Will Be Blood (2007) is the adaption of Sinclair Upton's novel Oil! (1927). Like the novel, the film also focuses on the new era when oil was first found and extracted from the American soil. The former silver miner, Daniel Plainview, is turned into an oil man when he in 1898 accidentally stumbles across oil in the desert. The film debates greed and business as opposed to religion and family values, and gives a rare portrailt of the driving forces in the early shaping of American identity. Watch the trailer.

Revolutionary Road (2008) is based on Richard Yates' debut novel from 1961. The author has expalined the message in his novel as follows: "I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs - a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price". The novel depicts what is left of the American Dream, and has been characterized as The Great Gatsby of the Fifties. In the film adaption, we meet Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as the Wheelers, a married couple in a Connecticut suburb, and through these characters the challenges of the post war generation come to life. Watch the trailer. If you watch the entire film, we recommend that you compare it to this excerpt from the novel. Discuss how this is adapted in the film. Revolutionary Road excerpt  

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) This is Steven Speilberg's adaptation of Arthur Golden's novel about a nine year old Japanese girl that, after her mother's death, is sold as a geisha in the early 1930s. The novel, as well as the film, follows Chiyo Sakamoto, who even if she is a fictional character, gives voice to an old tradition in Japanese culture and by this raises many issues about female destinies.  Read an excerpt from the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha - Excerpt and find out how this is adapted in the movie.

Million Dollar Baby  (2004)  Is the American Dream attainable for everyone? What if you are a girl? Throughout history women have been regarded as second class citizens. To make it even more complicated; what if you are a white trash girl from Missouri who wants to excel in an all male sport? In Million Dollar Baby the waitress Margaret Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), has to fight every imaginable prejudice in order to fulfil her dream. One of the toughest obstacles turns out to be her very own boxing trainer Frankie (Clint Eastwood). The film is based upon a short story by a former boxing trainer. A good way of working with Million Dollar Baby, is to  study the way the short story is adapted to film. Watch the entire film here.

Hotel Rwanda (2004) is based on Hotel Manager Paul Rusesabagina's account of what happened during the bloody conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi people, in Rwanda in the early 1990s. Estimates confirm that 77% of the Tutsi people were massacred (Human Rights Watch). The film also describes how the world decided to turn a blind eye to the genocide. You will find resources on Film Education on Hotel Rwanda. 

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) is a film based on a true story. It depicts how three Aboriginal girls walked a distance of 1,500 miles and spent 9 weeks in the Australian outback to get back to their native village and their families. In 1931, they were, as a part of the official Australian policy aimed at forcing the Aborigines to adapt to the majority culture, kidnapped from their homes. The three small representatives of what is later known by the name "The Stolen Generation" were relocated and trained as domestic servants. Their story along with numerous other victims of this policy, made the Australian government make an official apology to the Aborigines in 2007. Watch Rabbit-Proof Fence - Trailer. Check Rabbit-Proof Fence – Study Guide.

Thirteen Days (2000) is a docudrama based on the thirteen days in 1962 when the world stood still, confronted with the potential outbreak of a new World War. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most critical moments in the Cold War between the USA and the past superpower, the Soviet Union, and also the most challenging moment in John F. Kennedy's presidential career. The drama that took place inside the White House and behind the political scenes was a fight where also personal values were at stake. The placing of nuclear weapons in what the Americans considered as their "backyard", Cuba, was perceived as an act of war. Watch the Thirteen Days trailer. Study guide: Thirteen Days on Film Education.  

Erin Brockovich (2000) is a biographical filmatization of a single mother's struggle in 1993 to defeat a powerful enemy,  a US Gas and Electric company, in court. Erin Brokovich, played by Julia Roberts, accidentally finds out that the company is to blame for the contamination of the ground water in Hinkley, California, causing many residents to fall sick with cancer. Check out Erin Brockovich's website, Erin Brockovich Official Website.

Films Released before 2000

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) is a film based on David Guterson's novel. The story brings us to a small fishing village in the state of Washington on the Pacific coast in 1951. A Japanese American fisherman is accused of murdering a white man. The case is brought to court and the suspect risks being innocently convicted. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, there was a strong anti-Japanese sentiment in the USA. The storyline includes the "impossible" love between a white American and his Japanese American girlfriend, the Internment of Japanese Americans and how difficult it is to fight prejudice. Watch the trailer .  Read this excerpt from the novel and find out how it is incorporated into the film: Snow Falling on Cedars excerpt.

Dead Man Walking (1995) portrays Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a prisoner on death row, convicted of killing two teenage lovers, in Louisiana in the 1980s. The film depicts the Roman Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean's fight to make an appeal to obtain life imprisonment for Poncelet, but it also demonstrates how the nun is torn between her sympathy for the victims and their families and her urge to forgive. The film is based on Helen Prejean's non-fiction book where she speaks out against capital punishment. Sister Prejean has become one of the most fierce advocates for abolition of the death penalty in the USA. Watch the trailer, Dead Man Walking. Read more about Prejean's work here: Sister Helen Prejean. It is also a good idea to relate the film to Thomas Hardy's poem, The Dead Man Walking, and Bruce Springsteen's lyrics.

 Forrest Gump (1994) Watch the film over again to highlight US history and events ranging from the 1950's to the 1980's. Forrest Gump - Revisited 

American History X (1998) is a merciless portrait of two brothers. Due to his strong personality and intellect, Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton), the elder brother, becomes the hero, not only for his younger brother, Danny, but for his family and the neo-Nazi-gang he comes to lead. The two boys are raised in a white family in Venice Beach, L.A., a multicultural community that has faced severe social and racial challenges. When the boys' father, a fireman, is killed by a black drug dealer, while he is trying to extinguish a fire, the latent hatred is ignited. Derek does not back down for anything, and eventually he kills two black gang members. While serving his term in prison, he is humiliated and victimized, something which gives rise to an increasing understanding of how prejudice blurs the mind. Now he starts his fight to save his little brother, who in the mean-time, has taken up the family tradition of revenge and the ideology of white supremacy. Watch the trailer. You should keep in mind that this film has traditionally been given as essay assignments and reports. Consequently, a search for this movie will come up with several "hits", but they may not be reliable. Due to its thematic link to racism, you should also check the ethical platform of your sources.

Amistad (1997) is a Steven Spielberg drama based upon an uprising in 1839 among the West African slaves that were captured on board the Spanish ship La Amistad. The storyline also includes the legal aftermath in the Supreme Court in Washington where former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) is a spokesman for the slaves and the abolition of slavery.  Watch the trailer. You will find more resources at Amistad on Film Education .

The Green Mile (1999) is the film version of Stephen King's thriller of a novel. In retrospect, the former warden Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), gives us his gripping account of an incident that happened among the inmates on Death Row in a Louisiana prison during the Great Depression. Even if his tale includes a demonstration of supernatural powers, it raises fundamental questions regarding innocently convicted prisoners and capital punishment, and it dissects the deep-rooted prejudice against the African Americans in the 1930s. Watch trailer.

The Great Gatsby (1974) is based on Scott Fitzgerald's legendary novel from 1925. The 1920s kindled a new social class in the USA, the ones that made quick fortunes on the stock market or on importing alcohol; liqor was strictly prohibited at the time. Jay Gatsby is an upstart. He is incredibly rich and buys a big estate on Long Island, but being newly rich, does not go down well among those with "old money".  As a young boy he fell in love with the unattainable Daisy, a girl belonging to the elite. Now, with money in his pocket, he desperately wants an entry ticket to her fashionable circle and to her cold heart. With the 1929 Wall Street Crash looming "backstage", the novel and film give a portrayal of the Roaring Twenties. A new film edition with Leonardo DiCaprio starring in the role as Gatsby, will be released in December 2012. This site may be used to analyze the novel as well as the film: The Great Gatsby Analysis

Of Mice and Men is the adaption of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men (1937), set in California during the Great Depression. It brings to life the two hobos and friends, George (the narrator) and the mentally retarded Lennie, who, as it turns out, has a fatal crush on furry pets. The story gives a moving and warm portrait of the two buddies as well as a harsh image of the social misery and working-class struggle in the 30s. Watch the trailer. Read about how the novel was adapted to the screen at Of Mice and Men.

To Kill a Mocking Bird is based on one of the most read novels in the USA, Harper Lee's Gothic story with the same title from 1960. It is based on her childhood experiences in the Deep South and a particular criminal act that occurred in a neighbouring city in 1936. This incident ignited the latent racism and hatred in the local community. As the narrator's father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, Gregory Peck performs one of his most memorable roles. Watch the trailer. To work with the film/novel you may use this link To Kill a Mocking Bird - Resources