Top billing

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
From weighty dramas such as The Shawshank Redemption to escapist romcoms such as Love Actually, your responses to a TESS survey of teachers' favourite films reveal plenty about the profession, Richard Vaughan finds

"I am not at all surprised that The Shawshank Redemption is number one," Kirsten Geekie enthuses. "It's a strong film, with a great score. It's always going to be a success.

"Neither am I surprised that Love Actually is on there. It's a family film and to that extent it's very successful."

Geekie, who is a film programmer at Filmclub, a UK charity that works with schools to get more young people learning about and through film, is talking about the TESS list of teachers' top 100 movies. But although she may be pleased with what she calls its "honesty", it is fair to say that not everyone agrees.

"It is so self-moralising," Laurie Tallack says. "As soon as I saw that The Shawshank Redemption was number one, I just thought, 'Oh my God, really?' And it includes Amelie. Amelie! It is my most hated film."

Tallack, who teaches English literature and film at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College in the South West of England, is not impressed by the French romantic comedy. "It's a film posing as an arthouse film - an inoffensive, quiet Sunday evening arthouse film. Where are the films that question common morality?" he asks.

Few things in the world can polarise opinion quite so efficiently as a top 100 list. Any attempt to rank people's favourites - whether films, books or even YouTube clips - will inevitably provoke both anger and delight. And in that regard, our survey of teachers' top 100 films does not disappoint.

Nearly 700 of you responded to the call to choose your top 10 films of all time. These were then collated into a list of the 100 best films as voted for by the teaching profession. The results make for some interesting reading.

Topping the list is The Shawshank Redemption, which stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Its plot centres on the friendship the two men forge in prison after Robbins' character is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, it missed out on every Oscar, including the one for best film, which went to Forrest Gump (number eight on our list). Despite this, Shawshank regularly appears near the top of favourite film lists, with readers of Empire magazine recently voting it the best film of the 1990s and placing it at number four on Empire's list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.

Prison break

Perhaps because of its popularity, it is not without its detractors, as Tim Robey, film critic for The Daily Telegraph and BBC Radio 4, points out.

"The Shawshank Redemption is everybody's favourite 'middlebrow' best film," Robey says. "It always comes in at number two in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists.

"I have to say I was expecting something more unusual from the list (of teachers' favourite films). It's very safe."

In second place is the first instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. Much like The Shawshank Redemption, which is based on a novella by Stephen King, Fellowship is an adaptation of a text that already had a huge and committed fan base.

And although some may be stunned that Fellowship was rated so highly, the film that only just missed out on that number two slot is sure to raise even more eyebrows: Dirty Dancing comes in at third place, proving that nobody, particularly teachers, is inclined to "put Baby in the corner".

"I was a bit shocked to see Dirty Dancing at number three, but if you consider that the majority of teachers are women, maybe it's not that surprising," Geekie says. "I (also) didn't think The Lord of the Rings would be so high up."

But aside from revealing a love for dancing-based romances, the list also provides an insight into the minds of teachers. It appears to show that, far more than anything else, they turn to films as a distraction from their often gruelling day jobs.

"There is a lot of fantasy and escapism," Geekie points out. "A lot of love stories and a complete removal from the real world. It shows how they treat film: rather than thinking about it in curriculum terms, it is something they use to switch off."

Robey agrees. "There is lots of feel-good stuff, and lots of crowd-pleasers," he says. "Love Actually, for instance, that's a guilty pleasure. It's a movie that very few film critics would ever admit to enjoying, and in a way it's kind of refreshing to see (the teachers) have chosen in such an uncensored way."

Unsurprisingly, in a list compiled by people working with children and young people, plenty of animated films feature, particularly from Pixar and Disney, with Up coming highest in the battle of the animations in joint 36th place.

"I did think that an animated film might top the list," Geekie says. "I would have thought there would be lots of kids' films, that they would choose from the point of view of being a teacher."

But although the list contains plenty of films that a teacher might show their class, it has a near total absence of films about teaching itself. The highest-placed entry about the profession (at number 11) is Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams as an inspirational teacher who challenges his students to go against the status quo.

"It's not at all surprising to see Dead Poets Society in there, and it says a lot that it is higher than Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which, I think, shows how (teachers) want to see themselves," Geekie says.

However, the only other films that even come close to the subject of teaching are those that take the point of view of the student rather than the teacher, such as John Hughes' 1985 coming-of-age classic The Breakfast Club.

"I was expecting to see films like Half Nelson, which in my mind is one of the greatest films about teaching ever made," Tallack says. "It is about a teacher (played by Ryan Gosling) who is a crack addict, who takes on a student who is forced to become a drug dealer herself. Gosling has to steer her in the right direction before she potentially becomes his dealer. It's a superb film but there's not a mention of it."

The lack of subversion and the heavy presence of Hollywood productions with happy endings is something that stands out all too clearly for Tallack. The list should have boasted a lot more of what could be classed as "high art", he believes.

"Teachers are going to be well versed in good art and will have come across subversive moral messages, those that question common morality, but instead we have an 'Amelie list'," he says. "As an English teacher, I think the list should reflect great art rather than a strong moral message. The Godfather doesn't feature until number 14, for instance. In terms of great art, it doesn't say a lot."

An 'honest' selection

Indeed, perhaps one of the most telling things about the list is the films that didn't make the top 100 at all. There is no Woody Allen or Alfred Hitchcock, while Stanley Kubrick and the Coen brothers do not appear until joint 89th place (2001: A Space Odyssey) and 93rd place (Fargo), respectively.

"There are disappointingly few foreign films," Robey muses. "Pan's Labyrinth is there, but you could argue that is a children's film, and then there's Amelie, which, I suppose, is kind of foreign.

"Schindler's List (at number 16) is perhaps the highest-placed film that is a truly sincere piece of art, with any serious depth. I imagine it gets used quite a lot as a teaching aid."

And would the critic be happy to see these 100 films line the classroom wall of his own children? "It would totally depend on the age of the child," Robey says. "If they were 8 or 9, I think there is a lot in here that would be enjoyable for them and worthwhile. But if I had a 16-year-old, I would rather they broadened their horizons."

When TES Connect asked teachers to nominate their favourite books earlier this year, there were surprisingly few popular fiction choices in the top 100. Indeed, the top 10 was full of classics from the 20th century (such as Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell) and the 19th century (for example, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which came first). But when choosing their favourite films, teachers appear to use very different criteria.

"I think it's a reflection that teachers are just normal people," Geekie ventures. "There's a smattering of classics in there, and some American independent films, but it's obviously come from a very personal point of view rather than a selection of films that they felt should go in.

"It's a really honest list, which is nice."


1. Dead Poets Society

2. Grease

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

4. The Breakfast Club

5. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

One thing that is in short supply in our list of teachers' top 100 films is films about teaching.

The highest-placed film that revolves around school is Dead Poets Society at number 11. The 1989 hit stars Robin Williams as an inspirational English teacher.

In joint 19th place is high-school musical Grease, the next film that even comes close to being about teaching. And while the soundtrack may be regularly played in school halls up and down the land, a critique of life at the chalkface it is not.

As English literature and film teacher Laurie Tallack points out, there is no shortage of films about the profession, such as To Sir, With Love, in which Sidney Poitier plays a teacher in a challenging school in London.

Another film missing from the list is Stand and Deliver, which was based on the true story of a teacher who inspired his students to learn calculus to boost their self-esteem. The students do so well in tests that they are accused of cheating.

And, most surprisingly, there is no place for perhaps the most well-known film with a teacher as the central character: 1939's Goodbye, Mr Chips, which won Robert Donat an Oscar.

What the list does suggest is that the all-consuming nature of teachers' jobs means that when they watch a film, they want to get away from it all.

Oscar-winning producer Lord Puttnam, who is heavily involved in education, said the list showed teachers as normal people. "This list is, I think, all about teachers as 'movie-goers' and TV viewers, not as teachers as such. I think you would get a remarkably similar list if you asked doctors, nurses or social workers," he said.

"Although they might have added at least one of mine."


1. The Shawshank Redemption

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

3. Dirty Dancing

4. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

5. Pulp Fiction

6. It's a Wonderful Life

7. Love Actually

8. Forrest Gump

9. Blade Runner

10. Amelie

11. Dead Poets Society

12. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

13. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

14. The Godfather

15. Gladiator

16. Schindler's List

17. The Sound of Music

18. The Green Mile

19=. Back to the Future

19=. Grease

21. Pretty Woman

22. The Princess Bride

23. Moulin Rouge!

24. Les Miserables

25. Pride and Prejudice (2005)

26. The Matrix

27. Gone with the Wind

28. Casablanca

29. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

30. Inception

31. The Notebook

32. Pan's Labyrinth

33. Skyfall

34. Bridget Jones's Diary

35. Titanic

36=. Raiders of the Lost Ark

36=. Up

38=. GoodFellas

38=. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

40. Despicable Me

41=. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

41=. Toy Story

43. Mamma Mia!

44=. The Breakfast Club

44=. Finding Nemo

46=. The Goonies

46=. Stand by Me

48=. The Hunger Games

48=. To Kill a Mockingbird

50. The Lion King

51=. Apocalypse Now

51=. The Wizard of Oz

53. Avatar

54=. Beauty and the Beast

54=. Marvel's The Avengers

54=. Shrek

57=. Cinema Paradiso

57=. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

59. Stardust

60=. The Dark Knight

60= . Fight Club

62=. Life is Beautiful

62=. Life of Brian

62=. When Harry Met Sally ...

65=. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

65=. Jaws

67. Elf

68. The Big Lebowski

69. Jurassic Park

70. Trainspotting

71. Alien

72. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

73. Four Weddings and a Funeral

74=. Mary Poppins

74=. Taken

76. 12 Angry Men

77=. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

77=. Home Alone

77=. Notting Hill

80=. The Dark Knight Rises

80=. The Great Escape

80=. The King's Speech

83=. Leon: The Professional

83=. Pitch Perfect

83=. Shakespeare in Love

86=. American Beauty

86=. The Godfather: Part II

88. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

89=. 2001: A Space Odyssey

89=. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

89=. Se7en

92. 10 Things I Hate About You

93=. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

93=. Fargo

93=. The Little Mermaid

96=. Little Miss Sunshine

96=. Matilda

96=. The Shining

99=. Billy Elliot

99= Edward Scissorhands.

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