Pros and Cons of Using Movies in Class

Looking at the Problems of Showing of Movies in the Classroom

Outdoor Class with Movie Screen
Showing a film in class? Here are some things to consider to ensure a learning experience for all. Henrik Sorensen/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Showing a film in class may engage students, but engagement cannot be the only reason. Teachers must understand that the planning for viewing a film is what makes it an effective learning experience for any grade level. Before planning, however, a teacher must first review the school's policy on the use of film in class.

School Policies

There are film ratings that schools may adopt for films in class. Here are a general set of guidelines that could be used:

  • G rated films - No signed permission form is necessary.
  • PG rated films- A signed parental permission form is required for students under age 13. At the elementary school level, the principal will ask a committee to review the use of the film prior to granting permission.
  • PG 13 rated films - A signed parental permission form is required for students under age 14. No use of PG 13 films at an elementary school level. In a middle school, the principal will ask a committee to review the use of the film prior to granting permission. 
  • R - A signed parental permission form is required for all students. The principal will ask a committee to review the film before granting permission. Film clips are preferred for R rated films. No use of R-rated films in middle or elementary schools.

After checking on the film policy, teachers design the resources for the film to determine how it fits in a unit with other lesson plans. There may be a worksheet to be completed as the movie is being watched that also provides the students with specific information. There may be a plan to stop the film and discuss specific moments.

Film as text

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS) identify a film as a text, and there are standards specific to the use of film in order to compare and contrast texts. For example, one ELA standard for Grade 8 states:

"Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors." 

There is a similar ELA standard for grades 11-12

"Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

The CCSS encourage the use of film for higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy including analysis or synthesis.


There are websites dedicated to helping teachers create effective lesson plans for use with film.  Teach with Movies is one such site that supports lesson plans using full length or snippets (video clips), for use in English, social studies, science and the arts. The website Lessons on Movies focuses on lessons for English Learners. Production companies may offer classroom resources, such as the resources on the website Journeys in Film.  You can also check out Movie Lesson Plan Ideas for further information.

One major consideration is the use of film clips as opposed to an entire film. A well-chosen 10-minute clip from a film should be more than adequate to launch a meaningful discussion.

Pros of Using Movies in Class

  1. Movies can extend the learning beyond the textbook. Sometimes a movie can really help students get a feel for an era or an event. For example, if you are  STEM teacher,  you might want to show a clip from the movie ​"Hidden Figures" that highlights the contributions of black women to the space program of the 1960s.
  2. Movies can be used as pre-teaching or Interest building. At some point in the year, students might need background information or an interest building activity.Adding a movie can build interest in a topic that is being learned while providing a small break from normal classroom activities.
  3. Movies can be used to address additional learning styles: Presenting information in numerous ways can be the key to helping students understand topics. For example, having students watch the movie "Separate But Equal" can help them understand the reason behind the court case Brown v. Board of Education beyond just what they can read in a textbook or listen to in a lecture.
  4. Movies can provide teachable moments. Sometimes a movie can include moments that go beyond what you are teaching in a lesson and allow you to highlight other important topics. For example, the movie Gandhi provides information that can help students to discuss world religions, imperialism, non-violent protest, personal freedoms, rights and responsibilities, gender relations, India as a country, and so much more.
  1. Movies can be scheduled on days when students could be unfocused.  In day-to-day teaching, there will be days when students will be focused more on their homecoming dance and game that night or on the holiday that starts the next day rather than on the topic of the day. While there is no excuse to show a non-educational movie, this could be a good time to watch something that complements the topic you are teaching.

Cons of Using Movies in the Classroom

  1.  Movies can sometimes be very long. A showing of a film such as ​"Schindler's List" with every 10th grade class (with their parent's permission of course) will take an entire week of classroom time. Even a short movie can take up 2-3 days of classroom time. Further, it can be difficult if different classes have to start and stop at different spots of a movie.
  2. The educational part of the film may only be a small portion of the overall. There may be only a few parts of the movie that would be appropriate for the classroom setting and truly provide an educational benefit. In these cases, it is best to just show the clips if you feel that they truly add to the lesson you are teaching.
  3. The movie may not be completely historically accurate. Movies often play with historical facts to make a better story. Therefore, it is important to point out the historical inaccuracies or students will believe that they are true. If done properly, pointing out the issues with a movie can provide the teachable moments for students.
  1. Films do not teach themselves. Showing a movie such as "Glory," without putting it in the historical context of African Americans and their role in the Civil War or providing feedback throughout the movie is little better than using the television as a babysitter for your children.
  2. There is a perception that watching movies is a bad method of teaching. That is why it is key that if movies are part of a curriculum unit's resources that they are selected purposefully and that there are properly created lessons that highlight the information the students are learning. You do not want to get a reputation as the teacher who shows all those full-length movies like "Finding Nemo" which serve little to no purpose other than as a reward within the classroom setting.
  3. Parents might object to specific content within a movie. Be upfront and list the films you will show during the school year. If there are any concerns at all about a movie, send home permission slips for students to return. Websites like Commonsense Media include many specific reasons as possible about a film.  Include the parents to talk about any concerns they might have before the showing. If a student is not allowed to watch the movie, there should be work to complete in the library while you are showing it to the rest of class.

    In the end, movies can be an effective tool for teachers to use with students. The key to success is to choose wisely and create lesson plans that are effective in making a film a learning experience. 

    Updated by Colette Bennett.