10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

cool college professors in film

Image Source

Featured Programs

There are many different types of professors. You will remember some as unfair or boring. Or you might not remember them at all.

But then you meet the good ones. Not your absent minded professor types, but professors who encourage you to achieve amazing things. And they set great examples for their students. They are the kinds of professors portrayed in cinema because they inspire and motivate you. They have your best interests at heart.

Below we list 10 examples of famous professors in movies.

10. Charles Xavier: X-Men Films

An image of Charles Xavier for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

First on our list of professor movies is the X-Men series. This series boasts one of the most famous college professors.

In these films, Professor X plays a significant role. He is the leader of the X-Men, a group of superhumans.

He’s also the founder of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. At his school, you won’t find normal college life. This professor teaches students to control their powers. And his students often view him as a father figure.

Xavier is compassionate to other mutants like himself. And he wishes for humans and mutants to coexist. This is not the case for most other mutants.

Xavier is also a genius and leading figure in genetics. He is fluent in many languages. And he’s the most powerful telepath in the world. All this combined makes him the perfect professor for his students.

9. Dave Jennings: Animal House

profesor in animal house movie

Image Source

Next on our list is famous Animal House professor Dave Jennings. This film is a 1978 motion picture comedy directed by John Landis.

The Dave Jennings Animal House character, played by Donald Sutherland, is a small yet memorable role. But he is arguably the second greatest film hero in this movie. At Washington University, Professor Dave Jennings is more relatable than his colleagues. He’s indifferent to his job and only tolerates his college life workplace. As he says, “Teaching is just a way to pay the bills until I finish my novel.”

His relatability also stems from his marijuana habits. He smokes and sells pot to his students. But still, he garners respect. And his literature lessons are far from boring.

8. Dr. Lee: Drumline

drumline movie teacher

Image Source

Next on our list of favorite movies about professors is Drumline. And the Dr. Lee Drumline actor Orlando Jones is perfect for the role. The film follows a rivalry between two university marching bands. But the format is like your average sports movie (think: The Karate Kid).

Lee devotes himself to the marching band and his students’ great drumming skills. He is strict yet passionate. And his steely gaze could make even the Terminator flinch. But he cares about his students’ performances.

In other words, Dr. Lee is the quintessential mentor character. But instead of a sports coach, Drumline gives us a music professor. It’s this fun spin on a classic tale that makes Dr. Lee and his marching band stand out.

7. Elspeth Stromwell: Legally Blonde

An image of Professor Stromwell for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

Characterized by realness and tough love, Stromwell is a true mentor. Played by the iconic Holland Taylor, this college professor has limited screentime. But she always succeeds at scaring and inspiring her students.

Despite her small role, Stromwell plays an important part in the film. When protagonist Elle Woods considers dropping out of Harvard Law School, she intervenes.

Stromwell reminds Woods not to let any person get in her way. And it’s all Woods needed to hear.

Inspired by her professor’s words, the main character goes back to Harvard. And she takes the place by storm.

6. Ian Malcolm: Jurassic Park

An image of Ian Malcolm for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

Played by Jeff Goldblum, Malcolm is one main character of the Jurassic Park franchise. He isn’t playing an art history professor or a college music professor, but a mathematician specializing in Chaos Theory. And though overconfident, he’s sometimes the voice of reason.

Malcolm preaches against the resurrection of dinosaurs. In Jurassic World: Dominion, he gives lectures at the company Biosyn. There, he teaches about their new dinosaur-filled world. And all his students adore him.

What’s not to like? Malcolm is intelligent, charming, and funny. And he knows humans have limitations.

He argues that humanity cannot contain the dinosaurs. And he’s right.

The dinosaurs spiral out of humanity’s control. And chaos (Malcolm’s specialty) ensues. If only they listened to him sooner.

5. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

professor in raiders of the lost ark movie

Image Source

There are many professors in movies, as you’ve seen. But not all are as memorable as Indiana Jones.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jones is an archaeology professor. And his students admire him. In fact, some female students write love messages on their faces for him. Who could blame them?

For an archaeology professor, Jones is a perfect fit. He has real-world experience investigating what he teaches. And the film actor Harrison Ford plays him. This alone gives him major coolness kudos.

So far, there are four Indiana Jones films, starring Harrison Ford:

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

There’s also a fifth Lost Ark film slotted for release in 2023.

4. Jules Hilbert: Stranger Than Fiction

professor in stranger than fiction

Image Source

He’s the literature professor everyone wished they had. His office is messy, with books in every corner. And he knows a great deal about storytelling.

In the movie, we follow a man (Harold) who hears a narrator in his head. Harold thinks he’s a character in a story. And Professor Hilbert goes along with it. He even wants to help Harold find this narrator.

In short, Hilbert is eccentric. He’d have to be to help this film’s protagonist. And this college professor does it without hesitation. With literature expertise on his side, Hilbert assists Harold.

But you’ll have to watch the film to know what happens next.

3. Minerva McGonagall: Harry Potter Films

An image of Professor McGonagall for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

McGonagall, though fictional, is one of the most famous professors ever. The Harry Potter series is among the most popular works of fiction. And McGonagall has long been a fan favorite as an iconic British college professor.

McGonagall teaches at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She is a stern yet caring Scottish witch. And she’s an expert at shapeshifting, the subject she teaches.

Portrayed by Dame Maggie Smith, McGonagall epitomizes tough love. She’s both intimidating and kind to her students. And they, along with her fans, love and respect her.

2. Robert Langdon: The Da Vinci Code

An image of Robert Langdon for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

Based on Dan Brown’s book series, this film grossed $760 million worldwide. It was the second highest-grossing film of 2006. And for good reason.

The Da Vinci Code centers on a Harvard professor of religious symbology. Professor Langdon is an expert in his field. And he’s an excellent puzzle solver. It’s his expertise that captivates audiences.

But this film wasn’t without its controversy. Like the book, it received backlash from the Catholic Church. They found the plot offensive.

To give some context, the film accuses the Church of lying about the Holy Grail. Without getting into spoilers, many Catholics weren’t happy about this. But the movie did well despite criticism.

And Tom Hanks’s Professor Robert Langdon is a great example of cool professors in movies.

1. Sherman Klump: The Nutty Professor

An image of Sherman Klump for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

You can’t have a list of favorite movies about college professors without The Nutty Professor. This film plays with the absent minded professor trope and adds a twist. At the heart of this film is Professor Klump’s weight struggles. He is a genius scientist, but he lacks charm. He battles with loneliness and decides to invent a weight-loss solution.

Klump decides to take the solution himself. And it works. He loses 250 pounds in seconds. But the side effects split his personality.

He sometimes transforms into Buddy Love. And Love is nothing like the kind-hearted nutty professor Klump. No, Love is arrogant and obnoxious. And his behavior causes Klump major problems.

This film is a classic. It stars Eddie Murphy as Klump/Love and five other roles. Plus, it’s a fun twist on the Jekyll and Hyde trope.

Also, it’s a remake of another film. In 1963, Jerry Lewis starred in the original The Nutty Professor. It’s fun to see a film’s producer tackle the same story in a different way, especially Eddie Murphy’s rendition of the iconic Jerry Lewis nutty professor.

Famous Educators in Television

Educators appear in all forms of media. Like film, television boasts several academic characters. And they aren’t all professors. Some are teachers in public schools, and others work for a secret government agency.

Some of them are fun-loving elementary school teachers. And others are instructors with questionable morals. Either way, they’re all memorable. But the teachers listed below are some of the most well-known.

Below is a list of five famous educators in TV shows.

5. Annalise Keating: How to Get Away with Murder

An image of Annalise Keating for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

Keating is a strong and confident law professor. Students both fear and admire her. Who better to play this iconic character than Viola Davis?

In the series, Keating teaches Criminal Law 101. But soon her teachings become more than answers to exam questions. Keating and her top five students must cover up a murder. And who better to lead the cover-up than a brilliant lawyer?

But you’ll have to watch the show to see if they succeed.

4. George Feeny: Boy Meets World

An image of George Feeny for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

Throughout this series, Feeny follows his students as they grow. He starts in elementary school. But as his students age, Feeny moves with them, even to college.

Protagonist Cory Matthews often comes to him for advice. And Feeny’s lessons are invaluable. Also, he never gives up on his students. That’s what makes him memorable.

3. Ji-Yoon Kim: The Chair

An image of Ji-Yoon Kim 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

You can’t find many TV academics who are women of color. But Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is one of them.

Pembroke University names Kim head of the failing English department. She is the first woman of color to hold the title. Kim views it as a step toward change. But soon, pressure and expectations rise.

Kim must face both sexism and racism at her new job. It’s one of the few shows that gets academia right. It doesn’t romanticize the English department. In fact, it shows its flaws.

Academia has its own racial and gender politics. And they are not kind to Kim. She inherited a failing department. But now faculty blame her for its shortcomings.

And as the first woman and POC chair, it’s a large blow. They now believe a white man should replace her. And the pressure to prove them wrong is significant.

2. Ms. Valerie Frizzle: The Magic School Bus

An image of Ms. Frizzle for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

The magical schoolteacher herself, Ms. Frizz. She’s mysterious and eccentric. Voiced by the wonderful Lily Tomlin, Ms. Frizzle is a true icon.

She’s as supportive and kind as a normal teacher. But her fantastical field trips make her stand out. And her smarts are as impressive as her dresses are whimsical. She exudes a passion that rubs off on her students.

Ms. Frizzle is a genius inventor. She uses magical devices to teach her students science.

But her lessons include more than lecturing. She encourages her students to answer their own questions. And they learn more through experience than textbooks.

Ms. Frizzle is the perfect mentor. Who wouldn’t want her as their teacher?

1. Walter White: Breaking Bad

An image of Walter White for our article on 10 Most Iconic Movies About Professors

Image Source

Walter White is a respected chemist and high school physical chemistry teacher. At least, he was, before he became a notorious drug kingpin.

Played by Bryan Cranston, Mr. White gets diagnosed with terminal cancer. So, he started manufacturing drugs to support his family after his death.

The only problem: White doesn’t know how to sell it. But former student Jesse Pinkman does. They partner up to sell the drugs White produced. And from there, things escalate.

They climb their way to the top. And sometimes this means harming those in their way. But in the end, it’s all for his family.

White’s eye for detail and scientific knowledge gives him an advantage. His product is purer and stronger than the competition. Yes, he may not be the greatest, most traditional mentor. But he is among the most memorable educators in television.

Ask someone to name a famous teacher from TV. We guarantee they’ll mention Walter White.

Honorable Mentions – Educators in Film

  • Professor Charles Kingsfield (The Paper Chase) – John Houseman won the best supporting actor Oscar award in The Paper Chase film for playing Professor Charles.
  • Professor George Falconer (A Single Man) – The role of Professor George Falconer and the film were up for many awards.
  • Professor Gerald Lambeau (Good Will Hunting) – This film won multiple awards. From outstanding supporting actor to American Film Institute recognition.
  • Professor Larry Gopnik (A Serious Man) – Jewish physics professor played by Michael Stewart Stuhlbarg who has won best supporting actor Oscar awards. Filming location was Normandale Community College.
  • Professor Maurice Phipps (Higher Learning) – While you won’t find a Jewish physics professor teaching in this film, you do have Laurence Fishburne teaching political science.
  • Professor Ned Brainard (Absent Minded Professor)
  • Professor Pitkannan (With Honors)
  • Professor Turguson (Back to School)

Famous School Locations in Cinema

  • Harvard Law School
  • Oxford University
  • Princeton University
  • Southern University

Call to All Filmmakers

Women make up half of academia in the United States. And yet movies about professors center around male academics. In most films, women play the muse for male professors. They also play the graduate student love interest. But they are rarely the stars of their own films.

This must change. And it is, little by little. In 2017, we saw the film Hidden Figures. It follows the work of three African American women at NASA. They are brilliant, independent, and based on real women.

More films include female academics. But the number remains limited. Imagine Dead Poets Society if John Keating were a woman. A film like The Paper Chase with a film hero as a woman doesn’t exist.

There’s a scarcity of academic women in movies. We need more movies about women to land on the National Film Registry. But this new generation of filmmakers can change that.

BDP Staff
August 2022

Related Resources:

30 Best Professional and Creative Writing Degree Online Programs

Ultimate Guide to Arts Degrees and Careers

What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Television or Film Producer?

What’s the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Actor?

This concludes our article on the most iconic professors in movies.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris