Regardless of the subject you happen be studying, some of your professors are bound to make its instruction an uninspiring and lackluster experience. On the other hand, such mediocre teachings will often be made up for by those brilliant professors who will improve your quality of life for years to come. Great instructors affect us in all kinds of ways: some encourage us to achieve amazing things; others set a good example for their students. Then there are those profs who are just so cool that you can’t help but like them. We list the 10 most impressive college professors in movie history – the ones you always wished you had!
10. Stranger than Fiction: Jules Hilbert
Stranger Than Fiction was a forgettable 2006 comedy whose only distinguishing features were its premise (a man hears a voice inside his head and realizes that his life is actually a novel being written by a famous author), Will Ferrell’s abortive attempt to do some serious acting, and Dustin Hoffman’s performance as university professor Julius Hilbert. Stern but highly passionate about his subject, Hilbert is the teacher that you wish you could have had in high school. But he’s not only knowledgeable about literature; he’s also so devoted to it that he believes Ferrell’s character should sacrifice his life to create the perfect ending to a story. You have to give him credit for taking his subject seriously.
9. The Eiger Sanction: Dr. Jonathan Hemlock
Clint Eastwood’s aptly named Dr Hemlock isn’t just a normal professor; he’s a retired government assassin who is occasionally still called upon to eliminate enemies of the United States. In this intense 1975 thriller, he is sent to the Eiger in Switzerland to eliminate an enemy spy – an especially difficult task because of the high altitude conditions and his lack of knowledge of his enemy’s identity. Eastwood plays Hemlock with his normal mixture of steely ruthlessness and charm. While an unflappable secret agent with a passion for mountaineering might not necessarily make for the best college professor, at least he would lead some fun field trips.
8. Animal House: Professor Dave Jennings
The classic comedy Animal House features some colorful fraternity characters… and Professor Dave Jennings, one of the most memorable cases of institutional boredom ever depicted in the movies. As a left-wing English professor with a strong indifference to his job, his subject, and the university itself, he is the more down-to-earth foil to the other staff members’ megalomania and control freakery. He has a less than flattering view of John Milton: “He’s a little bit long winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation and his jokes are terrible.” The professor also smokes copious amounts of marijuana. Hardly surprising that he can relate to his students pretty well, then.
7. The Nutty Professor: Julius Kelp/Buddy Love
Professor Julius Kelp may be a skinny guy with a voice that could invite a wedgie from any school bully, but appearances aren’t everything. In fact, he’s a bit of a genius, and one whose insecurity about his looks and social ineptitude drives him to create a potion that totally transforms his appearance, personality and abilities. How many college professors can claim such a scientific breakthrough? And if that’s not cool enough, his alter-ego Buddy Love is every Rat Pack member distilled into one: Mr Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll, but with a super natty zoot suit and awesome cocktail-mixing skills.
6. Higher Learning: Professor Maurice Phipps
Laurence Fishburne’s Professor Phipps is the highlight of Higher Learning. A radical Political Science tutor, he alone amongst the characters in the film makes a serious effort to break through his students’ prejudices and teach them to stop viewing the world through a lens of racism. His dedication to teaching his students to face the real world is also a total contrast to some of the more irresponsible entries on this list: “In the real world, no one wants to hear excuses or empty rhetoric. They want to know that you have a plan.” Now, if only more real world politicians would follow that advice…
5. Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis
In a role that echoes his famous performance in The Remains of the Day (released the same year), Anthony Hopkins stars as the lead in the romantic drama Shadowlands. The flick concerns writer and academic C.S. Lewis’ romance with Joy Gresham, a feisty American poet, in the 1950s. Lewis is portrayed as a quiet man, great with kids and easy to imagine as an effective teacher – not surprising, since he wrote some of the most popular children’s books of the 20th century. The culture clash between stuffy British academics and the more adventurous Americans may be a bit stereotypical, but Hopkins’ powerful performance and chemistry with fellow actor Debra Winger really manage to elevate this movie to a whole new level.
4. Drumline: Dr. Lee
This tightly-choreographed movie about rival marching bands at an American university is an unusual take on the normal sporting movie formula. Dr. Lee, played by Orlando Jones, is a college professor and the mentor of a young freshman who joins the school on a band scholarship. The professor is completely devoted to the one thing that makes the university great: its students’ terrific drumming skills. A strict music lover with a steely gaze that could make The Terminator flinch, Lee is essentially the mentor character from every Hollywood sporting movie condensed into one. The fact that he happens to lead a marching band just means that his job takes even more guts.
3. Diary of the Dead: Andrew Maxwell
George Romero’s zombie movies have a definite prejudice against authority figures, so it’s surprising to find his depiction of a university professor in Diary of the Dead so positive. Film Studies faculty adviser Andrew Maxwell may be a traumatized alcoholic, but he’s also a skilled war veteran with many weapons, and definitely someone you can rely on – whether you need help coping with final exams or fighting off hordes of the undead! No matter how crazy the situation, Maxwell takes it in stride, and his philosophical approach, ready supply of drink and occasional well-aimed arrows prove to be a match for anything – even a horde of ravenous zombies.
2. The Paper Chase: Charles W. Kingsfield Jr.
Possibly the scariest thing for a newly arriving student is a strict teacher, particularly one with a knack for breaking down his pupils and exposing their weaknesses to the world. In The Paper Chase, Charles Kingsfield is an incredibly intimidating Harvard law professor who rules his classes with an iron fist. But he certainly has style; witness his reaction to one of his students giving him cheek in class: “Here’s a dime. Call your mother and tell her that there’s serious doubt about your becoming a lawyer.” John Houseman was so terrifying in the role that he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. Whatever else you can say about him, he’s definitely a teacher that gets results. After all, would you even dare turn a paper in late to this guy?
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones
Here’s a professor so adored that some of his female students actually write messages on their faces about how much they love him. And who can blame them? If you were to choose your archaeology professor, wouldn’t you want one who spent most of his time actually investigating ancient ruins and artifacts, rather than just burying himself in a pile of books about them? Just think of the lectures Indiana Jones could give about the time he broke into the ancient temple, stole the idol from the altar and dodged the giant boulder on the way out. Not to mention that, being played by Harrison Ford, he obviously gains a massive amount of coolness kudos right off the bat.