30 best classroom appropriate movies for middle schoolers

Showing a movie in class can be a great option when you’re ending a unit, needing a day between units, having to put together an impromptu sub-plan, or simply wanting to present a text in a different format to include visual and media literacy.

Pop culture has a place in middle school classrooms when it is used thoughtfully. These 30 movie suggestions have been compiled with a focus on including options that could be tied to social and emotional learning (SEL) as well as your middle school ELA curriculum.

You know your students best, so I definitely encourage you to preview any top-choice movies to ensure they’re a good choice for you and your demographics. You can even sign up for a free educator account at Common Sense Media for reviews and input about a variety of media texts, including many of the movies listed below!

To help you quickly find what you need, I’ve broken down the 30 recommended movies for middle schoolers into the following categories (click the link to quickly jump to a specific category!):

  1. Based on a Novel
  2. Based on a True Story
  3. Documentaries
  4. Animated Options
  5. Timeless Classics

Classroom Movie Category #1: Based on A Novel

classroom appropriate movies for middle schoolers based on a novel

Ah, every ELA teacher’s favorite category: movies based on novels. They are perfect opportunities to compare and contrast, wrap things up with a bowl of popcorn, tackle that pesky “two versions of the same text” standard, you name it. Here are my favorite movies for middle schoolers based on novels.

  1. Enola Holmes PG-13 (2020) 123 mins – This is A Sherlock Holmes mystery, but with his younger sister Enola as the protagonist. When Enola’s mother disappears, she sets out to solve the mystery, only to be caught up in another adventure at the same time. There is a sequel, but this original is the better of the two!
  2. Wonder PG (2017) 113 mins – The coming-of-age story of a boy with facial differences who moves from homeschooling to a local elementary school to start grade 5. August “Auggie” Pullman, while initially teased and ostracized, eventually gains allies and friends, which leads to a happy ending. 
  3. Holes PG (2003) 120 mins – Stanley Yelnats is sent to a juvenile detention boot camp in the Texas desert, where he and others dig holes all day. The film includes two flashback plot sequences that help tell the real-life story of why they are digging holes. This is one of my favorite novel studies for 6th grade, so I love to finish it with a good movie.
  4. The Giver PG-13 (2014) 94 mins – In this futuristic, supposedly-utopian, society, when people turn 16 they’re assigned a role. Jonas becomes the Receiver of Memory, who experiences all the pain so the community doesn’t have to. However, as a result of the role, Jonas becomes more aware of the downside of this utopian community.
  5. City of Ember PG (2008) 95 mins – In a post-apocalyptic world two teens, Lina and Doon, need to solve clues to save Ember, the underground city where they live. After nearly 200 years the generator that supports the city is about to die out, and the teens are the only ones who can save the city. Based on the first book of the series. 
  6. The Book Thief PG-13 (2013) 125 mins – WWII drama about a young girl, Liesl, in Germany who is adopted in 1938 by a German couple. Liesl, a voracious reader, has her story told from the point of view of Death. The story focuses on the war years while the family hides a young Jewish man in their basement. Like typical WWII dramas, this movie includes lighthearted and heavy moments. 
  7. Hunger Games PG-13 (2012) 142 mins – In a post-apocalyptic world, there’s an annual competition called the Hunger Games where pairs of teens from 12 districts in the country of Panem compete to win in a brutal televised competition. The goal is to be the victor and lone survivor; however, Katniss Everdeen, the ‘tribute’ from District 12, changes that plan with her actions in the Games. 
  8. Catherine Called Birdy PG 13 (2022) 108 mins – Set in medieval English, 14-year-old Catherine, who is nicknamed Birdy, experiences family challenges as she needs to be married off by her family in order to resolve their debts. However, Birdy cleverly figures out ways to discourage each suitor her father chooses. The movie is funny as it explores coming-of-age elements such as first love, first periods, friendships, and more.

Classroom Movie Category #2: Based on A True Story

classroom appropriate movies for middle schoolers based on a true story

Sometimes, we could all use a little feel-good story based on truth. Whether meant to inspire, kick off a nonfiction unit study, or complement other studies, these movies are sure to stay with students long after the final credits roll.

  1. 42 PG-13 (2013) – This is a biopic of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in major league baseball. The story follows Robinson in his personal and professional life from the minor leagues to his rise to fame, while facing racism from fellow players, coaches, and fans. (There’s also a short novel for this one, so it also doubles as an excellent nonfiction novel study choice!)
  2. Queen of Katwe PG (2006) 124mins – The story of a Ugandan girl who learns to play chess under the guidance of a missionary. She excels at playing and travels to compete in the World Chess Olympiads. 
  3. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind PG (2019) 113 mins – The story of a young boy from Malawi whose family can no longer afford to send him to school. William Kamkwamba then spends his days at the local library learning on his own; his ultimate goal is to build a windmill to pump water in order to save his town from famine. 
  4. Hidden Figures PG (2016) 127 mins – The story of three African-American women working at NASA as computers—the term for the people who computed/did calculations. Their work helped launch astronaut John Glenn as part of a mission early in the Space Race. 
  5. McFarland, USA PG (2015) 129 mins – The story of a coach new to a predominantly Latino California neighborhood who helps found a cross-country team. Working together, the team makes it to the state championships. 

Classroom Movie Category #3: Documentaries

classroom appropriate movies for middle schoolers - documentaries
  1. My Octopus Teacher (2020)—85 mins – The documentary filmmaker sets out to capture marine life in South Africa but makes a connection with one octopus during his daily dives. The octopus helps the filmmaker learn about life and survival, not just in the ocean!
  2. Own The Room (2021) 90 mins – The movie follows five students from around the world as they travel to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards in 2019 to win the $100,000 prize to invest in their businesses. The individual stories of creativity and perseverance are inspiring.
  3. The Speed Cubers PG (2020) 40 mins. – This documentary follows two competitors as they participate in different events focused on solving the Rubik’s cube at the 2019 World Competition. It features challenges such as solving a cube while blindfolded, another that’s one-handed, and more, all while racing against a clock.
  4. I Am Eleven (2014) 94 mins – Travelling to 15 different countries around the world, the documentarians interview different 11-year-olds about their lives. The interesting thing is the connections or commonalities of experiences regardless of geographic location. TW: Discussion of suicide and bullying.
  5. Spellbound G (2003) 96 minutes – Following the story of eight competitors from across the US as they get ready for the annual National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. All competitors are in the eighth grade or younger, but their stories are compelling nonetheless.

Classroom Movie Category #4: Animated Options

classroom appropriate movies for middle schoolers - animated options

These movies (and the movies in the classics section) are perfect choices for celebrations. Whether it’s a half-day for teacher planning, the end of a quarter celebration, a celebration for achievements, or the end of the year, these movies are favorites that students of all ages love, plus, they touch on deeper topics that are ideal for rich, thought-provoking discussions.

  1. WALL-E G (2008) 103 mins – This environmentally-focused Pixar film is set in the future where WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is the lone robot left on earth while humans live in personal hovercraft after escaping the destruction of society. WALL-E meets a new robot named EVE, only to have her snatched away; he follows her and sets things in motion that might change the world for the better. 
  2. Zootopia PG (2016) 108 mins – Zootopia is a city where animals are personified and live more human-like day-to-day lives. A small-town rabbit joins the big city’s police force only to be caught up in solving the recent kidnapping crime spree. She teams up with the hustler fox to help save the day. 
  3. Coco PG (2017) 109 mins – The title character has a love and talent for music but his family bans all music as a result of a long-ago devastating family event. Coco continues playing and steals a guitar on the Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2) and is transported to the Land of the Dead where he explores more of his family’s history. 
  4. Inside Out PG (2015) 102 mins – Focused on personified emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, the lead character Riley’s emotions are explored at different stages in her life. At the same time that Riley moves houses and schools, Joy and Sadness get stuck in a space where they can’t be accessed and must work to make it back so Riley can have a better balance of emotions.
  5. Turning Red PG (2022) 100 mins – A young girl, Mei Lee, is on the threshold of adolescence and all the issues that come with that! This is further complicated by the fact that she turns into a giant red panda when she gets excited. 

Classroom Movie Category #5: Classics for Always

classroom appropriate movies for middle schoolers - classics
  1. October Sky PG (1999) 108 mins – Set in 1957, the film follows a group of young kids enthralled with all things space, especially Homer, who wants to become a rocket scientist. The film’s setting coincides with the year the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite sent into space. The group of young boys, along with their teacher, set out to try and spot Sputnik in the sky. The film follows Homer’s home life at the same time as he dreams of space and all it entails.
  2. The Princess Bride PG (1987) 98 mins – A modern fairy tale where Prince Humperdink gets engaged to a young woman named Buttercup, who thinks her true love and childhood sweetheart, Wesley, has been killed. Before she is set to marry, she is kidnapped, and the adventure begins!
  3. Remember the Titans PG (2000) 113 mins – Set in 1971, Coach Herman Boone faces the challenge of leading an integrated high school football team in Virginia. Through teamwork and perseverance, the players, both Black and White, learn to overcome racial tensions, showcasing the power of unity and diversity on and off the field.
  4. Cool Runnings PG (1993) 98 mins – Based on a true story, Cool Runnings shows the story of a Jamaican bobsled team’s quest to compete in the Winter Olympics. Guided by a determined coach, the team challenges stereotypes and overcomes obstacles to pursue their Olympic dream.
  5. The Sandlot PG (1993) 101 mins – The Sandlot follows the adventures of a young boy named Scotty Smalls as he moves to a new neighborhood and joins a local baseball team. Led by Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, the team navigates challenges and bonds over their shared love for the game. 
  6. Secondhand Lions PG (2003) – 111 mins – In Secondhand Lions, young Walter is reluctantly sent to live with his enigmatic great-uncles in rural Texas. With their unconventional lifestyle and tales of adventure, Walter finds himself immersed in a world of mystery, humor, and unexpected surprises, uncovering the truth behind his great-uncles’ intriguing past.
  7. The Greatest Showman PG (2017) 105 mins – The Greatest Showman celebrates the visionary spirit of P.T. Barnum as he creates the spectacle of the circus, featuring an array of performers and showcasing the magic of dreams brought to life through song, dance, and extraordinary acts.

Do you have a student (and teacher) favorite that you would add to the list? Drop it in the comments below for a future reader!