A Level Secondary Sociology

12 influential and inspirational films for Sociology students

It has never been easier to consume media and in particular TV series and documentaries, in a time of binge-watching though I am often asked by students for advice on actual films to watch rather than just series, in particular films that are both inspirational and useful for Sociology. So, as the evenings close in, the clocks go back and the temperatures drop I decided to compile an essential watch list of 12 films from the last 20 years that are useful for a range of different topics.

Film: I, Daniel Blake

Year: 2016

IMDB rating: 7.9/10

Where can I watch it: Amazon Prime

Useful for: Social class, underclass, inequality, poverty, work

Explanation: A very powerful film that looks at the difficulties of unemployment in the North East of England from the point of view of an older unemployed male and a young single mother of two. This film is really useful for explaining the cycle of deprivation and why living in poverty can be a fatalistic and hopeless existence.


Film: American History X

Year: 1998

IMDB rating: 8.5/10

Where can I watch it: YouTube movies

Useful for: Ethnicity, racial inequality, poverty

Explanation: A film that many students will find uncomfortable to watch but is an incredibly powerful depiction of a former neo-Nazi white supremacist trying to turn his life around after serving a prison sentence for his actions. This is certainly a film that leaves a long-lasting impression.


Film: Love, Simon

Year: 2018

IMDB rating: 7.7/10

Where can I watch it: Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies

Useful for: Sexuality, identity, gender equality

Explanation: Some students will say that a few of these film suggestions are ‘well old’ so here is one right up to date, an American high school boy struggles with the secret of his sexuality and forms an online relationship with another guy to open up about his feelings and experiences. This is a great feel good film to watch on a rainy day.


Film: City of God

Year: 2002

IMDB rating: 8.6/10

Where can I watch it: Netflix

Useful for: Crime, Ethnicity, Social class, inequality

Explanation: A multi-awarding winning film which helps to understand the life of crime in an area of Rio with deep rooted poverty. This is another hard-hitting film which I have recommended to students in the past and the feedback has always been overwhelmingly positive. There is also a follow up entitled ’10 years later’.


Film: American Beauty

Year: 1999

IMDB rating: 8.4/10

Where can I watch it: YouTube Movies

Useful for: Family, sexuality, gender identity

Explanation: I have often shown some of this film to students during the family topic in order to understand empty shell marriages that look ideal from the outside with the perfect home, car and lawn but are far from perfect behind the closed doors. The film also covers issues of divorce, teenage relationships and sexuality.


Film: Freedom writers

Year: 2007

IMDB rating: 7.5/10

Where can I watch it: Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies

Useful for: Education, ethnicity, social class, labelling, methods

Explanation: A film that both students and teachers can relate to that looks at a young teacher attempting to inspire students from poor and ethnic minority backgrounds. This is really good to look at labelling in schools and also interesting from a methods point of view as the students keep a diary to record their feelings.


Film: The Green Mile

Year: 1999

IMDB rating: 8.5/10

Where can I watch it: Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies

Useful for: Crime, deviance, ethnicity, labelling, stereotyping

Explanation: Well, if this one does not make them cry then nothing will! An incredibly powerful story of a black man accused of child murder and rape who possess a special gift. Because this film is almost twenty years old then many students may not have heard of it let alone seen it though every single person I know who has seen this film has been moved by it.


Film: The Wife

Year: 2018

IMDB rating: 7.5/10

Where can I watch it: Cinema

Useful for: Gender, equality, power, identity, Feminism

Explanation: I have included this one as it is on at the cinema at the time of writing and is sure to pick up many awards, this is a really interesting look at the power imbalance between a husband and wife and how there is an expectancy for the husband’s role and status to take precedence over the wife whilst she adopts the emotional, expressive support role.


Film: This is England

Year: 2006

IMDB rating: 7.7/10

Where can I watch it: Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies

Useful for: Ethnicity, Social class, identity, subcultures, crime

Explanation: A film that takes a look at how a young boy becomes initiated into a group of racist skinheads in England in the 1980s. Another difficult watch but if students like the film then they can also watch the follow-up mini-series 86, 88 and 90, the latest of which is on Netflix.


Film: Philomena

Year: 2013

IMDB rating: 7.6/10

Where can I watch it: Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies

Useful for: Religion, gender, equality, feminism

Explanation: An Irish mother has her child taken away from her by the catholic church under horrific circumstances and a journalist picks up the story many years later to investigate the whereabouts of her child. Another fantastically powerful film.


Film: Wonder

Year: 2017

IMDB rating: 8.0/10

Where can I watch it: Netflix

Useful for: Disability, identity, equality

Explanation: Another recent film that looks at a young boy with facial disfigurations trying to live a normal life in an American school. It is a film that will get students to consider identity, disability and equality as well as tug on the heart strings. This was recommended to me by one of my students and I really enjoyed it too.


Film: Pride

Year: 2014

IMDB rating: 7.8/10

Where can I watch it: Netflix

Useful for: Sexuality, identity, social class, Marxism

Explanation: Another feel-good film which looks at how the striking miners and gay activists combined forces in the mid-eighties to successfully campaign and protest against the government. The film is also useful for students to understand New Right policies under Margaret Thatcher.

So, this of course only scratches the surface of films and I am sure you have other recommendations too but I wanted to include films that were all within the last 20 years and accessible (literally and figuratively) for Sociology students. Please also do check the age certification on each film before recommending depending on the key stage you are teaching.

By Matthew Wilkin

Matthew has been teaching Sociology for 16 years and has taught in the UK, Kenya and Spain. He currently teaches at Bellerbys College in Brighton. Matthew runs the www.podology.org.uk website and is continuing his mission to visit every country in the world.

He is also a contributing author to the new Themes & Perspectives books written specifically for the AQA A-level Sociology specification.

Holborn and Haramblos Themes and Perspectives

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