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75 Engaging Leadership Movies for Students in High School

75 Engaging Leadership Movies for Students in High School

One of the best ways to make your classroom more engaging is to use leadership movies for students. Whether it is a language arts, social studies, or character education class, students need the opportunity to make a connection with the stories of other people. By studying the lives of others, students can learn leadership lessons from movies to help them live to their full potential. 

These leadership movies for students can help young people gain confidence that they can make a difference in the world.

The goal is to help students become leaders who make a difference. But is there a formula to help ensure students can experience success?

Success in any endeavor comes down to executing fundamentals. Teachers can use the Write Your Own Story System to help their students learn the fundamentals they need to become leaders. Once we can identify the 12 Fundamentals of Impact in the lives of people like the characters in these movies, then we can utilize them in our own lives. 

If you would like to learn more about the Write Your Own Story System and the 12 Fundamentals of Impact, you can check out our free course

Then, you can use this knowledge to help students complete deep learning activities with these engaging leadership movies for students.

Students Need Good Role Models

One of my favorite activities in our house is family movie night. We usually take turns picking a film to watch. When it’s my turn, you can guarantee I’m going to pick one of my favorite movies about leadership. I want to show my kids good role models who will help them become better leaders. 

A few years ago, my choice on family movie night was Radio, the heartwarming story of a coach and the young man he befriended to help his football team. The kids were locked into the story the entire time. Near the end of the movie, my teenage son said, “Thank you for this.” 

Mission accomplished.

That is the power of movies. When we find a story we can relate to and it touches our hearts, we are energized to create a better version of ourselves. 

Bring Leadership Lessons from Movies to Your Classroom

Maybe you are like me and you understand the power of using movies in the classroom to help students become leaders. But you are worried that using movies isn’t really teaching. Or you are nervous that your administration will think you are not challenging your students. That is why we have created easy-to-use lesson plans to accompany each of these leadership movies for students. 

You can check out our lesson plans by clicking HERE

If you would like to purchase a school-wide license to download all of our lesson plans (plus any more we add in the future) check out our Leadership at the Movies Bundle.

Whether watching at home with your family or using these movies for the classroom, I hope they inspire young people to become leaders who make a difference in the world.


Use Leadership Movies to Engage Students in Deep Learning Activities


Family Leadership Movies for Students

The Pursuit of Happyness

Evicted from their apartment, Chris Gardner and his young son found themselves alone with no place to go. Even though Chris eventually landed a job as an intern at a prestigious brokerage firm, the position paid no money. The pair had to live in shelters and endure many hardships, but Chris refused to give in to despair as he struggled to create a better life for himself and his son.

The Pursuit of Happyness helps us realize the struggle it takes to achieve our dreams…but that it is possible when we keep moving forward one day at a time.


October Sky

Homer Hickam had a dream. He wanted to build and launch rockets. But he had to overcome many obstacles from his family, his school, and his community of Coalwood, West Virginia to make his dream become a reality. This movie chronicles the story of Homer Hickam and his triumph of defying the odds and eventually winning a national science competition with his rocket inventions. Along the way, Homer discovered the power of relationships and how they can give us the strength to go on.

October Sky teaches students leadership lessons to help them discover how they can overcome factors that provide resistance to pursuing their dreams.


The Blind Side

Michael Oher had the potential to be a professional football player, but he didn’t have a home or a real family. That is until Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy came into his life. At the urging of Leigh Anne, Michael became part of their family and received the help he needed to improve his grades so he could accept a Division I football scholarship. But the NCAA questioned the legality of the Tuohy’s kindness and Michael needed to determine if the intentions of his new family were genuine. 

The Blind Side teaches us that being generous to others and doing the right thing is not always so simple.


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

William Kamkwamba was a 13-year-old boy living on a poor farm in Malawi in 2001. His passion for science and technology spurred him to look for a way to help his family and community through the drought they were suffering from. Ultimately, William gained the knowledge and skills to build a wind turbine that would help pump water to their fields even when it didn’t rain. However, his father didn’t believe he knew what he was talking about and told William to give up his silly dreams.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind reveals it often takes a lot of courage and persistence to do what we believe is right when it goes against the status quo of our culture and family environments.


Penguin Bloom

Samantha Bloom had to shift the plans for her life and her family after breaking her back while on vacation. Her entire life was turned upside down and she questioned whether her life had any more value. With the help of her husband, her children, and an injured magpie the kids brought home, Sam was able to rise above her cloudy perspective and see that her life was not only beautiful but that she had the opportunity to share her gifts with the world.

Penguin Bloom illustrates no matter what happens to us, we can respond by writing our own story to help others and make a positive difference in the world.


News of the World

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd was a Civil War veteran who traveled across Texas bringing stories and the news to the people who were living under Reconstruction. Kidd discovered a young girl who had been a captive of the Kiowa people and begrudgingly agreed to take her 400 miles to her only known family.

Along the way, the unlikely pair had to avoid both natural and human obstacles in order to survive and they form a bond through their struggles. However, Captain Kidd had several demons that he needed to wrestle before he could open himself up again to love and human connection.

News of the World teaches us that if we just put our heads down and barrel through life, we will miss out on the people who come into our lives for a reason.


Football Leadership Movies for Students

When the Game Stands Tall

Everyone wants to win. But sometimes our focus on the outcome, and how it creates our identity, causes us to break. Competition in sports exposes the character we possess and gives us an opportunity to strengthen that character.  This movie tells the true story of the De La Salle high school football team in California and its 151 game winning streak.

When the Game Stands Tall helps students focus on the role of leadership on a team, the struggles of being a teenager, parent-child relationships, and living by principles. 


Remember the Titans

Herman Boone was hired to coach the football team at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971. But not everyone approved of the decision. The school, football team, and community all battle the important issue of race as the school is integrated for the first time. Both on and off the field, we find out that character prevails over anger and discrimination in this classic that all ages will love.

Remember the Titans can motivate students to become better leaders for their classrooms, schools, and communities.



When Coach Harold Jones befriended James “Radio” Kennedy and had him help his high school football team it brought joy to the sidelines. But not everyone thought Radio’s presence was the best idea. Eventually, school staff told Radio he couldn’t be around the football team or at the school. And Coach Jones questioned whether trying to help Radio was the right thing to do.

Radio highlights the importance of kindness, integrity, and truth and shows the effect that one person’s love can have on others.


We Are Marshall

The Marshall University football program was devastated in the aftermath of the plane crash that took the lives of nearly the entire coaching staff and team in 1970. Coach Jack Lengyel went to Marshall to help the school and community recover from this tragedy by putting a team on the field. He showed them the way to play in which they could never be defeated.

We Are Marshall helps students engage in the important topics of dealing with loss and using sport as a vehicle to learn how to navigate life.



How far will you go to achieve the dreams deep inside your heart? What will you sacrifice to do something most don’t believe is possible?

Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger followed his dream to play football at the University of Notre Dame. With the odds stacked against him, Rudy proved that there are no limits to what you can achieve when you believe in yourself and never give up.

Rudy will guide students to see the real value of winning comes from the character we invest in the pursuit of excellence and that we need to enjoy the relationships we grow during our journey.



Are you crazy enough to believe in your dreams even when no one else does? Vince Papale took advantage of an open tryout under new coach Dick Vermeil to become a 30-year-old rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. Papale’s story shows he has the heart to be a true champion.

Invincible emphasizes the importance of taking risks, believing in yourself, and how courage can inspire others and give them hope.


My All-American

Freddie Steinmark was an undersized player full of heart who earned a football scholarship to the University of Texas to play for legendary coach Darrell Royal. Freddie’s character earned him the opportunity to play on the field, but an injury eventually forced him off the field and into the fight for his life.

My All-American helps students see the leadership opportunities that are available to all of us by writing a story of impact with our lives.


Friday Night Lights

Football is life is the mentality in many communities across our country. And it’s not just football. Many sports bring a fever to the people involved at all levels. Sports can bring great pride to a community…but does it come at a cost?

This movie is the story of the Odessa-Permian High School football team and their journey to the Texas state championship game. The movie exposes the many facets of high school sports and how the game impacts the lives of everyone involved.

Friday Night Lights is a great resource to start a discussion on the role of high school sports in our society. In addition, it helps students dive into the topic of the pressures they face both on and off the field.


The Longshots

Sometimes the underdog shows us we need to think differently and challenge the status quo in our lives. Jasmine was a girl who didn’t seem to fit in at school, but with the help of her Uncle Curtis, she found a place to belong on the town’s Pop Warner football team.

The Longshots teaches us about breaking down stereotypes, the power of second chances, and the importance of strong family and community relationships.


Little Giants

Danny O’Shea had always lived in the shadow of his brother Kevin, who was famous in their hometown as a college football star who won the Heisman Trophy. And when Kevin didn’t pick his niece Becky to be on the PeeWee football team he formed, Danny decided to finally stand up to his brother by forming his own PeeWee team for his daughter.

The two coaches organized their teams to compete in the showdown to see which group would represent their town in the PeeWee football league. 

Little Giants teaches us about how we can learn to be winners, the importance of being on a team, and how the idea of “one time” can inspire us to keep competing even when the odds are stacked against us.


When we find a story we can relate to, we are energized to create a better version of ourselves.


Historical Leadership Movies for Students


Can you rise above the suffering and adversity you encounter in your life? Will you draw a new perspective and new wisdom from your experiences?

Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini was lost at sea when his plane went down during World War II. Eventually landing in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, Louis endured years of physical, mental, and emotional pain as one of the Japanese commanders isolated him for humiliation and punishment.

Unbroken helps us understand the horrors of war and the experiences that some humans are amazingly able to survive.


Cinderella Man

Would you be willing to fight to help your family survive?

Jim Braddock was on the ledge of despair. Fighting for his family’s survival during the Great Depression, Braddock resurrected his boxing career to feed his family.

Cinderella Man combines thrilling action with emotional drama. The story reveals how one man can make a difference in the lives of his loved ones and inspire others to fight with courage.


Memphis Belle

Can you perform your duties when you are under stress and pressure? Will you take the right action to lead in times of challenge?

The crew of the Memphis Belle only had one more mission to complete during World War II and they would be headed back to the United States as heroes. But their final mission would test their strength, relationships, and leadership.

Memphis Belle tells the heroic story of the B-17 bomber crew who completed 30 missions without losing a member. It teaches us that true leadership is about the action we take to do the right thing in the moments we experience. A wonderful story not only about the history of World War II but about camaraderie and the human experiences which bring us together.



What does it take to live with greatness in a society determined to take away your humanity? Araminta Ross, better known as Harriet Tubman, refused to let her master and the institution of slavery, take away her humanity and her dignity. 

Sometimes her amazing accomplishments almost seem too good to be true…but Harriet is as real as they come. And her life can continue to impact people generations later even if politics, culture, and technology appear to be different.

Harriet teaches us that the greatness Harriet Tubman lived with is available to each of us if we focus on the fundamentals of leading for impact. It’s as simple as following our hearts and having the courage to take action to do what’s right, even in the face of punishment and death.


The Founder

Ray Kroc was a floundering businessman selling milkshake makers when he came across a revolutionary California restaurant run by Dick and Mac McDonald. Ray saw the potential for success the new restaurant held and he urged the brothers to expand by franchising McDonald’s.

However, Ray was willing to go much farther and bigger than the McDonald brothers. When the brothers appeared to be slowing Ray down, he maneuvered himself into a position to take over sole possession of what would become a worldwide empire and a brand that is known across every corner of the globe.

The Founder illustrates that no matter how successful we are in the business world, we always have a choice of whether or not to live by the principles and values of our integrity. Persistence can help us achieve our goals and get us where we want to be, but sometimes there is a cost to our success.



Abraham Lincoln was known as the Great Emancipator. But his ability to take action came from great reflection and calculation inside himself. And the results he achieved came from overcoming a variety of obstacles. In this movie, we see the 16th president’s push at the end of his life to pass the 13th Amendment ending slavery in the United States. As easy as the history books often make this achievement sound, this movie shows the emotions and actions which played out during this momentous time.

Lincoln shows students that greatness doesn’t come from your role…it comes from how you execute your role. Abraham Lincoln is one of the most studied people on the planet. But we discover that as many great things as he did, Lincoln still lived a human experience much like the rest of us. But by being true to his principles in that experience, he has become a lighthouse that helps give us direction, guidance, and hope.


Mississippi Burning

FBI agents Alan Ward and Rupert Anderson were assigned to work together when the murder case of three civil rights workers surfaced. When local law enforcement refused to cooperate and the local African-American community was too scared to speak to them, the men found out that they had two very different strategies in trying to solve the case.

This movie reveals the depth of racism in 1960’s Mississippi as well as the personal struggles that the people on all sides of the issue faced in making the choice of whether to do good or evil.

Mississippi Burning teaches us that standing up for what is right and doing good is not easy. It may even put our lives in danger. But in order to make a difference in the world, we often have to encounter situations that test our integrity and whether or not we have the courage to stand by our convictions.



Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended legal segregation, racism and discrimination plagued the southern states. The efforts to keep African-Americans from voting were strong and Martin Luther King, Jr. knew they needed to push President Lyndon Johnson and the federal government for voting rights. 

As a preacher and practitioner of nonviolence, King organized a march scheduled to take place from Selma to Montgomery in the heart of Alabama. However, we see that these efforts discussed in textbooks were not so easy from a mental and emotional standpoint as well as from a physical standpoint.

Selma teaches students about the true struggles and sacrifices faced by both famous people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ordinary people who followed him as well. In the end, the best way to honor these heroes is to take their example and continue to fight injustices in our world today.


Apollo 13

When an explosion damaged the Apollo 13 space shuttle, it became a mission of survival for Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert. But the men couldn’t do it on their own. They needed the help of their colleagues at mission command, especially one of the crew members, Ken Mattingly, who was not able to make the trip.

Amazingly, the men were able to make it home after nearly 6 days in space thanks to their own courage and the teamwork of all involved.

Apollo 13 shows that it is important to always prepare ourselves so we can execute our duties while being ready for all contingencies. In addition, we learn that being part of a team that needs to complete a mission takes trust, cooperation, and sacrifice.


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Bruno was an 8-year-old boy whose father received a promotion in the German army. The promotion forced his family to move from their home and Bruno was lonely in a strange new place without his friends. Bruno became curious about the farmers who lived in the nearby camp and wore striped pajamas. Eventually, Bruno found a boy from the camp his own age and the two struck up a friendship through the barbed wire fence which separated them.

As Bruno began to learn about the reality of the camp, he made a decision that betrayed the boy. Determined to make up for his mistake, he went on a secret mission to try to save his new friendship.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas teaches us that the people we often read about in history books were not automatons. They were human beings who often wrestled with their own emotions and had to decide whether or not to follow their conscience. We discover the choices we make can sometimes lead to unintended consequences.



This movie, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Samuel Woodward, follows a family of slaves attempting to make it safely to Canada via the Underground Railroad. At the same time, we are told the story of John Newton because Samuel’s grandfather was one of the passengers on Newton’s slave ship. As we follow the journeys of both Samuel Woodward and John Newton, we see their attitudes toward God change and, as a result, the way they live their lives transformed as well.

Freedom teaches us that freedom from physical slavery is only one form of bondage that we need to free ourselves from. When we surrender our worries to God and live to make a difference in the lives of others, then we are truly free.


Basketball Leadership Movies for Students

Coach Carter

It’s not easy to turn a losing basketball team into winners. That was Ken Carter’s mission when he took over as high school basketball coach of the inner-city Richmond Oilers, his alma mater. But Carter discovered winning on the scoreboard was the easiest part of his job. Coach Carter used discipline and high standards in an effort to teach the young men he worked with how to win in life as well as on the basketball court.

Coach Carter reveals that high school students often have many issues in their lives that they bring to school and the gym. Therefore, a coach’s job is much more than just being an instructor of skills…and a player’s true reward is much more than a trophy.



Hoosiers tells the story of the Hickory Huskers basketball team in 1950’s Indiana. The team becomes a Cinderella story as a tiny school competing in the single-class state basketball tournament. With the help of a new coach, the team and community discover the values of working hard, working together, and believing in themselves.

Hoosiers shows us that even if we consider ourselves an underdog, we can rise to the challenge and discover we have what it takes to be a winner inside of us no matter what the scoreboard says.


Blue Chips

We all want to win…and no one believes they will cheat to do it. But when the stress to maintain our positions, status, and reputation lies in the scoreboard, we are faced with decisions that blur the line between right and wrong.

This is a story about a college basketball coach facing the pressures to win or possibly lose his job. In a world of behind-the-scenes deals, Coach Pete Bell claims to have a clean program. But when the pressure mounts after two straight losing seasons, will he corrupt his program for a chance to win a national championship?

Blue Chips helps students identify the moral dilemmas facing players and coaches in the world of college athletics.


Glory Road

Don Haskins broke stereotypes and racial barriers in the 1960s when he built his Texas Western basketball team with the best players he could find…no matter their skin color. Haskins’ team faced mounting tension and pressure as winning games brought them into the spotlight. Both Coach Haskins and the players had to first learn how to win on the inside in order to make their winning on the court worth the struggle.

Glory Road helps students look inside to discover how they view themselves as well as the perspectives they have toward others. This story is full of action, courage, and heart…exactly the things we need if we want to be a winner!


Hoop Dreams

What are you doing today to pursue your dreams? How will you respond when things don’t go your way?

Every school day, African-American teenagers William Gates and Arthur Agee traveled 90 minutes each way from inner-city Chicago to St. Joseph High School. St. Joe’s was a predominately white suburban school well-known for the excellence of its basketball program. Gates and Agee dreamed of NBA stardom, and with the support of their close-knit families, they battled the social and physical obstacles that stood in their way. This is a real-life documentary shot over the course of five years.

Hoop Dreams shows us the journey of pursuing our dreams and the complexities of family, culture, and environment.


The Pistol

Pistol Pete Maravich went on to become one of the most dynamic college and professional basketball players in the history of the game. But during Pete’s 8th grade year he joined the high school varsity basketball team and had to grow up in a hurry.

The Pistol (The Birth of a Legend) teaches us that having a dream can be both a blessing and a burden. It can send us on a trajectory to help us reach our full potential, but it can also cause us heartache and conflict in our relationships.


1000 to 1

Are you using your sport or activity to become a better version of yourself or is your activity using you? Cory Weissman was a college basketball player at Gettysburg College who suffered a stroke. Eventually, he was able to overcome physical and emotional setbacks to return to the court.

1000 to 1 helps students see that within all of our trials and setbacks are opportunities to be a lighthouse to others.


Leadership Movies for Students focused on Culture, Race, and Ethnicity

The Best of Enemies

Ann Atwater was a vocal civil rights activist. CP Ellis was the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan. They both had something at stake when the issue of school integration surfaced in Durham, North Carolina in 1971. When an outsider was brought into town to conduct a charrette, Ann and CP were selected to be co-chairs. This committee was formed to let members of the community decide whether black and white students would go to school together. As they were forced to work together, Ann and CP discovered people have the capacity to do good no matter the color of their skin.

The Best of Enemies teaches us that we all have a story to tell. And when we encounter people with whom we come into conflict, the best way to overcome our differences is to get to know the other person better. Because no matter how much a person seems stuck in their ways, there is always an opportunity for transformation.



In East Los Angeles in 1968, Chicano students staged walkouts at their high schools in order to protest unfair and subpar conditions. Under the guidance of one of their teachers, Paula Crisostomo and other students worked to organize their voices so they could make a stand and be heard.

But going against established authority always has costs. The students discovered how much organization they needed, that they needed to be prepared for many contingencies, and that those in authority will not always tell the truth to the public so they can control the narrative. After a series of walkouts, which saw both success and violence, the students were able to bring attention to many facets of their education that needed improvement.

Walkout teaches us that doing the right thing is not always easy. And there will always be fear and obstacles while trying to stand up for what we believe in. But if we are willing to persevere and live by our principles we will be able to make a difference, not only in our own time but for generations to come.



Jesse Owens made history by winning four gold medals in track and field events at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany. But his life before, during, and after those Olympics were anything but fun and games. Jesse faced racial discrimination and bigotry throughout his childhood and his time as a track star at Ohio State. In fact, many people did not want him to go to Berlin because of the racial policies of the Nazi government. By following his heart and his dreams, Jesse became a lighthouse that others looked to for direction, guidance, and hope.

Race illustrates that the heroes from the past who we often idolize may have achieved great things, but they still endured some of the same internal human struggles which we all experience. Life will present us all with a chance to be a hero, and if we respond appropriately, we can write a story that makes a positive impact on others.


Stand and Deliver

Jaime Escalante took a pay cut and started working more hours so he could try to make a difference in the lives of students at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. He saw potential in the Latino students that the other teachers in the school did not. At first, the students didn’t believe in themselves either. But Mr. Escalante continued to push them and show them they were capable of learning anything if they put enough time and effort into it.

Eventually, the students had to make a big decision about whether to retake the AP exam when the Educational Testing Service accused the students of cheating.

Stand and Deliver shows students that we all have the ability to do much more than we give ourselves credit for. And when the right mentor comes along, they can help us achieve things we didn’t think were possible.



Jim Ellis needed a job and several local teenagers needed something productive to do to keep them off the streets. Ellis turned a dilapidated recreation center with a pool into a haven for kids to push themselves to their full potential by teaching them how to swim competitively.

Jim and the kids faced racism, gang influence, and the worst obstacle of all, a lack of pride in themselves, to show they truly had what it took to be champions.

Pride reveals that the most important thing we can do to help us achieve results is building the character necessary to keep us moving forward no matter whether we win or lose.


Hidden Figures

In the 1960s, America was in the midst of a race to send men to space and explore beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. In spite of these tremendous efforts, the culture of the U.S. made it difficult for both women and African-Americans to use their talents to help reach our goals. However, three African-American women working at NASA used their courage and took the initiative to give their gifts and abilities to a system that treated them as inferior.

Hidden Figures shows students that we may not always be recognized for our efforts and contributions, but we can experience fulfillment when we give away our gifts and abilities to help improve the lives of others.



After spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela made history when he was elected the first black President of South Africa. But the country was in shambles and many people feared civil war could erupt. Mandela chose not to disband South Africa’s premier rugby team, the Springboks, despite the fact they represented the old apartheid system to many black citizens.

Mandela along with the Springboks’ team captain, Francois Pienaar, led the team to an unthinkable championship in the 1995 Ruby World Cup and planted the seeds for forgiveness and unity to rule the country rather than fear.

Invictus teaches us that we have much more in common with people from different races and cultures than we think we do. From the rugby team to Mandela’s security guards, we see that when we take the time to get to know people as human beings we find reasons to work together. Leadership that makes a positive impact comes not from reacting with our emotions, but from leading from the principles and values of our hearts.


The Grizzlies

Russ Sheppard took a job at an Inuit school in far Northern Canada. But he hoped it was a stopping point before landing his dream job at a prep school back in civilization. Russ thought he was going to whip the students into shape. However, he quickly discovered the reason school was not very important to these teenagers. Poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide were rampant in the community.

So Russ decided to introduce lacrosse as a way to give the kids something positive to do. The kids took to the sport and began to feel a sense of pride for what they were accomplishing. Could a trip to the National Lacrosse tournament help change the lives of these young people who didn’t seem to have any hope?

The Grizzlies reveals that being part of a team, just like being part of a family or community, can be a positive and rewarding experience. Yet, it can also draw us into conflict with the people we care about most when things don’t go the way we want them to. We discover that one person can make a difference in the lives of young people, but it doesn’t completely remove the potential for suffering and heartbreak.


By studying the lives of others students can learn lessons to help them live to their full potential.


Baseball Leadership Movies for Students

Field of Dreams

Do you follow your gut instinct when it tells you to do something, even though it may seem crazy?

Ray Kinsella plowed down his corn in order to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farm after being instructed to do so by a voice. The voice continued to lead Ray through a journey that would help him find healing in a relationship that was full of regrets.

Field of Dreams uses the magical story of building a baseball field for dead baseball players to use in order to show us that our dreams can help us grow into the person we were created to be. And that often means admitting we were wrong and embracing the people in our lives.



Jackie Robinson is a hero for breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But we all have the potential to be a hero in our own way. We just need to display the courage we have inside in the midst of life’s storms.

This movie shows the emotions and character of Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, and other teammates and opponents of Robinson. We see the depth of the emotional and spiritual pain that Jackie Robinson felt in order to conquer this amazing feat.

42 provides an excellent opportunity to teach about the cultural and social history of the United States as well character education and life skills that are still relevant in today’s society.


Million Dollar Arm

Sports agent JB Bernstein traveled to India to find cricket players who he could turn into Major League Baseball pitchers. When he brought back two prospects to the United States, he took on a bigger responsibility than he was ready for. Just when success appeared to be on the horizon, things started to fall apart for JB…in his career and his personal life.

Million Dollar Arm guides students to see how, eventually, JB discovered the power of human connection, which can transcend cultural barriers and help us discover fulfillment in our lives.


The Rookie

Like many youngsters, Jimmy Morris dreamed of making it to the big leagues one day. But after some injuries and starting a family, chasing a childhood dream seemed like a silly thing to do. That is until the high school baseball players Jimmy coached challenged him to do exactly what he tried to tell them to do every day. 

Jimmy left his job for a shot to pitch in Major League Baseball but he nearly quit when he seemed destined to wallow in the minor leagues. Jimmy’s love for the game and his desire to be a lighthouse to his own children and his high school baseball team pushed him to keep going. 

The Rookie can show students it’s never too late to go after their dreams. We also discover when we figure out what we are meant to do in our lives it can help heal old wounds and mend broken relationships.



Conor O’Neill had a problem. His gambling addiction made him desperate to do anything to pay off his debts. Even coach a ragtag baseball team of kids from the Cabrini Green housing projects in Chicago. As hard as he tried, Conor could not do two things…stop his gambling habits and keep from making a connection with the kids he coached.

Conor discovered that there is much more to a sport than providing entertainment and an avenue to make money. And winning a championship is about more than scoring more runs than your opponent on the scoreboard.

Hardball teaches students that when we go beyond the surface, there is more to life than dollar signs and proving who is superior based on the outcome of a game. Giving it our best shot can give us something more important than any trophy can.


The Sandlot

Friendships are one of the most valuable things in our lives…but they are not always easy to come by. Scott Smalls was the new kid in town and he figured the best way to make new friends was to start playing baseball with the local kids. Scott and his friends experienced a summer of getting into trouble and figuring out how to fix their mistakes.

The Sandlot highlights great lessons like playing for the love of the game, having fun together, and doing the right thing.


Leadership Movies for Students with a Faith-based Message

Facing the Giants

Can a change in heart posture make a difference in how we impact others through our relationships? Coach Grant Taylor and his Shiloh Christian Academy football team were heading in the wrong direction. By embracing a new philosophy that taught the players to use their competitive experience to bring glory to God, the team was able to face their giants both on the field and in their lives.

Facing the Giants guides students to see that trials in our lives are an opportunity to trust God’s plan for us and all of our activities and experiences are a chance to praise Him for the blessings He provides.



Woodlawn high school was an epicenter of violence and anger in Birmingham, Alabama after government-mandated desegregation in the early 1970s. Looking for a spark to inspire his team, Woodlawn football coach Tandy Gerelds allowed an outsider to speak to his players. His message of hope and love lead to a spiritual awakening that inspired star athlete Tony Nathan, his teammates, and other members of the community to overcome the hate that surrounded them.

Woodlawn guides students to see that our beliefs can be a powerful force to stand up for what is right and change the world.


Chariots of Fire

This movie highlights the story of two sprinters, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, training for gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Abrahams pushed the limits of his physical capabilities as he intensely focused on cementing his place in Olympic history, while Liddell ran for a higher purpose.

Chariots of Fire shows students how men can arrive at the same destination by taking very different paths and experiencing their journeys in very different ways. One runs to glorify himself, while the other runs to glorify God.



Are you living life on autopilot and simply reacting to the world around you? Or do you relentlessly search for who you are?

Coach John Harrison started to lose his basketball team as his town’s manufacturing plant closed and enrollment at Brookside Christian School dropped. He found himself in a new role as the school’s cross country coach and things didn’t look promising when his team consisted of one girl with asthma. But John discovered people and situations are placed in our lives for a reason. He not only helped his runner, Hannah, become a better runner, but he helped her heal old wounds and learn how to run the race of life.

Overcomer helps students learn a great message of how our faith can give meaning to anything we experience in life.


Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Louis Zamperini thought his worst days were behind him when he returned home after spending 3 years in Japanese prisoner of war camps during World War II. But he couldn’t shake the thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the abuse he suffered which continued to haunt him. Terrorized by nightmares of his attackers, Louis turned to alcohol to numb his pain and his desire for revenge nearly caused him to lose his family.

Based on the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the movie shows us how Zamperini was eventually saved when his wife took him to hear a young preacher named Billy Graham speak. Louis was transformed by God’s healing power and began to fulfill a promise he had made many years before: to serve God with the life he was given.

Unbroken: Path to Redemption will help students learn the importance of surrendering our fears and worries to God and letting Him help us rise above our pain so we can forgive our enemies.



Brandon Burlsworth was a young man who played football, loved the Arkansas Razorbacks, and was committed to following the path God had created for him. Brandon constantly had to ignore the naysayers and focus on his faith that God had a plan for his life.

But this story includes tragedy as well. Brandon’s life ended abruptly in a car accident soon after being drafted to play in the NFL. His untimely death left many people, including his brother Marty, questioning how something so terrible could happen to such a good person and whether it could really be part of God’s plan.

Greater teaches us that when we have faith in God’s plan and exhibit good character then we can reach a potential that is greater than anyone can predict. And although we don’t always have the answers and we are troubled when we experience suffering in our lives, we can take solace in knowing, “Our loss is great, but God is greater.”


Leadership Movies for Students with Female Heroines

The Miracle Season

This movie shares the inspiring true story of the Iowa City West High School girl’s volleyball team. After the tragic loss of star player Caroline “Line” Found, the team must band together under the guidance of their tough-love coach, Kathy Bresnahan, in hopes of winning the state championship.

Would you have the strength to go on after losing a friend? Is it possible for you to live a life that inspires others?

The Miracle Season shows us how the team, school, and community discover the power of one person’s example to help us live in a whole new way.


A League of Their Own

During World War II, a professional all-female baseball league was formed in the Midwest to bring excitement and a break from the war. Through action and comedy, this movie shows the story of sisters Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller, who led the way as the women battled to prove they could play ball too.

A League of Their Own shows students the good and bad of our experiences help us develop our character and share our gifts with the world.


Soul Surfer

Bethany Hamilton seemed to have it all…living in Hawaii with a wonderful family and the talent to become a championship surfer. But in an instant, all the plans she had for her life were ripped away from her when she lost her arm in a shark attack.

Bethany refused to let the loss of her arm keep her from pursuing her dream. However, the greatest lesson that Bethany learned was that fulfillment not only comes from pursuing your own dreams but inspiring others to chase their dreams as well.

Soul Surfer helps students extract lessons from the heroic story of Bethany Hamilton. Sometimes, we have to find a new path in life. And just like Bethany, we don’t need easy…we just need possible.


The Mighty Macs

In the 1970s, the women’s basketball team at Immaculata College made history by winning three consecutive national championships. But when Cathy Rush took the job as the head coach no one could have predicted that. On the brink of being dissolved, Rush resurrected the program and instilled confidence and belief in her players that they could achieve the impossible.

Coach Rush and her players refused to quit when things got tough and defied the odds to bring excitement to the game of women’s basketball.

The Mighty Macs will help students reflect on and discuss why it is important to not quit on our dreams and how we can use our internal stories to give away our gifts and abilities.


Eat Pray Love

Liz Gilbert needed to go on a quest. Unhappy and unfulfilled in a marriage and a life in which she felt trapped, Liz took off on a year-long quest to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Along the way, she learned lessons from many different people about how to find peace and how to love herself. In the end, she found out that in order to experience the best in our relationships, we sometimes need to learn to lose our balance.

Eat Pray Love teaches students that we don’t truly need to travel the world in order to gain the wisdom we need to create a better version of ourselves. We simply need to go within ourselves, forgive ourselves for our mistakes and regrets, and discover the gifts we have to give to the people we encounter.


Freedom Writers

Erin Gruwell took a position teaching English at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California with the belief that she could make a difference in the lives of at-risk teenagers. She was stunned when she discovered that not only did the kids not want to improve their lives, but her fellow teachers didn’t think the kids were even teachable.

Gruwell stumbled upon a way to connect with her students by having them write in a journal about their lives. She used the diary of Anne Frank to help them see the bigger picture of why their stories made a difference. And she refused to let them fail when society told them their education wasn’t worth it.

Freedom Writers teaches us that we all have the ability to reach our full potential by transforming our perspective. In addition, each of our lives is a story that can make a difference so we need to make sure we are writing a story that makes a positive impact.


Million Dollar Baby

Maggie Fitzgerald had nothing but a desire to be a boxer. When she found Frankie Dunn, her career inside the ring took off. But a devastating injury left her paralyzed from the neck down.

The bond between boxer and trainer had grown so strong that Frankie could not leave Maggie. In fact, when she requested his help in ending her suffering, he faced a decision that would test his integrity.

Million Dollar Baby teaches us that we can find meaning in our lives by serving others, loving people, and the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.


Movies are not just for entertainment; they can help students grow into leaders who make a difference.


Other Sports Leadership Movies for Students


Is the team more important than individual glory? Can team chemistry help a group achieve something which seems impossible?

One of the most iconic moments in United States sports history is the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team defeat of the Soviet Union to win the gold medal. Coach Herb Brooks brought a new style to the team that eventually helped unite them as they represented not just themselves, but an entire country.

Miracle helps students learn what it means to play for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the back of it.


McFarland USA

Jim White arrived in California’s Central Valley with a checkered coaching past. He saw running potential in a group of boys who worked hard in the farm fields when they were not in school. White discovered he needed to mentor the boys to believe in themselves if they were ever going to reach their potential on the cross country course. And that belief in themselves would help them take control of destiny in their own lives.

McFarland USA highlights the importance of compassion and understanding when learning about people from different cultures. It also reveals that, in the end, we all want and need the same things.


Without Limits

Steve Prefontaine was a running phenom who took the country by storm when he attended the University of Oregon on a track scholarship. Driven to take his achievements to new heights, he set his sights on Olympic gold in the 1972 Munich Olympic games. Steve’s talent and drive sometimes brought him into conflict with the people closest to him, but his tragic death stripped the world of seeing what he was truly capable of.

Without Limits illustrates that believing in ourselves can be a powerful force to help us reach our full potential. But even our talents and gifts can sometimes be a heavy burden when we fail to live up to expectations.


Cool Runnings

The allure of being the best in the world and being showered with fame appeals to many of us. But what is the real value of a gold medal?

In 1988, an underdog bobsled team from Jamaica participated in the Winter Olympics in Calgary. Comprised of sprinters who failed to qualify for the Summer Olympics and led by a washed-up American coach, this extraordinary group of men defied the odds and, in the process, learned what it really means to be champions.

Cool Runnings helps students see that winning a medal is a hollow victory when you don’t do the right thing, respect your competitors, and respect yourself.


The Mighty Ducks

Gordon Bombay became the coach of a rag-tag youth hockey team as part of a community service assignment. Bombay carried the guilt of quitting hockey as a young boy because he was taught that if you cannot win, then there is no point in playing.

The Mighty Ducks guides students to see how Gordon experienced a transformation. He discovered that a coach’s real goal is to help the young people on his team understand that it is always best to play for the love of the game. Also, students discover that playing the game the right way and being a good teammate is really what makes you a winner.


Leadership Movies for Students about Law and Legal Issues

12 Angry Men

Twelve men were assigned as jurors to what seemed like an open and shut case for most of them. A boy with anger issues was accused of stabbing his father. But one of the jurors pleaded for the men to at least talk over the evidence in the case before making such an important decision as sending a boy to prison for the rest of his life.

Eventually, reason and fairness prevailed as the men were able to see that the evidence was not without reasonable doubt and the men resigned their prejudices.

12 Angry Men teaches us that we often jump to conclusions about other people and allow our biases and prejudices to influence our decisions. But when another person’s fate is in our hands we need to look inside ourselves, as much as we do the evidence, so that we can make the right decision.


Hart’s War

Lieutenant Thomas Hart was an American law student turned soldier serving in Belgium in December 1944 when he was captured by the Nazis. After undergoing harsh interrogation, Hart landed at a German prisoner of war camp.

The American POWs, led by ranking officer Colonel William McNamara, were suspicious of Hart upon his arrival. Hart was not happy when he was placed in a barracks for enlisted men. But Hart’s troubles deepened when one African-American officer was executed after being set up and another was put on trial for murdering a fellow soldier.

While the war raged on outside the walls of the POW camp, Lieutenant Hart was forced to fight for truth and justice against his fellow soldiers while defending the African-American soldier accused of murder.

Hart’s War teaches us that there is no field manual to know how to act with honor, courage, duty, and sacrifice. Each man must fight for justice using his own integrity, even when the battle lines between right and wrong are not clearly defined.


Just Mercy

Fresh out of law school, Bryan Stevenson had a vision to change the world by giving a voice to those who had been wrongfully convicted. However, Bryan discovered that doing the right thing doesn’t always guarantee success in our justice system.

Determined to fight the racism and prejudice he encountered, Stevenson put everything he had on the line to defend a man on death row who was a victim of a corrupt and inept justice system. Eventually, Stevenson’s efforts allowed justice to prevail and Walter “Johnnie D” McMillan gained his freedom.

Just Mercy shows students that fighting for truth, fairness, and justice is not an easy road and the good guys don’t always win. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the fight.


Leadership Movies for Students that Illustrate the Hero’s Journey

Cast Away

Chuck Noland was obsessed with time as a FedEx executive. When his plane went down and he was stranded on a remote Pacific Island, he had to transform himself physically, mentally, and emotionally in order to survive. Through Chuck’s journey, we can analyze the paradoxes of life that we only experience in extreme situations.

Cast Away guides students to consider what they would do if their character was tested in a similar situation and how they can find their motivation to live life to the fullest each day.


Taking Chance

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl volunteered for the sacred duty of escorting the body of fallen Marine Lance Corporal Chance Phelps back to his hometown in Wyoming. Strobl was looking to fill a hole in his life since he had not been overseas like many of his comrades. But throughout his journey to ensure his fellow Marine received the proper respect, Strobl discovered that he was charged with a new duty to be a witness for the life and service of Chance Phelps.

Taking Chance illustrates that every person has a duty to fulfill and we can find purpose even when we do not feel like our job is the most important.


The Way Back

How different is your external story which the world sees from the internal story you live every day? Have you experienced pain and suffering that you try to cover up so people do not know how much you are hurting?

Jack Cunningham was a former high school basketball star who was asked to come back and coach his alma mater. But not much has seemed to go right in Jack’s life since his glory days as a teenager. He’s an alcoholic who lost his son to cancer and is separated from his wife. But maybe helping a group of undisciplined boys win basketball games will give Jack the purpose he needs.

The Way Back teaches us that no matter what story we try to tell the world, we will fall apart if we cannot tolerate the internal story we live every day. Although suffering is something we will all experience in our lives, we can extract meaning from that suffering and use it to create a better version of ourselves.


A Beautiful Mind

John Nash was a promising young mathematician in the 1950s who wanted to make his mark on the world by developing his one original idea. However, special work for the government sidetracked his career. He believed the government needed his skills to stop Soviet forces who were trying to take over the world.

Eventually, doctors diagnosed Nash with schizophrenia. He struggled to find a way to battle the allusions in his head while finding his place in society. With the help of his wife, Alicia, John returned to teaching. Eventually, his breakthrough theory in economics won a Nobel Prize.

A Beautiful Mind conveys that each individual has unique gifts and abilities that they can share with the world. With the right support, and in the right environment, we can all use those gifts and abilities to make a positive impact on others.


The Legend of Bagger Vance

Do you know what your one true authentic swing is? Rannulph Junuh had lost his swing. A hero for his prowess on the golf courses of Savannah, Georgia, Junuh suffered from his experiences during World War I and hung up his clubs. But when his former girlfriend put together an exhibition match with two of the country’s greatest golfers, Junuh found himself on the course again.

But this time, he had a mysterious caddie named Bagger Vance who gave him some unusual advice. Bagger told Junuh he had never truly lost his swing, but that he simply needed to look inside himself to discover what he was born with.

The Legend of Bagger Vance will help students understand what it means to be present and enjoy the activities we participate in as well as why we should search for what Bagger calls our “one true authentic swing.”


Antwone Fisher

Antwone Fisher was angry at the world…and he had every reason to be. Abused by his foster family, Antwone joined the Navy and became a hardened man who was intent on not letting anyone hurt him ever again. But the only person he was hurting was himself.

With help from a Navy psychologist, Antwone’s shell began to crack. He learned to start trusting others and himself. But he was not able to truly free himself from his past until he went on a journey to find his real family and forgive those who had hurt him.

Antwone Fisher teaches students that we all have the power to write our own story when we focus on the choices we make, rather than the circumstances of our past and our present. Just like Antwone, we can refuse to let our past destroy us and we can keep standing strong so we can create our future.


Start Using Movies in the Classroom to Grow Leaders

Hollywood’s job is to bring us entertainment. But there are deeper lessons we can extract from these stories so students can learn leadership at the movies. It is our job as educators to bring those lessons to our classrooms to help students grow into leaders who make a difference.

What are you waiting for? High school students today are waiting for inspiration and motivation to pursue their dreams and live a life of impact. So don’t forget to check out our movie lesson plans to help your students on their journey to write their own stories.


Leadership at the Movies Bundle


Want to add to our list? Send an e-mail to and let us know what leadership movies for students you believe are effective in growing leaders.



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Jon Barth

Jon Barth

Teacher - Coach - Mentor

I love to share stories, tools, and resources to help students become leaders who make a difference in the world by giving away their gifts and abilities.

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