6 Movies that Enhance How to Read Literature Like a Professor

6 Movies that Enhance How to Read Literature Like a Professor

In a previous blog post I shared six different television shows (including clips) that you can use to enhance your students’ study of How to Read Literature Like a Professor. As promised, here are six additional films (and movie clips!) you can use to further enhance the study of HTRLLAP. Obviously the choices out there are endless, so understand that these choices reflect some of my current favorite movies. I’d love to hear some of your own suggestions!

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - AP Lit and More

People often have polarizing views on Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, myself included. The movie came out before I was born and it seemed like everyone thought it was amazing, while I mostly found it creepy. I recently watched it again as an adult and I have come around on the movie in many ways. First of all, it really holds up, especially its special effects. Secondly, the movie is much more profound and symbolic than I ever realized. Its iconic flight scene is perfect for demonstrating how flight represents freedom. Additionally, E.T. functions as a Christ figure, even dying sacrificially (to save Elliot) and coming back to life.

Movie Clip:

In this scene, Elliot enlists the help of his brother and his buddies to outrun the government officials chasing them. The boys face a roadblock and imminent capture, until E.T. lifts them all over the forest and into safety. Plus, the music in this scene is iconic.

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption - AP Lit and More

This is another personal favorite in my family. When I describe this movie to my students, many of whom haven’t seen it, they often beg me to tell me how it ends or to show the whole film. And after all, who doesn’t love a prison break?

Shawshank is my go-to clip for demonstrating Foster’s theory of baptism in Andy’s iconic escape scene. Furthermore, it can be used to demonstrate the importance of side characters or narrative vs. authorial violence. Brooks, an often overlooked character, is a great example of authorial violence. His suicide inspires Andy to “get busy living,” and parallels with Red’s own life on the outside before breaking parole.

Movie Clip:

This scene, depicting Andy’s grueling and hellish escape through the prison’s sewers, ends with his glorious release into an overflow river. Andy strips his clothes and stands open-armed in the rain, embracing the clean, fresh taste of true freedom. Glorious, and perfect for explaining what Foster meant in his chapter about character baptism.


Coco - AP Lit and More

It was hard to select a single Pixar film to include on this list but one of my new favorites is 2017’s Coco. While several of the principles from How to Read Literature Like a Professor can apply, including vampires and sidekicks, there is one that stands out more than others. This is a fantastic movie to watch when exploring the concept of quests. Foster explains that all quests begin with a stated reason to go somewhere and ends with a real reason to go there. Miguel travels to meet the great musician, Ernesto de la Cruz, in order to learn if he is related to him. After a journey to the Land of the Dead, Miguel meets his real grandfather, learns of de la Cruz’s treachery, and returns his great great grandfather’s memory to his great grandmother before she dies.

Movie Clip

It’s hard to teach the concept of a quest in a single clip, but this clip might be enough to convince you to watch the whole film. The movie is a visual masterpiece and is one of my students’ favorites for understanding quests and the hero’s journey.


Jaws - AP Lit and More

I have to admit a bias here, Jaws is my all-time favorite movie. That being said, there’s a reason so many people love it. Jaws is beautifully made and highly symbolic. The shark functions as a symbol for fear in all of the character’s lives, but especially Chief Brody. Furthermore, Foster’s principles on baptism also work in the final scene. If you’ve seen the film, you know that Brody is afraid of the water (ironic for mayor of an island town). He avoids it as much as possible, but it isn’t until he’s finally submerged into the sea with the killer shark that he gets the nerve and strategy to kill it. He then confidently swims to shore.

Movie clip

This scene, one of the greatest monologues in movie history, works great with Foster’s principles on being physically marked. Quint and Hooper, seasoned seamen, compare scars with each other and bond. Brody, unseasoned and afraid of the water, has no scars to share. Eventually, Quint is asked about a scar from a removed tattoo, revealing his survival in the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. Quint’s experience and survival of this tragedy left him not only physically marked but emotionally scarred as well.

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump - AP Lit and More

There are lots of Fosterisms that work with Forrest Gump. Furthermore, many students are familiar with this movie, since most of their parents grew up watching it. Foster’s principles on geography work with almost any scene, as Forrest travels around the world to different locales. Furthermore, a study of Jenny and her descent into illness (most assume it’s AIDS) works well with Foster’s analysis of illness.

Movie Clip

This is another movie that works well with being physically marked. Despite growing up to be a football phenom and long distance runner, Forrest grew up in leg braces. The iconic “Run, Forrest, run!” scene establishes how Forrest’s braces truly marked him for greatness.

The Green Mile

The Green Mile - AP Lit and More

My last selection is from The Green Mile, a highly symbolic movie that is rife with HTRLLAP examples. The movie, set in the pre-war American South, has many political, geographical, and symbolic applications. Furthermore, John Coffey’s purpose and miracles align with principles from the bible. Coffey’s life and death align well with that of a Christ figure as well, particularly his miracles and sacrificial death.

Movie clip

In this scene, Paul convinces the warden to sneak John Coffey out of the prison to heal the warden’s wife. Coffey calms the woman, suffering from malignant tumors in her brain. He leans against her mouth, and sucks the tumor out of her, instantly healing her and changing her appearance drastically.

If you’re looking for more help with teaching How to Read Literature Like a Professor, check out my materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve got notes, bell-ringers, quizzes, and an interactive hyperdoc, all of which can be found in my HTRLLAP bundle.

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