By Jean Rhodes
To mark its 25th anniversary back in 2015, MENTOR: National Mentoring Partnership compiled the top 25 mentoring movies of all time. Since then, 5 additional movies that touch on themes of mentorship make the list. These include:
- “Soul” (2020) – This animated film from Pixar delves into mentorship through the story of a middle school music teacher who has a passion for jazz and finds himself mentoring a soul that’s new to existence.
- “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019) – This film portrays Fred Rogers (played by Tom Hanks) and his unique form of mentorship through kindness and understanding, impacting the life of a jaded journalist.
- “Hidden Figures” (2016) – This historical drama showcases mentorship in the professional setting of NASA, where the main characters both have and become mentors in a challenging work environment during the space race.
- “Creed” (2015) – This film is a spin-off of the Rocky series, where the former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
- “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) – This animated feature has a strong mentorship theme with the more experienced Peter Parker guiding the young Miles Morales as he takes on the mantle of Spider-Man.And, as a refresher, let’s return to Jennifer Merrill’s classic list.
Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Coach Bombay and the Mighty Ducks. Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter. When you think of mentors in pop culture, the stories are endless, building on a common thread of how important a mentor’s role is in relation to an individual’s personal journey. In celebration of 25 years of the mentoring movement and as part of MENTOR’s silver anniversary, we offer our picks for the top 25 fictional mentoring relationships represented in film. Is your favorite listed? Tell us or share others using #MENTOR25Years!
1. Yoda & Luke Skywalker – Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This quote, like his many other quotes, shows Yoda’s wisdom and efforts to teach Luke to focus on the present, and essentially, to grow up. Yoda demonstrates, as a great mentor does, how to give support, how to offer challenges that permit one to learn and grow, and how to provide vision so that the mentee gains confidence and, eventually, independence.
2. Professor Dumbledore & Harry Potter, Harry Potter Series (1997-2007)
Professor Dumbledore provides Harry with wisdom, guiding advice, and many life lessons, including the importance of love and friendship. Even though he keeps a close eye on Harry, Professor Dumbledore allows him to discover things himself and confront challenges head on and constantly offers words of wisdom, including, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
3. Mr. Miyagi & The Karate Kid The Karate Kid, (1982)
In the beginning of the film, Daniel, the karate kid, is being bullied by classmates. His neighbor, Mr. Miyagi, offers to train Daniel in karate. The training goes far beyond karate with Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel many important life lessons. And much of his teaching comes in the form of philosophical quips, such as, “First learn stand, then learn fly.”
4. Genie of the Lamp & Aladdin, Aladdin (1992)
When Aladdin finds an unassuming lamp and rubs it, he is surprised by its magic properties and resident Genie. Genie becomes Aladdin’s mentor, answering all his questions, helping him obtain what he wants through three wishes, but also giving practical advice about being himself. He encourages Aladdin to remember where he came from and not succumb to society’s pressures for what is deemed worthy. Genie and Aladdin form a meaningful relationship, leading to lifelong friendship and mutual growth.
5. Professor John Keating & Students Dead Poet’s Society, (1989)
In this film, Professor Keating teaches students at an elite prep school called Welton Academy, pushing his students to their intellectual limits and encouraging them to follow their dreams and seize the day. To the students, he says, “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”
6. Gandalf the Grey & The Fellowship of the Ring, Lord of the Rings Series (2001-2003)
Gandalf mentors several members of the Fellowship of The Ring throughout the series, including Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. He shares his wisdom and reverence for power, and guides the heroes through their adventures, but also leaves them to deal with challenges on their own. Gandalf provides help on the journey and teaches the team the importance of courage. He shares his guidance with others and can be quotes as saying, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
7. Mushu the Dragon & Mulan, Mulan (1998)
Mushu, a small Chinese dragon, is awakened by the family’s Ancestors to help a young girl named Mulan on her journey to taking the place of her ill father in the national army. At times when Mulan feels like she can’t make it, Mushu cheers her on with his optimism and faith. Mushu shows Mulan how to be strong, gives her encouragement when all seems lost, and fights the bloody battles with her to the very end.
8. Sean Maguire & Will Hunting, Good Will Hunting (1997)
Will Hunting is a genius with an inner anger resulting from a broken family life that makes it hard for him to develop open emotional relationships. Sean, his therapist, helps him to see the world in a different way and breaks down the walls Will has built up inside. Unlike many others, Sean does not give up on Will, and treats him as a person who deserves love. He tells Will, “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”
9. Chef Auguste Gusteau & Remy Ratatouille, (2007)
Remy, a French rat with a dream of cooking, idolizes the renowned Chef Auguste Gusteau. After Gusteau dies, his ghost guides Remy and provides him with advice and wisdom that helps Remy to become a chef. He says to Remy, “Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only to be aware to stop and savor it.” In the end, Remy is able to achieve his dream and serve the delicious food Chef Gusteau inspired him to create.
10. Aslan & The Pevensie Children, The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010)
Edmund and Lucy Pevensie and their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Scrubbs, go on an unbelievable adventure as they sail to the end of the world in search of seven missing Narnian Lords. Throughout their journey, the mysterious presence of the lion named Aslan guides the children, helping them to avoid evil and do good, and healing them on the occasions when they succumb to dark forces. Because of his wisdom and courage, Aslan becomes the children’s role model, and eventually helps the children save Narnia.
11. Obi-Wan Kenobi & Luke Skywalker, Star Wars Series (1977-1983)
Obi-Wan protects Luke and is deeply committed to serving as his role model, showing him how he must train and work hard to be Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan trains Luke about the ways of the Force, and gives him advice, telling Luke that “The Force will be with you, always” and to “Use the Force.” He provides direction to Luke and tell him, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
12. Mary Poppins & Michael and Jane Banks, Mary Poppins (1964)
“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and -SNAP- the job’s a game!” Mary Poppins is a magical nanny who sweeps into the Banks home and takes charge of the Banks children. She never acknowledges her strange and magical powers, but without fail, brings new and fun ideas to the lives of the children. She flies in on an umbrella, and departs when the children have learned enough lessons, promising to return whenever they need her.
13. Lester Bangs & William Miller, Almost Famous (2000)
William Miller is a teen that wants to be a rock journalist but knows little about how to develop his passion into a career. Lester Bangs is an experienced journalist who gives William his first break into the industry. He serves as a mentor to William and gives him advice throughout the film on how to survive touring and writing about rock stars. His advice leads him on an incredible journey of self-discovery and growth.
14. Coach Ken Carter & The Basketball Team, Coach Carter (2005)
Coach Ken Carter takes the job as a basketball coach at his former high school in a poor area. He sets about to change the negative attitudes of his players, and help them focus on the positive. The coach teaches the players discipline and helps them reach their potential because he believes in them. He tells team, “l came to coach basketball players, and you became students. I came to teach boys, and you became men.”
15. Mufasa & Simba, The Lion King, (1994)
“There’s more to being a king than getting your way all the time.” Mufasa, the lion king of the Pride Lands, displays the qualities of a motivational leader, and dedicates his time, knowledge and skills into his son Simba, encouraging him to be brave, strong and courageous. Mufasa motivates and encourages Simba, which in turn reminds him of his true identity and self. Mufasa, even after his death, effectively inspires and empowers Simba to realize his potential and responsibilities of his position as king.
16. Uncle Ben & Peter Parker, Spiderman Series (2002-2007)
Peter Parker, later to become Spiderman, is an orphan raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. In Uncle Ben, Peter finds a father figure. Moments before he passes away in a tragic accident, Uncle Ben tells Peter “With great power comes great responsibility.” These words change Peter’s life and dictate how he tries to use his powers for good when he becomes the city’s superhero. This mentoring moment sticks with him throughout his life.
17. Gordon Bombay & The Mighty Ducks, The Mighty Ducks (1992)
Gordon Bombay is a former amateur hockey player turned successful defense attorney, whose courtroom antics have earned him no respect among his peers. After being arrested, Bombay is sentenced to community service by coaching the local “District 5” PeeWee hockey team. Upon arriving, he realizes that it is the lack of equipment, facilities and proper training that holds the team back. Remembering his own love of the game, “Coach” Bombay transforms the team by mentoring each player and encouraging them be courageous in the face of adversity and work hard develop their skills further. Ultimately, this leads to their success and championship win.
18. Mickey Goldmill & Rocky Balboa Rocky, (1976)
Mickey Goldmill is an ex-fighter and runs the gym with Rocky Balboa, an ambitious amateur boxer. Mickey sees potential in Rocky and becomes his manager to train Rocky for Rocky’s fight against Apollo Creed. Mickey pushes Rocky to become both physically and mentally stronger. He tells Rocky, “The fact that you’re here and doin’ as well as you’re doin’ gives me-what do you call it-motivization? Huh? To stay alive, ’cause I think that people die sometimes when they don’t wanna live no more.”
19. Master Shifu & Master Po Kung Fu Panda, (2008)
Master Po is mentored by Master Shifu, who teaches him kung fu and guides him on his way to becoming a kung fu hero. When Po has gone through strict training regime but still unable to grasp the basics of kung fu, Po despairingly admits that he has no chance of becoming a kung fu master. Shifu, however, motivates Po to follow his dreams by having confidence in himself. Shifu successfully trains Po to incorporate this positive thinking into an effective kung fu style.
20. Professor Charles Xavier & The X-Men, X-Men Series (2000-2014)
Professor X, or Charles Xavier, is a father figure for the troubled mutants he takes in and trains, mentoring many of them to develop their talents. He raises and cares for his students but also trusts that they could continue on without him. Professor X dispenses wisdom to his students, including when he says, “When an individual acquires great power, the use or misuse of that power is everything” and “Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes, we all need a little help.”
21. Coach Herman Boone & The Football Team, Remember the Titans (2000)
Taking place during desegregation, this film focuses on the integration of a Black high school and a white high school. Coach Herman Boone, the head coach of the Black school in suburban Virginia, is placed over another highly successful from the white school. Faced with tremendous pressure as he tries to unify the two football teams, Coach Boone uses his wisdom and charisma to influence the players on both sides, and the team eventually becomes the unifying symbol for the community as the boys and adults learn to depend on and trust each other.
22. Jiminy Cricket & Pinocchio, Pinocchio (1940)
“Always let your conscience be your guide”. Jiminy Cricket is Pinocchio the puppet-turned-real-boy’s, conscience in the movie, and he lives up to his promise as “Lord High Keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, counselor in moments of temptation, and guide along the straight and narrow path.” He is always curious and lovely, and when Pinocchio is in doubt, he teaches Pinocchio things about the world and how to be good. He says to Pinocchio that “When you get in trouble and you don’t know right from wrong, give a little whistle.”
23. Agent K & Agent J, Men in Black (1997-2002)
Experienced Agent K takes on newly appointed agent J as his protégé in one of his extraterrestrial missions. The senior agent helps open Agent J’s eyes to situations he must face alone in the future, comes to his rescue when things get out of control and helps him understand the importance of being aware of the “bigger picture”. Later, Agent J, though younger, begins challenging his senior partner Agent K, to rethink about his own perspective on life, his priorities in life and his emotional deficit for others. Through mutual mentoring, the two realizes their shortcomings and both become better by taking each other’s advice.
24. Haymitch Abernathy & Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games (2012-2015)
Haymitch Abernathy, a former contestant in The Hunger Games, is assigned to become Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark’s “victor” after their selection as “tributes”. Haymitch mentors them both by helping them to develop strategy to navigate the Game, going above and beyond the usual training given to participants. He instructs Katniss and Peeta to think on their feet, and above all think for themselves. Haymitch gives them critical advice, not to fall victim to the brainwashing of The Capitol, ultimately leading to their survival.
25. Frankie Dunn & Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald, Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Maggie Fitzgerald, a poor waitress, decides to change her circumstances by becoming a competitive boxer. She convinces the hardened boxing trainer Frankie Dunn to coach her and be her manager, who sees her potential as a winner. Frankie has a problematic relationship with his daughter and as a subconscious way to make up for that becomes a surrogate to Maggie as he helps her with her career. Their trusting mentoring relationship ultimately helps Maggie to come over her insecurities and fears, and at the same time gives Frankie the courage to face his broken relationship with his daughter.