10 Classic American Movies for English Learners
So, you already know that movies are a great way to learn English.
And you also know that TV shows are a great way to expand your English vocabulary.
Your only problem is that you’ve got nothing to watch because you’ve seen every new movie or show.
Well, this is where you need to start watching the classics!
Here’s a list of 10 American classic movies you need to watch for your next English lesson.
- 10 Best Classic American Films for ESL Students and English Learners
- And One More Thing...
10 Best Classic American Films for ESL Students and English Learners
1. The Graduate (1967)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft
The Graduate is one of the greatest classics ever.
Benjamin Braddock finally returns home to the rich suburbs of California after having successfully completed his college education. As expected, he receives a hero’s welcome from his parents who love him dearly.
While Benjamin’s parents fuss over his future, he struggles to find his purpose in life.
Enter Mrs. Robinson, his dad’s work partner’s beautiful and classy wife.
Benjamin is instantly lovestruck and they start a secret affair, only for Benjamin to fall in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter.
Everything seems to go wrong once the daughter finds out about Benjamin’s relations with her mom.
Why the graduate is a great classic to learn English: The Graduate has easy language and slow speech, so it’s easy to follow. It also uses some great vocabulary related to relationships and college.
2. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Starring: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan
The year is 1977 and Harry Burns and Sally Albright have to share a very long car journey together from the University of Chicago to NYC.
While driving they chat about whether it’s possible for a man and woman just to be friends without love and sex. When they arrive in NYC, they decide they can’t be friends anymore and say goodbye.
Five years later, Harry and Sally reconnect, but they both are in relationships with other people. Once again, the two argue over friendship between men and women and part ways.
Five more years pass and Harry and Sally run into each other yet again. They decide to have dinner and end up building a friendship which develops into more.
Why When Harry Met Sally is a great classic to learn English: The same theme and conversation is repeated a few different times which allows you to hear the same things over and over again.
3. Dirty Dancing (1987)
Starring: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey
It’s 1963 and Frances Houseman, known as “Baby,” goes on a family vacation to a resort in a wealthy area of New York.
When on vacation she meets a dance instructor at the camp, Johnny Castle, and he’s vastly different from the type of people she’s used to.
Baby lies to her family to help Johnny’s dance partner with her illegal abortion and Johnny later asks Baby to be his new dance partner.
They fall in love while learning the dance routine, but Baby’s father eventually finds out about the abortion and bans Baby from seeing Johnny again.
Baby and Johnny then fight to be able to see each other despite the obstacles in their way.
Why Dirty Dancing is a great classic to learn English: Dirty Dancing has a simple storyline and it’s not difficult to follow. The dialogue remains mostly between two people throughout the movie making it easy to understand.
4. Grease (1978)
Starring: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
Over the summer of 1958, high school heartthrob Danny meets sweetheart Sandy at the beach.
They fall in love, but eventually have to part ways as Sandy returns to Australia.
Come the start of the school year, Danny runs into Sandy again and she explains her family decided to stay in America and she now goes to the same school as Danny.
Sadly for Sandy, Danny is trying to maintain his “cool guy” reputation and is a jerk to her. Sandy is still in love, but upset at the way Danny is treating her.
Eventually, Danny realizes he’s messed up and does everything he can to get Sandy back.
Sandy finally agrees, but the relationship ends quicker than expected. The story has a happy ending but not without the usual teenage drama in between.
Why watching Grease is a great Classic for learning English: Grease is an awesome movie to learn English because it has a number of songs. These songs get stuck in your head and the repetition and beat of the music will help you remember words and phrases.
5. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Starring: Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall
This story follows a group of five students from Shermer High School that all end up in detention together on a Saturday morning.
John “the criminal”, Claire “the princess”, Brian “the brain”, Andy “the athlete” and Allison “the crazy girl” all know each other, but not very well.
As a punishment they are told to write an essay on the topic “who you think you are.”
Rather than write the essay, the teenagers dance, tell each other stories, fight; talk about a number of different topics and even smoke marijuana.
Finally, the group has Brian write the essay and challenge their teacher to analyze his own thoughts of these very different students.
After finishing the essay, he signs it from the “Breakfast Club.”
Why the Breakfast Club is a great classic to learn English: The teacher, Mr. Vernon, speaks very slowly and clearly when he punishes the students and we can understand what is happening right from the very beginning.
There are some funny scenes and the actions are exaggerated which makes the dialogue and story easy to understand.
6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Reed and Mickey Rooney
Holly lives alone with her unnamed cat in the rich area of New York’s Upper East Side.
She is a little crazy and often visits the Tiffany’s jewelry store.
Holly is an escort and also makes money visiting a man in prison.
One day a young writer named Paul meets Holly and also meets a man named Doc who was once married to her.
Paul begins to fall in love with Holly and he asks her to marry him, but she rejects the proposal, saying she wants to be with someone else.
The man Holly wants is Brazilian, but he leaves her, so she decides she will go to Brazil.
But things change when Paul has a very honest talk with her…
Why Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a great classic to learn English: Audrey Hepburn has a clear accent to understand and also makes things entertaining with her quirky behavior.
7. Schindler’s List (1993)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall and Ralph Fiennes
This classic from Steven Spielberg shows Poland during the Nazi occupation in World War II.
All the Jews lose their homes and are sent to concentration or working camps. Oskar Schindler is a German businessman and a member of the Nazi party that buys a factory that he plans to use to produce cooking tools.
Oskar doesn’t really know how to run such a factory and he hires Itzhak Stern, who is connected to the underground secret Jewish business community.
Oskar soon sees all the horrible things that happen to the Jewish community.
He has a change of heart and is no longer motivated by money. Instead he wants to help save the Jewish people. He makes a secret deal with an officer to free 1,100 Jews for money.
Why this is a great classic for learning English: The heartbreaking pictures will help you understand this movie. A lot of the characters are foreign so when they speak English it is much slower.
8. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Starring: Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable.
This movie takes place in the Old South at the beginning of the American Civil War. Its main character is Scarlett O’Hara, a beautiful Southern girl who comes from a rich family who owns a plantation (a large farm).
Scarlett loves a man named Ashley Wilkes and is heartbroken when she learns he plans to marry his cousin.
When the war starts, Scarlett moves to Atlanta and misses Ashley.
The war is lost and she has to return to her home which has been destroyed.
She becomes mean and hard and will do absolutely anything to never be poor again. After a couple of twists and turns and being widowed twice, Scarlett eventually marries her old friend Rhett.
However, their relationship was never going to succeed…
Why Gone With the Wind is a great classic to learn English from: This is based on a book and watching the movie will help you understand the famous novel even more.
The simple acting without any sound and special effects make this movie easy to follow. All the actors speak very clearly and you’ll be able to understand almost everything.
9. E.T (1982)
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas and Dee Wallace.
ET stands for extra-terrestrial, which is the scientific name for an alien. This science fiction family drama is about one little alien that has been left alone on earth and is lost.
At first ET is sad and scared but luckily he soon meets 10-year old Elliot and becomes friends with him and his siblings.
The children keep ET a secret from their mom until the young alien becomes homesick (missing home) and his one wish is to return to his family in space.
As he tries to find a way home, ET gets very sick…
Why ET is a great classic to learn English: ET is a fantastic movie to learn English. It’s aimed at kids and the language is simple and easy to understand. English is not ET’s first language so everyone needs to speak slowly.
10. Rocky (1976)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Rocky Balboa is a small-time boxer who lives in an apartment in the center of Philadelphia.
He dreams of becoming a famous boxer, but hasn’t had a chance. Because he has little money he works by collecting debts (money owed) for a man called Gazzo.
Rocky eventually visits a pet store and meets a shy and beautiful woman called Adrian who he befriends and eventually starts a relationship with.
Rocky finally gets his chance when a famous boxing champion wants to give a person who is not famous in the boxing world an opportunity to win the boxing title.
The champion is Apollo Creed and he chooses Rocky to compete against him.
Rocky starts training hard again and he’s determined to show everyone he can do it.
Why this classic is great for learning English: This movie is full of action, drama and love. It has a storyline which will keep you interested.
If you don’t have time for a full movie but still want to learn English with visual and audio help, you can check out FluentU!
FluentU will give you short video clips in English (featuring native speakers) that come with interactive subtitles, flashcards and quizzes.
With FluentU you’ll never run out of things to watch, plus you’ll be learning English in a natural, immersive way!\
But apart from FluentU, we’ve got more great news for you.
You can also check out our YouTube channel to see this post in video format!
Get out the popcorn and nachos and begin your movie marathon with all the old time classics now!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.