Lean on Me

  • Review Date: October 7, 2005
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1989
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Inspirational movie about a controversial teacher.
  • Review Date: October 7, 2005
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1989
  • Running Time: 109 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The protagonist uses intimidation as much as inspiration to motivate his students.


None gratuitous, but plenty of fighting.


Teen pregnancy.


Lots of profanity, though the principal's humiliating language is often worse than swearing. Heavy use of racial epithets.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this true story of one teacher's crusade to reform a violent high school has many inspiring moments, but the lead character's tactics are often questionable. Kids will hear lots of profanity, heavy use of racial epthets and other humiliating language, often aimed at teen characters by adults.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

This true story of one teacher's crusade to reform a violent high school has many inspiring moments, but the lead character's tactics are often questionable. In LEAN ON ME, Firebrand teacher Joe Clark ( Morgan Freeman ) is called in to reform Eastside High in Paterson, NJ. He finds a graffiti-encrusted den of drug dealing and violence. Adopting a take-no-prisoners approach to clean things up, Clark runs afoul of community members and exposes himself to legal action. Students respond to Clark's efforts, but his overbearing manner with fellow teachers is often humiliating. A crisis with the law and community leaders coincides with the release of test scores that vindicate Clark's radical methods.

Is it any good?


This high-energy true story with terrific performances will hold viewers' attention, although its mixed messages are distracting -- as is the movie's "after school special" look. Mature teens will enjoy a thought-provoking experience, but the movie stresses the protagonist's combative nature at the expense of his worthwhile message about learning. Freeman is dazzling as the temerpamental Clark, veering wildly between bully and buddy. And that's the problem with this movie: it's compelling watching, but inspiration turns to discomfort when Clark's behavior seems as out-of-control as the school he's trying to reform.

Clark's worst temperamental excesses are directed -- often unfairly -- at adults he blames for the mess he's been sent to clean up. Lean on Me would be improved by showcasing fewer temper tantrums and more scenes of learning. Also, the subplot involving a star student's sudden expulsion from home is puzzling, and the resolution of her pregnancy isn't spelled out.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the advantages and limitations of using films to dramatize real stories. Can movies tell a real-life story in ways that other media, such as books or radio, can't? Where do they fall short? For example, are the conversations dramatized onscreen what was really said? Can you trust that everything you see onscreen really happened? What might filmmakers change in order to make a story more engaging or dramatic?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 3, 1989
DVD release date:September 20, 1993
Cast:Beverly Todd, Morgan Freeman, Robert Guillaume
Director:John G. Avildsen
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:109 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:Parents Strongly Cautioned

This review of Lean on Me was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 14 years old Written byRawRockKills March 3, 2010
there were disturbing images of violence but i luv the story!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Great messages
Teen, 17 years old Written byJoe Blow November 20, 2011

Awesome movie!

Strong profanity. G-d-mn and b--ch are the strongest terms. Also, there is drug and sexual refrences. Me and my family have a DVD Player called Clearplay that takes out nudity, profanity, and other innapropriate scenes and words. It allows me and my family to enjoy movies more without the nudity and profanity and other things. I srtongly recommend it to those who hate profanity useage and other innapropriate terms and movies.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written byfullofbdawg April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Great Movie

it is an amazing movie and i love the story plot


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