Lean on Me Movie Poster Image

Lean on Me

Inspirational movie about a controversial teacher.
  • 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.

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/Streaming 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

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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, 15 years old Written byfullofbdawg April 9, 2008

Great Movie

it is an amazing movie and i love the story plot
Parent Written bymelgmendez November 9, 2014

Graphic violence in the first few minutes

The first few minutes show a teen girl being forcibly stripped by other girls in a HS bathroom and then running, screaming into a crowded hallway where she's groped in a crowd. Moments later a teacher who intervenes in a fight has his bloody head repeatedly smashed into the floor. This movie has it's strong points, but consider the explicit violence at the beginning when making your choice.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking