Popular Films That Address Bullying Like It’s Their Job
If there’s one thing almost everyone can relate to, it’s (unfortunately) bullying. Most people have either been bullied, known someone who was bullied or been the actual bully themselves. In today’s society, bullying is more prominent than ever with the frenzy of social media and gaming, especially affecting children and teens.
Discussing bullying and educating children on the proper ways to handle it can be tricky; it can become a dragging, dull lecture. Sometimes, it’s easier to show rather than tell. Plenty of films highlight bullying in various ways, with the same underlying lessons and morals: Always stand up for oneself, and never sink to a bully’s level.
These classic movies highlight a variety of scenarios children may face. So, grab the kids, and press play on these popular films.
Warning: There are some plot spoilers ahead.
The Karate Kid
Being the new kid in a Southern California town, 14-year-old Daniel becomes a red-hot target of a group of bullies who study karate at the Cobra Kai dojo. At school, Daniel grows close with Ali Mills, an attractive cheerleader, which grabs the attention of her arrogant ex-boyfriend, Johnny Lawrence, who is also a skilled practitioner of the unethical and dangerous form of karate. Johnny and his gang torment Daniel and continuously beat him up, until Kesuke Miyagi, the handyman at Daniel’s apartment, intervenes and single-handedly defeats all five bullies in the famous Halloween fight scene.
Mr. Miyagi then trains Daniel in karate, but more importantly, he teaches him how to be mentally strong. The movie shows how martial arts can fuel self-confidence, an essential trait for children coping from bullying. Aside from self-defense, martial arts also teaches kids other skills: communication and handling stressful situations.
Back to the Future
In this classic film, Marty McFly accidentally travels back in time to the date when his parents first met in high school in 1955. Marty discovers that his father George is a timid, smart and nerdy teen who seems invisible to his mother Lorraine, a wildly popular beauty. George is bullied and terrorized by Biff Tannen, a towering, violent brute. To avoid getting punched, George does Biff’s homework — until he snaps.
At the school dance, Biff forces himself onto Lorraine in the school parking lot, and that’s when George steps in. Growing so angry, he finds the strength to punch Biff in the face, which subsequently ends the bullying. Now, violence may not be the best answer; however, the lesson here is an old-fashioned one: Stand up to a bully, and they’ll disappear.
The Ant Bully
As the lonely new kid at school, Lucas Nickle is tormented by a local bully and his friends. Lucas takes out all of his frustrations on an ant hill by attacking it with a squirt gun. Even ants don’t like to be bullied — they use a potion to shrink Lucas down to their size, and in result, the queen forces Lucas to hard labor.
After Lucas makes a few friendships and proves his loyalty, the queen agrees to let him go if he can complete one last task. Lucas almost succeeds, until his father comes by with a fly swatter and attacks him and his ant companions. Lucas saves the ants’ lives, and is rewarded by the queen, allowing him to go back to his normal size. “The Ant Bully” is a great example of why bullying someone (or something) as a result of your own bullying is never the solution; it’s standing up for what is right.
The Little Rascals
Centering on the adventures (and antics) of a group of children, “The Little Rascals” demonstrates the importance of friendship, courage and perseverance. The He-Man Woman Haters Club consists of school-aged boys from around the neighborhood, with Spanky McFarland as its leader. The boys select Alfalfa Switzer to drive the club’s prize-winning go-kart; however, he’s nowhere to be found. Breaking the rules of the club, Alfalfa is spending time with his sweetheart, Darla.
From there, the boys’ wild pranks and adventures begin, but not without neighborhood bullies Butch and Woim tormenting them along the way. Even though Darla and Alfalfa break up, he ultimately wins Darla back, and he also wins the soapbox derby race for the boys club. This movie teaches yet another lesson in how to stand up to bullies, but also the importance of never giving up on you dreams when faced with adversity.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Before even attending Hogwarts, 11-year-old Harry Potter is bullied and tormented by his own family — Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and his cousin Dudley — when he isn’t being stuffed into the cupboard under the stairs. Upon arrival at the school of magic, the young wizard continues to face bullies, especially Draco Malfoy, who always tries to get Harry in trouble. The bad blood between the two wizards begins on the train to Hogwarts after Draco offers Harry the chance to hang with the “right crowd,” only steering Harry further away.
Although Harry persists from Draco’s harassment, he never gives up, and he makes a close group of friends and learns how to stand up for himself. This movie is a great example of teaching children resilience and the importance of making loyal friends, just like Ron and Hermione.
The Princess Diaries
Just before her 16th birthday, Mia Thermopolis’ world turns upside down when she learns she is a princess and the rightful heir to the Genovian throne. Mia’s untamed, frizzy head of hair and thick-rimmed glasses make her an easy target for bullying not only at school, but from her grandmother Clarisse, the queen of Genovia. In an effort to make her princess material, Mia’s grandmother gives her a makeover from head to toe, breaking a brush in the process.
After popping in contacts, straightening out her hair and learning a few rules of etiquette, Mia wins the affection of her former bullies and her grandmother, but loses her close friends in the process. She quickly realizes that it doesn’t matter what other people think of her, and that she shouldn’t change herself just to please others — a good lesson for children of all ages.
From a young age, Forrest Gump is constantly bullied for his physical disability and low intelligence. Forrest’s curved spine requires him to wear leg braces, making him unable to walk properly. One day, when Forrest is running away from bullies chasing him, his leg braces break away, revealing that he is not only able to run, but run fast. To this day, Jenny’s famous words, “Run, Forrest, run!” are an iconic set that everyone recognizes.
Forrest uses his talent and lands a football scholarship to the University of Alabama, becoming a top running back. Forrest’s lively energy and kindred spirit take him many other places in the film, from meeting President John F. Kennedy and joining the army, to owning shrimping boats and endorsing a ping-pong paddle business. Moral of the story? Anyone, despite handicaps they may have, can achieve their dreams.
Clifford Peache lives in an upscale hotel in downtown Chicago and quickly becomes a target for bullying when he attends Lake View High School as the new kid. Melvin Moody, Clifford’s bully, regularly takes money from kids at school to “protect” them from outcast Ricky Linderman. After Clifford works up the nerve to talk to Ricky, he asks him to be his bodyguard. Ricky refuses, but the two become close after Ricky saves Clifford from one of Melvin’s beatings.
Over time, Clifford helps Ricky rebuild his motorcycle, which allows Ricky to slowly come out of his shell. Towards the end of the movie, Clifford and Ricky encounter Melvin and his gang, and Ricky encourages Clifford to fight back. Clifford punches Melvin, knocking him to the ground, to which Ricky jokes that Clifford should be his bodyguard. What sets this movie apart is that it does a great job of sharing both sides of bullying; it reveals the struggles faced of those who are bullied while also showing a glimpse into the life and mind of a bully.
A Cinderella Story
A day doesn’t go by when Sam isn’t bullied. After losing her mother and father, she is left to live with her “evil” stepmother and stepsisters, while being bossed around in the process. At school, Sam is bullied by the popular squad and is often called the “Diner Girl.” A few times, the group bullies Sam at the diner she works at, hinting that serving is all she will amount to.
Sam confides in her online pen pal, “Nomad,” about her college dreams and the emotional abuse she suffers at home and at school. She ends up falling in love with him, who turns out to be Austin Ames, the high school’s popular, yet unhappy, quarterback. This movie is a modern spin on the classic “Cinderella” fairytale, but it still includes the same profound message as the original: the importance of true love, noble character and courage.
Chicken Little is a familiar story: a tale about courage and the importance of a strong community. Chicken Little thinks the sky is falling, so he rings the town bell in distress, only to be proven wrong, and in result, becomes the joke of his community. Embarrassed, Chicken Little's father encourages him to lay low. Sad and devastated, Chicken Little tries out for the baseball team to fix his reputation, and more importantly, win his father’s approval.
After he makes the team and impresses his father, an actual piece of the sky falls on Chicken Little’s head, which turns out to be an alien scheme. Chicken Little ends up saving the town, and in the end, everyone is grateful for his bravery. The movie provides a great opportunity for families to discuss themes like trust and unconditional love.
The Devil Wears Prada
There’s no shortage of judgment, side-eye or sarcastic jabs in this iconic, quotable drama. Andy, a former law student, ventures to New York City to chase her dreams of becoming a writer, but she learns that in order to climb up the ladder, she has to start from the bottom. Hired as an assistant to world-renowned Runway magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly, Andy’s writing expectations and sense of pride quickly diminish. Fetching coffee, managing Miranda’s hectic schedule and most importantly — hanging her coat each morning — become Andy’s new normal.
In the beginning of the movie, Andy is constantly heckled and bullied for her sense of style (or lack thereof). As time goes by, Andy decides to get a makeover. The next morning, Andy walks into work dripping in designer fashion and rocks a fresh new haircut, leaving her coworkers speechless, and prompting Miranda to utter a simple, “That’s all.” Andy’s confidence skyrockets; however, she then finds herself stuck in a battle between her relationship and her career. Choosing the latter, Andy realizes she made a mistake and quits her job during fashion week in Paris. The film demonstrates that you should always be yourself and not change simply because someone doesn’t like who you are.
After her brother hacks into her social media account and posts negative messages, Taylor becomes a victim of online bullying from her high school peers. Taylor is bombarded with hateful messages, her friends alienate her and nasty rumors are spread about her promiscuity. With all of the online and offline abuse, Taylor suffers from depression, which leads to her posting an online video saying she could no longer live with herself.
In a deeply emotional scene, Samantha, Taylor’s best friend, rushes to Taylor’s house and stops her from overdosing from a bottle of pills. After Taylor receives help from a support group, her mom Kris fights for legislature against cyberbullying, and wins. Online bullying has a devastating effect on teens; it causes emotional, physical and psychological stress, leading them to depression, low-self-esteem, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. This movie demonstrates the importance of a strong support system, and how to start a conversation about bullying (especially with older children).
When teenage girls and high school are put together, drama is almost always the end result. This comedy highlights the hierarchy of popular girls in school, and the emotional roller coaster that comes with it. Regina George and The Plastics befriend the new girl Cady, showing her the ropes of North Shore High School along the way. In the movie, Regina tries to pin her friends against each other in a notorious three-way phone call — remember those?
The movie shares a few important messages: Being true to oneself can make someone happier versus pretending to be someone else, and judging people based on their appearance isn’t right. The film also illustrates how bullies can manipulate their friends through mind games, exclusion and by controlling their actions — yikes!
Even though this world is completely filled with animals, it shares a couple of controversial themes in today’s society: racial and gender discrimination. Judy Hopps fulfills her childhood dream of becoming a police officer in the urban city of Zootopia; however, she’s instantly sent to parking duty because her chief doubts her abilities, all because she is a rabbit.
Judy is determined to prove herself, so she immediately jumps into a mysterious case on her first day, which means partnering with scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde. The duo work together to crack the case, with a few bumps and adventures along the way. The ultimate lesson in this movie is to never judge a book by its cover (or an animal by its ancestral background) — in Zootopia, it doesn’t matter if one’s family was historically a prey or predator, everyone is equal.