Great Depression Movies for Middle School and High School Students

Bring history to life through movies. Here is a list of Great Depression movies for middle school and high school students that are PG-13 or under.

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Nothing can bring history to life like the big screen. Even if they’re not 100% historically accurate, movies invite further investigation into the topic and the true story surrounding it. (History vs. Hollywood is a great resource for easily vetting what was true and what wasn’t.)

Sports offered a beacon of hope in dark times, which is why many of the films are sports movies. They showed 

Great Depression Movies

The Boys in The BoatChariots of Fire (DVD) (Rpkg)Race

 

The Boys in the Boat

In the 1930s, rowing was dominated by wealthy East Coast, Ivy League schools. Joe Rantz was paying his way through school and joined the University of Washington’s rowing team for an opportunity to have an on-campus job. In this beautiful underdog story, a group of working-class young men who became champion rowers and ultimately, made it to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Find the movie guide here.

Chariots of Fire

In this Academy Award winner for Best Picture,  Chariots of Fire is the true story about two Olympic athletes, one Jewish and one Christian, who grow from competitors to friends while training for the 1924 Paris Olympics. This happened in a few years before the Depression, but offers a feel for the time period.

Race

As an African American, track and field runner Jesse Owens broke racial barriers at the 1936 Nazi Berlin Olympics, while taking home four gold medals in the process. Although not dealing directly with the Depression, Race details American struggles through the Depression and the racial tensions of the time.

Annie

In this classic musical, a bright, red-headed young orphan uses her spunky attitude to survive the Depression.

Kit Kittredge

From American Girl, this positive, G-rated film brings us into the life of Kit, an inspiring journalist. When a string of local robberies happen around the neighborhood, Kit is determined to find out the true thief. Find the movie guide here.

Cinderella ManThe Great Debaters (DVD Movie)Bound for Glory

 

Cinderella Man

Dubbed “Cinderella Man,” James J. Braddock made a great comeback in his boxing career during the Great Depression. The film felt all-American from start to finish and also had positive messages about family and resilience. I’m not a boxing fan, but the storyline kept me engaged from the beginning to the end. It’s a must-see for anyone who enjoys sports, true stories, triumphant stories, or history. Find my movie guide here.

The Great Debaters

In 1935 Texas, the Wiley College debate team coach Melvin B. Tolson is determined to have his Black team compete against the traditional white teams in Texas. The movie feels like Dead Poets Society.

Bound for Glory

With this guitar, Woody Guthrie inspires America through the 30s. He’s determined to find a better life out west, and from hitchhiking to train hopping, uplifts the American people with his voice.

SeabiscuitThe Journey Of Natty Gann [DVD] [1986] by Meredith SalengerSounder

 

Seabiscuit

A classic among Great Depression movies, Seabiscuit is an enduring American favorite about an underdog racehorse during the Depression. The story follows Seabiscuit raced from 1936-1940, and three men; a jockey, a trainer, and a businessman who raced, trained, and owned Seabiscuit. (it’s rated PG-13 for some violence, profanity, and some sexual content)

Journey of Natty Gann

In this Disney flick, a Chicago girl travels cross-country to the Pacific Northwest, in search of her father. Although I haven’t seen the film yet, it looks like it conveys the struggles of Depression-era life, while still giving it a Disney feel.

Sounder

Nathan Lee Morgan, an African-American sharecropper, steals food from his neighbor to feed his starving family and is arrested, leaving his wife and children to endure the hardships imposed on them by the economic depression and prejudice of the 1930s South. 

More Historical Movies

Historical Movies for Kids

Holocaust Movies for Middle School and High School

100+ Historical Movies for Middle and High School under R

For a comprehensive list of all of my historical movie and book lists, visit learnincolor.com/history.

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