Social Psychology



12 Angry Men
Drama    Year:  1957    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Henry Fonda, John Fiedler
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
If you had to pick one movie to consider group conformity, persuasion, moral development, this is it. Based on the play, the film is shot entirely within the jury room, as the 12 men deliberate a murder case. Even my students were so caught up in the dialogue and story that they did not mind the lack of color or special effects. The film also lends itself to consideration of leadership characteristics, as discussed in my article.

American History X
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1998    Rating:  R
Actors:  Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo
Topics:  Social
A neo-Nazi (Norton) in prison for murder begins to question his prejudiced belief system. When he is released, his goal is to “deprogram” his brother.

As Good As It Gets
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1997    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, Helen Hunt
Topics:  Psychopathology, OCD, Personality Disorder, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Actress. Jack Nicholson with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as well as plenty of Axis II. Also addresses bias (homophobia) and attitude change. Really great movie.

Beautiful People
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1999    Rating:  R
Actors:  Thomas Goodridge, Frank Pruti, Tony Peters
Topics:  Psychopathology, Social, Stress and Coping, Family Dynamics
A black comedy from Britain. Much like a lighter version of “Crash.” The intertwining of lives and various conflicts allow for discussion of biases and “us” versus “them” mentalities. Also includes reference to “Bosnian syndrome.”

Being There
Genre:  Comedy    Year:  1979    Rating:  PG
Actors:  Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Very funny and interesting film about a gardener (Peter Sellers) whose only exposure to the “real world” outside the wall around the grounds he keeps comes from television. What does it say about our society? Any obvious diagnosis of the gardener (or us?!)?

Bowling for Columbine 
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  2002    Rating:  R
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social, Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Developmental
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Roger and Me, and Sicko, allow for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Bowling for Columbine focuses on the school shootings at Columbine High School.

Boys Don’t Cry
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1999    Rating:  R
Actors:  Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigney, Peter Sarsgaard
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actress. Powerful story of a young person dealing with gender identity disorder; based on true events. How does social psychology explain the differences in attitude after the discovery that Brandon is anatomically female?

Breakfast Club, The 
Genre:  Comedy/Drama    Year:  1985    Rating:  R
Actors:  Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson
Topics:  Developmental, Social
Although over a quarter of a century old now, this movie has become a cult favorite and still is relevant today. Five students are sentenced to Saturday detention in the school library. Each represents a different stereotype: jock, brain, criminal, basketcase, princess. A fun film, yet still addresses concepts of conformity and bias.

Caine Mutiny, The
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1954    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Treatment, Social, Moral Development, Forensic
I love this movie. Great cast, with Humphrey Bogart as the captain who begins to unravel under stress. You’ll never eat frozen strawberries again without thinking of this movie!  What do you think about the lawyer’s accusations at the end, would things have been different if they supported the captain, made accommodations for his deficiencies?   If you want more resolution at the end, read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, on which the film was based.

Citizen Kane
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1941    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Social, Moral Development
A classic. The story of a newspaper publisher’s climb to success. Also, the power of early childhood memories?

Clean, Shaven 
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1994    Rating:  R (NR)
Actors:  Peter Greene, Alice Levitt, Megan Owen
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Social, Forensic
This accurate and graphic film depicts life through the eyes of an untreated paranoid schizophrenic searching for his daughter. It does contain some short footage which many may find difficult to watch, but is in keeping with the presentation of psychosis. I found that looking away during these moments did not alter my appreciation of the film. This is one of those odd, independent films which one must “figure out” as it goes along. High on symbolism – be sure to notice the mother’s clothing in relation to the setting around her. I find that this film demonstrates beautifully the communication deficits often present in these families – the mother character suggests the now disproved “schizophrenogenic mother” theory, or may be consistent with a strong genetic component to schizophrenia.  The depiction of perceptual illusions/hallucinations is very well done. A short film, but one which truly gives a sense of the world view and experiences of a schizophrenic.

Genre:  Comedy    Year:  1993      Rating:  R
Actors:  Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Toni Collette
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Treatment, Social
A very well-done, heartwarming Australian comedy about a theater major hired to direct a play with the cast comprised of psychiatric patients at the local asylum. Includes pyromaniacs and other diagnoses. What does it say about training needed to work in an institution? How does the movie portray the staff?

Genre:  Drama    Year:  2004    Rating:  R
Actors:  Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ludacris
Topics:  Social, Moral Development, Marital/Family Dynamics
Academy Award winner for Best Picture.  This is a MUST SEE for anyone interested in multicultural issues. Virtually every character demonstrates susceptibility to bias, reliance on stereotypes. It’s a major tearjerker at times, so be prepared!

Crying Game, The
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1992    Rating:  R
Actors:  Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Rea
Topics:  Psychopathology, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
Academy Award winner for Writing.  This film has one of the biggest plot twists at the end, stop reading now if you don’t want it spoiled! It involves a British soldier, Jody, a member of the IRA, Fergus, and Jody’s girlfriend, Dil, with whom Fergus develops a relationship, only to ultimately find out that Dil is a cross-dressing man with gender identity disorder. Compare reactions with those in “Boys Don’t Cry.” The movie also has a haunting theme song.

Donnie Darko
Genre:  Drama    Year:  2001    Rating:  R
Actors:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social, Moral Development
A cult favorite. See the Director’s Cut version. Although intended to be interpreted from a science fiction perspective, the story easily can be analyzed according to traditional schizophrenia and trauma issues.

Ed Wood 
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1994    Rating:  R
Actors:  Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor.  Johnny Depp as the quirky movie maker – and transvestite.  His friends also have their share of psychopathology. Allows for exploration of friendships, group dynamics. Cute film.

Fahrenheit 9/11
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  2004    Rating:  R
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me, and Sicko, allow for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Fahrenheit 9/11 considers issues related to the United States’ reaction to the events of 9/11 and how this lead to involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iran. 

Fisher King, The 
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1991      Rating:  R
Actors:  Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Mood Disorders, Stress and Coping, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress.  A suicidal radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) meets up with a deranged street person (Robin Williams) who catches him up in his psychosis – folie a deux? Also their relationship seems to bring salvation for both. Interesting film.

House of Games
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1987      Rating: R
Actors:  Joe Mantegna, Lindsay Crouse, Mike Nussbuam
Topics:  Psychopathology, Treatment, Personality Disorders, Social
Joe Mantegna as a con artist whose life fascinates a psychologist/author, luring her into his world of deceit. Suspenseful, quality movie.

I Am Sam
Genre:  Drama      Year:  2001      Rating: PG-13
Actors:  Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning
Topics:  Psychopathology, Neuropsychology, Forensic, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
Sean Penn portrays a man with mental retardation fighting for custody of his 7-year-old child. Sam’s group of friends are entertaining – two are truly developmentally disabled – his close neighbor is agoraphobic. His lawyer is the stereotypical overworked yuppie professional woman, estranged from her family. The film is a classic tearjerker. Despite significant research for the film (watch the supplemental documentary), how realistic were the events? Did he take her to a pediatrician? Did the pediatrician have any concerns about his care? Was that a realistic portrayal of cross-examination of an expert witness? Could Sam really have afforded the apartment at the end in Los Angeles, making somewhere around $8/hour? What really was in the best interest of the child? Was the opposing attorney all that wrong? Many things to consider.

Kids are All Right, The 
Genre:  Comedy/Drama     Year:  2010     Rating:  R
Actors:  Annette Benning, Julianne Moore
Topics:  Marital/Family Dynamics, Social, Stress and Coping
This is a wonderful movie dealing with contemporary issues. A lesbian couple has raised two well-adjusted children, each born by artificial insemination from the same donor. The family dynamics and the way conflict is addressed by the couple and the family as a whole is one of the best, healthiest, portrayals in film. It has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and appropriately so.

Kiss of the Spider Woman
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1985      Rating:  R
Actors:  William Hurt, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga
Topics:  Psychopathology, Forensic, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actor. Two unlikely cell mates in a South American prison, a homosexual charged with immoral behavior, and a political prisoner, develop a relationship and use their imagination (hallucinations?) to escape their reality.

Kitchen Stories 
Genre:  Comedy/Drama   Year: 2003    Rating: PG
Actors:  Joachim Calmeyer, Tomas Nordstrom
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Social, Developmental
In Norwegian with English subtitles. This film is based on the real studies conducted in Sweden on how best to modernize the kitchen by studying housewive’s kitchen activities. Today, we would think of this as Human Factors Psychology. This movie is a twist, with rural Norwegian bachelors being the research subjects. The “observer” sits in a tall chair (akin to a tennis judge’s) and is to watch and take notes only, and not interact with the subject. Of course, this artificial setting cannot last. The film deals with research methods, male friendships, and identity development. A truly different, endearing, and at times laugh out loud funny movie.

Lars and the Real Girl 
Genre:  Comedy/Drama      Year:  2007      Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Kelli Garner
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
I thoroughly LOVE this movie. Lars is an office worker in a small time. He’s an odd, reclusive guy, but nice and harmless. Exposed to the concept of a “mail order doll” (anatomically correct) by a co-worker, he orders a doll, not for sexual reasons, but as part of a delusional system. Lars introduces her as his foreign girlfriend, who is in a wheelchair. The resulting responses from his family and community, as well as the very empathetic physician, make this a “feel good” movie. One can only hope that this sort of film could destigmatize mental illness and model supportive family and community response. It “takes a village” to treat mental illness.

Genre:  Drama    Year:  1944    Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix 
Topics:  Social
I love Hitchcock movies and this is a great one. The movie takes place on a lifeboat during World War II after a passenger ship was torpedoed by a German vessel, which also then sank. There are multiple Social Psychology concepts at play – prejudice, attitude change, conformity, etc., particularly when a German officer is one of the survivors pulled into the lifeboat.

Ma Vie En Rose
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1997      Rating:  R
Actors:  Michele Laroque,Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Helene Vincent
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics, Treatment, Social, Stress and Coping
French movie (English subtitles) – Chronicles the emerging signs of gender identity conflict in a young boy and his family’s reaction, as well as the community.

Magnificent Seven, The 
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1960    Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach
Topics:  Moral Development, Social
This is the classic Western remake of Seven Samurai. It is the simple story of a group of cowboys gathered together to protect a Mexican village from a raiding bandit. Each cowboy has his own motivations (allowing for exploration of level of Moral Development). The film also explores bias, conformity, attitude change. My students were suprised at how much they liked it, given its age and that it was a Western (which many students had never seen before). It is long, but the soundtrack helps it be particularly enjoyable. A remake starring Chris Pratt is in the works.

Method, The
Genre:  Drama      Year:  2005      Rating:  R
Actors:  Eduardo Noriega, Najwa Nimri
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
The Argentinian film (in Spanish with English subtitles) presents an unusual method for evaluating job applicants for an executive position. The group of applicants is put through a series of tests, supposedly developed by the firm’s psychologist. Consider professional ethics, moral decision-making, group dynamics. 

Ox-Bow Incident, The 
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1943    Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
Classic older Western, telling the story of two men passing through a town and becoming involved in the hanging of suspects in a murder. The film allows for examination of multiple Social Psychology concepts, such as conformity and deindividuation, as well as levels of Moral Development.

River’s Edge
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1986    Rating:  R
Actors:  Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper
Topics:  Developmental, Moral Development, Social, Psychopathology
This is one of those disturbing movies with a lot of relevant material. A group of high school kids are drifting in life. One of them kills his girlfriend and leaves her body at the river’s edge. The movie portrays the different reactions of the rest of the friends. Emotional numbing and inaction are prominent, as well as varied levels of moral development. 

Roger and Me
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  1989    Rating:  R
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko, allow for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Roger and Me focuses on the effects on Flint, Michigan of General Motors closing its plants. The lasting image for me is the sign in front of a woman’s house, selling rabbits “for pets or meat.” How would an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist help these laid off workers?

Genre:  Documentary    Year:  2007    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social, Neuropsychology/Medical Disorders, Stress and Coping
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Roger and Me, allows for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Sicko focuses on the health care system. There are some eye-opening parallels between healthcare accessibility in the United States and other countries. 

Stand By Me 
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1986    Rating:  R
Actors:  Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
Topics:  Developmental, Social
One of my all-time favorites. The movie is rated R mostly for language (swearing by teen boys), but I believe it is so wonderful otherwise taht it is worth showing to teenage audiences. The story is simple – a group of boys hike through the woods to see a dead body. It is the journey, rather than its end, that is important. Friendship, family, conformity, peer pressure are all explored in a truly wonderful movie.

Thank You for Smoking 
Genre: Comedy/Drama    Year: 2005    Rating: R
Actors: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bellow
Topics: Social, Moral Development
This black comedy portrays the efforts of the tobacco company to sway public opinion. It is an inside look at the tactics used, including product placement in movies. The main character faces a moral dilemma when testifying before congress, pitting his allegiance to his employer against his duties as a parent.


Woodsman, The 
Genre:  Drama     Year:  2004     Rating:  R
Actors:  Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick
Topics:  Psychopathology, Marital/Family Dysfunction, Social, Forensic 
This film is likely to generate significant discussion – there no doubt will be some who find it offensive (the producer received a gift-wrapped rat for Christmas during film production), and others who find it a thought-provoking piece about a taboo topic. The film is likely best appreciated if watched without a “heads up” – Stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers …. Kevin Bacon is terrific portraying the torment of a pedophile released after 12 years in prison. He develops a relationship with a tough woman with her own history. He struggles with his continuing impulses, wishing to be “normal,” as he works with a therapist. From a diagnostic perspective, consider that he is able to have “normal” sex with his girlfriend, the difference between him and sexual sadists, such as the one described by the cop in the film, and the role that stress played in his impulses, parallels with OCD? A thinker’s film with many metaphors throughout and unsaid story components (e.g., we have a sense of how pedophiles are treated in prison). I’m not sure if this were intentional (perhaps yes, as the same producer made Monsters Ball) – the authority figures in the film, with the exception of the therapist, were all African-American: boss, secretary, cop. Is this a social commentary about the relative social positioning of pedophiles in a biased society, even if white? Looking for a film to analyze for class? This one is loaded with material.