Hi there! I’m your English coach Christina, welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll learn American culture and business know-how to become confident in English.
Watching American movies is a great way to practice the language and to get closer to American culture. Here are my top 3 good movies for learning English movies, to understand what we mean by “the American Dream.”
Forrest Gump (1994)
The movie Forrest Gump is about the ideal of the American Dream, and it’s a very good movie for learning English.
The character of Forrest Gump is brave and determined, throughout four decades of American culture. He’s a poor and mentally challenged kid in the rural American South, but he never gives up and never lies. And he ends up successful!
Of course, most American are aware that the American Dream has its flaws. The comedian George Carlin talked about them at length, in this famous speech.
In Forrest Gump, for instance, we see that racism makes a society that isn’t fair for everyone.
Yet, overall, the movie is still optimistic about the American Dream – after all, with Forrest, we see a society that becomes fairer with time.
I’d also recommend you watch this movie to get in touch with a part of the American culture. Especially with some defining elements of American history from the 1950s to the early 1990s. There’s the Civil Rights Movement, and also the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam war, the Watergate Scandal, the rise and fall of hippie and disco cultures, American football…
The soundtrack includes some of the best American music from the 60s and 70s!
Plus, this movie has given us some cult quotes, that everyone now knows:
- “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
- “Stupid is as stupid does.”
- “Run, Forrest, run!”
This movie also speaks to me personally, just because… I used to live there! My own hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi, is about 30 minutes away from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, where part of the movie takes place.
It’s the part with the shrimps, and I love shrimp! I’d really like to be able to eat at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company!
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine tells the story of a family of misfits helping their youngest daughter, Olive, win a child beauty pageant. You have almost every elements of the American Dream in there!
First, the daughter is the underdog in the competition. She’s determined and hard-working.
Her dad is a motivational speaker. He really believes in the American meritocracy, even though he’s down on his luck.
And the whole family travels west to pursue their success. Like many American people did in history!
The main difference with the full American Dream, though, is: winning! Olive’s father isn’t successful, her uncle is suicidal, her half-brother’s dreams are a long-shot… The American Dream have actually failed all these characters.
Yet the movie still keeps an optimistic heart! The adorable Olive shows us the way to deal with failure: stay close to your loved ones. Don’t do things by ambition, but because you enjoy them.
I love this movie! It’s a fun road-trip movie, which is a staple of American culture. Little Miss Sunshine has a big heart, and a funny cast of characters. The whole family is very dysfunctional, yet they still love and support each other.
There’s something that makes the movie really worth a watch: that final, wonderful dance scene!
And when the strict beauty pageant organizer asks Olive’s Dad “What’s your daughter doing?” in reaction to the outrageous dance scene…the dad responds “She’s kickin’ ass, that’s what she’s doing!”
In other words, she’s doing an awesome job.
Just careful with that expression! Some people might find it offensive.
American beauty (1999)
American Beauty is a movie about the bad side of achieving the American Dream.
Culturally, this movie takes places in small-town America. That’s where the majority of Americans actually live, by the way: not in the big and vibrant cities of New York, Miami or San Francisco, but in little towns and suburban neighborhood instead. And sometimes, as American Beauty depicts, it leads to boredom and monotony.
Lester Burnham, the protagonist, has achieved the “official goal” of the American dream, but he’s still unhappy. His material wealth, his relationships, and basically his whole life, are only superficial.
That’s the American Dream at its weakest: when it devolves into a game of appearances and narcissism, instead of meaningful work and honest relationships.
And all of this makes for an interesting movie to watch, to learn more about American culture!
Plus, you’ll hear lots of phrasal verbs in this movie, like in these quotes:
- “A job description mapping out in detail how they contribute.”
- “You didn’t screw up once!”
- “How would it look if I showed up with no one?”
To learn what these expressions mean, and to get 20+ pages of slang expressions and definitions from the movie, check out this document from the site ESLnotes.
Before you do, here’s this week’s episode:
Now tell me: what other movie good movies for learning English do you recommend?
Share your suggestion with us in the comments!
Want to immediately understand 12 everyday expressions that Americans say fast?
Get my free pronunciation and comprehension lesson with exercises here.
And of course subscribe to my channel, so you get a new English lesson each week!
Thanks for watching Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!
More good stuff...
Click the image to learn more