Dead Poets Society

Best Picture
Academy Awards
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Academy Awards
Best Director
Academy Awards
Williams, who has comparatively little screen time, has come to act, not to cut comic riffs, and he does so with forceful...compelling, simplicity.


Dead Poets Society

Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 35th Anniversary screening of the Oscar-winning drama, Dead Poets Society, which starred Robin Williams in one of his best-loved performances, along with a talented cast of newcomers, including Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, and veteran performers Norman Lloyd and Kurtwood Smith.

The film earned four top Academy Award nominations in 1989—Best Picture, Best Director for Peter Weir, Best Actor for Robin Williams, and it won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Jane Fonda presented the award to screenwriter Tom Schulman at the awards ceremony in 1990. Schulman based the story in part on his own experiences in prep school, though it was set a bit earlier, at a boys’ school in 1959 constricted by hidebound traditions.

Williams, fresh from his first Oscar nomination for
Good Morning, Vietnam two years earlier, portrays a newcomer to the school, an English teacher who urges the boys to break from convention, think for themselves and “seize the day.” He teaches poetry but also counsels rebellion and nonconformity during a more conservative, quiescent time in American society. While he inspires his students, his unconventional methods draw the ire of the school’s headmaster, played by veteran actor Lloyd in one of his most memorable performances. (Lloyd died in 2021 at the age of 106.) And Williams also comes into conflict with the rigid father of his gifted student played by Leonard; the father is played by another versatile and accomplished actor, Kurtwood Smith.

Richard Schickel, the film critic of Time magazine, wrote, “Williams…has come to act, not to cut comic riffs, and he does so with forceful, ultimately compelling simplicity.” Variety agreed: “Story sings whenever Williams is on screen,” and the publication added, “Screen belongs just as often to Leonard. Hawke [also] gives a haunting performance.” Time Out declared, “Weir infuses the film with his customary mysticism, but more importantly, draws sensitive performances from his largely inexperienced cast.”

The film also scored most impressively at the box office. It earned $235 million worldwide, becoming the fifth highest grossing film of the year (in a year that also included Tim Burton’s
Batman and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). In that very different era, thoughtful character-driven films were capable of drawing huge theatrical audiences that would be unimaginable today.

Tom Schulman wrote another of the biggest hits of 1989,
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. His other credits include the hilarious What About Bob?, starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, and Welcome to Mooseport, with Gene Hackman and Ray Romano. He wrote and directed the black comedy 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag and the vivid pool hustling movie, Double Down South, which opened earlier this year.

Steven Haft, the film’s producer, also produced such diverse movies as Jakob the Liar, also with Robin Williams; Agnieszka Holland’s
The Third Miracle starring Ed Harris; Hocus Pocus, the hit comedy with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy; Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow; and Tigerland with Colin Farrell.

Kurtwood Smith co-starred in such films as
RoboCop, Broken Arrow, To Die For, Citizen Ruth, Girl Interrupted, and Deep Impact. He is probably best known for his role on the long-running, smash hit TV series, That 70s Show, and its current reincarnation, That 90s Show.​

Drama, Anniversary Classics
Peter Weir
Tom Schulman
Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles
Nominee, Best Picture, Academy Awards
Nominee, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Academy Awards
Nominee, Best Director, Academy Awards
Winner, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Academy Awards
Winner, Best Foreign Film, Cesar Awards
Nominee, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film, Directors Guild of America
Nominee, Best Original Screenplay, Writers Guild of America
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