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Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Weir
Produced by Steven Haft
Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Written by Tom Schulman
Starring Robin Williams
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography John Seale
Edited by William M. Anderson
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • June 2, 1989 (1989-06-02)
Running time
128 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $16.4 million
Box office $235.8 million[2]

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 American drama film written by Tom Schulman, directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams. Set at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in the Northeastern United States in 1959,[3] it tells the story of an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.

The film received critical acclaim and box office success; it was also BAFTA's best film[4] and best foreign film in France and Italy. Schulman received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
    • Box office 4.1
    • Film critics 4.2
    • Accolades 4.3
  • Quotes 5
  • Adaptations 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


In 1959, shy Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) begins his senior year of high school at Welton Academy, an elite prep boarding school. He is assigned one of Welton's most promising students, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), as his roommate and is quickly accepted by Neil's friends: romantic Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles), overachiever Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman), best friends Steven Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) and Gerard Pitts (James Waterston), and mischievous beatnik Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen).

On the first day of classes, they are surprised by the unorthodox teaching methods of their new English teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), a Welton alumnus who encourages his students to "make your lives extraordinary", a sentiment he summarizes with the Latin expression carpe diem ("seize the day"). His subsequent lessons include standing on his desk to teach the boys how they must look at life in a different way, telling them to rip out the introduction of their poetry books which explains a mathematical formula used for rating poetry, and inviting them to make up their own style of walking in a courtyard to encourage them to be individuals. His methods attract the suspicious attention of the strict Headmaster, Gale Nolan (Norman Lloyd).

Upon learning that Keating was a member of the unsanctioned group the Dead Poets Society while he was at Welton, Neil restarts the club and he and his friends sneak off campus at night to a cave where they read poetry and verse, including their own compositions. As the school year progresses, Keating's lessons and their involvement with the club encourage them to live their lives on their own terms. Knox pursues Chris Noel, a girl who is dating a football player and whose family is friends with his. Neil discovers his love of acting and gets the lead in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, despite the fact that his domineering father (Kurtwood Smith) wants him to go to medical school. Keating also helps Todd come out of his shell and realize his potential when he takes him through an exercise in self-expression, resulting in his composing a poem spontaneously in front of the class.

Charlie, however, takes the inspiration and Keating's teachings too far, publishing an article in the school newspaper in the name of the Dead Poets Society which demands that girls be admitted to Welton. Nolan uses corporal punishment to force Charlie to tell him who else is in the Dead Poets Society, but he refuses. Nolan also speaks to Keating, warning him that he should discourage his students from questioning authority.

Neil's father discovers Neil's involvement in the play and tells him to quit on the eve of the opening performance. Devastated, Neil goes to Keating, who advises him to stand his ground and prove to his father that his love of acting is something he takes seriously. When Keating asks the next day if Neil has spoken to his father, Neil lies and says that his father will let him pursue an acting career provided that he keeps up with his schoolwork. He discovers he is wrong when his father unexpectedly shows up at the performance. He takes him home and tells him he is forcing him into military school so he can eventually go to Harvard University. Lacking the courage to stand up to his father, Neil commits suicide.

Nolan begins an investigation into Neil's death, at the request of the Perry family. Cameron goes to him, blames Neil's death on Keating to escape punishment for his own participation in the Dead Poets Society, and names Knox, Meeks, Pitts, Todd, Neil and Charlie as the other members. Later, confronted by Charlie, Cameron urges the rest of them to let Keating take the fall. Charlie punches Cameron and is later expelled. Each of the boys is called to Nolan's office to sign a letter attesting to the truth of Cameron's allegations, even though they know they are false. When Todd's turn comes, he initially is reluctant to sign, but seeing that the others have complied, does so.

Keating is fired and Nolan takes over teaching the class. Keating interrupts the class to collect some personal articles, but before he leaves Todd shouts that all of them were forced to sign the letter that resulted in his dismissal and that Neil's death wasn't his fault. Nolan makes Keating leave, but before he can do so Todd stands on his desk and salutes Keating with the words "O Captain! My Captain!". Knox, Meeks, Pitts and over half the rest of the class does the same, despite Nolan's threats to expel them. Deeply touched by their gesture, Keating thanks the boys.



The script was written by Tom Schulman, based on his experiences at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, particularly with his inspirational teacher Samuel Pickering.[5][6] A scene in the original script showing Keating dying in a hospital was removed by film director Peter Weir, giving Todd's gesture of standing on his desk the meaning of standing for one's belief.[7] Filming took place at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware, and at locations in New Castle, Delaware and in and nearby Wilmington, Delaware.[8]


Box office

The worldwide box office was reported as $235,860,116, which includes domestic grosses of $95,860,116.[2] The film's global receipts were the fifth-highest for 1989, and the highest for dramas.[9]

Film critics

The critical reaction to this film was favorable; it received positive reviews from 85% of critics cited by Rotten Tomatoes,[10] as well as a weighted average score of 79 out of 100 from 14 mainstream critics registered on Metacritic.[11]

The Washington Post reviewer called it "solid, smart entertainment", and praised Robin Williams for giving a "nicely restrained acting performance".[12] Vincent Canby of The New York Times also praised Williams' "exceptionally fine performance", while noting that "Dead Poets Society... is far less about Keating than about a handful of impressionable boys".[3] Pauline Kael was unconvinced by the film, and its 'middlebrow highmindedness', but praised Williams. "Robin Williams' performance is more graceful than anything he's done before [-] he's totally, concentratedly there - [he] reads his lines stunningly, and when he mimics various actors reciting Shakespeare there's no undue clowning in it; he's a gifted teacher demonstrating his skills."[13]

Roger Ebert's review was largely negative, two out of four stars. He criticized Williams for spoiling an otherwise creditable dramatic performance by occasionally veering into his onstage comedian's persona, and lamented that for a movie set in the 1950s there was no mention of the Beat Generation writers. Additionally, Ebert described the film as an often poorly constructed "collection of pious platitudes [...] The movie pays lip service to qualities and values that, on the evidence of the screenplay itself, it is cheerfully willing to abandon."[14] On their Oscar Nomination edition of Siskel & Ebert, both Gene Siskel (who also gave the film a mixed review) and Ebert disagreed with Williams' Oscar nomination, with Ebert saying that he would have swapped Williams with either Matt Dillon for Drugstore Cowboy or John Cusack for Say Anything, and on their If We Picked the Winners special in March of 1990, Ebert chose the film's Best Picture nomination as the worst nomination of the year, believing it took a slot that could have gone to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.


Dead Poets Society won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Tom Schulman). Peter Weir received a nomination for Best Director and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture of 1989. Robin Williams received his second Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination and it has since been widely recognized as one of the actor/comedian's best roles. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

  • BAFTA Awards (UK) 1989[16]
    • Won: Best Film
    • Won: Best Original Film Score (Maurice Jarre)
    • Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Robin Williams)
    • Nominated: Best Achievement in Direction (Peter Weir)
    • Nominated: Best Editing (William Anderson)
    • Nominated: Best Original Screenplay (Tom Schulman)
  • Golden Globe Awards (USA)[20]
    • Nominated: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama (Robin Williams)
    • Nominated: Best Director – Motion Picture (Peter Weir)
    • Nominated: Best Motion Picture – Drama
    • Nominated: Best Screenplay – Motion Picture (Tom Schulman)

The film was voted #52 on the AFI's 100 Years…100 Cheers list, a list of the top 100 most inspiring films of all time.[22]


The film's line "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." was voted as the 95th greatest movie quote by the American Film Institute.[23]

After Williams' death in 2014, fans of his work, including Jimmy Fallon used social media to pay tribute to him with photo and video reenactments of the film's final "O Captain! My Captain!" scene.[24][25]


N. H. Kleinbaum wrote a novel of the same name based on the movie: Dead Poets Society. New York: Hyperion. 1989.

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Dangerous Liaisons
César Award for Best Foreign Film
Succeeded by
Toto the Hero (Toto le héros)

External links

  • Munaretto, Stefan (2005). Erläuterungen zu Nancy H. Kleinbaum/Peter Weir, 'Der Club der toten Dichter' (in German). Hollfeld: Bange.  
Further reading
  2. ^ a b "Dead Poets Society (1989) – Box Office Mojo".  
  3. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (June 2, 1989). "Dead Poets Society (1989) June 2, 1989 Review/Film; Shaking Up a Boys' School With Poetry".  
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Real-life professor inspires 'Dead Poets' character".  
  6. ^ Bill Henderson (January 12, 1992). "Robin Williams and Then Some". The New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2007. 
  7. ^ McCurrie, Tom (March 15, 2004). "Dead Poets Society's Tom Schulman on the Art of Surviving Hollywood". Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Cormier, Ryan (August 12, 2014) [Originally published April 4, 2014]. "25 'Dead Poets Society' in Delaware facts".  
  9. ^ "1989 Worldwide Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2014-11-15. 
  10. ^ "Dead Poets Society Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes".  
  11. ^ "Dead Poets Society reviews at".  
  12. ^ Howe, Desson (June 9, 1989). "'Dead Poets Society'". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 17, 2010. 
  13. ^ Pauline Kael, Movie Love, pp. 153-157, reprinted from review that appeared in The New Yorker, June 26, 1989
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 9, 1989). "Dead Poets Society". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 17, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 62nd Academy Awards". Retrieved November 17, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Awards Database". Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  17. ^ Crazy Dave. "Dead Poets Society". Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  18. ^ Ente David di Donatello – Accademia del Cinema Italiano Archived October 21, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Welcome to the Directors Guild of America". Archived from the original on November 20, 2010. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  20. ^ HFPA – Awards Search Archived October 13, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Mathews, Jack; Easton, Nina J. (February 9, 1990). "Some Surprises in WGA Nominees, Shutouts : Film: 'Baker Boys,' 'My Left Foot' are dark-horse nominees for Writers Guild awards; non-union 'Do the Right Thing,' 'Drugstore Cowb...". Los Angeles Times. 
  22. ^ American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 CHEERS". Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  23. ^ American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES". Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  24. ^ #O Captain, My Captain': Robin Williams' fans take over social media with tributes and memorials dedicated to the legendary comic"'". Retrieved 2014-11-15. 
  25. ^ "'"Robin Williams death: Jimmy Fallon fights tears, pays tribute with 'Oh Captain, My Captain. Retrieved 2014-11-15. 


  • The Emperor's Club, a 2002 drama set in a boy's preparatory school located in the northeast

See also


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