Lean on Me (1989) - Rotten Tomatoes

Lean on Me1989

Lean on Me (1989)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

After earning rave notices for powerful supporting turns as a pimp in Street Smart (1987) and an alcohol abuse counselor in Clean and Sober (1988), actor Morgan Freeman began his ascent to stardom with this, his first lead role in a major motion picture. Freeman is real-life high school principal Joe Clark, a tough, harsh educator and administrator who in 1987 is given a nearly impossible task by his old friend, school superintendent Dr. Frank Napier (Robert Guillaume). Clark is asked to reform inner city Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ, a hotbed of delinquent kids and drug dealers. Considered the worst school in New Jersey, the state is threatening to take control of Eastside away from the local school board. If Clark can straighten out Eastside in time to get the school's basic-skills test scores up, he can have the job permanently. Although Clark's tyrannical approach and hard-line policies alienate many members of the staff and the community, his uncompromising campaign gets results and even makes him famous, much to the chagrin of his powerful enemies. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

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Morgan Freeman
as Joe Clark
Beverly Todd
as Ms. Levias
Robert Guillaume
as Dr. Frank Napier
Alan North
as Mayor Don Bottman
Lynne Thigpen
as Leona Barrett
Robin Bartlett
as Mrs. Elliott
Jermaine Hopkins
as Thomas Sams
Karen Malina White
as Kaneesha Carter
Ethan Phillips
as Rosenberg
Sloane Shelton
as Mrs. Hamilton
Regina Taylor
as Mrs. Carter
Ivonne Coll
as Mrs. Santos
Michael P. Moran
as Mr. O'Malley
John Ring
as Fire Chief Gaines
Tony Todd
as Mr. Wright
Mike Starr
as Mr. Zirella
Yvette Hawkins
as Mrs. Arthur
Michael Joseph
as Brian Banes
Richard Grusin
as Mr. Danley
Jim Moody
as Mr. Lott
Marcella Lowery
as Mrs. Richards
Harry Madsen
as Teacher in Cafeteria
Bruce Malmuth
as Burger Joint Manager
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Critic Reviews for Lean on Me

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (2)

Avildsen's enthusiastic direction gives Lean on Me a heartwarming, feel-good tone that is accessible beyond the environs of its subject.

July 9, 2014 | Full Review…

Lean on Me is not a documentary about the real Joe Clark. It is a fiction film about a character who is so troubled, obsessed and angry that the film is never able to say quite what it thinks of him. After the movie, neither are we.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

Joe Clark's tough love philosophy plays into the pernicious respectability that plagues so many black communities- that discipline and assimilation will guarantee safety and success.

November 5, 2021 | Full Review…

Inspirational movie about a controversial teacher.

January 2, 2011 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Is a baseball bat the best way to organize a school? In the movie, sure. In real life, maybe not.

April 7, 2004 | Rating: 3/5

Freeman, as usual, infuses a standard-issue plot with extraordinary emotional conviction.

August 17, 2003 | Rating: 3/5

Audience Reviews for Lean on Me


Morgan Freeman is great in this role, but Lean on Me is a bit cheesy and predictable.

Raymond Wieser
Raymond Wieser

Super Reviewer


A good movie. A bit dated but Freeman was great none the less.

Jim Careter
Jim Careter

Super Reviewer


Great courage and true story of a high school principal who is saving the school from the troublemakers. Morgan Freeman electrifies his fiction character in an extraordinary performance as an extraordinary man.

Dean McKenna
Dean McKenna

Super Reviewer

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