Mr. Holland's Opus

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Mr. Holland's Opus
Mr Hollands Opus.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stephen Herek
Produced by Ted Field
Robert W. Cort
Michael Nolin
Patrick Sheane Duncan
Written by Patrick Sheane Duncan
Starring Richard Dreyfuss
Glenne Headly
Jay Thomas
Olympia Dukakis
William H. Macy
Alicia Witt
Music by Michael Kamen
Cinematography Oliver Wood
Edited by Trudy Ship
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • December 29, 1995 (1995-12-29)
(Limited Release)
  • January 19, 1996 (1996-01-19)
(Wide Release)
Running time
143 minutes
Country United States
Language English and American Sign Language
Box office $106,269,971

Mr. Holland's Opus is a 1995 American drama film directed by Stephen Herek, produced by Ted Field, Robert W. Cort, and Michael Nolin, and written by Patrick Sheane Duncan.[1] It stars Richard Dreyfuss in the title role, and the cast includes Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy and Jay Thomas.

Mr. Holland's Opus is presented as a biography of the 30-year career of the eponymous lead character, Glenn Holland, a music teacher at the fictional John F. Kennedy High School in Portland, Oregon. The film received Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama (Dreyfuss), while the actor was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.


In 1965, Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a professional musician and composer who has been relatively successful in the exhausting life of a musical performer. However, in an attempt to enjoy more free time with his young wife, Iris (Glenne Headly), and to enable him to compose a piece of orchestral music, the 30-year-old Holland accepts a teaching position.

Unfortunately for Holland, he is soon forced to realize that his position as a music teacher makes him a marginalized figure in the faculty's hierarchy. He comes face to face with how seriously he is outranked by the high school's football coach, Bill (Jay Thomas), who ultimately becomes his best friend. Administrators, such as vice principal Gene Wolters (William H. Macy), dislike him, while others, including principal Helen Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis), remind him that he should not teach just because of financial reasons. It is Mrs. Jacobs' scolding that helps Holland turn a corner. He starts to use rock and roll as a way to help children understand classical music. Reluctantly, he begins seeing his students as individuals and finds ways to help them excel.

When Iris becomes pregnant, Holland uses the money saved up for his orchestrating to buy a house. Their son Cole is born sometime during the summer after his first year of teaching. Holland is then assigned to be in charge of the school marching band. Bill helps him in exchange for allowing academically challenged football player/wrestler Louis Russ (Terrence Howard) to play the drums for academic credit, so he can keep his spot on the wrestling team.

The film marks the passing decades with newsreels about Vietnam, corresponding to the tragic combat death of Louis, and the death of John Lennon in 1980. The passage of time and the mysteries of personal growth are a frequent underlying theme in this film.

Holland's lack of quality time with his wife becomes problematic when their son, Cole, is diagnosed as deaf. Holland reacts with hostility to the news that he can never teach the joys of music to his own child. His wife willingly learns American Sign Language to communicate with their son, but Holland learns at a much slower rate, causing further estrangement within the family.

Through three decades, Holland becomes closer to students at John F. Kennedy High School than he is with his own son. At one point in the film, he is briefly tempted by the shining talent of a young female student, who invites him to leave his stressful, unsatisfying life and run off to New York City with her. When Holland expresses to Cole the assumption that he cannot understand what music means to his father, Cole lashes out and reveals that he does appreciate music but needs his father to reach out to him. The incident encourages Holland to find different ways for Cole and other deaf children to understand music, and he puts on a concert for them during which he sings and signs Beautiful Boy, directing the song towards Cole.

Holland addresses a series of challenges created by people who are either skeptical of, or hostile towards, the idea of musical excellence within the walls of the average middle-class American high school. He inspires many students, but never has time for himself or his family, forever delaying the composition of his own orchestral work. Ultimately, he reaches an age when it is too late to realistically find financial backing or ever have it performed.

In 1995, the adversaries of the Kennedy High music program win a decisive institutional victory. Holland's longtime adversary Gene Wolters, assigned school principal when Jacobs retired, works with the school board to eliminate music, along with the rest of the fine arts program, in the name of necessary budget cuts, thereby leading to Glenn's early retirement at the age of 60. Glenn is a realist who realizes that his working life is over. He believes that his former students have mostly forgotten him.

On his final day as a teacher, Iris and an adult Cole (who is now a teacher himself) arrive to help Holland pack up. Feeling despondent over his self-perceived lack of achievement, Holland is led to the school auditorium, where his professional life is surprisingly redeemed. Hearing that their beloved teacher is retiring, hundreds of his former pupils have secretly returned to the school to celebrate his career.

Holland's orchestral piece, never before heard in public, has been put before the musicians by his wife and son. One of his most musically challenged students, Gertrude Lang (Alicia Witt as a child and Joanna Gleason as an adult), who has become governor of the state, sits in with her clarinet. Gertrude and the other alumni ask the retiring teacher to serve as their conductor for the premiere performance of Mr. Holland's Opus ("The American Symphony"). A proud Iris and Cole look on, appreciating the affection and respect that Holland receives.



The movie was written by Patrick Sheane Duncan, directed by Stephen Herek, and was filmed in and around Portland, Oregon with many exterior and interior scenes taking place at Ulysses S. Grant High School.[2]

Archive footage[edit]

Archive footage seen in the film includes:


The film features an orchestral score by Michael Kamen and many pieces of classical music. Kamen also wrote An American Symphony, the work Mr. Holland is shown working on throughout the movie.

Soundtrack releases[edit]

Two soundtrack albums were released for this film in January 1996. One is the original motion picture score, and includes all of the original music written for the film by Michael Kamen. The second album is a collection of popular music featured in the film:

  1. "Visions of a Sunset" – Shawn Stockman (of Boyz II Men)
  2. "1-2-3" – Len Barry
  3. "A Lover's Concerto" – The Toys
  4. "Keep On Running" – Spencer Davis Group
  5. "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" – Stevie Wonder
  6. "Imagine" – John Lennon
  7. "The Pretender" – Jackson Browne
  8. "Someone to Watch Over Me" – Julia Fordham
  9. "I Got a Woman" – Ray Charles
  10. "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" – John Lennon
  11. "Cole's Song" – Julian Lennon & Tim Renwick
  12. "An American Symphony (Mr. Holland's Opus)" – London Metropolitan Orchestra & Michael Kamen


Box office[edit]

In the United States, gross domestic takings totaled US$ 82,569,971. International takings are estimated at US$ 23,700,000, for a gross worldwide takings of US$106,269,971.[3] Rental totals reached US$ 36,550,000 in the US. Although the film is included amongst 1995 box office releases (it ranks as the 14th most successful film of that year), it was only released in a few theatres in New York and Los Angeles on December 29, 1995, because Disney felt, accurately, that Richard Dreyfuss' performance had a good chance of getting an Oscar nomination if it beat that year's in-theatre deadline.


Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 74% Fresh rating.[4] Writer Patrick Sheane Duncan was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay at the 53rd Golden Globe Awards. Dreyfuss was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.

The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation[edit]

Inspired by the motion picture, its composer, Michael Kamen, founded The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation (MHOF) in 1996 as his commitment to the future of music education.[5]


External links[edit]