Clockwise from upper left: Nicolas Cage, Michael Cambon, Harrison Ford, Jerry Lewis, Robin Williams, John Houseman

You can't turn around in a movie without bumping into a professor. If it's not Nicolas Cage as the unlikeliest astrophysicist to be granted tenure at M.I.T. in Knowing, just released on DVD, it's the passel of professors that will undoubtedly be presented in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due out in theaters next Wednesday. Which kind of professor do you prefer?

My early impressions were formed by seeing the distinguished, imposing Harvard law professor John Houseman dress down Timothy Bottoms in James Bridges' The Paper Chase: "Here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer." My impressions changed dramatically when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones may have been more of a thrill-seeker than an academic, but he was driven by his love for archeology -- and a desire to share his knowledge with his students, no matter how distracted they were by his dreamy looks.

Movies have produced so many memorable professors that it's hard to narrow down the list, but here are my other favorites, and why:

  • Gary Cooper, Ball of Fire (Good-hearted and modest).
  • Orson Welles, The Stranger (Cold-hearted and scary; an alluring phony).
  • Jerry Lewis, The Nutty Professor (Makes you feel better about yourself).
  • Peter O'Toole, Creator (Zestful and enthusiastic; encourages free thinking).
  • Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society (Funny, if a bit too manic and pushy).
  • Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys (Wounded, but can still teach life lessons).

Who are your favorite movie professors?