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Film / The Substitute

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"I'm in charge of this class. I'm the warrior chief. I'm the merciless god of anything that stirs in my universe. You fuck with me, and you will suffer my wrath."

The Substitute is a 1996 action-crime-thriller film.

Tom Berenger stars as Jonathan Shale, a Mercenary who poses as a substitute teacher and goes undercover at his friend's school where she teaches after she is attacked by a gang.

Went on to spawn a series of sequels, with Treat Williams replacing Berenger as the titular substitute and fighting more gangsters, steroid-addled college athletes, and white supremacists, in that order.


This film provides examples of:

  • And the Adventure Continues: The movie ends with Shale and Joey Six walking away from the school (that got thrashed in the final shootout) and casually talking about probably moving to California to continue the "substitute" gig. In context, they were probably just talking to cut the tension after the rest of the mercenary team has been killed off, but considering that this film got various sequels...
  • Badass Boast: Shale's speech after he gets serious about restoring order in the school and moving out the gangs that run it.
    "I'm in charge of this classroom. I'm the warrior chief, the merciless god of anything that stirs in my universe. You fuck with me, and you will suffer my wrath."
  • Badass Crew: Shale's team of mercenaries.
  • Badass Teacher: The Movie
  • Big Bad: Juan Lacas is initially portrayed this way, until it's revealed that he's only The Dragon to Principal Rolle.
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  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Principal Rolle and Indian drug lord Johnny Glade.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Shale is saved twice right before he is about to be executed by a bad guy. The first time Jerome saves Shale by killing Juan Lacas. The second time Hollan saves Shale by killing Johnny Glades (right before dying himself).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Roller and the Kings of Destruction have been taken down, but everyone in Shale's mercenary team is dead except for himself and Joey Six.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The first major character to die is the Black teacher friend, Mr. Sherman. The first commando to die is also the Black member of the team, Wellman.
  • Blood Knight: Hollan.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Shale scares someone so bad they crap their pants, they later blame it on "The Fiber".
  • Catch and Return: The undercover mercenary teacher Jon Shale gets a soda can thrown at the back of his head by one of the rowdy students. He turns around, catches it in time, and throws it straight in the guy's face. He declares that he had to grow eyes in the back of his head during his time in Vietnam.
  • Crapsack World: The first film takes place in Miami in the mid 90s.
  • Death Equals Redemption: A critically-wounded Hollan radios Shale to warn him that he's walking into a trap. A few minutes later, Hollan saves Shale's life by killing Johnny Glades right before dying himself.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
    • Roller can't believe Shale is attacking the drug ring for any reason besides money.
    • A similar scene ends hilariously when Shale turns down a job because it involves drugs.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Shale asks the kids what good comes from a gang life and the kids start bragging about things like drugs, money, and clothing. He asks if that's what they want for their kids and they quiet down and say that it's different when talking about your kids.
  • Evil Teacher: The Principal, who turns out to be the leader of the gang.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Hollan.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: From the bad guy's perspective. When Shale says that a Mc Job is better than a gang funeral and asks how many of those the kids have been to, Lacas' Dragon Rodriguez simply says "Too many... Too fuckin' many."
  • Knee Capping: Shale's girlfriend is kneecapped by a street gang, setting the plot in motion.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Principal Rolle, who is revealed to be pulling Lacas's strings.
  • Manly Tears: Joey Six sheds some at the end of the movie after learning that he and Shale are the only survivors of their mercenary team.
  • Morton's Fork: Talking about his time in Vietnam, Shale mentions that his team would have to take the AK-47s from the Viet Cong forces to continue the fight. Listen carefully as Rolle is at the door and you can hear him say the distinct sound difference between that and the M-16 would make American forces fire at him and his men.
  • Mugging the Monster: Two inner-city high school students pick a fight with the new substitute teacher early on in his new assignment. The "teacher" is actually a Vietnam veteran and mercenary who is undercover to investigate the conspiracy leading to his girlfriend's attack.
  • Never Learned to Read: Juan Lacas, as evidenced when he has to write "I'm Sorry" 100 times and spells it "Im sorey".
  • Odd Name Out: Shale's undercover identity is "James Smith," which Rolle keeps forgetting. He says if his name was "Fedarooski" he'd remember it.
  • Oh, Crap!: Every time Shale calmly walks into the school after he's supposed to have been killed, Principal Rolle's reaction gets more entertaining to watch.
  • Precision F-Strike: From the elderly librarian:
    Shale: "Sorry about the windows"
    Librarian: "Hey...fuck it"
  • Save Our Students: These movies are a rather dark and action-y take on the old formula, as the main character's approach to violent gang-bangers invading the school isn't so much to instill them with a passion for academics as it is to smash them in the face and then throw them out a 3rd-story window. Not terribly inspirational, but perhaps more fun to watch.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Shale really hates drugs and drug dealers; turning down a high-paying job working for a drug cartel and later throwing a briefcase full of cocaine into the ocean.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Shale clearly has some hangups about Vietnam and uses his experiences to discipline students. "You had to be RESOURCEFUL in Vietnam!" - Said after injuring a student with a soda can.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    Lacas: "When this is over i'm gonna make you write 'I'm Sorry' 100 times..."
    Shale: " talking in the library"
  • Smug Snake: Juan Lacas.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Someone is kneecapped while Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime" is playing
  • Token Evil Teammate: Hollan.
  • White Man's Burden: The film is an action movie take on the "white teacher challenges the inner-city kids." He's actually a mercenary who's investigating the attack on his teacher girlfriend, but along the way he manages to knock some sense into his class and helps take down the black principal's drug ring.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Substitute 2 Schools Out, The Substitute 3 Winner Takes All, The Substitute 4 Failure Is Not An Option


The Substitute (1996)

Jonathan Shale vs. some of his students.

Example of:

Main / BadassTeacher