When the boys show Professor Keating his old senior yearbook picture, it is, in reality, Robin Williams's high school senior picture when he was a student at Redwood High School in Larkspur, California, north of San Francisco.
The scene where Todd cries outside in the snow was done in one take. It was originally an interior scene, but when it started to snow, Peter Weir thought the scene might have more impact if it were done outside. The snow was already beginning to let up so it had to be done in one take. Fortunately, Ethan Hawke managed it.
The movie's line, "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary," was voted as the #95 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100). The phrase comes from Odes 1.11 of Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), 65BC-8BC.
Tom Schulman's script was partly based on his own experiences at Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys preparatory school he attended in Nashville, Tennessee, and his professor there, Samuel F. Pickering Jr.
The poem by Henry David Thoreau that is featured on the front page of the poetry book Neil receives is not an original poem by Thoreau. Rather, it is a rearrangement of sentences from his work "Where I Lived," Chapter Two from his seminal work, Walden. The passage containing the quotes seen in the movie actually reads, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, ..."
At the premiere, Kurtwood Smith saw a family with the father domineering his son very much like his own character in the film. After the film Smith noticed the family leaving and saw that the father was crying.
This film is frequently shown to fraternity members during leadership seminars, because of the striking similarities between the film's plot and the historical events that led to the creation of fraternal organizations at universities in the United States in the late 18th century.
Norman Lloyd was most surprised to discover that he was expected to audition for the film. Initially, he refused. He said that he had just finished six years of St. Elsewhere (1982) and that the producers should use that. He was told that Peter Weir was on location and had never seen Lloyd's TV series, so Lloyd finally acquiesced.
Director Peter Weir attended The Scots College, a private boys school in Sydney. The uniforms, discipline and overall feel of the school translated into many of the film's scenes. In 1994, a stage production of the film, the first in the world authorized by Touchstone Pictures, was put on by the school. Peter Weir attended the opening night and spoke about the making of the film.
The tenth largest grossing film of the year at the U.S. box-office, and the fifth highest overseas. It surpassed two other blockbuster Disney releases, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and The Little Mermaid (1989).
Mel Gibson was originally slated to play John Keating when Jeff Kanew took the director's chair. Gibson demanded too much money and was turned down. Gibson had worked with Peter Weir twice before on Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously.
Norman Lloyd was a bit put out when he had to audition for the role of Mr. Nolan. He made the decision while playing a tennis match, because he said it heightened his receptivity. When he won the match, he agreed to audition.
The map the boys are looking at when they are planning their first Dead Poets Society Meeting is actually a contour map of the Blue Ridge Parkway (National Park Service) and the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.
In the very last scene, Cameron was supposed to stand on his desk as well, but Dylan Kussman vetoed the idea because he did not think it was in character. He was surprised when director Peter Weir agreed.
Elsewhere on this page, it's stated that the film was shot in chronological order. Following this line of reasoning, after shooting the scene in which Neil kills himself, Peter Weir kept Robert Sean Leonard off the set and didn't let him communicate with the other actors in order to create a real sense of losing a friend.