We’ve already written about the way movies can move and inspire us; while that article was directly related to sports movies and their ability to get us up off the couch and moving again, we wanted to revisit the idea of inspirational films (we find we’re always in need of inspiration, despite our best efforts to keep ourselves working the grind, day in and day out) and take a look at some non-sports movies that have the power to inspire us, to allow us to ask more of ourselves and to help us grow as individuals. And as crazy as it is to think, we actually believe that movies have the power to do this, despite the fact that they’re just made up of moving pictures on a two-dimensional screen. That, in and of itself, is a wondrous feat, and we felt it warranted an article looking into 10 of the most inspirational films ever made. We hope you guys are as inspired by these as we are, because after watching them all we can’t help but feel like anything is possible.
10. Harold and Maude
This dark comedy was released way back in 1971 and was directed by the acclaimed Hal Ashby. Due to its age and relative obscurity, some of our viewers may not be familiar with Harold and Maude, which tells the story of two extremely mismatched individuals who partake in a road trip to re-discover what it means to live, and live well. Harold (Bud Cort) is obsessed with death; he spends his days attending funerals for people he never knew, staging mock suicides to distress his mother, and driving around in a hearse. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is a 79-year-old woman who is also fascinated with death, but in a very different way; her quirky, carefree approach to life and everything about it exists in harsh contrast to Harold’s dour attitude, and when the two become close friends (and eventual lovers), Maude makes it her mission to teach Harold how to appreciate his time on Earth. It’s a deeply funny, important film that’s about distancing yourself from the crushing presence of death so as to better appreciate the life in front of you. We can’t think of any film better to kick off a list focusing on inspiration and positivity.
9. The Truman Show
Journeys of self-discovery will play a prominent role in this list, as the idea of working towards a better self is something that plays heavily into the very idea of inspiration. In The Truman Show, the developing awareness of Truman Burbank (as played by Jim Carrey in one of his very best roles) is an apt example of self-discovery, as the character becomes more confident and pronounced as he slowly grows to realize that he is the star of the world’s largest reality show, the titular “Truman Show” for which the film is named. The Truman Show, which was directed by Peter Weir and also stars Ed Harris, Laura Linney and Natasha McElhone, is consistently cited as one of the most interesting and intriguing film narratives of all time. Its commentary on media, technology and celebrity are every bit as relevant as its inspirational message of self discovery, and it’s a film most everyone in search of purpose should watch.
Yeah…we’ll just let the clip below do most of the talking on this one, as William Wallace’s (Mel Gibson) climactic speech in Braveheart maintains a legacy as one of the most inspirational of all time. On the whole, the movie is an excellent film that, while playing it fast and loose with the real elements of history (most of what’s portrayed in the film has been denounced or strongly contested by historians, who may know history but they damn sure don’t know inspirational if they’re going to denounce what’s going on in Braveheart), never fails to rally the troops, so to speak. Braveheart, which was released in 1995 and was also directed by Gibson, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, although the Academy failed to nominate it for the prestigious “Most Badass Pre-War Speech Of All Time” award. For shame, Academy. For shame.
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One of the most acclaimed films in cinema history (it’s one of only a few to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest also rates as one of its most inspirational. The film, which stars Jack Nicholson as Mac McMurphy, a man who feigns insanity in order to avoid jail time and instead serve his sentence in a mental asylum, takes a tragic approach to discussing the conditions of sanity and what exactly we can define as crazy, and what we can define as human. While the film ends on a dour note and seems to defy traditional ideas of inspiration, there’s hope to be found in the film’s ending, although not (as with most films) in the circumstances of the protagonist. But that’s alright, since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest remains one of the most thought-provoking films ever made, and one that’s sure to have any viewer asking the right questions.
6. To Kill a Mockingbird
We hate to advocate on behalf of a black and white approach to life (we’re more the shades of grey type), but as To Kill a Mockingbird taught us, there’s just some things in life that are right, and some that are wrong. This is the basis for the inspiration in this acclaimed 1962 drama which was adapted from Harper Lee’s now-legendary novel of the same name. There’s something inherently satisfying about standing up for the right things in life, even at great personal or professional cost. This is the lesson taught to both audiences and the children of the narrative by Atticus Finch (played by the indomitable Gregory Peck), the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, a lawyer who takes on the case of a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a teenage white girl. It’s a movie with a strong lead performance that hits all the right notes, and we find it hard to believe anyone could watch a film like this and not come away with an earnest understanding of acceptance and forward progress. If only it were that easy, right?
5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Universally acclaimed upon its release, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a drama which tells the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a famous magazine editor who suffers a massive stroke at the young age of 43 and is left with a case of “locked-in syndrome,” which affords him full mental capacity but very limited gross movement skills, with only his left eye and eyelid under his control (the rest of his body remains paralyzed). A spectacularly inspirational true story which sees Bauby overcome his disability to communicate a memoir entirely by blinking his left eye, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly stars Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby and is a recommended watch for anyone who is not afraid of subtitles (the film is mostly in French).
4. The Bucket List
Now, we’re of the mind that The Bucket List, released in 2007 and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, isn’t really a great film; rather, it received decidedly mixed reviews upon its release, with some drawing attention to the film’s melodramatic elements or its emotional schmaltz. That said, the idea behind the film is a very inspirational one. Two elderly men, both diagnosed with terminal diseases, strike up a new friendship and decide to make the most of what is left of their lives by investing time in crossing everything they can off their “bucket lists,” things they want to achieve before they kick the bucket. Is it a bit contrived? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it won’t bring a tear to your eye and a bit of pep to your step. After all, if those old fellas can cross a whole lot of things off their list, why can’t you?
3. Dead Poets Society
Directed by Peter Weir and starring Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society is a film that needs little introduction; after all, its rousing chorus of “carpe diem” is one of the most quoted inspirational lines of all time, and the idea that by seizing the day, one can make their life extraordinary is one of the most inspirational and pervasive in cinema history. A story of one very inspirational teacher (Williams) and the group of young men he sets out to inspire, all of whom attend a conservative boarding school circa 1959, Dead Poets Society is consistently cited as one of Williams’ finest performances (that’s a very impressive feat, considering he had many fine performances) and one of the few films that never fails to instill in its audience a sense of wonder and potential.
[Warning: If you’re reading this and you haven’t already seen Rocky, you deserve the impending spoilers.] We understand that we said we wouldn’t put any more sports movies on here, but it’s impossible to speak of inspiration without mentioning Rocky, the famous boxing film that stars Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, the “Italian Stallion” and one of cinema history’s toughest individuals. Released in 1976, Rocky tells the story of a man who trains as hard as he can for a fight, loses that fight, and still wins in life due to the power of his indomitable spirit and his desire to continue his career anyways. If that’s not inspiring to you, then you’re either a member of the walking dead or you’re cousins with Hal 9000, because that’s what comes up in the dictionary when you look up “inspirational,” it just says “Watch Rocky.”
1. The Shawshank Redemption
Who would’ve thought that the most notorious horror writer in the history of literature would provide the basis for cinema’s most inspirational film? It’s a curious match, but it’s no secret that The Shawshank Redemption, the 1994 film directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, is adapted from a novella by spook expert Stephen King. The Shawshank Redemption, which tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, and his eventual escape from Shawshank State Prison, is widely cited as the greatest film ever made, and we’re very convinced that the film’s dedication to conveying the infinite strength of the human spirit is part of the reason why it’s regarded so highly.