Have you ever walked out of a cinema and somehow felt that the film you have just seen was made just for you: to send a message for your own personal benefit or to help you overcome some present difficulty in your life?
Watching a well-made movie that speaks of courage, defiance, triumph or simply depicts an ordinary individual struggling against ordinary things in an exceptional way can actually be life changing. It can inspire us to re-evaluate our lives and inspire us to implement changes.
At other times the best inspirational movies can make us count our blessings and change our attitudes from negative to positive.
Here is a list of inspirational movies that have done that for me and are therefore indelibly printed on my heart and memory.
1.) Whale Rider – 2002, New Zealand, adapted from the book by Witi Ihimaera
The story follows that of a Maori community in modern day New Zealand led by Koro, now an old man and desperately trying to keep the traditions of his people alive.
Pai, Koros’s grand-daughter, threatens the continuation of these traditions just by being female and unable, according to tribal tradition, to assume leadership as next in line. Pai is determined that this won’t stop her but following her own heart puts her in direct opposition to her beloved grandfather.
From beginning to end this story is one of a young girl desperate to win the approval, love and respect of her honored grandfather.
It is a depiction of cultural identity, personal pride and the issues that face New Zealand Maori today: that of trying to reconcile modern living with ancient traditions integral to their lineage. It is both heart rending and rousing.
2.) Microcosmos – 1996, France
This is a film the like of which you will never see anywhere else!
If I tell you there’s not a person in it and not a word is spoken in almost an hour and a half (save for a short voice over at the very beginning where the scene is being set) then perhaps you’ll decide not to bother.
Think again, if you don’t watch this film your life will be poorer for it. I have introduced this film to many people ranging from the vaguely interested to the highly cynical and without exception each one of them was entranced within 10 minutes.
A day in the life of an unseen civilization, just one field of insect life using specially adapted cameras and set to music. Watch dances, struggles, courtships, courage and drama unfold in a moving and stunningly beautiful close-up on a secret world.
You come away from this inspirational film feeling honored, glad to be alive and proud to be part of such an amazing world.
3.) Amelie – 2001, France
Unless your French is up to scratch you will have to make do with subtitles but this film is more than worth the effort.
Following the life of a slightly odd, lonely Parisian girl who decides she will dedicate her life to bringing happiness to others in random and secret acts of kindness.
This film is off-beat and a refreshing change to the normal Hollywood blockbuster formula we are so inundated with as movie watchers. Funny, colorful, quirky, motivating and incredibly thought provoking.
4.) To Kill a Mockingbird – 1962, America, adapted from the book by Harper Lee
This is one of those ultra rare occasions where an exceptional book becomes an exceptional film, losing none of its essence or ethos in the retelling.
The book is powerful and the film continues that with awe inspiring performances by actors playing the lead roles of Atticus Finch and his 2 children, Scout and Jem. The film, as with the book, really makes us look at our own prejudices and judgement and motivates us to re-evaluate them.
This inspirational story has particular impact and pathos as it is told through the eyes of a child in simple black and white terms. It is the depiction of the death of childhood innocence but is also exploring the importance of doing what is right despite the consequences.
5.) Rabbit Proof Fence, 2002, Australia, adapted form the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara
This is the story of Aboriginal children torn from their home, their families and all they know as over zealous authorities and a cruel system dictates their relocation.
A rabbit proof fence runs the entire length from near the children’s original home to where they are sent for ‘re-education’, 2,400 km south. The children, alone and unequipped, make a remarkable journey on foot by following this fence back to their homeland over a nine week period. Innocence triumphs over dictatorship, love over desperation.
This inspirational story is all the more remarkable because it actually happened. It is impossible not to be inspired by the courage, fortitude, loyalty and love that this film is full of.
6.) On a Clear Day – 2005, Great Britain
Frank is a 55 year old, taciturn and very ordinary working class man. His family life is troubled and flawed and his life looks finished when he unexpectedly loses his job.
In an emotional ride we watch Frank failing at every turn but eventually deciding, completely out of the blue and without any special talent, to swim the English channel. There is no schmultz in this film: it is hard-hitting, gritty and raw and somehow incredibly beautiful.
Don’t expect a Hollywood ending but do expect to be moved. This inspirational film shows us that heroes aren’t always perfect, they don’t always triumph and that sometimes they walk beside us unnoticed.
7.) It’s a Wonderful Life – 1946, American
Not the most original inclusion in a motivational film list but impossible to omit.
This film may be over 60 years old but its messages hold as true today as when the film was first screened. You would have to have a heart of stone not to have this film speak to you in some way. Told through the medium of a man about to end his life because he sees it as having been a failed one.
A guardian angel appears to point out to him that, far from his life having been empty, he has touched and drastically altered the lives of many of those who he has come into contact with through the years. His time on earth has been that of an unsung and selfless hero and not that of a failed man.
Things are not always what they appear to be and there is hope in the most impossible situations are two of the lessons that we can learn from this inspirational movie.
8.) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – 2004, America
When this film starts you won’t have a clue what is going on.
The film explores the human emotions of pain, heartache and loss and poses a question that will see you discussing it over and over with people who have seen the film: what if you could wipe out all that pain and misery easily by erasing all that caused it from your memory – would you do it? As the film unfolds we are made to look at what pain actually is – not just a difficult emotion but the flip side of wonderful things.
Pain is only possible when we have loved deeply and experienced profound happiness too. This movie not only provides food for thought but teaches us about accepting life and the vast expanse of emotions that are the human lot.
We are all motivated in different ways but there are some common threads that run through certain powerful films that have something to say to each and everyone of us as human beings in search of love, hope, happiness and peace. You will no doubt have your own list of the best inspirational movies but if any of the above films have passed you by then make time to watch them – you will be rewarded.