My Five Favorite Inspirational Films

Stories shape us. The stories we hold close, change our view of the world and our philosophy of life. And, deep down, we react more strongly to stories than to data.

Here is a short list of five of my favorite inspirational movies. This isn’t a list of my picks for the best pieces of cinema. I enjoy movies by Tarantino, Fincher and Lynch, even though few people could call their movies inspirational.

However, because stories have such a big impact, I’d like to share a few of the stories that have impacted me:

*Spoiler alert – I am giving away a few plot details, so be warned!


#1 – Gattaca

A science fiction story set in the near, dystopic future where genetic screening allows society to choose the most genetically fit embryos for birth. Children born under such screening are known as “valids” while those whose parents forego the procedure (or can’t afford it) are known as “in-valids”.

Vincent is one such in-valid. His dream is to become an astronaut, but due to genetic screening for most employment, reaching that dream would be impossible. The movie follows his pursuit of this path using the stolen identity of another “valid”.

High Point:

Vincent’s genetically valid brother challenges Vincent to a swimming race in the ocean, to see who would go furthest before turning back. Of course, being physically stronger, every time Vincent’s brother won. One day, Vincent defeats his brother and proceeds to leave home to follow his dream.

Years later, his brother, still jealous of his defeat by Vincent, challenges him again. Once again, Vincent wins, much to his brothers surprise. Asking Vincent how he was able to beat him, Vincent responds, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”


#2 – Man on Wire

A documentary following the real, 1974 high-wire walk done between the top of the two World Trade Center towers. Told in the style of a heist film, the story chronicles Philippe Petit’s careful planning, infiltration into the WTC and eventually his successful high-wire performance.

The movie also shows the tension Philippe has between his audacious enthusiasm for the high wire and his recognition of the dangers, and likelihood of his death in the attempt.

High Point:

Philippe, recounting the spark of his idea, remembers sitting in a dentist’s office in France. While in the waiting room, he notices an article declaring the upcoming construction of the World Trade Center, with a picture of the prospective building.

Recognizing the possibility, Philippe steals the page and quickly leaves the dentist office, missing his appointment. “I had a toothache for a week, but what is a toothache when you’ve discovered your dream?”


#3 – The Count of Monte Cristo

Having also read the book, I can say the book is better. However, as the book comes in at several hundred pages unabridged, the movie isn’t bad either.

The story follows Edmond Dantes, who is wrongfully imprisoned after being betrayed by his friend. He spends many years in a dungeon, eventually meeting a fellow prisoner who knows of the location of a secret treasure, hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. After 14 years of imprisonment, he eventually escapes, becomes the Count of Monte Cristo and finds justice.

High Point:

The story is one of incredible patience and determination, as he is trained from illiterate ship-hand to nobility with the help of his friend over his long prison sentence.


#4 – The Pursuit of Happyness

Chris Gardner, single father, is broke after a failed business venture and has very little money to take care of his son. After bumping into a wealthy stock trader, he decides to take on an apprenticeship at a major firm. He takes this reluctantly after realizing the internship is unpaid and only one person will be hired from the pool of applicants.

The story contrasts Chris’s struggle as a broke, single father with the many other applicants who don’t have the same financial concerns.

High Point:

After a series of unfortunate events, Chris convinces the board to take him on, while only wearing an undershirt and dirty pants. His motivation and skill overriding his appearance.


#5 – The Shawshank Redemption

Andy Dufresne is wrongfully imprisoned for two murders. While in prison, he meets a fellow prisoner, Red, who was young when he committed his crime, but now old and settled into prison life. After a series of events show that the warden of the prison is corrupt and withholding evidence that could set Andy free, Andy escapes.

Andy’s plight is contrasted by another prisoner who manages to get parole but commits suicide, because he cannot survive in the outside world.

High Point:

Shortly before he escapes, Andy tells Red ominously that one had better, “get busy living or get busy dying.”

Of course, being five movies, it only represents a fraction of the great inspirational films out there. What are some of your favorite inspirational films? Do you have any favorite inspirational books?

Share your response in the comments!

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  • prasanna

    Nice list of movies. Except Gattaca I have seen all the films listed.
    I am mentioning some movie names and the uplifting theme in 3-4 words which I think the film conveys.

    1. Forrest Gump – Never lose hope
    2. 21 Grams – Forgive;Move-on
    3. Gandhi – Truth, Integrity, authentic
    4. V for Vendetta – Fearlessness
    5. District 9- (latest movie i saw)-I think it is a mirroring/critique of what humans do to each other in the name of religion,sect,nationality and a call for ‘all inclusive’ coexistence.

  • AnlamK

    Definitely Fight Club should be on this list, I think.

  • David Knickmeyer

    Believe it or not, I like ‘Groundhog Day’. Okay, it’s funny. But it also show Bill Murray slowly learning that to get what he wants it’s not what he must do, but what he must become. And who wouldn’t want Andie MacDowell?

    An off-center choice, but what the heck.

  • Josh Oldershaw

    I personally feel inspired when I watch Good Will Hunting. The scene which arguably won Robin Williams his Oscar, when he is relating to Will all the things which, despite his extraordinary mathematical brain, he has thus failed to feel (and that is the key word, ‘feel’) is by far the high point:

    ‘I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you.’

    The film just highlights to me that there is always that other dimension to life, which you can often forget about.

  • Alex


    I knew there was a reason I read this blog. 4 of your top 5 are absolute favorites of mine. Gattaca being #1 (I talked my brother in to naming his son Vincent (no joke)). Man on wire is now on my list.

  • RJ Weiss

    I had the chance to watch Man on Wire last weekend. Easily one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. I was amazed at the adversity Philippe faced each day in his quest to walk between the twin towers.

    As a football fan, an inspirational movie list can not be complete without Rudy for me.

  • Erin

    Excellent list, I can add my reccommendation to each of them! What I love about Count of Monte Cristo is that even though he pursues revenge he learns compassion in the end. It’s a very powerful story.

  • Alexander

    Groundhog Day. Phil relives the same day (itterally) over and over again and learns to use this in his advantage.

    Fun and inspiring.

  • Scott Young


    Fight Club is actually my favorite movie. But inspirational isn’t a word I’d use to describe it, exactly.


  • slava

    Peaceful warrior. about living in the moment. Thats the only thing that we have. Period 😉

    I cried when I watched it. So many things I realized…There are so many messages in there. The best is the scene – there never nothing going on. So powerful

  • David Chung

    I remember seeing Gattaca when I was younger and loving it even then when I couldn’t really grasp its deeper meanings. Must watch it again! Man On Wire also sounds like a must-see.

    Just for fun, here’s Philippe Petit playing “Not My Job” on NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me:

    He sounds like a really funny and optimistic guy in that appearance, I like his attitude. 😀

    Here’s one of my favorite bits:
    “Peter Sagal:…you take your first step off the ledge, onto that wire, 1300 feet off the ground, what did that feel like, were you scared? Were you happy?

    Philippe Petit: I was not scared but it was very scary. I was very happy, but not a normal Earth happiness, more of a celestial happiness – I think elation would be the right word.

    Peter Sagal: Right, so ‘blinding terror’ would not be the right word.

    Philippe Petit: No, I had no reason to be fearful, fearful of what?

    Peter Sagal: No, hold on…

    P.J. O’Rourke(?): Oh, I don’t know…

    Peter Sagal: Let me stop…

    P.J. O’Rourke(?): Maybe you didn’t sterilize the wire!”

    Another bit, I think this shows the kind of drive, passion, and focus that pushed and allowed him to stand out and accomplish something extraordinary:

    “Philippe Petit: …I never wish I was normal, I’m very happy to be not normal, but at the same time I’m of course very normal. But I am entangled in too many passion as you explained, and I don’t know how to use the miserable hours that we have in a day. Am I going to write my next book? Am I going to plan my next high-wire walk? I am very frustrated that I am forced to sleep a few hours and stop here and there to eat and drink. What a waste of time!

    Peter Sagal: I know how you feel, cuz like, I get home and there are so many different things on the TiVo, and there are so few hours in the day.

    Philippe Petit: Well, I don’t have a television set.

    Peter Sagal: That’s the secret!”

  • Santhanam

    The Matrix: There is deeper truth in life beneath what seems to be.
    Into the wild: Adventure
    Shawshank Redemption: Patience
    Fight Club: Despite you mentioning it otherwise, Watching that movie (or even remembering it), makes me confront my problems fearlessly
    The Bourne Identity: May be Self Confidence & Self Reliance. But i certainly get a kick out of watching that movie every time

    There are lots more movie to this list, which in many ways being inspirational (apart from being favorite) as i watch them repeatedly

  • Tejas

    Great Lists. Here are few that inspired me.

    Braveheart – Freedom is never free it comes at a price.
    Coach Carter – What is your deepest fear ?
    Pat Adams – Live life with a purpose.
    Battle of the warriors – Inspirational.

  • Spencer

    Here is my list of inspirational films.

    1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

    John Hughes was one of the greatest screenwriter of all times in my book. He was able to touch you with a smile and tear at your soul with a tear or two.

    Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is story about two mismatched people. One is a marketing executive and the other a frumpy homeless drifter. Together they fight their way back to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. The marketing executive learns a valuable lesson in helping others and opens his arms and home to Del Griffith.

    2. Click

    Another great example of comedy turned life lesson and a tear or two as a man who gives up time to avoid life ends up missing that time later. It becomes a giant regret.

    Anything Adam Sandler is inspiration to me. I believe he does a good job mixing comedy with drama as John Hughes did.

    3. Facing the Giants

    This is all inspiration and a bit on the religious side, however, it has a wonderful message of determination, drive, courage, and winning. It was one of my favorites.

    4. Pursuit of Happyness

    This is also one of my favorite films. I second the motion.

    5. Miracle on 34th Street

    I selected this film because it is a wonderful story of Christmas and the spirit that goes with the season.

  • Ludwik C. Siadlak

    My list of inspirational films can be found here with brief explanation in Polish, but since this particular language isn’t THAT popular (yet! 😉 ) I’d repost it here:


    1. Pay it forward
    — you can change the world
    2. The Bucket List
    — live your life before it’s too late
    3. Kung Fu Panda
    — dare to reach for your destiny
    4. Hitch
    — there are no rules in love
    5. Fight Club
    — (sorry, first rule of the fight club is we don’t talk about fight club 😉 )
    6. Into the wild
    — “happiness only real when shared”
    7. American Beauty
    — it’s never too late to start over
    8. Yes Man
    — stay positive, no matter what


  • Bec

    American Beauty is great. Especially when considering where the title comes from. The American Beauty is an artificially created rose that looks beautiful but has no scent. The film mirrors this perfectly. Depth and meaning over aesthetics. This film is especially powerful as i don’t feel it came to the holywood paradox of having a deep message about inner beauty, etc whilst using an atherially beautiful cast with make-up and wardrobe fit for a catwalk.
    There are a tonne more films that are simply fabulous for inspiration and their messages!! the power of one is also wonderful, seven years in tibet, Kundun, the green mile and eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. All of these films make you want to become a better person. Better still, they make you feel it’s possible.

  • Jim

    Little Miss Sunshine – don’t be afraid to be different
    Stranger than Fiction – doing the right thing is the best thing no matter the consequences
    My Life – extremely depressing but makes you appreciate the brevity of life
    Dead Poet’s Society – carpe diem
    Gladiator – never give up
    Slumdog Millionaire – never give up hope
    Boondock Saints – “Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”

  • Valerie

    Braveheart : “God, help me to die well.”

  • Andrew

    Interesting, couple of these films I havn’t seen yet, will check them out.

    Of newer films I think probably the best was Moneyball.

    Which was surprising for me, because I don’t watch sports and don’t understand the rules of baseball, which is not popular in my country, and don’t like sports dramas that much.

    But a lot of people have said, and I agree, that this film is more about entrepreneurship and positive and challenging aspects of business, work and capitalist system. And about people who create peaceful revolutions in the marketplace.

    My friend actually said “Moneyball” was a good film but a bad sports drama, because it is “too technical”.

    I also liked “The Social Network”, i liked how it mixed positive and negative aspects of business, it was refreshing, although the story is said to be too fictionalized. And what is interesting is that some people don’t see the mix, some people wiev it as purely inspirational and some as purely critical and negative.

  • Johan

    Great movies. I have actually seen them all. I must say that I agree with most of you, Gattacca is simply an underrated movie. Good Will Hunting is simply fantastic! I love count of monte cristo as well as into the wild. I love movies which gives an extra experience about life and how, through a movie that can be created with everything within. I like movies were people, humans, the main character chooses a different path or a path which is right for him/her. I want to see movies which can give me more value than the usual commercial movies.

    I hope my recommendations will come to use for some of you. I give you three:
    1. Das leben der anderen, The lives of Others.
    2. El secreteo de sus ojos, The secret in ttheir eyes.
    3. Searching for Sugarman, Documentary.

    Look them up. Hopefully you like em. Its mostly drama, but its simply great drama.

    Love from Sweden

  • Abirami

    “Goal! the dream begins” is also a very inspirational movie.

  • alejo

    “3 idiots”, you can watch the movie on youtube. I don’t know how to explain it, but if you like this blog, you’ll like the movie