Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has drawn inspiration from its visual art. For the Neanderthal, that meant looking at some cave drawings and realizing that, though Grog may not be welcome in the cave, he at least deserves a fur blanket when he sleeps outside. For the Egyptians and Greeks, it meant looking at the hieroglyphics or stuff painted on the clay pots and concluding that, hey, let’s treat our slaves a little better. We’re a long way from the days of cave drawings, hieroglyphics and clay pots, though. But we do have our inspirational movies!
Ideally, an inspirational movie moves us to feel altruistic. It makes us want to help—really want to help—and when we leave the theater (or turn off the DVR) we view the world through a lens of kindness. So what movies are the most successful at giving us the “feels” and the “inspirations”?
Inspirational Movies That Will Move You
After going through numerous titles of inspirational movies out there, I’ve come up with the top 10 that will surely bring you tears of joy and push you towards giving back. From dramas to films based on true stories, here are some great movies that inspire change in all of us. (Don’t worry, there are no spoilers ahead!)
1. Pay It Forward (2000)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment
One of the best inspirational movies ever, Pay It Forward pulls on the heartstrings of even the most cynical. It tells the story of a young boy who takes on the challenge of making a difference in the world for a class project. But there is so much more to the story than you’d initially think. It will encourage you to want to make lasting, positive ripples in the lives of the people around you.
2. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Starring: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney
In one of her most iconic roles to date, a young Julia Roberts is the titular Erin Brockovich. Based on a true story, Brockovich is a smart and sassy single mom of three who almost single-handedly takes down a California power company accused of contaminating a town’s water supply.
3. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas
A composer who finds himself at an impasse in writing his musical masterpiece takes on the job as a music teacher in a high school. As you watch the story unfold, you will find yourself understanding the great sacrifice it takes in helping people and the lasting impact of giving back even when times are difficult.
4. Forrest Gump (1994)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright
This comedy-drama is—and dare I say will always remain as—one of the best inspirational movies in history. (I cry like a big spaz every time I watch it.) Tom Hanks won an Oscar playing Forrest Gump, a man from Alabama with a low I.Q. Needless to say, he never lets his lack of intelligence stop him from doing the right thing. So, grab a box of chocolates and a box of tissues. (You’ll literally want to grab your running shoes after seeing this one!)
5. Gandhi (1982)
Starring: Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Rohini Hattangadi
Yes, you know him. Or should I say, you should know about him. I mean, he’s the guy that made waves in India, particularly in leading the nationalist movement against British rule. This almost three-hour-long movie about Gandhi and his pacifistic approach will inspire you to stand your ground for the welfare of other people. (And I heard this interesting trivia: When the film came out, Ben Kingsley looked so much like Gandhi that there were people in India who thought he came back to life!)
6. Freedom Writers (2007)
Starring: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Imelda Staunton
No, it’s not just another story about a teacher making a difference in the lives of her students. Freedom Writers delves into the stories of the students of young teacher Erin Gruwell. Aside from the perk of seeing Patrick Dempsey in his younger years, this movie will encourage you to give more of yourself to others with all the compassion and understanding you can muster.
7. Patch Adams (1998)
Starring: Robin Williams, Daniel London, Monica Potter
A young Robin Williams brings to the screen the real-life character of Hunter “Patch” Adams and inspires doctors and soon-to-be doctors. This film is a no-brainer as one of the movies that inspire change among doctors to take their calling to the next level and give, give, give to their patients.
8. The Blind Side (2009)
Starring: Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw
As another true gem in our list of movies that inspire change in people to become givers, The Blind Side is based on the true story of Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens. See Sandra Bullock perform one of her more heart-wrenching roles: a woman who would stop at nothing on the side of love, compassion and family.
9. The Impossible (2012)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
A family on vacation is caught in the devastation and chaotic aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami that ravaged Thailand in 2004. This movie about survival and hope shows human resilience and compassion in action. As you watch the story unfold, you will witness man’s capacity to be givers in times of utmost calamity.
10. The 33 (2015)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche
In 2010, a gold and copper mine collapsed and trapped 33 miners underground for 69 days. The 33, based on that event, is not to be missed. The giant boulders don’t hinder people from helping each other. This one is a must-watch on our list of movies that inspire change.
Keep Watch, Keep Being Inspired
Don’t stop with just these inspirational movies! To keep your momentum going in developing the habit of giving back, pick one film to view each month. (Almost everybody has Netflix nowadays, right? If you don’t have an account, you can’t be real..) And of course, you shouldn’t just stop at “feeling inspired” to give back or do good. You must act on your feelings because actions speak louder than words.