Top 10 Inspirational Movies

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With so many amazing movies out there, it is hard to come up with 10 that we think are the most inspirational.  In some ways, we agree with AFI’s Top Inspirational Movies, but we added a few of our own.

If you’re curious, we used a rating system based on the five major components of inspirational movies:  a likeable hero, the overcoming of obstacles, acts of selflessness, and (most importantly) whether or not you feel good after watching.  At the prompting of the author’s husband, we added a category for inspirational music.  Because truthfully, doesn’t really go down in history as a crazy-inspirational movie if the music doesn’t do that thing to your belly.

It’s also good to be inspired to do something with this newly acquired inspiration.  We didn’t count that as part of the grading criteria, because we didn’t want to have to include An Inconvenient Truth or that Sarah McLaughlin ASPCA commercial.  We decided to keep it light(ish).  Without further ado, here are the top ten inspirational movies.

10.  Star Wars IV:  A New Hope

Bottom Line:  do you feel good when this movie is over?  Never better, right?  It’s a combination of a truly inspirational theme song, a likable bunch of heroes (Han Solo being the MOST likeable, of course), overcoming obstacles like Darth Vader and a whole Galactic Empire, and did we mention the inspirational music?  Bonus points for the triumphant whinny of Chewbacca upon receipt of his medal.  Pretty darn inspirational.

9.  My Left Foot

My Left Foot actually ranked on par with Good Will Hunting, scoring higher in the Overcoming Obstacles category, but lower in the Hero Likability category.  We don’t remember any particularly inspirational tunes, and the main character wasn’t particularly selfless.  We can’t deny the awesomeness that 1) this is based on a true story and 2) the guy learned to paint and write with ONLY his left foot, so this ranks higher on the list than Damon and Affleck’s Opus.  Do we feel good when it’s over?  Sure.  We’re not dancing, but sure.

8.  Cinderella Man

Where did we get the term “Cinderella Story”, anyway?  Well, it comes from the fairytale about a poor unloved girl who sleeps in the fireplace but overcomes all odds to become a princess who lives happily ever after.  In the case of James J. Braddock, his victory did not come at a ball that he traveled to and from in a converted pumpkin.  It came in the boxing ring as a washed-up boxer who went on to become a world champion.  Obstacles?  Oh, just the threat of failure, a previously broken hand and a little thing we called The Great Depression.  Inspirational music?  Not so much that we remember.  Selflessness?  Not as much as some, but more than others.  Do we feel good?  We feel awesome!

7.  Chariots of Fire

Inspirational tunes?  Check.  Overcoming obstacles like anti-Semitism in the 1924 Olympics?  Check.  Acts of selflessness?  Not so much, especially in sports movies.  Chariots of Fire is a classic inspirational movie from back when they tried to make every movie an inspirational movie (what other explanation do you have for the end of Teen Wolf?).  Do we feel good at the end of it?  You betcha.  Bonus points for the Flying Scotsman and his running mission from God.

6.  Good Will Hunting

Will Hunting is likeable enough, though his fits of outrage rank him lower than some of our heroes on this list.  He did overcome the obstacle of his meager beginnings to show off his big ‘ol brain, but wasn’t particularly selfless in the process.  Do you feel good when it’s over?  Sure.  He goes after the girl, he’s really smart, his friends will understand…Does the music make you want to pump your fists in the air.  Not so much, though we don’t ever disparage Elliot Smith.  We’re just glad they never made the sequel joked about in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back…or are we?

5.  It’s A Wonderful Life

Say what you will, but this is a movie about a guy who gets to see what the world would be like without him.  And, lucky for George Bailey, the world is a pretty crappy place without him, so he gets another chance to come back and appreciate his life.  As a side note, how hard could life be if you’re married to Donna Reed?  I guess we could ask Tony Owen…

Music?  Not so much.  Selflessness?  Well, George did stay home from college so his brother could go, but he did so much bellyaching about it we don’t think it counts.  But ol’ George was pretty likeable, Mr. Potter was a fairly decent-sized obstacle to overcome, and we sure do feel good when that bell rings.

4.  The Pursuit of Happyness

Now, we realize that some people might say that this movie belongs at number one.  Others might argue that it doesn’t belong on the list at all.  We give it a ten for overcoming obstacles, because to go from being a failed bone density scanner salesman to being the crazy entrepreneur that Chris Gardner turned out to be is pretty amazing.  We give it an in-between rating for selflessness, because the short-term homelessness, etc. could have been avoided if it weren’t for that unending ambition, but then the movie wouldn’t have rated as high in the overcoming obstacles category.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too, people.  Will Smith was pretty likeable as Chris Gardner, and you felt good at the end, mainly because you felt so crappy through most of the beginning and middle of the movie.

3.  La Vita E Bella (Life Is Beautiful)

If you know nothing else about this movie other than Roberto Benigni’s exuberant Oscar acceptance speech you should stop reading and head directly to your video store.  Do not pass Go.  If you have seen it, you will agree that the Hero-Likeability-a-Meter is off the charts for this movie, as Benigni’s Guido is charming and loveable all the way through.  Acts of selflessness abound as Guido and his son are taken to a concentration camp, where Guido convinces his 5-year-old that they are playing a great game and that the prize will be a tank with guns.  He keeps up this charade to minimize the horror going on around them, and because of this obstacles are defeated.  Do you feel good?  Yeah, you’re laughing through your tears.  Music?  You don’t even notice it.  What happens?  Not telling.

2.  Stand & Deliver

It was hard to pick from all the “difficult class with inspirational teacher” movies.  Coach Carter was in the running, as was The Freedom Writers and Lean On Me.  Stand & Deliver won by a margin, mainly because of the stunning performance of Edward James Olmos as Jamie Escalante and partially because the author is a rabid Battlestar Galactica fan (joke…or is it?).  Based on a true story, Jamie Escalante taught math and hope and passion to a group of dispassionate high school kids and we believed every minute of the movie.  The music?  It’s a wash.  There are some great songs by Los Illegals, but the theme song was by Mr. Mister, so it’s null.  Did we feel good when it was over.  Heck yeah.  Bonus points for making us all want to be teachers, just for that five minutes.

1.  Rocky

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We really hate to be predictable, but it’s undeniable.  Rocky is perhaps the biggest, feel-goodest inspirational movies of all time.  Amazing theme song, underdog champion, Sylvester Stallone…you can’t get any better than that.  He is likeable, even if he is unintelligible, and you are rooting for him…really rooting for him…even when he does the raw egg drink thing.  You think “Man, that is dedication there”.  And it is.  Do you feel good when it’s over?  You’re ready to go a few rounds with Apollo Creed yourself.  Well?  Aren’t you?


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50 Comments

  1. Nice list, Elizabeth. I'm sure there are many personal favorites left of this list. So I'll add one of my most inspirational movies, "Rudy".

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    • qazi mohammed raza on

      yes yes yes rocky deserves 1st position 100% correct ratting but after rocky there is shawshnk,then cast away then forest gump then.roar 1981,then……

  2. I have a hard time not loving football movies. I think my problem is that I'm too easily inspired. Get ready for a not-so-inspirational list, TopTenz Master. I have LMN flicks coming your way today!

  3. The Pursuit of Happyness is one of the most horrible, sickening and evil movies I know of (no offence to you mme. Johnson). It seems to tell the viewer that it's okay with poverty, because one in a million will eventually manage to get out of it. It's basically a movie about caste system in the US, and how twisted the economical system really is. No, I sincerely think this is one of the least inspirational movies ever, even if he manages to get out of his situation he leaves millions and millions behind him, and will eventually become just another suit sheepishly disappearing into nothingness, forgetting all that is "lower" than him.

  4. Hail underdog!!!!

    There are countless sports movies out there to inspire but they dont go beyond the arena like rocky does.. Rocky loses but not without a fight..

    The pursuit of happyness makes people shrug their shoulders as they look at the uphill road ahead… Its not all about realism…. If you've lived in a developing third world you would know… I see working class heroes everyday…. Not everyone becomes a share market player… Which doesnt make them less heroic in any way… good film anyway…

    Shawshank redemption should have found a place in the list… After all its the quinessential 'hope' movie..

    • Its not about the fact he lost the fight … its about the fact he gave it his all … he rose above all … trained his heart out and incase you aint saw Rocky II he does win the fight in the end ;D

      • Peter Boucher on

        Its also based upon a heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and a boxer named Chuck Wepner, from Bayonne, New Jersey and also known as “The Bayonne Bleeder” because it did not take long for him to start bleeding with just a few punches. It was predicted that Ali would have dispatched him at around the 3rd or 4th round, but the fight went the full distance (15 rounds). Wepner has been suing for many years figuring that he deserves a royalty from the making of the movie

  5. Oops…I miss many of the list. Gonna rent to see them.. Inspiring movies are great ! Love them also. Here are my favorite inspiring movies especially towards more esteem

  6. Where is MEN OF HONOUR???? my favourite movie of all time! It is a true story of amazing will and determination to acheive your goals. Carl Brasher is a legend! this film should be number one!

  7. Kirby Horton on

    Don’t forget “Remember The Titans” as a very inspirational movie. Also, “Jerry Macquire” has a lot of life lessons for the right age group.

  8. Star Wars isnt an inspirational movie. I dont recall anyone being inspired by it ever. Awed yes, inspired no. My top ten would be, in no particular order…..

    1.Apollo 13

    2.Remember the Titans

    3.Jerry Macquire

    4.Goodwill Hunting

    5.The Pursuit of Happyness

    6.Shawshank Redemption

    7.Kung Fu Panda (“Quit, don’t quit? Noodles, don’t noodles?”)

    8.Philadelphia

    9.A Beautiful Mind

    10.Rainman

  9. not even on afi TOP 100 inspirational movies of all-time is MIRACLE…
    according to wikipedia, U-S-A chant was popularized during the 1980 winter olympics miracle…
    according to sports illustrated, the miracle on ice was the BEST story of the CENTURY!
    that is ALL sports from 1900-2000!!!
    importance in politics and history is the usa boycotted the 1980 summer olympics in moscow…
    russia in turn boycotted the 1984 summer olympics in los angeles…
    usa boycotted due to russia invading afghanistan in dec 1979
    usa provided osama bin laden with weapons to repel the russian invaders
    when osama bin laden was killed in 2011…U-S-A chants went up all over the place!!!
    how ironic and inspirational is that?!

  10. I’ve watched probably more than 50 000 movies also all listed before my post, but why I can’t remember the answer to this question?
    Okey let’s say.. hmm The Aviator is a great movie. Really inspiring. Fight Club, The Prestige, GLADIATOR, Unforgiven maybe.. Million Dollar Baby
    All movies I listed here are great you shouldn’t miss them

  11. dude y u all forget
    most important movie

    peaceful warrior

    based on real life go watch it
    it will change you defenately

  12. Agree w/others who say Shawshank deserves a place on this list. I’d also add more inspirational sports movies (in addition to Rocky), like “Rudy” and even “Hoosiers.”

  13. My fav is Schindler’s List. The display of humanity is so poignant… It’s uplifting and inspiring to know that humans can be so compassionate. you’ll enjoy all of the aforementioned because each shows the quality of human spirit, compassion and strength against unfair and inhuman odds.

  14. Great list, I didn’t see all the movies, but the one that I really resonate with is The Pursuit of Happiness. Will Smith’s, Father son, speech is really inspiring “You want something. Go get it. Period.” I think that sooner or later every person will encounter a crisis in his life. How you meet it will determine your future happiness and success. Since the beginning of time, everyone has been called upon to meet such a crisis. Close scrutiny will show you that most “crisis situations” are opportunities to either advance or stay where you are. Indeed, most changes in your life will be due to either “inspiration” or “desperation.”

    All the best,
    Daniel

  15. It’s pretty obvious that Rocky is number 1 I mean how could it not be? The story about how he was just a nobody and then the next thing you know he knocks out the champ Apollo Creed in the first round! The first one is the best but if you’re looking for the best fight scene see the 4th and the 5th one (And I know I sound like an idiot but I just can’t get over how awesome it is)

  16. Just Watched Warrior. What a great movie! Prob wouldn’t make this list but top 50. It’s inspirational to me because as much pain as this family is in, they keep going overcoming there goals fueled by the love for their family and the guilt I mistakes past and coming
    To terms with them.ihore powerful a movie than I ever would have realized and the way it was marketed

  17. PrIyAnGsHu BG on

    Great list. Here are my top inspirational or motivational movies:

    (1) Pursuit of Happyness

    (2) Saving Private Ryan

    (3) The Terminal

    All of these are pretty much worth watching for everyone seeking inspiration.

  18. Million Dollar Baby needs to be on every inspirational movie list ever made. No movie has made me laugh, cry, inspired, and simply outright changed my perspective on life as much as that movie has!

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