The 20 Most Inspirational Movies of All Time

Get motivated with a few feel-good movies

Woman wearing sunglasses laughing and holding a drink and popcorn while sitting in a movie theater.

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Feeling down, apathetic or stuck in rut? Here's a list of 20 inspirational movies to choose from when you need a good laugh, cry, or spark of motivation.

What makes a film inspirational? That's up to the viewer, but the motivational movies on this list were chosen for their appeal to wide audiences, so grab some tissues and get ready to be moved.

Promotional image for the film The Straight Story

Amazon.com

The Straight Story chronicles the real-life journey of Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old stroke patient who drove his John Deere riding lawn-mower hundreds of miles across the American heartland to visit his dying brother in 1994. David Lynch's brilliant directing makes Straight's pilgrimage feel just as inspiring today as it was back then.

What We Like:

  • The movie was filmed along the route the real Alvin Straight travelled.
  • Viewers get to enjoy the beauty of rural Iowa and Wisconsin.

What We Don't Like:

  • Like a 1966 riding lawn mower, the movie progresses at a leisurely pace, which may seem boring to younger viewers.
     
Promotional image for the film A Beautiful Mind

TV Guide

A Beautiful Mind tells the story of Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash and his struggle with schizophrenia. After revolutionizing the field of game theory as a young man, Nash descends into a dangerous world of delusions that he is able to overcome thanks to the support of his doctors, friends, and family.

What We Like:

  • An outstanding cast backed by Ron Howard's directing made this movie a contender for numerous awards upon its released.

What We Don't Like:

  • The movie leaves out many details about Nash's life. Read the book by Sylvia Nasar for a more complete biography.
Promotional image for the film Rain Man

Amazon.com

Rain Man is a humorous yet heartfelt story about two estranged siblings. After their father dies, a young hustler tries to trick his autistic brother into giving up his portion of the inheritance money. Eventually, he evolves into a caretaker role and the brothers develop mutual respect for one another.

What We Like:

  • The chemistry between the two lead actors, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, makes the relationship between the brothers feel authentic. 

What We Don't Like:

  • Rain Man doesn't reflect most patients' experiences with autism, but the story is touching nonetheless.
Promotional image for the film My Brilliant Career

Getty Images

Based on a novel of the same name by Australian feminist Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career is a loosely autobiographical story about a young female writer named Sybylla Melvyn, who turns down marriage and traditional life to pursue her passion for writing.

What We Like:

  • Judy Davis's liberating performance as the headstrong feminist author makes the film worth a watch.

What We Don't Like:

  • Viewers may be put off by the protagonist's self-centered attitude. Then again, the story is about placing your needs before others.
Promotional image for the film It's a Wonderful Life

Wikipedia

Younger audiences may think It's a Wonderful Life is too cliche for a list like this, but the film still holds up more than seven decades after its release. Even if you're not a fan of old movies, everyone should see this holiday classic at some point.

What We Like:

  • Clever writing and lead actor James Stewart's humorous delivery keeps this potentially dark tale from feeling too heavy.

What We Don't Like:

  • Although It's a Wonderful Life is still entertaining, the acting style feels dated and might not connect with younger viewers.
Promotional image for the film Cry Freedom

ITunes

Cry Freedom holds an interesting place in history as a movie about South Africa's Apartheid regime before Apartheid ended. The story follows Donald Woods, a white South African journalist, as he investigates the persecution of young black activist Steve Biko. After becoming a police target himself, Woods must flee for his life.

What We Like:

  • The acting, cinematography, and musical score are all top notch.
  • The director did an excellent job of capturing the beauty of South Africa.

What We Don't Like:

  • The story is more about the main character's escape from authorities rather than the politics of the country.
Promotional image for the film 12 Angry Men

Amazon.com

This study of the American judicial process is just as relevant today as it was in 1957. Twelve men selected for jury duty are tasked with deciding the fate of a young minority teenager accused of murder. During their deliberations, prejudices and personal issues threaten to undermine justice, but the truth ultimately prevails.

What We Like:

  • The energy of the cast makes what sounds like a boring premise into a riveting drama.  

What We Don't Like:

  • If you're not a fan of courtroom dramas, then 12 Angry Men might put you to sleep.
Promotional image for the film Erin Brockovich

Amazon.com

Julia Roberts portrays the real life Erin Brockovich, a former beauty queen who swears like a sailor and never gives up. In 1993, Brockovich spearheaded a massive lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating the water supply of Hinkley, California. The suit resulted in a $333 million settlement, the largest in American history.

What We Like:

  • It's easy to see why Roberts won the Academy Award for best actress in 2001 thanks to this performance.

What We Don't Like:

  • The plot drags at certain points, but Roberts and the rest of the cast do a great job at keeping viewers engaged.
Promotional image for the film Remember the Titans

Amazon.com

Set in Alexandria, Virginia, Remember the Titans deals with the racial integration of a high school football team in 1971. When a black man is selected to be head coach, racial tensions bubble between students and faculty, but teamwork ultimately prevails over prejudice.

What We Like:

  • Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, is an inspirational figure.

What We Don't Like:

  • Even though it's based on a true story, Remember the Titans follows many sports movie cliches.
Promotional image for the film Rocky

Amazon.com

Even if you've never seen Rocky, you can probably recognize the film's many famous quotes and scenes. Sylvester Stallone portrays a small-time boxer who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to battle the world heavyweight champion. No one believes in him except his coach and his girlfriend Adrian, who push Rocky to try his best.

What We Like:

  • Burgess Meredith steals the show as Mickey, the tough-as-nails boxing coach we all need in our lives.

What We Don't Like:

  • In retrospect, the relationship between Rocky and Adrian is sometimes more awkward than charming.
Promotional image for the film The Truman Show

Amazon.com

Reality TV wasn't nearly as prevalent two decades ago as it is today, so it's hard to imagine how The Truman Show was received when it first released. If it came out in 2018, the story might end much differently. Nonetheless, the main character's decision at the film's climax will have you pumping your fist.

What We Like:

  • Viewers who aren't used to seeing Jim Carrey in serious roles may be surprised to find out he's a very talented actor.

What We Don't Like:

  • Contemporary viewers may nitpick some of the plot points, but keep in mind this movie was exploring new territory.
Promotional image for the film Stand and Deliver

Amazon.com

Stand and Deliver conveys the somewhat true story of Jaime Escalante, a math teacher who introduced an A.P. calculus program at an underperforming L.A. school. Despite opposition from both students and faculty, Escalante succeeds in pushing his pupils to succeed.

What We Like:

  • Edward James Olmos' often parodied performance as Escalante makes the film worth viewing.

What We Don't Like:

  • The film slightly embellishes Escalante's legacy.
  • The writing and acting is a bit hokey. 
Promotional image for the film Still Alice

TV Guide

In Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor struggling with early onset dementia. As she slowly loses her ability to think and speak, her husband and children must become her caretakers. Based on a book by the same name, Still Alice paints an accurate picture of what families go through when a loved one suffers from Alzheimer's.

What We Like:

  • An all-star cast including Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart does an excellent job bringing the novel to life.

What We Don't Like:

  • The story takes a dark turn that may be triggering for some viewers, but everything turns out O.K. in the end.
Promotional image for the film The Brave Little Toaster

Disney.com

The Brave Little Toaster puts a strange twist on a common formula. A toaster, a lamp, a radio, a vacuum cleaner, and an electric blanket embark on a cross-country adventure to be reunited with their "master" who seemingly abandoned them after moving. If you enjoy this animated film, check out the sequel, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars.

What We Like:

  • Each of the appliances have distinct personalities, which makes their interactions a joy to watch.

What We Don't Like:

  • The songs and animation are not on par with most 90s Disney films, but that doesn't detract from the film's charm.
Promotional image for the film Forrest Gump

TV Guide

This quirky story about a man born with limited mental faculties proves that heart often matters more than brains. Although the story is fictional, the main character is impacted by many real life events that defined a generation, such as the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis.

What We Like:

  • Tom Hanks’s performance as the lovably simple-minded Forrest is among his best in a career full of stellar roles.

What We Don't Like:

  • The movie has a lot of profanity and some nudity, so it’s not appropriate for all ages.
Promotional image for the film Dead Man Walking

IMDb

Inspired by the memoirs of Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking unabashedly tackles the issue of capital punishment from all sides. When a nun gets a letter from a death row inmate who claims he is innocent, she sets off on an emotional journey to uncover the truth.

What We Like:

  • Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn give painfully realistic performances as the nun and the inmate. 

What We Don't Like:

  • Some viewers will not like how the story ends, but the themes of forgiveness and redemption make Dead Man Walking worthy of this list.
Promotional image for the film Moana

Disney.com

Also known as Disney's apology for PocahontasMoana is a CG-animated feature about an indigenous teenager who eschews the wishes of her family and sets sail on a mission to save her tribe. Along the way, she's helped by her ancestors and some talking animal friends. 

What We Like:

  • The music and animation are top notch, which is to be expected from Disney.

What We Don't Like:

  • Moana follows most of the typical Disney tropes, so if you don't like Disney films, this one won't convert you.
Promotional image for the film Hidden Figures

IMDb

Before you go see First Man, learn about the team of African-American women who made John Glenn's historic space mission possible. Despite facing discrimination while working for NASA, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson became the unsung heroes of the space race.

What We Like:

  • The movie brings light to important women who have been neglected for far too long. 

What We Don't Like:

  • As is often the case, the book Hidden Figures is better because it goes into greater detail about the true story.
Promotional image for the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

IMDb

 

Nelson Mandela led a revolutionary movement while imprisoned for two decades. After his release, he ran for President and oversaw the reconciliation of South Africa. This is the life story of an extraordinary man who championed democracy and peace over vengeance.

What We Like:

  • More so than Cry FreedomMandela accurately depicts the horrors of Apartheid.

What We Don't Like:

  • Condensing Mandela's entire life story into one movie is impossible, so a lot of history necessarily gets left out.
Promotional image for the film A League of Their Own

IMDb

A League of Their Own is a sports comedy based on the true story of the All-American Girls Baseball League. Formed in 1943, the first all-female league dominated the world of sports while male players were serving in World War II.

What We Like:

  • An eclectic cast including Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell and Tom Hanks make this inspirational movie a memorable experience.

What We Don't Like:

  • Some viewers may take issue with Tom Hanks getting top billing in a film about women's baseball.