13 Inspirational Movies With Important Life Lessons To Learn
“Celes, I was reading one of your articles and noticed a reader mentioning the movie ‘Yes Man’ in his comment. After reading the comment, I watched the movie and really felt a positive change in me. I will be really grateful if you could suggest similar inspirational movies that can help me in self-improvement.” ~ Fahad, Pakistan
Today’s post is different from usual. We’re going into the topic of movies – specifically, inspirational movies with meaningful life lessons for us to learn. Get some popcorn before you continue reading! 😀
To be honest, I don’t watch a lot of movies. I have a penchant for superhero/fantasy type movies (think X-Men, Harry Potter) and romantic comedies — the former for its good triumphing over evil and moral messages, the latter for the light-heartedness, positivity, romance and humor all rolled into one. While they’re not exactly classified under the inspirational genre, they are inspiring in their own way.
I’ve put together a list of top inspirational movies with important life lessons for us to learn. The first 13 features films complete with trailers, descriptions, and my personal reviews if I’ve watched them before. Following that is a condensed list of more movies with meaningful life lessons. There are videos throughout this post. If you’re reading this from your mobile/email client, be sure to load up the original article to see the whole post.
Do check out the comments section, where many awesome readers have shared their favorite inspirational movies (not on this list) plus reviews of some of the movies featured in this list.
I personally dislike spoilers, so not to worry—there aren’t any spoilers in the descriptions. Read on without reservation! 😀
Not in order of importance.
1. Bruce Almighty
Bruce Almighty is a fun yet inspirational film with a meaningful message embedded in it. It’s about a TV reporter who has a constant string of bad things happen to him. He complains that God is doing a poor job as a God – at which point God appeared to him and offered him all his powers to see if he can do a better job. Along the way, he learns lessons that changed his life.
On the whole I think the messages can be played up more – the humor tends to take over the film sometimes, possibly to cater to the mainstream audience. Great weekend film to watch with friends.
2. The Peaceful Warrior
A friend of mine read Personal Excellence when I started back in 2008 and told me I had to watch the Peaceful Warrior. He said many of the things I talk about here are similar to what the film drives. So he gave me a copy of the movie and I watched it.
Based on Way of The Peaceful Warrior (book), the film features Dan, a student from U.C. Berkeley who has everything a college student could possibly want – the looks, fame, great friends, attention from every girl and talent in his gymnastics, his passion. Yet, he’s unhappy, deeply troubled and has trouble sleeping at night. One night, he meets a spiritual guide and from there his journey of self-discovery begins.
I like the Peaceful Warrior and there are many meaningful messages littered throughout the show. In fact, I’ve also included several of the quotes in the inspiring quotes of all time series. Some of my favorites are:
- “There is never nothing going on. There are no ordinary moments.”
- “The ones who are hardest to love are usually the ones who need it the most.”
- “Death isn’t sad. The sad thing is: most people don’t live at all.”
- “A warrior is not about perfection or victory or invulnerability. He’s about absolute vulnerability. That is the only true courage.”
However, while I concur with overall message of the movie and feel that there are some great moments (especially the one at the rooftop scene), I found the movie quite slow paced and predictable on the whole. While I was watching the movie, there were many times where “Socrates” (the spiritual guide) said something or revealed an important lesson which I already knew he was going to say (in the exact words too). Hence, the impact was somewhat lost on me.
That being said, there’s definitely some good stuff in this movie, especially evidenced by the rave reviews by others. For those who are looking for a deeper meaning in life, this is a great movie to get you started.
3. The Family Man
The Family Man is a comedy drama about a highly successful, single investment banker who gets to experience how his life would have been if he made a different decision 13 years ago (i.e. choosing to stay with his girlfriend over a fast-lane career). It’s a movie with a ‘what if I had done this instead?’ experience and contrasts the life of one with great wealth and success vs. a quiet family life.
It’s a great movie to that sparks thoughts about your life, though I’m not exactly in agreement with the indirect message the movie sends that life has to be an either/or scenario (in this case, wealth vs. family). It encourages people to justify not pursuing career / wealth goals because they have a family, or that they shouldn’t pursue love / have a family because they’re busy with their career. Both are achievable (else top business people/CEOs/the best performers in their fields would all be singletons, which isn’t the case) — it’s a matter of growing and expanding our capacity.
What I do like is it gets you to reflect on what you’re currently doing in your life. If you continue what you’re doing today, where is it going to lead you? A life of achievements and wealth but with no real friends or loved ones to speak of? A life spent conforming to norms and never taking action to pursue your real goals and dreams? A life just living for others but not for yourself? Someone bitter at life and at the end of it all, yourself? And is this life what you want? If not, what are you going to do to change this outcome?
Click is about a man who receives a magical remote controller that allows him to flash back, stop and fast forward through time. He uses it to skip past moments in life that he finds mundane/boring (e.g. family dinner, shower, time taken to get to the next promotion, when he’s sick). Initially it seems fun, but after a while he found it comes with unexpected consequences, which you have to watch to find out.
Forget the demeanor of the trailer/marketing that comes across as your typical Hollywood, slapstick comedy. This really isn’t. At first it may seem like that, but halfway through you realize there’s something deeper that the story is driving. It gets you to think about life’s moments and how every moment is no less important than another. IMO, it drives home the message that “every moment is a moment to be lived” more strongly than Peaceful Warrior.
I really, really love this film and highly recommend this to everyone. There is this really moving scene near the end where I cried like crazy of the 3 times I’ve watched it. If you watched this film you’d know which one I’m talking about. A great plot and message that provokes, and there’s humor injected throughout the film to keep it light-hearted. I highly recommend you to watch it. Kudos to Adam Sandler too for his acting. 😀
Here’s a blog post I wrote, inspired by Click’s lessons: Are You Putting Any Parts of Your Life On Hold?
5. Forrest Gump
I haven’t watched Forrest Gump before but I’ve heard too many great reviews about it not to include in this list. Here’s a summary from Wiki:
Forrest Gump is a 1994 American comedy-drama film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. The story is of Forrest Gump, a simple man who comes from Alabama and his journey through life meeting historical figures, influencing popular culture, and experiencing firsthand historic events of the late 20th century.
If you’ve watched Gump before, feel free to share your review in the comments area.
6. The Secret
A non-fiction movie on Law of Attraction and positive thinking. Law of Attraction refers to the idea that both your conscious and subconscious thoughts affect your outcomes in life, whether through the subconsciousness and consciousness. The movie took the world by storm and has been featured on Oprah, The Ellen Show, Larry King, among countless other mainstream media.
I watched this right about when it first came out in 2006, via The Secret Official Site. There’s an option to view it online at just $3.99 USD (cheaper than the price of a movie ticket in SG), so I just paid and watched it there. At that time I was new to the concept of the LoA, so learning it from the show was definitely intriguing. Later on in 2006 I learned more about LoA from reading other blogs and came to appreciate it even more. Basically the concept of LoA syncs with a lot of things I’ve come to conclude from my own experience, so it was more of an affirmation for me.
20 minute clip of the beginning of The Secret
The combination of the imagery, music and the idea of a loose story line weaved in a documentary style with examples drove a very powerful message. Throughout watching the show and afterward, I felt more conscious than my usual self. Just watching this once once a week/month can create an upward shift in your consciousness in the long-term (of course, don’t fall into the trap of a self-help junkie – ultimately self-help resources are meant to accentuate actions you’re taking in life). I recommend all of you watch this and get the DVD, since it has high replay value. The core message applies to you no matter what stage of life you’re at.
There are many LoA detractors out there who feel LoA is a hoax. Based on what I’ve read, their refutations are more of a result of a misunderstanding of the concept. In the future I plan to write a LoA post, but not for the moment as there are other topics I wish to cover at Personal Excellence first.
There’s also a companion book of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I haven’t read it before but I gather it’s similar in its overall message with the film.
7. Groundhog Day
Groundhog day is about an arrogant TV weather man who finds himself stuck in a time loop where he keeps repeating a day over and over, except that only he himself remembers the past day’s events. At first he uses it for his personal advantage; after a while though, he starts to re-evaluate his life and priorities.
So this movie is a really interesting one. Forget that the reason behind the time loop is never explained (because that’s not the point). Forget that it’s somewhat old (released in 1993). Groundhog Day has deep undertones which may elude you in your first viewing and is entirely subjected to the person watching it.
Without giving away any spoiler, pay attention to Phil Connors’ (as acted by Bill Murray) reactions in every scene and how they evolve as the movie progresses. (Also, notice how others’ reactions to him differ based on how he reacts.) While he keeps reliving each day, you can see that his motivations (and hence reactions) change throughout the movie as he realizes that he’s stuck no matter what.
What do you do when you have eternity to live? Does Phil ever break out of the loop? Watch and you’ll know. (These questions are never overtly articulated and addressed, but rather expressed through undertones, through Phil’s behavior.)
Someone in a movie forum likened his story with the path taken by most humans in life, where they are doomed to repeat certain problems until they attain the necessary revelation and act in a different way (hence, rising out of the issue). Some likened it with the path of reincarnation, where humans are made to live over and over again until they attain the necessary life lessons and ascend in their path. I found both to be very fascinating interpretations which I agree with. There is something to learn from the recurring patterns in Groundhog Day and how they relate to our growth. Read: Are You Facing Repeating Patterns in Life?
(By the way, even though it wasn’t specified or shown in the film, Phil actually spends 10,000 years in the time loop. Now, that’s a LOT of time to be stuck in a loop!)
8. The Bucket List
The Bucket List (movie) is about 2 terminally ill men who cross paths in a hospital after they were diagnosed with lung cancer. Through their treatments, they befriend each other. They decided to embark on a trip to fulfill their bucket list – a list of things they want to do before they die.
I’ve not watched The Bucket List before but I read about the idea elsewhere. I embrace the concept of bucket lists personally and have written several articles on this:
- What’s on Your Bucket List? 101 Things To Do Before You Die – One of the most popular articles on Personal Excellence to date. I also give away a free ebook of the article for newsletter subscribers
- My Bucket List – My list of over 100 things I want to do before I die, which I work toward every day
- Additional notes on bucket list and life (interview/feature on CNN) – I was interviewed by CNN on bucket lists and their relation to personal excellence
9. Space Jam
I watched Space Jam when I was a kid and I continue to enjoy it today (I have the VCD). It’s a classic. The story is simple – the bad guys (Monstars) ousts the good guys (Looney Tunes) in a game of basketball at the beginning, after which the Looney Tunes go through arduous training to triumph in the end. Michael Jordan stars as himself where he is “kidnapped” by Looney Tunes to help them succeed.
I know it may seem silly that I’m putting a movie like Space Jam in this list but the winning point of the movie is really its simplicity. It drives home the values of determination, persistence/never giving up, hard work, self-belief and friendship. I love the opening (watch clip above) which shares Jordan’s childhood scene with his Dad, and then the transition to the present day Michael. I got goosebumps watching it. R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly was the perfect theme song for the movie.
There is a joke on piracy in the middle of the film (when Bugs and Daffy are in Michael’s house) which I lol-ed when I heard it. You have to watch to find out what it is. 😀
10. The Lion King
Lion King is an all-time classic and hands down the best hand-drawn animated film of all time. Even with all the 3-D films released today (which are great in their own right), none of them come close to matching Lion King in terms of raw quality and appeal. I remember the very first time I watched Lion King was in the theaters, right when it was released. I was just 10 years old and my parents brought me and my brother out on a movie outing. The memories! 😀
If you haven’t watched Lion King before, please rent/buy/borrow a copy and watch it. I’ve probably watched some 6-7 times at least. I never fail to cry during the key scene in the second quarter of the film (those who watched it before will know which one). I continue to rewatch the film once every few years and continue to be moved each time, because the story just never gets old. It speaks of love, responsibility, courage and strength.
11. Pay It Forward
Pay It Forward is about a young boy who creates a good-will movement, where he helps 3 people with something they can’t do themselves. The recipient cannot return the favor and must “pay it forward” by helping 3 other people. The film starts off a little slow, but does pick up mid-way. 3/4s through the film, everything starts to fall into place and the ending is a tear-inducing one. I like how the things unexpectedly reconnect throughout the film. It’s a film of kindness, generosity, warmth and gratitude.
12. The Pursuit of Happyness
The Pursuit of Happyness is about a salesman who undergoes defeats, challenges and hardship (his wife leaving him, being rendered homeless) to secure a better living for his son. Throughout his journey, he never once gave up, and stood firm to his goals. The mood of the show is slow and somber, intended for the audience to experience more fully what the character is going through. Besides determination, self-belief, persistence and going after our dreams, the story also speaks strongly of a dad’s love for his child.
If you feel like you’ve been down and out in life and just about had enough of it, you should check out this film. It’s based on Chris Gardner‘s true story.
13. Yes Man!
This is the same movie that PE reader Fahad watched. Yes Man! is about a bank employee (Jim Carrey) who kept saying no to everything in his life until an experience in a motivational seminar changes him to say Yes! to everything that comes his way.
How many times do you say no in life? Do you shut out opportunities without even realizing? Is it about time you say yes to things that come your way? This inspirational movie will get you thinking.
Of course, there are times when you DO need to learn to say no. Saying no to the things you don’t want, that don’t match up with your ideal life. My article here will teach you how: How to Say No To Others: Your Ultimate Guide
More Inspiring Films With Lessons To Learn
- Shawshank Redemption – A story showing how your hope and outlook in life is what shapes your life experience, regardless of where you may be (prison or “free” in the world). (It’s quite evident that creators of Prison Break drew inspiration from this film!)
- Memento – A psychological thriller, except that it’s not your typical one. It’s about a man with anterograde amnesia (a condition where the brain unable to store new memories) who seeks to find justice for his wife’s murder. The fact is I don’t watch thrillers at all, but a friend recommended this to me and I was very impressed by it after watching. For one, Memento is a very smart film executed in a very unique fashion. The film’s events unfold in two separate, alternating narratives — one in color, and the other in black and white. The black and white scenes are told in chronology, while the color scenes are in reverse chronology.
By the time the film ends, both narratives converge to shed light on whole investigation. There are different takeaways depending on the viewer. For me it spoke how people put themselves in a state of self-denial and the self-created fantasies, and because of that they pursue a hollow life, putting themselves in pain/anguish.
- The Butterfly Effect – This is a film of a man who desperately goes back in time to try to change the future for the better, with unexpected consequences each time. The butterfly effect is the phenomenon whereby one little action (the flutter of a butterfly) magnifies over time into a huge effect in the long-run (think along the lines of a tornado).
I have the DVD and I have only watched it once because the show is overall very depressing. However, it does have an important message in the film. Many people often wonder “What if I did this?” “What if I did that?” The point is, we can’t change something without affecting something else in our life. Every decision we make comes with its downsides and upsides, and it’s our role to make the best out of the outcome, rather than regret and wish we did something else (because it is already in the past). Looking backwards prevent us from truly living our life. In the film you can see the character oblivious to everything that’s happening in the present because he is too busy trying to go back in time to change things. I won’t spoil the ending for you – watch the film and catch the outcome yourself.
- Rocky series – An underdog club fighter who overcomes all odds to become the world heavyweight champion of all time.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – An interesting tale of a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards. Through the film, he experiences the human joys of love, departure, life and death.
- Up in the Air – It’s about a corporate downsizer who travels around the world helping companies lay off people. His life philosophy is about being non-commitment – detaching oneself from things, locations, and especially relationships. Through the course of the film, he meets people who gets him thinking otherwise. This film didn’t resonate with me much, though I’m putting it here as there have been many rave reviews of it.
- Inception – Of course, who can forget Inception, the 2010 hit film. While it has been better remembered as an action/heist film, there are many personal development lessons to take away from it too, which I covered in detail in: 8 Personal Development Lessons To Learn From Inception
- Her (R rating) – A science-fiction drama about a man who develops a relationship with his intelligent computer operating system. While this sounds bizarre, it’s not that bizarre when you watch it (but there’s one sexual scene that will probably weird many people out though). It makes you question what makes a relationship a relationship and also question the typical societal definitions/boundaries of a relationship (must it be monogamous? must it be physical? etc.). At the end of it, you also wonder if a connection is truly what human beings should live for, or if they are simply meant to be outlets to help us grow as we evolve to our next life phase.
Please read the comments below too — there are many wonderful suggestions by readers. 😀 Thanks everyone for sharing!
This is part of the Inspiration & Motivation series. Check out the other articles in the series:
- 10 Powerful & Inspiring Graduation Speeches You Don’t Want To Miss
- 15 Free, Beautiful Inspirational Wallpapers For Your Desktop
- 20 Amazing Commercials That Will Inspire the Greatness in You
- 50 Most Inspirational Songs of All Time
- 13 Meaningful Movies with Important Life Lessons To Learn
- 101 Most Inspiring Quotes of All Time: Vol 1 | Vol 2 | Vol 3 | Vol 4
- 101 Things To Do Before You Die
- 101 Ways To Live Your Life To The Fullest
- 101 Important Questions To Ask Yourself in Life
- 101 Life Principles to Live By Every Day
Image: Forrest Gump