12 Inspirational Movies With Important Life Lessons To Learn

Inspiring Movies

“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! :D

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 12 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! :D

Not in any 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 ’08 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?

Similar movies worth checking: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 film) and A Christmas Carol (classic). These have same “what if” / alternate reality scenarios that get you thinking about your life.

4. Click

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 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 if you haven’t before. Kudos to Adam Sandler too for his acting :D.

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. 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:

8. 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.

The winning point of the movie is really the 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 is a 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 :D.

9. 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! :D

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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Yes Man!

This is the same movie mentioned that 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.

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 somber and 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.
  • Groundhog Day (recommended by reader Sumit) – A disgruntled TV weather man finds repeating a day over and over again, where only he himself remembers the past day’s events. At first he uses it for his personal advantage; but after a while he starts to evaluate his life and priorities.
  • 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. I watched Up in the Air but felt that the film didn’t resonate with me. Instead, I felt I was being set up throughout the film for an outcome which never took place. I’m putting it here as there seem to be many rave reviews of it – You might get a different experience watching 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 Important Personal Development Lessons To Learn From Inception

Please read the comments below too – There are many wonderful suggestions by readers. :D Thanks everyone for sharing!

This is part of the Inspiration & Motivation series. Check out the other articles in the series:



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  • lee

    “Disney’s the kid” is a meaningful comedy I’d like to suggest. It’s about a successful image consultant (Bruce Willis) who usually acts like a jerk with others and has tense relationship with his father. Until one day he comes across a kid eating popcorn in his house and suddenly realizes that he’s his past version 32 years ago…

    “How many of us turn out the way we think we will when we were kids?” Sometimes we need to stop for awhile and awake the sleeping kid inside of us, right? It is a touching and really funny story I highly recommend. :)

  • http://faheemsdiary.blogspot.com faheem

    celes great post by the way……keeep it up..and thnx for the friends who shared great movies filled with a real life challenges and fun……

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  • http://theboldlife.com Tess The Bold Life

    The Blue Butterfly and

    Flash of Genius and

    The Greatest Indian

  • http://www.clareherbert.ie/ Clare

    I think Remember the Titans deserves a spot on this list. A great film about team work, overcoming obstacles and being different. I return to it whenever I need a pick me up.

  • Kat

    Fireproof – another one if people haven’t watched it -its worth it. The acting is a little lame (it is a “B” movie) and Kirk Cameron is the only main name recognizable but the story is worth it. I will warn those who are anti-christian because there are some passages through it. But the store is of a husband to wrapped up in his work to realize he is losing his marriage and a wife also busy in her work and her parents health. The story is of his father giving him a 40 day challenge of various sacrifices (computer addictions, selfishness, etc) to be able to show his wife that he doesn’t want a divorce.

    To me the movie was very telling of the sacrifices that some of the previous generations did to keep their marraiges and some today are willing to walk away so easily without trying. It shows that through good or bad relationships take work but you have to want to try before calling it quits…

    http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1810036605/trailer

  • http://twitter.com/pokemeonceagain pokemeonceagain

    I was really moved with Click :’(

    Blind Side by Sandra Bullock is one of the most inspiring movie I’ve seen.

  • Wendy

    I love this post, since I am very inspired by the visual aspect of film and storytelling. It is hard to name them all, but the films that have had the most profound effect on me are:

    Dead Poet’s Society – my all time favorite film with the important lesson to think for yourself.
    The Truman Show – another great film by Peter Weir that plays with the idea of what reality is.
    The Matrix – some see this as a great sci fi movie, but there is so much more to this movie.
    Man on Wire – the best and most inspiring documentary.
    Vitus – great film about a child prodigy
    A Man Named Pearl – documentary about a very inspiring and humble artist/landscaper/teacher
    Amelie
    Step into Liquid – the joy and passion of surfing around the world from amateur to pro surfers
    Milk – one man’s actions can make a difference and inspire both a community and city.
    Chocolat – Johnny Depp, need I say more?
    Sound of Music – I have seen this more times than I can count.
    This Is It – just watched this recently with all the bonus features. While Michael did not live to perform his final shows, this truely would have been the concert of all concerts.
    All Together Now – the making of the Cirque Love Show.
    The Pixar Story – Pixar raises the bar as a company and for the film industry in general.
    Pursuit of Happyness

    and many more……..

  • Nico

    Awakening with robin williams and Robert de Niro is highly recommended.

    It tells us about how we take life for granted and forgot to appreciate the simple things such as breathing or walking.

    here is the trailer
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FURflBxeTyI

  • Dave

    Without a doubt, “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJfZaT8ncYk

  • http://pjaware.wordpress.com Prateek Jain

    Well i will like to add a Bollywood film called “taxi no.9211″. it is the tale of two guys who always curse others for their misfortune and how their path intersects and they learn important lessons of life in between.
    i really liked the list compiled here.i have seen most of movies listed here.my favourite among these are “FOREST GUMP” and “PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS”

    And plz also try”the motorcycle diaries”.

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  • http://chiropam.com Chiropam

    Most that I would recommend have been covered, how about ‘The Notebook’?

  • http://www.onthebrightside-angela.blogspot.com Angela

    Another great movie is “August Rush” (2007). It’s about love, music and dreams. http://onthebrightside-angela.blogspot.com/search?q=august

  • Sandra

    I think a great movie that i love is THE NOTEBOOK…is more than a romantic movie for me…is inspirational, is a hope of knowing that the love is the only thing that keep us moving on life, that when love exist in your heart everything is possible, that no matter what love is the only thing that save us.
    I love watching this movie when i’m sad or when things are going wrong, it give me the strength to keep going in live.
    I think this is a great movie…and teach the lesson of never give up on love. :mrgreen:

    • http://chiropam.com Chiropam

      I agree with your comment – well said!!

  • http://moviescrunch.com Manikandan

    Hi great list…I am very happy to comment here. As a Movie Blogger, this post inspries alot. Please add the following movies in the list.

    1. Cast Away (2000)
    2. Invictus(2009)
    3. The songs of Sparrow (2008)

    Cheers :)

  • Marvin Barrett

    I have only watched four of the mentioned films and I loved all of them. I have just ordered Butterfly Effect because I have heard that it is a very good film.

    I think you could of mentioned the Matrix…I think that’s one of the greatest films ever and very inspiring also Jerry Maguire and The Great Debaters.

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

    Hi Celes, tonight I am going to start a movie contest to run for the next 2-3 weeks. This was an excellent post and with your permission, I will link back to you for all the inspiration and good content rolled up in one post! Thank you :)!

    • http://personalexcellence.co/blog/ Celes

      Of course Farnoosh, I look forward to seeing your post :D

      • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

        Dear Celes, the post is up and I hope you not only see it but participate in the contest as I’d LOVE to have your presence and energy…..all my best! :) :-P

  • http://www.singaporeserviceacademy.com Andy Tay

    Thanks for this great list and all extra comments. My movie schedule is gonna be filled for the rest of this year!

    2 movies which I highly recommend which have not been mentioned

    1) Coach Carter
    Based on a true story of Coach Ken Carter, a controversial high school basketball coach played by Samuel L. Jackson. Coach Carter took the coaching job under his rules. He believed that the players must maintain good grades and become a united team or they would not play. Lots of lessons to be learned here, not your typical Sports Movie!

    2) 3 Idiots (Bollywood)
    3 Engineering Students and their adventures, stories while pursuing their dreams and conforming to the society they live in. How they discovered themselves and followed their hearts. Lots of funny and touching moments! The highest grossing Bollywood movie of all time!