13 Meaningful Movies With Important Life Lessons To Learn

Inspiring movies

(Image: Forrest Gump)

“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 would 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 the usual. We’re going into the topic of movies — specifically, inspirational movies with meaningful life lessons to learn. Get some popcorn before you continue reading!

This post consists of a list of inspirational movies with important life lessons to learn. The first part features 13 films complete with a trailer, description, and my personal review. Following that is a list of movies that didn’t make the top 13 but are worth checking out.

I hate spoilers, so don’t worry — there aren’t any here. Read without reservation! :)

Not in order of importance.

1. Bruce Almighty

Bruce Almighty is a fun yet inspiring film with a meaningful message. It’s about a TV reporter (Jim Carrey) who constantly has bad things happening to him. He complains that God is doing a terrible job — at which point God appears to him and offers him all his powers to see if he can do a better job. Along the way, he learns lessons that change his life.

While the jokes tend to take over the film sometimes (possibly to cater to a broader mainstream audience), it has a good message and is a great weekend film to watch with friends!

[Buy Bruce Almighty on Amazon]

2. Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is about an arrogant TV weatherman (Bill Murray) who finds himself stuck in a time loop where he keeps repeating the same day over and over. The worse part? He’s the only one who remembers the past day’s events — no one else seems to remember anything! At first he uses this time loop for personal gain. After a while though, he starts to 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 this movie is old (released in 1993). Groundhog Day has deep messages that may escape you in your first viewing and the interpretation depends entirely on who’s watching. The movie never actually discusses the lessons it’s trying to drive — rather, they are meant to be observed and interpreted by you.

Without giving away spoilers, pay attention to Phil’s (Bill Murray’s character) behavior in every scene and how it changes as the movie progresses. Also, notice how other people’s reactions toward him change based on how he behaves. While Phil keeps reliving each day, you can see that his motivations and actions change throughout the film as he realizes that he’s stuck there no matter what.

What do you do when you have an eternity to live? Does Phil ever break out of the loop? Watch and you’ll find out.

Someone in a forum likened Phil’s story to the path taken by most humans in life, where they are doomed to repeat certain problems until they attain the revelation to deal with them appropriately. Some likened it to the path of reincarnation, where humans are made to live over and over again until they attain the necessary lesson and ascend in their path. I found both to be very fascinating interpretations that I agree with. In fact, I wrote a post on breaking repeating patterns that’s inspired by Groundhog DayAre You Facing Repeating Patterns in Life?

(By the way, it wasn’t specified in the film but Phil spends 10,000 years in the time loop. That’s a LOT of time to be stuck in a loop!)

[Buy Groundhog Day on Amazon]

3. The Family Man

The Family Man is a comedy-drama about a highly successful, single investment banker (Nicholas Cage) who gets to experience how his life would have been if he had made a different decision 13 years ago (staying with his girlfriend rather than opting for a high-flying career). It’s a movie that presents a ‘what if I had done this instead?’ scenario and contrasts a life of great wealth vs. a quiet family life.

It’s a great and touching movie that gets you thinking about life, especially for those of us with families. It’s important though to recognize that life doesn’t always have to be either/or. It is possible to achieve both family and career success — perhaps not right away, but with proper planning and the support of family, it can happen.

I like that the film gets you thinking about what you’re currently doing in your life. If you continue what you’re doing, where is it going to lead you?

  • Would you have a lifetime of achievements and wealth, but no real friends or family to speak of?
  • Would you have lived a life conforming to norms, but not pursuing what you really love?
  • Is this the life that you want? If not, what are you going to do to change things?

Similar movies worth checking out: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 film) and A Christmas Carol (2009 film). These have the same “what if”/ alternate reality scenarios that get you thinking.

[Buy The Family Man on Amazon]

4. Click

Click is about a man (Adam Sandler) who receives a magical remote that lets him rewind, stop, and fast forward through time. He uses it to skip past moments that he finds mundane and boring like family dinners, showers, and sickness. Initially this seems fun, but after a while he realizes that it comes with unexpected consequences — which you have to watch to find out.

Forget the trailer and marketing which makes this film seem like your typical Hollywood slapstick comedy. It isn’t. At first it does, but halfway through you realize there’s something deeper that the film is driving. It gets you thinking about life’s moments and how each moment is no less important than another.

I really love this film and highly recommend it to everyone. There is this really moving scene near the end where I cry every time I watch it. A great plot with a provoking message, and humor injected throughout the film to keep it light-hearted. I highly recommend watching it. Kudos to Adam Sandler for his acting — he’s actually a producer for the film too!

Here’s a blog post that I wrote, inspired by the lessons in ClickAre You Putting Any Parts of Your Life On Hold?

[Buy Click on Amazon]

5. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is a comedy-drama film based on the 1986 novel of the same name. 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.[1]

A very sweet and touching film, Forrest Gump shows that one’s character, heart, and values can triumph and help us rise above life’s circumstances. Society has taught us to judge people by their academic results, but a person is so much more than that. One’s ability and worth cannot be measured in a single metric. Forrest Gump shows us that.

Here are some memorable quotes from the movie:

  • “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” — Forrest Gump
  • “You have to do the best with what God gave you.” — Mrs. Gump
  • “My Mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.” — Forrest Gump
  • Forrest: “What’s my destiny, Mama?”
    Mrs. Gump: “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself.”
  • “Mama always said, dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.” – Forrest

[Buy Forrest Gump on Amazon]

6. The Secret

The Secret is a self-help film on the Law of Attraction and positive thinking. It’s actually more of a documentary and is not a fictional film. The Law of Attraction (LoA) refers to the idea that both your conscious and subconscious thoughts affect your outcomes in life. The Secret took the world by storm when it was released and has been featured on Oprah, The Ellen Show, Larry King, and other mainstream media channels.

After watching The Secret, I notice that I feel more conscious than my usual self. Just watching this film can raise your consciousness level and put you in a positive frame of mind. It reminds us of the importance to think positive, and that our thoughts affect our reality in more ways than one. To create a positive reality, we have to start by conjuring the right thoughts and removing negative ones.

There are many LoA detractors who feel that LoA is a hoax. I think their criticism comes more from a misunderstanding of how LoA works. LoA isn’t about sitting back and expecting the world to change after you think positive — it’s about thinking positive, taking massive action to realize your goals, and then having reality manifest results because your thoughts and actions are in synchrony. On the other hand, someone who takes lots of action but keeps thinking negatively is self-sabotaging because their thoughts and actions are not in alignment.

There’s also a book of the same name by Rhonda Byrne.

[Buy The Secret on Amazon]

7. The Peaceful Warrior

Based on Way of The Peaceful Warrior (book), The Peaceful Warrior features Dan, a student from U.C. Berkeley who has everything a college student could possibly want — 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 guide and his journey of self-discovery begins.

While a little slow at times, I like the Peaceful Warrior and there are many meaningful messages scattered throughout the show. In fact, I’ve included some of the quotes in my 101 inspiring quotes series. 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.”

If you’re feeling jaded, losing your passion, or looking for a deeper meaning in life, this movie is a great starting point.

[Buy Peaceful Warrior on Amazon]

8. The Bucket List

The Bucket List is about two terminally ill men (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who cross paths in a hospital after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Through their treatments, they befriend each other. They decide to embark on a trip to fulfill their individual bucket list, i.e. a list of things they want to do before they die.

Life is short and it’s important to live it in a directed way. A bucket list helps us to get clarity on the things we wish to do and experiences we wish to have before we die. Here’s a complete guide on how to create your bucket list: What’s on Your Bucket List? 101 Things To Do Before You Die

[Buy The Bucket List on Amazon]

9. Space Jam

I watched Space Jam when I was a kid and continue to enjoy it today. It’s a classic. The story is simple — the bad guys (Monstars) oust 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 which shares Jordan’s childhood scene with his Dad, after which it transits to present-day Michael. I Believe I Can Fly is the perfect theme song for the movie.

(Update in 2019: R. Kelly has received a multitude of allegations of sexual misconduct and running a sex cult. The mention of his song here is based on the song’s message and is no way an endorsement of him as a person.)

There is a joke about piracy in the middle of the film (when Bugs and Daffy are in Michael’s house) which I laughed when I heard it. You have to watch to find out what it is!

[Buy Space Jam on Amazon]

10. The Lion King

The Lion King is an all-time classic and one of the best hand-drawn animated films of all time. Even with all the 3D films released today — which are great in their own right — none of them comes close to The Lion King in terms of its authentic feel. I remember the first time I watched The Lion King was in the cinema, right when it got released. I was just 10 years old and didn’t really understand much of it then. I got much more out of the film when I rewatched it when I was older.

If you haven’t watched The Lion King before, please rent/buy/borrow a copy and watch it. I’ve watched it 6-7 times at least. I never fail to cry during a key scene in the second quarter of the film. I continue to rewatch the film once every few years and continue to be moved each time because the story never gets old. It speaks of love, responsibility, courage, and strength.

[Buy The Lion King on Amazon]

11. Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward is about a young boy who creates a goodwill movement, where he helps three people with something they can’t do themselves. The recipient cannot return the favor and must “pay it forward” by helping three other people. The film starts off a little slow but picks up mid-way. Three-quarters into the film, everything starts to fall into place and the ending is a tear-inducing one. I like how the dots unexpectedly connect throughout the film. It’s a film of kindness, generosity, warmth, and gratitude.

[Buy Pay It Forward on Amazon]

12. The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness is about a salesman (Will Smith) who undergoes defeats, challenges, and hardship such as his wife leaving him and being rendered homeless to secure a better life 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 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, check out this film. It’s based on Chris Gardner‘s true story.

[Buy The Pursuit of Happyness on Amazon]

13. Yes Man!

This is the same movie that PE reader Fahad watched. Yes Man! is about a bank employee (Jim Carrey) who keeps saying no to everything in his life until an experience at 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 it? 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 and don’t match up with your ideal life. My article here will teach you how: How To Say No To Others

[Buy Yes Man! on Amazon]

More Inspiring Films With Lessons To Learn

  • Shawshank Redemption — A story showing how your hope and outlook in life shape your life experience, regardless of where you may be. It’s quite evident that the creators of Prison Break drew inspiration from this film!
  • Locke — This movie is very interesting because the entire film is set inside a car. It’s about a man and how his life unravels over a two-hour car ride as he leaves work to drive from Birmingham to London, and the 36 phone calls he makes and receives during the drive. There is only one actor seen on screen (Tom Hardy) while the other characters are only “heard” through a phone. While the setup may sound boring, there are some tense moments where you feel for the character. Worth a watch and gets you thinking about what you would do if you are put in a morally grey situation.
  • 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 backward. Through the film, he experiences the human joys of love, departure, life, and death.
  • Inception – Who can forget Inception, the 2010 hit film? While it’s better known as an action/heist film, there are many personal development lessons to take away from it too, which I covered here: 8 Personal Development Lessons To Learn From Inception
  • Her (R rating) – A science-fiction drama about a man who falls in love with his intelligent computer operating system. While this sounds bizarre, it’s not that crazy when you watch it. It makes you question what makes a relationship a relationship, and the typical societal definitions of a relationship (must it be monogamous? must it be physical?).
  • Up in the Air – It’s about a corporate “downsizer” (George Clooney) 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 get him thinking otherwise.
  • Memento – This film is “inspiring” in terms of how it is produced and also the lessons, albeit sad ones, that can be learned. This is not a “happy” or “positive” film by any means — it’s a psychological thriller and not your typical kind. Memento is about a man with anterograde amnesia (a condition where the brain can’t store new memories) who seeks to find justice for his wife’s murder.

    I don’t watch thrillers but a friend recommended this and I was very impressed after watching it. For one, Memento is a smart film executed in a very unique way.  The film has a non-linear narrative and tells its story through two different sequences of scenes interspersed during the film — 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 the investigation. There are different takeaways depending on the viewer. For me, it speaks of how people put themselves in a state of self-denial and self-created fantasies, and because of that they pursue a hollow life, putting themselves in pain/anguish. Again, not a “happy” kind of film, but a film to watch if you like thrillers or you’re looking for a serious movie.

  • The Butterfly Effect – Another “sad” serious film. This is a movie about 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 idea that seemingly small trivial actions can result in much larger, unexpected consequences in the long run (like the flutter of a butterfly causing a typhoon).

    I only watched this movie once because the show is overall very depressing. However, it does have an important message. Many people often wonder, What if I did this? or 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 as it’s already in the past.  Looking back constantly prevents us from truly living our life. In the film, you can see that the character is oblivious to everything that’s happening in the present because he’s too busy trying to go back in time to change things. I won’t spoil the show for you — watch the film and see the ending yourself.

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