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!

To be honest, I don’t watch A LOT of movies. I do love superhero movies (think X-Men, Marvel movies) and romantic comedies (EnchantedEver AfterAnastasia) — the former for its good triumphing over evil and epic humanity-centered messages, the latter for the light-heartedness, humor, and romance. While they’re not exactly in the “inspirational” genre, they are inspiring to me in their own way.

I’ve compiled a list of great inspirational movies with important life lessons to learn. The first part of the post features 13 films complete with trailer, description, and my personal review if I’ve watched that show before. Following that is a simplified list of movies that didn’t make the top 13 but are worth checking out. As there are videos throughout this post, if you’re reading this outside of the blog, click this link to see the full post.

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

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.

On the whole I think the film can place greater focus on the life lessons — the humor tends to take over the film sometimes, possibly to cater to the mainstream audience. Great weekend film to watch with friends.

[Buy Bruce Almighty on Amazon]

2. The Peaceful Warrior

A friend read my blog when I started it back in 2008, and told me that I had to watch the Peaceful Warrior. He said that many of the things I talk about on PE are similar to the film’s messages. So he shared with me his 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 — 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.

I like the Peaceful Warrior and there are many meaningful messages scattered throughout the show. In fact, I’ve included several dialogue in the movie in my inspiring quotes 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.”

While I agree with the overall message of the movie and I feel that there were some great moments (like the rooftop scene), I found the movie quite slow paced and predictable. When I was watching, there were many times when “Socrates” (the guide) said something or revealed a lesson I already knew and already guessed he was going to say (in the same exact words too). I think a large part is because I already came to these conclusions myself before, so I’m just not the right target audience for the movie.

That said, there’s definitely some good stuff in this movie, especially as evidenced by the rave reviews by others. If you’re feeling jaded, losing their passion, or looking for a deeper meaning in life, this movie is a great starting point.

[Buy Peaceful Warrior 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 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 with great wealth and success vs. a quiet family life.

It’s a great movie that gets you thinking about life, though I’m not in exact agreement with the implicit message that life has to be either/or — in this case, either wealth or family, not both. 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 work. Both are achievable — it’s a matter of expanding our capacity, prioritizing, and planning.

What I do like is the film gets you thinking about what you’re currently doing in life. If you continue what you’re doing today, where is it going to lead you? Would you have a lifetime of achievements and wealth, but no real friends or loved ones to speak of? Would you have lived a life conforming to norms while never taking action on your goals? A life living for others but not for yourself? Would you be someone bitter at life and at the end of it yourself?

And would this be a life 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. These have 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 controller that allows him to rewind, stop, and fast forward through time. He uses it to skip past moments that he finds mundane/boring like family dinner, shower, 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/marketing which comes across as your typical Hollywood slapstick comedy. This really isn’t. At first it may seem like that, but halfway through you realize that 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. IMO, it drives home the message that “every moment is a moment to be lived” more strongly than Peaceful Warrior.

I really love this film and highly recommend this 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 you to watch it. Kudos to Adam Sandler too for his acting. :D

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

I haven’t watched Forrest Gump before but I’ve heard too many great reviews not to include it in this list. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

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.

[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 more of a documentary, 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, among countless other mainstream media.

I watched The Secret when it first came out in 2006. At that time I was new to LoA, so learning about it from the show was intriguing. Later on I learned more about LoA from reading blogs and came to appreciate it even more. Basically the concept of LoA synchronizes with many things I’ve come to conclude from my experience, so watching the movie was more like an affirmation for me.

After watching the movie, I felt more conscious than my usual self. Just watching this once once in a while can create an upward shift in your consciousness. Of course, don’t fall into the trap of a self-help junkie — ultimately self-help is meant to accentuate what you’re doing, not replace action taking.

There are many LoA detractors who feel that LoA is a hoax, but 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 start thinking 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 his thoughts and actions are not in alignment.

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

[Buy The Secret on Amazon]

7. Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is about an arrogant TV weather man (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 somewhat old (released in 1993). Groundhog Day has deep messages that may elude 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 implicitly observed and interpreted by you.

Without giving away spoilers, pay attention to Phil Connors’ reaction in every scene and how it changes as the movie progresses. Also, notice how other people’s reactions change based on how he reacts. While Phil keeps reliving each day, you can see that his motivations and hence reactions change throughout the film as he realizes that he’s stuck there 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.

Someone in a forum likened Phil’s story with the path taken by most humans in life, where they are doomed to repeat certain problems until they attain the revelation to deal with it appropriately. Some likened it with 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 about recurring patterns, 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]

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 bucket lists — a list of things they want to do before they die.

I have not watched The Bucket List before but I have read about the concept of the bucket list elsewhere. I personally embrace the idea of having your bucket list and have a few posts on it:

[Buy The Bucket List on Amazon]

9. Space Jam

I watched Space Jam when I was a kid and I continue to enjoy it today. 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 which shares Jordan’s childhood scene with his Dad, after which it transits to present day Michael. I got goosebumps watching it. R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly is the perfect theme song for the movie.

There is a joke about 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

[Buy Space Jam on Amazon]

10. The Lion King

The 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 comes close to matching The Lion King in terms of its authentic feel. I remember the very first time I watched The Lion King was in the theaters, right when it got released. I was just 10 years old and my parents brought me and my brother out on a movie outing. Childhood memories! :D

If you haven’t watched The Lion King before, please rent/buy/borrow a copy and watch it. I’ve probably 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 just 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 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 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, being rendered homeless, etc. 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.

[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 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

[Buy Yes Man! on Amazon]

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. It’s quite evident that creators of Prison Break drew inspiration from this film!
  • Locke — This movie is very interesting because the entire show is set inside a car, and shows us what happens to a man as he drives from Birmingham to London, and the 36 phone calls he makes/receives. There is only one actor, Tom Hardy, while the other characters are “heard” through a phone. Locke is a drama film that gives us look into a man’s life over a 2-hour car ride as he makes some of his life’s biggest decisions. While the setup may sound boring, there are actually some tense moments where you feel for the character. Worth a watch, and gets you thinking about what you would do if you are ever put in a morally grey circumstance.
  • 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.
  • Inception – 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 here: 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 some people out though). It makes you question what makes a relationship a relationship, and also question the typical societal definitions 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 outlets to help us grow as we evolve to our next life phase.
  • 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.
  • 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, but 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. For one, Memento is a smart film executed in a very unique way.  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 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 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 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 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 show for you — watch the film and see the outcome yourself.

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