There’s an endless number of films to watch these days. But if you’re in the mood to watch an inspiring film with a deeper message that’ll really get you thinking, there are a few worth adding to your list.
From real-life stories to heartfelt films that explore the power of friendship, resilience, and hope, here are 14 inspiring films with a deeper message.
1. Dead Poets Society (1989)
English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) arrives at an all-boys preparatory school, which is known for its high standards and ancient traditions.
Keating uses unorthodox methods to reach and communicate with his students, who are struggling under enormous pressure from the expectations of their parents and the school.
The key theme of Dead Poets Society is ‘carpe diem’ (meaning seize the day) and Keating helps his students break out of their routine expectations and pursue their dreams.
2. The Help (2011)
In 1960s Mississippi during the civil rights movement, young budding journalist Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ (Emma Stone) decides to turn her small town on its head by interviewing the black women who have spent their lives working for prominent white families.
At first, only the housekeeper Aibileen (Viola Davis) is willing to speak. However, as time goes on, more and more women start to come forward with their stories. Unlikely friendships and sisterhood are formed along the way as Skeeter inevitably faces the backlash of backward community leaders, childhood friends, and even her own family.
Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help portrays the unfortunate reality of racial discrimination during the 1960s and teaches us a lot about respect and love.
3. Marvellous (2014)
Marvellous tells the true story of Neil Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties who has an extraordinary outlook on life.
Becoming a registered clown, an honorary graduate of Keele University, and achieving his life-long dream of working for Stoke City FC, Neil accomplishes everything simply by asking and being kind to people.
In our ever critical world, Marvellous is an inspiring film that reminds us how much of a difference having a positive outlook on life can make. As Neil wisely said, “I’ve always wanted to be happy, so I decided to be.”
4. Philadelphia (1993)
Out of fear that it might compromise his career at a powerful law firm in Philadelphia, Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) does anything he can to hide his homosexuality and HIV status.
However, after his colleagues discover his secret, Beckett is fired and faces a long fight for justice with the help of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) – the only lawyer willing to help him.
Heartfelt and moving, Philadelphia is inspired by the real-life experiences of Geoffrey Bowers, who was the plaintiff in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases to go to a public hearing. It’s a powerful acknowledgment of the suffering caused by the devastating lies connected with AIDS.
5. The Intouchables (2011)
The Intouchables is inspired by the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou.
Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a wealthy Parisian aristocrat who owns a luxurious Parisian mansion. And, after becoming paralysed in a paragliding incident, Philippe hires young ex-convict Driss (Omar Sy) to be his caretaker. Although very different, the two men bond and develop a very special friendship.
The Intouchables is a heartwarming film that communicates the power of love and friendship in bringing even the most unlikely people together.
6. Seven Pounds (2008)
After causing a tragic car accident that killed seven people including his fiance, Ben Thomas’ (Will Smith) views on life change entirely. Determined to correct his wrongs and give back, Ben goes on a secret mission to change the lives of seven strangers for the better.
The film title ‘Seven Pounds’ refers to the Shakespearean pound-of-flesh metaphor, which means a figurative debt that needs to be repaid. So, handpicking seven people in need of help, Ben gives them life by donating his various organs.
In this extraordinary journey of redemption, Ben comes face-to-face with different people’s struggles and purpose in life.
7. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) – a man who faces a crisis which leads him to believe he’s a failure who’s better off dead than alive.
However, when a guardian angel is sent from heaven to protect him, George sees what the world would be like without him. Encouraged by his value to his community, George manages to break out of his suicidal depression and return to his family – realising that the love and care of others is truly what makes life wonderful.
With deep themes of selflessness, friendship, and the power of doing good, It’s a Wonderful Life is a fantastic reminder of what really matters in life.
8. Barbie (2023)
Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) are living their best lives in the seemingly perfect pink world of Barbie Land. However, after facing a crisis, Barbie begins to question the world and her existence – coming face-to-face with the harsh realities of the real world.
In this record-breaking film, award-winning director Greta Gerwig acknowledges the struggles of teen girls growing up with unrealistic standards, as well as the expectations placed on women of being perfect, no matter what.
This entertaining, yet heartfelt coming-of-age film offers powerful insights about female existence, with the key message being that women should have the autonomy to be whatever they want to be.
9. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a single father with full custody of his five-year old son (Jaden Smith).
Struggling to pay rent, Chris and his son are evicted from their home. However, determined to seek a better life for himself and his son, Chris takes on a competitive internship in the hope of working his way up at a stock brokerage firm.
Based on a true story about a man named Christopher Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness is a raw and inspiring demonstration of what really matters in life. While we all experience setbacks, hardships, and difficult circumstances, we can learn a lot from Chris’ famous quote, “Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t do something”.
10. The Swimmers (2022)
The Swimmers is based on the incredible true story of two sisters, Yusra (Nathalie Issa) and Sarah Mardini (Manal Issa), who escaped the war in Syria to go after their dreams of competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The pair journey from Lebanon to Turkey, before arranging to be smuggled into Greece on a dinghy. But their hearts and swimming skills are put to heroic use when engine cuts out and they jump off of the overcrowded boat in the middle of the ocean. Just a year after their harrowing journey, Yusra and Sarah’s dream of competing in the Olympics starts to become a reality.
Sally El Hosaini’s moving retelling of the Mardini sisters’ story is an inspiring tribute to them, and to the millions of refugees who risk everything to find safety everyday.
11. The Green Mile (1999)
Based on the 1996 Book by Stephen King, The Green Mile tells the story of an unlikely friendship between John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) in 1935.
Edgecomb had walked the mile with a number of cons, but he’d never encountered someone like John Coffey. Facing the death penalty for brutally murdering two young sisters, Coffey certainly has the strength to kill anyone, but not the demeanor. Beyond his naive nature, Edgecomb begins to question whether Coffey is truly guilty of murder.
This moving film highlights the importance of peace and forgiveness, and is likely to stick with you for a long while.
12. The Bucket List (2007)
Car mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) and billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) are total strangers, until they find themselves in the same hospital room.
Despite their differences, Carter and Edward bond over their need to accept who they are and what they’ve done with their lives. Each with a ‘bucket list’ of things they want to see and do before they die, the pair go against doctor’s advice and leave the hospital to set out on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
With the message of finding joy in all areas of life at its heart, The Bucket List is a poignant reminder to live life every day as if it were your last.
13. Reign Over Me (2007)
After losing his family in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, bereaved husband and father Charlie (Adam Sandler) runs into his old college roommate, Alan (Don Cheadle).
As the pair rekindle their friendship, Alan begins to help Charlie break out of his cycle of avoidance and both men are given the strength to persevere during a turning point in their lives.
Reign Over Me is a compelling demonstration of grief and how our relationships with others can get us through the most difficult times in life.
14. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
After being wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is given two consecutive life sentences at the notoriously rough Shawshank Prison.
Andy has a unique way of dealing with his new, torturous life – maintaining a strong sense of hope, self-worth, and dignity, despite his circumstances and befriending Red (Morgan Freeman), a fellow inmate facing a life sentence for the murder of his wife.
The Shawshank Redemption is famous for its message of hope, forgiveness, long-lasting friendship, and reminds that, while the body can be locked inside a cell, the spirit can never truly be imprisoned.
Films are great for sparking our imagination and initiating interesting conversations. And there are some films with particularly powerful messages that can really get us thinking.
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Which of these films have you seen? What other films have you found particularly thought-provoking? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.