There’s an endless number of films to watch, but amongst this vast selection are a few ‘must-see’ movies worth checking off your list.
If you’ve been feeling stuck when it comes to deciding which films to watch, hopefully this varied list will offer some inspiration and have you set for your next movie night.
From war films and inspiring true stories to comedies and musicals, here are 19 movies that everyone should see.
1. Forrest Gump, 1994
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is a kind-hearted boy from Alabama with a very low IQ and leg braces to correct a curved spine. Despite having experienced other people’s unkindness all his life, Forrest has never thought of himself as disadvantaged.
Forrest becomes a college football star, a soldier in the Vietnam War, and captain of his own shrimping boat. People are inspired by Forrest’s childlike optimism, but Jenny, his sweet yet misled childhood love, proves to be the most difficult person to save.
2. The Theory of Everything, 2015
The Theory of Everything is based on the life of famous physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). After falling in love with Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) at Cambridge University, Stephen finds out he has motor neurone disease at the age of 21.
Despite his doctor telling him he has little time left, he and Jane defy terrible odds, break new grounds in medicine and science, and end up achieving more than they ever could have imagined.
3. Erin Brockovich, 2000
Following a car accident that wasn’t her fault, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) loses a lawsuit against a doctor and convinces her lawyer Ed (Albert Finney) to hire her as a file clerk.
While organising case files, she comes across some medical records hidden inside real estate files and convinces Ed to allow her to investigate. As she digs deeper, Erin discovers a cover-up involving a town that’s being poisoned by its own water supply.
Based on true events, Erin Brockovich is an inspiring story of justice and truth, where Erin almost single-handedly brings down a Californian power company and changes the lives of thousands.
4. Good Will Hunting, 1997
Despite having an extremely high IQ, lost youth Will Hunting (Matt Damon) works as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His talents are recognised by a professor who decides to help Will achieve his potential.
But after being arrested for attacking a police officer, Will is granted leniency only if he accepts treatment from therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Little does he know that Maguire will change his life forever.
5. Marvellous, 2014
Marvellous is the true story of Neil Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties and an extraordinary outlook on life. Neil accomplishes his life dream of working for Stoke City FC, while also being a registered circus clown and honorary graduate of Keele University, simply by asking and being kind to people.
In a world as critical as ours, this truly heartwarming film reminds us how much of a difference a positive ‘glass half full’ outlook on life can make. As Neil says, “I’ve always wanted to be happy, so I decided to be.”
6. The Blind Side, 2009
The Blind Side is based on the true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American teen (Quinton Aaron) who’s taken in by a married couple (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw).
With the support of his new legal guardians, Michael’s life is transformed as he comes to realise his talents, both as a student and a football player. This is a truly heartwarming film which centres on the importance of having compassion and empathy.
7. Little Women, 2019
Based on the classic 1868 novel, Little Women brings to life the inspiring story of four sisters, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen), as they navigate the passage from childhood to womanhood.
At the centre of the story is Jo, a headstrong girl who’s determined to make her own way in the world and defy the patriarchal rules of 19th-century society – specifically, that a woman must marry.
8. Hacksaw Ridge, 2016
Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Private First Class Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor despite refusing to carry a single weapon during World War II for religious reasons.
After being drafted, Doss was shunned and ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist beliefs. However, he went on to earn respect and admiration for his bravery, empathy, and selflessness after he saved 75 men at the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single shot.
9. The Greatest Showman, 2017
The Greatest Showman is an upbeat musical that tells the story of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) who rises from a modest background to become a worldwide sensation.
Full of romance, gorgeous costumes, and exceptional choreography, you’ll likely be singing the catchy soundtrack for days after.
The Greatest Showman also highlights a number of important life lessons – including the power of self-belief, not being held back by your circumstances, and the danger of being distracted by material things.
10. The Shawshank Redemption, 1994
Consistently rated IMDb’s top movie since its release in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption is widely regarded as one of the best films of all time.
It’s a story about a man, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who’s been sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife and her lover. However, Andy claims to be innocent.
While in prison, he builds a friendship with Red (Morgan Freeman), who he teaches the importance of always having hope.
11. Philomena, 2013
In 1952, Irish teenager Philomena (Judi Dench) became pregnant outside of wedlock and was sent to live in a convent. When her child, Anthony, was just a toddler, he was taken from her and put up for adoption in America.
Over the next 50 years, Philomena searched tirelessly for her son but couldn’t find him. However, when BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) hears of her story, they become allies and travel to America in search of Anthony.
12. Invictus, 2010
Following his 27-year imprisonment, newly-elected President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), is faced with the challenge of unifying a country divided by race.
Only months after the end of the Apartheid era, Mandela notices that the divide is still strong at an international rugby match.
Joining forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), Mandela believes he can unite his country through the universal language of sport.
13. The Imitation Game, 2014
The Imitation Game is a historical thriller based on the true story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mathematician who joined the British cryptography team to help decipher the German enigma code during World War II.
This nail-biting race against time shows Turing and his team succeed at breaking the code, which is thought to have shortened the war by as many as two to four years and welcomed in the computer age.
It also documents the tragic fate of Alan Turing, who despite bringing victory to the Allies, was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.
14. Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018
Winning Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes in 2019, if you’re not a fan of Queen already, you most likely will be after watching this film.
Bohemian Rhapsody documents the turbulent story of Freddie Mercury’s life and provides a moving insight into the inner battles he faced throughout his career.
Filled with Queen classics from start to finish, Rami Malek delivers an unforgettable performance as the band’s legendary frontman.
15. Hidden Figures, 2016
Set in 1961 at NASA Langley Research Center, Hidden Figures exposes the racial segregation that occurred during the famous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
Three talented African-American women, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), work as the brains behind the operation.
The film depicts their struggle as they start their careers in segregation-era America – facing discrimination at home, school, and work.
16. A Dog’s Purpose, 2017
A Dog’s Purpose is all about the love that dogs have for their owners. Based on W. Bruce Cameron’s 2010 novel, this film follows a devoted dog who discovers the meaning of his existence by teaching humans how to love and be happy.
Reincarnated as multiple canines over five decades, the dog forms an unbreakable bond with his first owner, Ethan (Dennis Quaid), and comes back into his life years later to remind him of his true self.
17. On the Basis of Sex, 2018
On the Basis of Sex is set in 1956 and inspired by the true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones).
It follows her fight for equal rights, her struggle against gender discrimination, and the early cases of a historic career that led to her appointment as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.
18. Life of Pi, 2012
After deciding to sell their zoo in India and move to Canada, Santosh and Gita Patel set off on a journey across the ocean with their sons and remaining animals. After a terrible storm sinks the ship, their teenage son, Pi (Suraj Sharma), is the only human survivor.
However, Pi soon finds out he’s not alone, as a Bengal tiger is also hiding aboard the lifeboat. As weeks turn into months, Pi and the tiger must learn to live alongside and trust each other in order to survive.
19. School of Rock, 2003
This cheerful, easy-watch comedy tells the story of Dewey Finn (Jack Black), an overly keen guitarist who finds himself in desperate need of work.
Deciding to pose as a substitute music teacher at a private elementary school, he secretly begins to train his students as hard rock musicians.
Finn develops a bond with his students as they train for the local Battle of the Bands competition. The film proved so popular that it has also been turned into a theatre production.
Movies are great at sparking our imagination, initiating interesting conversations, and transporting us to exciting worlds from the comfort of our sofa. But, with so many choices, making a decision about what to watch on film night can be tricky.
If you’re unsure where to start, it’s always worth adding a few must-see movies to your list. After all, these films are popular for a reason. Even if they don’t turn out to be your cup of tea, at least you can enjoy a night snuggled up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn…
If none of these have sparked your interest, head over to the film, TV, and theatre section of our website, where you’ll find more lists of film inspiration as well as film and TV reviews.
What are your favourite movies? Is there a particular film that you think everyone should see? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!