Got a lot of time on your hands? Here are 33 inspiring and thought provoking films that will leave you feeling more hopeful and inspired, rather than fearful and anxious.
Especially when the world feels like a very scary place, what with the pandemic, the earthquakes here in Utah, and the political nightmare of an election year…sometimes it’s wildly helpful to tune in to a reminder of the good in people, our shared challenges as we navigate life, and the meaningful experiences that we can create if we choose to.
What are your favorites? Please share in the comments!
1. Wild (2014 R)
Driven to the edge by the loss of her mother, the end of her marriage and a determined escape into self-destruction, Cheryl Strayed sets out to put her life back together. With no outdoors experience, a daunting backpack and little else to go on but her own will, Cheryl sets out alone to hike the Pacific Crest Trail — one of the country’s longest and toughest through-trails.
2. The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019 PG)
Denny Swift is a Formula One race car driver with uncanny wisdom for winning on the racetrack, and in everyday life. Denny meaning revolves around the great loves of his life – his wife, their daughter, racing, and his best friend, a dog named Enzo who hopes to be reincarnated into a human.
This story will hit home in a difficult, but meaningful way for anyone who has navigated a custody battle.
3. Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019 PG-13)
Former architect Bernadette Fox checked all the boxes of success – a larger-than-life reputation in her field, a successful and loving husband, and a talented teenage daughter. In the midst of losing herself inside her life, Bernadette actually disappears, leading her family on an adventure that calls us all to pursue our genius.
4. The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019 PG-13 Director: Taika Waititi)
A hero’s journey set in a modern Mark Twain world that begins when Zak, a young man with Down syndrome, escapes from a bleak existence in his nursing home to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, finding his own unlikely family along the way.
5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2019 PG-13 Director: Taika Waititi)
Ricky Baker is an overweight, orphaned juvenile offender with one last chance to make it work in a foster home. Life doesn’t go to plan, as is so often the case, and Ricky and his less-than-enthusiastic foster father become the subjects of a manhunt after they become stranded in the New Zealand wilderness.
You may notice from this list that I adore Taika Waititi’s work. I’m fascinated by his ability to weave together “happy-sad” stories that reflect the dialectics present in real life.
6. Little Miss Sunshine (2006 R)
The Hoover family — a man, his wife, an uncle, a brother and a grandfather — puts the fun back in dysfunctional by piling into a VW bus and heading to California to support a daughter in her bid to win the Little Miss Sunshine Contest. The sanity of everyone involved is stretched to the limit as the group’s quirks cause epic problems as they travel along their interstate route.
7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013 PG)
Walter Mitty, an employee at Life magazine, spends day after monotonous day developing photos for the publication. To escape the tedium, Walter inhabits a world of exciting daydreams in which he is the undeniable hero. Walter fancies a fellow employee named Cheryl and would love to date her, but he feels unworthy. However, he gets a chance to have a real adventure when Life’s new owners send him on a mission to obtain the perfect photo for the final print issue.
Based on a short story by James Thurber. The most famous of Thurber’s stories, it first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939.
8. Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019 R)
A hard-partying woman receives a startling wake-up call when a visit to the doctor reveals how unhealthy she is. Motivated to lose weight, she soon takes up running to help her prepare for her ultimate goal of competing in the New York City Marathon.
9. Green Book (2018 PG-13)
Dr Don Shirley is a world-class African-American pianist, who is about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, Shirley recruits Tony Lip, a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx. Despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting racism and danger in an era of segregation.
10. The Theory of Everything (2014 PG-13)
In the 1960s, Cambridge University student and future physicist Stephen Hawking falls in love with fellow collegian Jane Wilde. At 21, Hawking learns that he has motor neuron disease. Despite this — and with Jane at his side — he begins an ambitious study of time, of which he has very little left, according to his doctor. He and Jane defy terrible odds and break new ground in the fields of medicine and science, achieving more than either could hope to imagine.
11. White Oleander (2002 PG-13)
With her mother serving a life sentence for murdering her boyfriend, a teenage girl enters the foster care system. As she moves from one troubled foster home to another, each with its own rules and lessons to be learned, she begins a journey of self discovery. Trying to forge her own identity proves difficult under the cold-hearted influence of her mother.
12. Silver Linings Playbook (2012 R)
After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano winds up living with his parents. He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany, who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange.
13. Where the Heart Is (2000 PG-13)
After Tennessee teen Novalee Nation is left literally barefoot and pregnant in a Wal-Mart parking lot by her no-good boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens, she manages to live within the mammoth megastore until her baby’s abrupt arrival makes her a media darling. After this, Good Samaritan nurse Lexie takes in the single mom and her newborn daughter. A long-time favorite of mine, this movie is a go-to reminder to be kind, forgiving and open.
14. The Florida Project (2017 R)
Set in the shadow of the most magical place on Earth, 6-year-old Moonee and her two best friends forge their own adventures, while Moonee’s struggling mom and a kindhearted motel manager protect the kids from the harsh reality that surrounds them.
15. Lady Bird (2017 R)
Marion McPherson, a nurse, works tirelessly to keep her family afloat after her husband loses his job. She also maintains a turbulent bond with a teenage daughter who is just like her: loving, strong-willed and deeply opinionated.
16. Wonder (2017 PG)
Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie Pullman becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to discover their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
17. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006 PG-13)
Life is a struggle for single father Chris Gardner. Evicted from their apartment, he and his young son find themselves alone with no place to go. Even though Chris eventually lands a job as an intern at a prestigious brokerage firm, the position pays no money. The pair must live in shelters and endure many hardships, but Chris refuses to give in to despair as he struggles to create a better life for himself and his son.
18. People Like Us (2012 PG-13)
On the day his latest deal collapses, fast-talking-salesman Sam receives the news that his father has died. Reluctantly, Sam returns home to settle the estate of his father. In the course of carrying out the man’s last wishes, Sam is surprised to learn of the existence of a 30-year-old sister, named Frankie. As the sister and brother get to know each other, Sam must re-examine both his perceptions about his family and the life choices that he has made.
19. The Way Way Back (2013 PG-13)
Duncan is an awkward teen who must spend the summer at a beach house with his mother, her boyfriend, Trent, and Trent’s obnoxious daughter. Trent can’t resist badgering Duncan, so the youth steals away to a water park and gets a job that will help him stay off Trent’s radar. As Duncan tends to the slides and pools of the aging park, he finds a father figure in wisecracking park manager Owen at a time when he desperately needs one.
20. 127 hours (2010 R)
While exploring a remote canyon in Utah, mountaineer and adventurer Aron Ralston becomes trapped when a boulder falls on his arm. Over the next five days, Ralston examines his life and considers his options, leading him to an agonizing choice: to amputate his arm so that he can extricate himself and try to make his way back to civilization or remain pinned to the canyon wall and likely die.
21. Forrest Gump (1994 PG-13)
Slow-witted Forrest Gump has never thought of himself as disadvantaged, and thanks to his supportive mother, he leads anything but a restricted life. Whether dominating on the gridiron as a college football star, fighting in Vietnam or captaining a shrimp boat, Forrest inspires people with his childlike optimism. But one person Forrest cares about most may be the most difficult to save — his childhood love, the sweet but troubled Jenny.
22. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007 PG-13)
Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French fashion bible Elle magazine, has a devastating stroke at age 43. The damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome, with which he is almost completely paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking an eye. Bauby painstakingly dictates his memoir via the only means of expression left to him, one blink at a time.
23. Big Fish (2003 PG-13)
When Edward Bloom becomes ill, his son, William, travels to be with him. William has a strained relationship with Edward because his father has always told exaggerated stories about his life, and William thinks he’s never really told the truth. Even on his deathbed, Edward recounts fantastical anecdotes. When William, who is a journalist, starts to investigate his father’s tales, he begins to understand the man and his penchant for storytelling.
24. 28 Days (2000 PG-13)
A hard-drinking New York journalist takes her reputation as the life and soul of the party too far when she knocks over her sister’s wedding cake and crashes the bridal limousine. When a court orders her into rehab for a month, she initially refuses, but eventually she begins to take her substance abuse seriously.
25. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003 PG-13)
When Frances Mayes learns her husband is cheating on her from a writer whom she gave a bad review, her life is turned upside down. In an attempt to bring her out of a deep depression, her best friend, Patti, encourages Frances to take a tour of Italy. During the trip, the new divorcée impulsively decides to purchase a rural Tuscan villa and struggles to start her life anew amid colorful local characters, including the handsome Marcello.
26. Eat Pray Love (2010 PG-13)
Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.
27. Jojo Rabbit (2019 PG-13 Director: Taika Waititi)
Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler — Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.
28. Beautiful Boy (2018 R)
Teenager Nicolas Sheff seems to have it all with good grades and being an actor, artist, athlete and editor of the school newspaper. When Nic’s addiction to meth threatens to destroy him, his father does whatever he can to save his son and family.
29. Yes Man (2008 PG-13)
Carl Allen is stuck in a rut with his negative ways. Then he goes to a self-help seminar and learns to unleash the power of yes. Living in the affirmative leads him to all sorts of amazing and transforming experiences; he gets a job promotion, and even finds a new romance. But Carl finds that too much of anything, even positive thinking, is not necessarily a good thing.
30. Good Will Hunting (1998 R)
Will Hunting has a genius-level IQ but chooses to work as a janitor at MIT. When he solves a difficult graduate-level math problem, his talents are discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau, who decides to help the misguided youth reach his potential. When Will is arrested for attacking a police officer, Professor Lambeau makes a deal to get leniency for him if he will get treatment from therapist Sean Maguire.
31. Mary and Max (2009 All Audiences)
Spanning 20 years and two continents, this claymation film recounts the pen-pal relationship between two very different people: Mary Dinkle, a chubby, lonely eight-year-old living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia; and Max Horovitz, a severely obese, 44-year-old Jewish man with Asperger’s syndrome living in the chaos of New York City. The content is raw and honest. Both Mary and Max face significant loss and adversity in their lives, and ultimately reckon with self-acceptance.
32. The Call of the Wild (2020 PG)
Buck is a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life gets turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon in the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail-delivery dog sled team, Buck experiences the journey we all must face, as he ultimately learns to listen to his own voice and pursue his place in the world.
33. Dallas Buyers Club (2013 R)
In mid-1980s Texas, electrician Ron Woodroof is stunned to learn that he has AIDS. Told that he has just 30 days left to live, Woodroof refuses to give up. He seeks out alternative therapies, smuggling unapproved drugs into the U.S. from wherever he can find them. Joining forces with a fellow AIDS patient, he begins selling the treatments to the growing number of people who can’t wait for the medical establishment to save them.
The film is based on the real life of Ron Woodroof, a patient of HIV and AIDS, who was the subject of a lengthy 1992 article in The Dallas Morning News written by journalist and author Bill Minutaglio.