Top 5 Inspirational Films

Olan Ahern takes a look at his favourite inspirational films from a tale of college football in Rudy to Frank Darabont’s depiction of prison life in The Shawshank Redemption.

When making my decisions of what films to include in this list, I based my decision on the following factors – themes and relationships that created an inspirational movement and the gravity of what was achieved instead of a character’s likability. My decisions are based on those factors as it’s easy to let personal precedence get in the way when it comes to inspirational movies; for example Braveheart or Gladiator are based on the same premise – a heroic character rising up against evil. Choosing one over the other would be a decision based on personal opinion and I didn’t want this to distort my judgement. Hence, I used the factors above to create my list.

Admittedly, I left some classics out of this list, but feel free to comment on who you would have included. Remember don’t let your ego get in the way of your judgement, just because it’s a great movie in your eyes doesn’t mean it’s a great inspirational movie.

5. Rudy (David Anspaugh, 1993)


Rudy tells the story of the underdog. Dan Ruetteger (Sean Astin) lives in a small town in the heart of American suburbia where everybody seems to be resigned to the same faith, becoming a cog in the local steel mill factory. However, Rudy has different plans as his dream is to play for the mighty fighting Irish.

The classic line delivered by the man who becomes Rudy’s biggest fan in the movie, hardnosed groundskeeper Fortune (Charles Dutton) – “Your five feet nothing, ya 100 nothing and you hung in with the best college football team in the land for 2 years and you’re going to walk away out of here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. You don’t have to prove nothing to nobody.”

This line tells you all you need to know about Rudy, and how against all odds Rudy doesn’t let his naysayers get the better of him. This is your classic inspirational story. While a tad cheesy it needed to be on the list.

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4. A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001)


The story of mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. is portrayed in this biographical masterpiece by director Ron Howard. Based on the book by Sylvia Naseer with the same name, Russell Crowe stars as the mercurial Nash. He takes us on a journey of self-discovery from the real to the surreal and back again.

At the start of the film we see Nash as a determined, somewhat care free and complex individual with the world at his feet. He marries his beautiful student Alicia (Jennifer Connolly) and breaks down a number of boundaries in advanced mathematics, specifically in game theory. However, a life that seems perfect is soon turned upside down when visited by the mysterious William Parcher (Ed Harris), who recruits him for code breaking activities with the CIA.

His life soon becomes clouded as he struggles to keep a foothold on reality. Alicia suspects something is not quite right. Soon after Nash is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Years of battling mental illness ensue, but Nash draws inspiration from his wife Alicia and there perseverance together prevents his illness getting the better of him. Nash is ultimately able to gain some control over his mental state, and eventually goes on to triumphantly win the Nobel Prize.

3. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)


Stephen Spielberg’s epic depicts the tale of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and his transformation from money hungry playboy to evangelist figure during the peak of Antisemitism during World War Two. We see at the beginning of the film Schindler exploits everything and everyone for personal gain. He takes advantage of the unfortunate state of humanity to get his culinary factory up and running. He wines and dines the Nazis by hosting lavish parties and glorifying their superiority complex, whilst using the Jewish desperation against them to work at his factory.

However, a transformation takes place when he goes to see the horrid liquidation of the ghettos in Krakow. This begins the transition of war puppeteer to Jewish saviour, with the help of Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) he goes out of his way to save the Jews. In total he manages to save 1,200 Jews from the holocaust while also fighting back, by producing false ammunition to the Nazi army. It’s important to mention Goeth played by Ralph Fienes, a Nazi general. He plays an important role, he is the direct contrast to Schindler with his melancholy approach to brutalising every Jew in sight. This performance for me goes down as one of the best in modern cinema, but more importantly showcases what Schindler has to tolerate and compete against.

However, there’s always a question overhanging Schindler’s character; is he truly an inspirational figure? While he helps the Jews he’s benefits greatly financially, and manages to live a lavish/playboy life style. However, this is put to rest in the final scene, when he breaks down because he feels he could have done more even though it’s clear he has done more than enough. This is evident when Schindler sells his possessions to save as many Jews as possible. This is when the movie truly becomes inspirational as Schindler is recognised as a heroic figure. This is evident when those he has helped give him a letter and a watch as a mark of their appreciation for all he’s done.

Discover more about Steven Spielberg on Top 10 Films: Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films | Top 10 Films produced by Steven Spielberg | “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”: Introducing Steven Spielberg | Top 10 Steven Spielberg Characters | Top 10 Steven Spielberg Moments | Opinion: Jaws – The Unseen Monster

2. Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004)


Hotel Rwanda tackles one of the most tragic events in recent history. The Hutu extremists of Rwanda initiate the horrid act of genocide over the Tutsi’s resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths in Rwanda in 1994. The sad thing is the rest of the world just seemed to stand back. Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadie), the manager of an upper class hotel Les Milles Collines, acts as an inn keeper to the Tutsi’s. Paul’s role escalates as the film progresses from a simple man looking out for his loved ones to a beacon of light for the entire Tutsi community, saving 1,200 people during the chaos. Paul risks his life over and over again for his “new” guests and truly is a modern day hero who stands against tyranny and oppression.

The story is directed and co-written by Terry George who portrays an inspirational masterpiece full of injustice and heartache. Don Cheadie gives a spectacular performance and has inspired the outside world to react and not simply stand by.

1. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1995)

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Director, Frank Darabont has done a phenomenal job of bringing this Stephen King novel to life. This heart wrenching tale of wrongly convicted Andy Dufrey’s (Tim Robbins) escape to freedom is widely considered the most inspirational movie of all time. There are two reason for this; justice and friendship. We see Andy fight against every element on his journey to freedom. Fighting for what’s right against all odds in a prison system that’s unjust. What adds to this is his transformation throughout the movie from loner to inspirational leader. He challenges the confinements and restraints of prison at every turn, looking to bring hope to the rest of the inmates. In turn he earns the respect of both the guards and inmates on a level the warden can’t even match.

In many ways the friendship between Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy is probably the most iconic and inspirational friendship in cinematic history. Red acts as the voice of reason to Andy’s’ presumed delusions of grandeur. However, as each scene passes Andy’s bravery and courage shine through to Red’s astonishment. Red’s lack of ambition almost drives Andy to find paradise, as to prove to his best friend anything is possible. The iconic final scene encapsulates their friendship. As Red comes to visit Andy after his release form prison, ending in them grasping each other with disbelief on a beach in the South Pacific in the final scene.

What are your favourite inspirational movies?

Written and compiled by Olan Ahern. Olan Ahern is a film critic working on behalf of Pearson PTE Academic, specialists in English Language exams.

More Top 10s you might like: Top 25 Films to Make You Happy | “Make Me Happy” Films – 80′s Edition | Top 10 Pick Me Up Films | Top 10 inspirational sports films | Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films | Top 10 Stephen King Adaptations

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    These are some good choices. To each his own of course, but to me, there is no film more inspirational than Rocky. I’m Canadian so don’t say it is just an American thing. But to look at a down on his luck guy who gets the shot of a life time and makes good on it, it doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    I can’t believe that I’ve only seen #5 and #1 on this list. I agree that they both belong here and that Shawshank Redemption’s spot at #1 is well-deserved. Throughout the film you watch Andy and Red battle some horrible injustices, but when they meet up at the end you can’t help feeling inspired by their courage and friendship. Normally I can think of at least one or two movies that should be included on these lists, although this time I’m at a loss for any other additions in this category. Well done.

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    Pete Reply

    Very interesting choices. I haven’t seen Rudy. I find the inclusion of Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda understandable but they wouldn’t spring to mind when thinking inspirational because they are just so grim. Shawshank is a great choice at number one.

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    Mark Reply

    Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev …. act VI with the boy and the bell – results in a complete reaffirmation of human faith for the protagonist. Easily one of the most inspirational moments in cinema …

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    ruth Reply

    These are all great. I’d definitely add Amazing Grace on here. It’s just so uplifting and full of great, talented actors to enliven the beautiful story.

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    Alex Withrow Reply

    Rudy, man, Rudy. That air punch Charles S. Dutton does at the end? Wow.

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