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10. Patch Adams (1998)

Director: Tom Shadyac.

The film is based on Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams’ book “Good Health is a Laughing Matter” starring Robin Williams as Patch Adams. The film’s powerful message about laughter being a great part of the healing process resonates mightily throughout the film, especially at the beginning of the film when Adams checks himself into a mental institution only to find that using humor is a great way to help the  patients there. He is inspired by this and enrolls at the Medical College of Virginia where he constantly clashes with the Dean (who questions his techniques to help patients discover humor, even though they aren’t out of line. There’s always someone opposing the hero in every story and there are always obstacles that the protagonist must overcome to reach his dream/goal).

He gets kicked out of the college only to use a butcher’s jacket to impersonate one of the doctors. Through trials and tribulations him and his friends end up fixing an old cottage and turn it into a clinic, where they help patients free of charge and even without them having medical insurance. The film is fueled by Robin Williams’ witty and charming performance as the title character and shows us that you have to fight for what you believe in and let no one stand in your way even if some think that your methods of treating people are a joke.

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9. The Family Man (2000)

Director: Brett Ratner.

We have always seen the father in films being portrayed as a workaholic man who never has time for kids or wife. In this particular film, Nicolas Cage plays Jack Campbell, a wealthy investment broker who has it all: money, a fast car, lives in a fancy penthouse apartment but doesn’t have the most important thing, a wife or family.

One night he goes out shopping for eggnog and encounters a robbery in progress, he decides to help out the robber by buying him the lottery ticket that he had supposedly won. The robber is indebted to him and offers to help him any way he can but Jack refuses. But the robber “helps” him anyway and gives him the life that Jack would have had if he had married his college sweetheart, Kate (Tea Leoni) and had two kids living in a New Jersey suburb instead of in downtown New York City.  The film borrows a page from Frank Capra’s timeless classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

At first Jack hates it because he doesn’t have all the things that he’s accustomed to and hates changing the baby’s diaper, he hates the pathetic retail job that he has in this second life but along the way he discovers the meaning of family bond and love. Once the robber or “guardian angel”, if you will, gives him his old life back, he is miserable and lonely. No matter how much we work in life to achieve our financial goals, we should always make time for family and our loved ones in our lives because if you blink, you might miss your kids’ and wife’s lives.

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8. Rocky (1976)

Director: John G. Avildsen.

How can you make a list of inspiring films and not include this film?  This Oscar winning film (which deep down is actually a love story between a boxer and a pet store owner) about Rocky Balboa “The Italian Stallion” played by up and coming (at the time) Sylvester Stallone. Stallone received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor as well is a small time boxer who has some talent and is trying to make it big. Since he sees no promise, he works as a debt collector for a local scumbag crime boss to try and make ends meet. He lives in a terribly small apartment and is hopelessly in love with Adrian (played by Talia Shire who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress) who is Paulie’s sister, Rocky’s best friend played by Burt Young (who also received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor).

Rocky visits Adrian at the pet store all the time trying to flirt with her, when one day word gets out that the Heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed is offering a shot to defend his title against an unknown boxer. Ultimately, the boxer that Apollo ends up picking gets injured and then picks Rocky, mostly due to his nickname. Rocky sees this as the ultimate opportunity of a lifetime to beat the heavyweight champion of the world and make a name for himself. The ensuing training scenes and montages are inspiration in itself as we see Rocky running along the streets of Philadelphia in his Converse All Star shoes and the famous Rocky theme song playing in the background. Rocky is trained by the hard nosed and tough as nails Mickey (played by Burgess Meredith), who at one point tells Rocky to not date women because “women distract you”.

There was even an inspiring tale behind the scenes because nobody wanted to buy the script that Stallone had written, he kept moving from distributor to distributor until he eventually found one. He had to sell his dog (Butkus in the film) to make some money, but when he sold his script, he eventually found the person who he sold him to to buy him back. A true underdog tale in which he gives it his all to reach the impossible even if he and other people had their doubts. It should be an inspiration to all: trying to accomplish your goals, no matter how small you feel or if you have huge mountains to climb, always remember that you always have a chance, at least one chance to prove everything to the world and to the people that doubt you.

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7. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Director: Cameron Crowe.

Jerry Maguire, played with such exuberance by Tom Cruise, also garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor is a film about never losing hope even if hope isn’t on your side. Jerry is a sports agent working for a top firm but one night he wakes up in the middle of the night, has an epiphany and writes a long mission statement questioning his purpose in life. The agency finds out about this and fires Jerry, his own beautiful fiancée leaves him as well. He is stripped from all the top athletes he once represented and is now stuck with only one not so promising athlete named Rod Tidwell (played gracefully, yet hilariously by Cuba Gooding Jr who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) a very good athlete but one who is cocky, annoying at times and a whiner. But Jerry sticks with him because he’s the only athlete he has to represent and knows that.

Jerry has only his one athlete with him and an assistant, Dorothy (played by Renee Zellweger) to help him along the way. Dorothy follows Jerry after he hilariously storms out of the agency asking the office staff “Who’s coming with me?” Having almost nothing, Jerry tries to open his own agency firm and even operates his “office” from Dorothy’s sister’s house, she has a son named Ray, who is a cute kid filled with energy and wears huge glasses that don’t even fit on his head but over time Jerry begins to love him and starts developing feelings for Dorothy. The film, directed by Cameron Crowe (who received an Oscar nomination for Best Director and Best Film) chronicles the struggles between an agent and his only athlete as they progress to have a normal, yet successful life. Crowe’s choice of music in all of his films alongside Jerry Maguire only heighten the realism and makes us root for Jerry nonstop. We see him fall in love with a woman who is loyal, funny and loving towards him, something he didn’t have with his stuck up fiancée. The things that Jerry has to go through in order to hold on to his only athlete is truly a sight to see and the personal bonds that form between Jerry and Rod are great. I won’t reveal if Jerry ends up getting what he wants but I will say that it makes for a great emotional trip.

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6. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Director: Gabriele Muccino.

The Pursuit of Happyness is an incredible film about a hard working father who will stop at nothing to have what’s best for him, but most importantly, what’s best for his son. Will Smith (who does a great job playing this character even got an Oscar nomination for Best Actor) plays Chris Gardner, a character inspired by a real store, who gets evicted, loses his wife, loses his bank accounts and credit cards all while having custody of his son, Chris Jr. (played by Smith’s real life son Jaden Smith). He sometimes has no choice but to sleep on the streets because he has no home to live in.

He decides to sell his Ostelo portable bone density scanners; devices he invested in using his family’s life savings, and the reason why his wife left him. These scanners are like X-Ray scanners but much more modern for the time (also why he has having trouble selling them because there was no market for those back in the early 80s). Chris’ main job consists of selling these devices and making sure Chris Jr gets dropped off and picked up from the daycare center. One day Chris decides to take a shot at being a stockbroker but must endure a tough, six month internship at an agency called Dean Witter, with no pay and consistent competition from twenty other competitive interns. There is a heartbreaking scene that takes place in a men’s public bathroom that has to be seen, and there are times when Chris wants to give up but he musters the courage to make it through at the end of the day.

This story makes you stand up and cheer once the film is over and you can’t help but root for Chris Gardner and everything he does for his son and for himself. There is a scene at the end that shows Chris walking down a street and you can see the emotion and happiness in his face. It’s truly a powerful moment.

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5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont.

This film was the first of two films written by Stephen King that took place in a prison. The Shawshank Redemption has stood the test of time and despite not making a lot of money when it debuted in theaters, it garnered a cult following among fans and it is the number one film on IMDB’s top 250 films list. The film tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne (played inspiringly by Tim Robbins) who is sent to prison after commiting a crime. After the judge ordered him to carry out two life sentences, he is sent to Shawshank prison in Maine where he meets a colorful cast of characters including the “leader”, if you will, named ‘Red’ (greatly played by Morgan Freeman, who was nominated for Best Actor for this film) who shows him the ropes at the prison after becoming friends.

Andy gets picked on mercilessly by some rowdy inmates that make his life a living hell. One day Andy and his group of friends, including Red are working on a prison rooftop and overhears some guards talking about taxes and money, Andy takes it upon himself to walk to them to give them money advice and actually gets on the guards’ good sides, eventually filing all of the guards’ taxes and even the warden’s taxes free of charge. The film is filled with lots of good deeds done by both Andy and Red, that eventually lead them to their redemptions. The film follows the same theme of never giving up and to fight for what’s right, even if you come face to face with adversity.

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4. The Theory of Everything (2014)

Director: James Marsh.

Eddie Redmayne does a masterful and brilliant job in portraying the real life Stephen Hawking. Redmayne practiced for months with a ballet dancer to contort his body, doing it so well that hhe slightly damaged his spine and this year won the Oscar for Best Actor. Stephen starts out as a young, bright cosmology student with teachers who noticed his brilliance early on when he was able to solve tests that no other students could. Along the way he meets his fellow Cambridge student Jane (played with such heart by Felicity Jones, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress) who he immediately falls in love with.

Just as everything seems to be going well, one day Stephen collapses as he’s walking to class. He wakes up in the doctor’s office only to be told that he has Lou Gehrig’s disease and has only two years left to live. Shattered by this, he tells Jane to move on with her life and to focuus on her studies, but loving Jane stays by his side. The two move forward, get married and have three children, with Jane having the duties of taking care of the wheel chair bound Stephen, the kids and somehow manage her studies as well. As Stephen’s academic success blossoms, sadly, their relationship doesn’t and pretty soon Jane tells Stephen that she needs help and they hire a male nanny named Jonathan (Charlie Cox). Stephen loses his speech forever and talks using a computer with a monotonous robotic voice, which became less robotic as the years went on and technology got better.

The film triumphs in inspiration and happiness in the sense that we have “the successor to Einstein” beating his predicted two year life span through perseverance to become the greatest physicist of our time. If that doesn’t inspire you to pursue your dreams after watching a handicapped genius achieve his goals, then nothing will.

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3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky.

We see many coming of age films, many come and go but the important ones that are made well and have a hint of realism are the ones that stick with you for a long time, maybe even forever. This film is one of them. Based on the book by Stephen Chbosky (who also directed the film) we follow the life of Charlie (played by the brilliant Logan Lerman) a shy, quiet fifteen year old outsider who has trouble making friends at his new high school, which is made all the more difficult from learning that his best friend commited suicide.

As the freshmen copes with the news, he meets seniors Patrick (vivaciously played by Ezra Miller), who is gay and his stepsister Sam (the beautiful and talented Emma Watson). They soon begin to like Charlie and proceed to invite him to their senior parties where they eat hash brownies and drink alchoholic beverages. It is at this party that Charlie tells them that his best friend commited suicide, thus making Sam officially welcoming him to their group. “Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys”, Sam tells Charlie. Charlie is ecstatic and is loving every second of it, but what he hasn’t told them is that he hides a secret that knocked me off my feet when the film reveals what it is. The film contains many, happy moments for Charlie and after thirty minutes into it, you really care for these characters that Chbosky created.

Another great character that’s with mentioning is Charlie’s English teacher played by Paul Rudd. He’s the person that’s with Charlie along for the tumultous ride that is high school and shares with him some words of wisdom to help Charlie understand the new relationships with his new senior friends. Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie is nothing short of incredible and there are a few awkward moments that are difficult to watch because of the attachment you feel for him as a character.

It's a wonderful life

2. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Director: Frank Capra.

You can’t help but love the topics that this movie touches on: Love, Happiness, Family and Acceptance. James Stewart (who received a Best Actor nomination) plays George Bailey with such grace, such determination and such energy that you can’t help but love the guy and root for every single thing that he does in this film. George is an all American guy who, at the start of the film, gets sent a guardian angel from God to watch over him and help him in the time of need. His dream is to go to college and to travel all over the world. The guardian angel watches over his whole life ever since he was a kid up until he’s in his late 20s. He’s such a nice guy that he always thinks about others and not about himself, but after his father dies he has no choice but to be the boss and run the bank that his Dad left him, thus not being able to go to college like he planned. It’s also something he had to do in order for the bank to not fall into the hands of Mr. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore), a rich, evil and all around bad person who cares about nothing but money.

George immediately starts helping a lot of people; even if it means helping them with his own money. He opens Bailey Park, an affordable housing project so families can afford to buy houses. He falls in love with Mary (played by the legendary Donna Reed), and they procalim their love for each other and even fix an abandoned house to their liking so they can live there. He’s so enamored by this pretty, young lady that he even promises her the moon. “What Do You Want Mary, You Want the Moon?”. One morning, when everyone’s getting ready for George’s brother Harry to arrrive from war, George’s uncle loses a check for $8000 making the bank go bankrupt and not being able to pay the customers back any of their money. George gets depressed, drunk and wants to commit suicide when all of a suddden his guardian angel, Clarence, falls in the lake so George can save him, which he does. While George is still down on his luck, he wishes to never have been born so  Clarence shows George a world without him being born and nobody recognises him, not his wife, not his kids; nobody. That’s when George learns the meaning of family, love and also that nice guys certainly do not finish last. A truly great masterpiece of a Christmas film that will surely put a smile on your face even on the gloomiest of days.

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1. The Rookie (2002)

Director: John Lee Hancock.

You can make a case that almost every single sport film is inspirational due to all the adversity that the heroes of the film or the one coach of an underdog team has to overcome. Of course all those films are inspirational, and some are based on real life just like Miracle (2004) based on the 1980 American hockey team that won the gold that year after beating the ‘unbeatable’ Russians. The Rookie is also inspired by a true story about a former MLB pitcher turned high school baseball coach Jimmy Morris, who briefly played in the majors before a shoulder injury shelved him. Fast forward twelve years later and you can now find him coaching the high school baseball team. The team knows that their coach was a major league pitcher so they make a deal with him one day; they tell Jimmy that if the team wins the state championship, he has to tryout for a major league team. Jimmy, not wanting to agree initially, hesitantly says yes.

The team plays their hearts out because they want to see their coach put on a major league uniform again, they go from worst to first and actually manage to win the state championship. Jimmy finds out that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are holding open tryouts so he attends, with his two infant children with him. Not wanting to tell his wife where he is going so she wouldn’t say that he’s just wasting his time he makes his oldest son look after the infant while he goes to the tryout. Amazingly, he throws 98 mph fastballs, and he gets signed to a minor league deal. He doesn’t like it at first and is skeptical about the whole thing because that means that his wife has to stay at home by herself to take care of the kids and pay the bills with only one source of income. But she tellls him “I’m a Texas woman, honey. You don’t have to worry about me”.

Jimmy goes from town to town to pitch, while having to fend off the younger players and hearing words like ‘ancient’ and ‘old timer’. But that doesn’t bring down Jimmy Morris. He’s a warrrior and ultimately ends up being friends with the guys. There are times in a man’s life where he thinks enough is enough. They get tired of seeing their family struggle, trying to make ends meet, seeing that there is no hope in sight a they get tired of the same daily and boring routine. That’s when they decide that it is time to seek and chase those dreams before it is too late. We only get one life so why not make the best of it?

This film, like It’s a Wonderful Life will keep you smiling even on cloudy days. Whenever we think about giving up, there is always that image or images of our families in our minds to keep our engines running so we can meet our destination.

What are some of your most inspirational films? Share in the comments below.

Image from The Pursuit of Happyness