Rudy is the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, a Midwestern kid whose only dream in life is to play football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Unfortunately, little Rudy doesn't have the grades to get in, the money to pay tuition or the athleticism to make the team. But none of that's enough to make Rudy quit. That's why every time you give up on your dreams or say "I can't," it's like you're spitting in Rudy's face.
In Awakenings, an experimental drug treatment awakens a group of patients who were thought to be permanently catatonic. Reemerging into consciousness gives the patients a new appreciation for living their lives. That appreciation only intensifies when the drug's effects begin to wear off, and the patients realize they're doomed to return to catatonia. Once you see this flick, you won't want to waste a single day of your life.
The potential for greatness is terrifying because of the expectations it creates. In Good Will Hunting, the eponymous character squanders his intellectual genius, preferring the familiarity of his blue-collar job and townie friends. But Will's brilliance is irrepressible, and soon enough, he comes under intense pressure to make something of himself. Pulled in several different directions, Will learns that, ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what the future holds.
The title characters in Thelma and Louise are two women who start out on a simple vacation but wind up driving across America on the lam, along the way fending off the oppression of a world that hates women. The friends are forced to reckon with a controlling husband, a would-be rapist, an opportunistic thief and the long arm of the law. In the end, they take the only door left open to them that allows them to maintain their independence. Thelma and Louise has inspired countless women to live life for themselves, or at least to take an awesome road trip.
In Point Break, surfer Bodhi and his gang of bank robbers insist that they steal not for profit but to rebel against "the system," which robs people of their human spirit. Bodhi may be more greedy than he lets on, but his approach to life is no less exhilarating. "If you want the ultimate, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price," Bodhi says. "It's not tragic to die doing what you love." And we're already booking our first sky-diving lesson.
When Peter Gibbons asks himself what he'd do with his life if circumstances allowed him to do whatever he pleased, the best he can come up with is "nothing." But when those circumstances come to pass, he of course doesn't do nothing. He goes out with a beautiful woman (and watches their mutual favorite TV show with her), goes fishing with his buddy and tells his smug bosses (all eight of them) where to stick it. Peter's ideal life is mundane, sure, but it's not nothing. It's his, it's full and it's uncompromising.
Weatherman Phil Connors is such an unrepentant A-hole that the universe finally dooms him to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right. At first the selfish Connors tries to escape what appears to be eternal damnation, but eventually he learns his lesson: If he has to live the same day again and again, he may as well perfect it, and that means being the best person he can be, and treating other people with love. Revisiting Groundhog Day from time to time is good for reminding us all to do the same.
The Straight Story is based on the true story of Alvin Straight who, upon learning that his estranged brother suffered a stroke, drove 240 miles on a riding mower to see him. In the film, Straight imparts a life's worth of wisdom to the various strangers he encounters. His simple but worthy lessons remind us that life is short, nothing is more important than family, and holding onto grudges is a waste of precious time. He also shows us that asking for forgiveness is even more difficult than giving it, but we must learn to do both.
This animated version of the old Chinese Fa Mulan legend Disney-fies the tale significantly, but maintains the core story about a young woman who disguises herself as a man so she can take her aging father's place in the army. The lesson is twofold. First, that just because something is held by tradition, it doesn't make the tradition right. Second: "A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One man may be the difference between victory and defeat." One man or one woman, that is.
When Andy Dufresne is imprisoned for a double murder he didn't commit, his fellow inmates expect prison life to break the mild-mannered banker's spirit in short order. But Andy proves far more resilient than anyone guesses, waiting patiently for decades to reclaim the freedom he deserves, never letting go of hope. There are many reasons why The Shawshank Redemption is the best-rated movie of all time, not the least of which is Andy's inspiring reminder to "get busy living or get busy dying."
Mr. Holland's Opus is the story of Glenn Holland, a composer who takes a job teaching high-school music because he thinks it will give him the "free time" to complete a symphony. He spends the next 30 years trying to write his symphony while teaching, fighting for the school's arts program, and inspiring kids' lives. There's a scene in which one of Mr. Holland's frustrated students wants to quit. He tells her that he's neglected to let her see what makes music fun. "It's about heart. It's about feelings and moving people and something beautiful and being alive," he says. "I can teach you notes on a page; I can't teach you that other stuff." Yes you can, Mr. Holland.
Intellect is overrated. Deep thought can lead to overthinking, and it's why so many brilliant people are crippled by inaction due to self-doubt. Forrest Gump doesn't have that problem. Unencumbered by any tendency to think too much, simple-minded Forrest lives a full and rich life because it never occurs to him to question why he should do things or what the consequences might be. It's not that he's careless, just totally free of cynicism. That's why Forrest Gump inspires us to open our hearts and trust that life is for us.
Who'd have guessed that a movie about working class, amateur male strippers could be so heartwarming and inspirational? Audiences and critics alike were surprised by the The Full Monty when it was released in 1997, but the little film won legions of fans for inspiring them on many levels, like dealing in positive ways with unemployment and dire financial situations, overcoming depression, accepting homosexuality, maintaining a positive body image and devoting oneself to family.
A year before The Matrix, The Truman Show, the story of a man who learns his entire life is a meticulously produced TV program, asked us to question the idea that ignorance is bliss, and whether a comfortable simulation of reality is truly better than the real thing (frightening and unknowable though the real thing may be). So how real is your world? You may not be involved in unscripted television, but are you living a Baudrillardian existence of simulacra and simulation? The Truman Show will have you straining against the bonds of a comfortable, easy and unexamined life.
Inspiration and motivation are largely about finding the will and courage it takes to defy limitations — self-imposed or otherwise — and exceed expectations. Babe is the simple story of Babe, who wants to be the best sheepdog on Farmer Hoggett's farm. This, despite that Hoggett already owns two loyal sheepdogs, and despite that Babe himself is not a dog at all, but a pig. But Hoggett, like any caring "parent," refuses to stifle Babe's dream, not matter how unlikely it is. When the people who love us give us their support, we can accomplish the inconceivable.