15 Inspirational Movies to Watch on Netflix

15 Inspirational Movies to Watch on Netflix

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We all fall into the habit of going on Netflix binges that leave us unproductive; in a way, that’s what the algorithm is designed for—to keep us clicking and scrolling. But here we’ve assembled a list of little-known but high-quality films that should hopefully get you off the streaming service (even just for a while) and back to your day with renewed energy. These inspiring films aren’t just simple crowd-pleasers meant to make you feel good. These stories and documentaries instead present us with seemingly insurmountable odds and remind us that others before us have made it through.

15. 42 (2013)

6.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Brian Helgeland

Actors

Aaron Farb, Alan Tudyk, André Holland, Andre Holland

Moods

Inspiring, Uplifting

Chadwick Boseman who you might now know as the Black Panther had his break out role in 42, the true story of the first Black major league player Jackie Robinson. A story of expected struggle but also a humbling and humane account that is full of warmth. Jackie Robinson’s coach is played by Dustin Hoffman, adding to the caliber of amazing performances in this movie, all put together by Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). From the baseball sequences to the personal life of Jackie Robinson, and of course his confrontation with racism, this is a powerful and uplifting movie.

14. Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story (2018)

7.0

Country

Taiwan, United States of America

Director

Frank W Chen, Tommy Yu

Actors

Billy Connors, Brian Cashman, Chien-Ming Wang, Frank W Chen

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, Instructive

Though it doesn’t delve too deeply into any pressing issues in baseball or into its protagonist’s Taiwanese roots, Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story still makes for interesting viewing, mostly for its extremely specific discussions on baseball. Part sports documentary and part study on physical therapy, the film rejects any narratives about innate talent and greatness and aims to depict most great players as they really are: athletes who have had to train hard and maintain their progress through sheer force of will. And at the center is Chien-Ming Wang himself, a gentle and humble giant who makes for an unlikely but refreshing sports celebrity.

13. Wadjda (2012)

7.0

Country

Germany, Jordan, Netherlands

Director

Female director, Haifaa al-Mansour

Actors

Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd, Alanoud Sajini, Dana Abdullilah

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, Lovely

Wadjda is a smart, spirited 10-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to own her own bike, something that is frowned upon in the Saudi Arabian suburb where she lives. While it’s not technically illegal for women to own bikes, it is thought of as something that is “dangerous to a girl’s virtue,” and it’s worth noting that this is a society where women are also not allowed to drive their own cars. Wadjda devises numerous schemes to earn enough money to buy a bike (selling bracelets, making mixes of Western pop songs, delivering clandestine messages between men and women), before getting caught by the headmistress at her school. It is then that Wadjda hits on the ultimate money-making scheme: there is to be a Koran-reciting contest at her school with a hefty cash prize, and she’s determined to win. There is a subplot involving a growing rift between Wadjda’s parents; while there is clearly a lot of love between both parties, it becomes increasingly clear that her father may be leaving her mother for another woman who could potentially bear him a son (a common practice). This subplot is handled with respect and little judgement though, as it is simply the way things work in this culture. Yet, as Wadjda is coming-of-age and learning about the limitations placed on her as a girl, she is obviously negotiating ingenious ways of pushing back against those limitations. The film is subtle and humane in how it handles the slowly changing cultural and gender dynamics in a traditionally conservative, patriarchal society. It wouldn’t work without a strong central performance from first-time actor Waad Mohammed though — she is never less than believable as a clever, determined and joyful 10-year-old, and her journey towards adulthood is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

12. Hustle (2022)

7.2

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Jeremiah Zagar

Actors

Adam Sandler, Ainhoa Pillet, Allen Iverson, Andrea Sooch

Moods

A-list actors, Character-driven, Dramatic

Adam Sandler rarely plays a role straight, but when he does, you know it’s good. In Hustle, Sandler is Stanley Sugarman, a basketball scout stuck in the long game, waiting for his chance to finally coach an NBA team. On a recruitment trip to Spain, Stan discovers a talented but unknown player named Bo Cruz. They fly to the US, where Stan and Bo fight against all odds and hustle for a spot in the NBA draft. 

Inspiring without being too cheesy and informative without being bogged down by too many details, Hustle is a slam dunk of a film; a gritty crowd-pleaser that’s sure to draw anyone in.

11. Last Breath (2019)

7.2

Country

Belgium, Sweden, UK

Director

Alex Parkinson, Richard da Costa

Actors

Alex Parkinson, Chris Lemons, Duncan Allcock, Kjetil Ove Alvestad

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday

An 80-minute documentary about a diver who gets stranded in the deep sea with 5 minutes of oxygen left, while the nearest rescue team was 30 minutes away. This type of diving in the depths of the sea, as someone explains, is like “going into space but underwater”.

The documentary uses genuine footage from the dive as well as interviews of people who were present. Still, some parts of this incredible story can’t be explained. And if like me you’re not familiar with diving, everything will have more appeal. The vessel they use is quite impressive, the duration of its dive is obscene (28 days!), and lastly: the divers inhale helium (and speak with a funny voice) the whole time they are down there.

10. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

7.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson

Actors

Ariana Molkara, Benjamin Valic, Burn Gorman, Cate Blanchett

Moods

Character-driven, Easy, Emotional

I think it’s safe to say you’ve never seen a Pinocchio adaptation quite like Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. It still largely stays true to the source material, which is to stay it’s still about a father grappling with the loss of his son and a boy figuring out where he figures in the world. But the movie departs from it in significant ways too. Instead of a fairy tale setting, for instance, this Pinocchio has 1930s fascist Italy as its background, lending the film a realism and historicism that weren’t there before.

Stars Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, and newcomer Gregory Mann lend their voice in this tender and stellar stop-motion animated movie.

9. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

7.9

Country

Malawi, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Actors

Aissa Maiga, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday, Touching

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

8. How to Change the World (2015)

best

8.0

Country

Canada, Netherlands, UK

Director

Jerry Rothwell

Actors

Bill Darnell, Bobbi Hunter, David Garrick, Emily Hunter

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive

How to Change the World is an insightful and candid documentary about the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 by a small group of environmentalists and activists in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beginning with their attempt to disrupt U.S. nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska, the film follows their subsequent efforts to thwart commercial whaling in the Pacific, their anti-sealing campaign in Newfoundland, and their ongoing efforts to defend the natural world against what they perceive as excessive human intervention and abuse. How to Change the World is as much a poignant tale of inspired activism as it is an interesting study of the organization’s early tribulations: idealism vs. anarchy, social movement vs. organizational structure (or lack thereof) and leadership vs. disunity. The voice of co-founder Robert Hunter (de facto leader of Greenpeace from inception) is heard posthumously throughout via narrator Barry Pepper, and it adds an impassioned air of gravitas to the film, detailing the many complexities Greenpeace experienced over the course of its early years of growth and development. A compelling and educational viewing experience.

7. The Siege of Jadotville (2016)

best

8.0

Country

Ireland, South Africa

Director

Richie Smyth

Actors

Ashish Gangapersad, Charlie Kelly, Conor MacNeill, Conor Quinlan

Moods

Action-packed, Inspiring, Raw

The Siege of Jadotville is a different kind of war movie. It doesn’t recount famous battles or portray renowned heroes – instead, it’s about heroes and events that went completely unnoticed. Namely, the Irish 35 Battalion ‘A’ Company – a group of youngsters who are sent out on a U.N mission to the Congo. What was supposed to be a simple positioning quickly becomes one of the most sought-after locations and the battalion of 150 ‘war-virgins” find themselves up against 3000 mercenaries led by experienced French commandants. And what a tribute this film is: it’s well-paced, powerfully shot, and the acting, led by Jamie Dornan on one side and Guillaume Canet on the other, is absolutely perfect.

6. Gather (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States

Director

Sanjay Rawal

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Mind-blowing

This insightful and uplifting documentary is about a growing movement within indigenous communities: obtaining food sovereignty by going back to pre-genocide ways of cultivating food.

The violent changes that have affected indigenous communities don’t impact just the people, but also the animals, the fish, and the land. All of these are now bearing the brunt of climate change.

Historically, North American governments forbid Native people from fishing and cultivating their foods as a way to repress them and create dependency. Gather is as much a recognition of the damage that was done as it is a forward-looking vision about how these communities are taking control of their faiths.

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