All of us are spending a lot more time alone with ourselves lately, and a natural result of so much solitude is introspection — thinking about the things you like and don’t like about your life, what you want to do when things get back to normal, and maybe even planning out some changes you’re now inspired to make after all your reflection.
You might also be thinking of ways you can help out with the current situation, be it shopping for an elderly neighbor, checking in with someone you know who’s alone, donating blood, making a financial contribution to a charity, sewing masks or doing something else in your hometown that is needed. If you’re looking to pump yourself up to be the best person you can be during these scary times, I’ve got 16 movies that can help. They’re a mix of fictional and true stories, but all are guaranteed to make you ask “What more can I do… right now?” by the time the end credits roll.
Just Mercy – New to the Box and On Demand, this true story stars Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson — a recent Harvard Law grad who decides to represent a death row inmate (Jamie Foxx) who he believes has been wrongly accused of murder. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, rooting for justice to prevail!
Gandhi – There are few people whose stories are going to be more inspirational than Mahatma Gandhi’s! This 1982 11-time Oscar nominee (with 8 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor) from director Richard Attenborough stars Ben Kingsley in the title role, and is widely considered one of the most significant films ever made. It follows Gandhi’s life as he rose to become the non-violent leader of India’s independence movement against the UK.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – While we’re on the topic of amazing lives, this biopic about Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) — the anti-apartheid activist and eventual president of South Africa — is a must-see.
Invictus – Another excellent movie centered around Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman, who earned an Oscar nod for his performance), this one tells the story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and how the newly elected President Mandela worked with the South African rugby team’s captain (Matt Damon, who also heard an Oscar nomination) to unite the nation post-apartheid.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – The only documentary on this list, WYBMN is another must-watch in my book, as it covers the life of one of America’s greatest treasures: Mr. Rogers. I’m seeing Rogers’ “Look for the helpers” quote all the time lately, so I urge you to watch this one and learn more about the man behind the gentle voice and TV show that influenced millions of childhoods.
Freedom Writers – In this 2007 drama, Hilary Swank plays real-life teacher Erin Gruwell, who inspired her at-risk students in a racially divided Los Angeles high school by having them put down their thoughts in journals, which doubled as diaries for the troubled teenagers who had experienced horrific events.
Selma – This 2014 Best Picture nominee focuses on racial tensions in the United States in the 1960s, culminating in Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and other prominent African-American activists leading voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Erin Brockovich – Julia Roberts took home her sole Academy Award win to date for portraying the Brockovich, who stumbled upon a contaminated-water cover-up by her local energy company.
Coach Carter – This 2005 sports drama is based on Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), who made national headlines in 1999 for suspending his entire (undefeated) high school basketball team because they weren’t doing well in the classroom, and he wanted them to live up to their full off-the-court potential.
Schindler’s List – So this 7-time Oscar-winning drama (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay were among the trophies) from Steven Spielberg is not light viewing — in fact, it’s downright harrowing. But the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved more than 1,000 Jewish refugees from certain death during the Holocaust, highlights the very best of humanity, and is considered one of the best movies ever made.
The Pursuit of Happyness – Will Smith stars alongside his real-life son Jaden to portray Chris Gardner, a once-homeless man who went on to form his own brokerage firm. This true story earned Smith one of his two Oscar nominations to date (the other was for 2001’s Ali).
Patch Adams – At this point on the list we’ll start the transition from true stories to part-real/part-fiction. Nothing everything in this dramedy about a doctor who uses humor to help his patients really happened, but Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams (Robin Williams) is a real person who continues to promote his uplifting approach to this day.
Won’t Back Down – Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis star in this powerful 2012 drama as two mothers who fight to turn around their kids’ failing school in Philadelphia. It’s loosely based on similar real-life events that happened in California.
Seven Pounds – Will Smith makes the list again, but this time for a fictional tale about a man who goes to extraordinary lengths to impact the lives of seven strangers. A lot of critics despised this movie for its admittedly out-there plot and twist ending, but I wasn’t one of them!
To Kill a Mockingbird – This beloved 1962 drama based on the equally beloved Harper Lee novel of the same name features Gregory Peck (who earned a Best Actor Oscar for his performance) as lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends a black man accused of rape in a deeply racist Alabama town in the 1930s.
Good Will Hunting – And finally we come to the story of janitor Will Hunting (Matt Damon), whose therapist happens to be a renowned professor (Robin Williams) who realizes Will is a mathematical genius while also helping him deal with a difficult past. How about them apples?
We hope after you watch some of the movies on this list you are ready to step up to the plate to help your family, neighbors or those on the front-lines as best you can as the world continues to battle COVID-19. All while staying safe, of course!