7 Motivational Movies to Jump Start Your Spirit

As we move forward in our journey towards independence, it helps to have examples of courage and successes to keep us motivated. As I’ve made reference to in previous posts, the road to our goals can be lonely sometimes. Count on it.

For those times when my real-life cheerleaders are sparse, I rely on the celluloid choir that lives in the movies. I can cue up any one of these seven listed below and be instantly reminded that It’s Worth It. Challenges are meant to be overcome. People aren’t always going to understand me or my dreams. Some may actively seek to undermine them because they challenge the status quo.

If we are to live lives of autonomy, we must remember that victories are possible and that we can make a difference. The following, in no particular order, are what I refer to as my Magnificent Seven. I would love to hear about your personal favorites in the comments section.

Get out your popcorn and join me on the couch (Oh, BTW, here there be spoilers):

1. RUDY (1993) – Even though it could be construed as a recruitment vehicle for Notre Dame, I don’t care. Everything from the score to the “pull your head out of your tookus” reprimand from The Janitor inspires me to keep going when the mediocre in me wants to quit. Rudy’s teammates on the scrub squad ask him to downplay his passion for the team and the game, but ultimately, his work ethic and love for the sport win the respect of the first stringers who sacrifice a spot in the line up for his benefit. Their action reminds me that commitment to excellence pays; those who respect commitment and quality reward effort and that together, people with vision can achieve their goals. On the off chance that you have not yet seen this movie, I won’t give away the ending. No Googling. Watch it.

2. BREAKING AWAY (1979) I wish I could find a better clip than this cheezoid trailer, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. This is a quiet, but inspiring film that resonates with anyone who ever felt misunderstood. Dave is a midwestern teen who is a misfit in so many ways, it’s difficult to keep track. One of the most admirable things about him is his dedication to bicycling. His grueling training doesn’t matter to him, because he loves Italian bicycling racing more than the English language can convey, which is why he has immersed himself in the Italian culture. A story about the self-imposed shackles and mindsets of small town Americana/socio-economic groups juxtaposed against the boundary-less echelons of achievement within the construct of a college town, we get to see Dave experience joy, heartbreak, renewal and ultimately triumph.

3. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001, 2002, 2003) The ultimate Quest Movie, the LotR films embody the Emerson quote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic series comes down to a paradoxical parallel narrative: the battle of/over good and evil ranges within and without. We are our own microcosm and projection onto the worlds we inhabit. It is always within us to choose the highest course, and we have within us depths that we never fully plumb. The central nugget of the quote within the YouTube clip prior comes from Gandalf, who says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

4. THE MATRIX (1999) – There are so many moments and scenes in this movie that help me focus, but the overriding theme that keeps me from giving up? Alignment with who you are, accepting your gifts and responsibilities that grow from them. Also central to this movie is the importance of ACTION. Theory is fabulous. I love thinking and I love talking with a bunch of folks about making things happen. However, nothing happens without implementation, or the kinetic expression of your intentions. In order to change the world, you need to walk your path. Non-negotiable.

5. SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) – This movie succeeds at silencing my inner complainer. Andy DuFresne was railroaded into a jail sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Sometimes, life isn’t fair. However, the way you choose to respond is always within your power. The trailer clip highlights hope and the famous line ..’to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin…” and I see the power in that. But I am also encouraged by the way Andy escaped. Painstaking attention to detail; knowledge of the system that confined him (both figurative and literal – and his ability to leverage that knowledge). Whether through routing monies or carving his way through the rock walls, he knew how to make the most of what he had been handed.

6. ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) – As a single mother who has had to juggle her kids between her work and personal lives, this one is probably the most analogous to my own experience. There are of course, significant differences, but watching someone evolve and become the woman she was created to be is encouraging. Erin Brockovich possessed an innate intelligence and a tenacity that enabled her to keep going, despite poverty and setbacks (both personal and professional). When she began to channel those traits into a means to help others, her life began to flourish.

7. MIRACLE (2004) – “Again.” This word literally streaks through my head when I want to give up. Dig deeper. You are stronger than you think. This particular clip also underscores for me that teamwork and collaboration have an amazing power. Another is the fact that we are all in this together. All of us. There is only one way off this rock. Until then, we. Are. All. In. This. Together. This scene highlighted in the clip reminds me of a quote from President Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On!’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Now it’s your turn! Please let us know your personal movie list and how it helps you to keep moving forward.


Molly Cantrell-Kraig is a woman with drive. Possessing an innate sense of purpose and a pragmatic, solution-based approach to empowering people, she fused these two traits in order to establish Women With Drive Foundation. Based upon its founder’s personal history, Women With Drive Foundation is a means through which Cantrell-Kraig may effect change on both a micro and macro level. By providing women with something as essential as personal transportation in order to transition them from poverty to prosperity, she, through Women With Drive Foundation, seeks to empower women to help them help themselves. Through this action, the individual applicant benefits, as does society as a whole. Follow Molly on twitter as @mckra1g or @WWDr1ve (Women With Drive Foundation) or “Like” them on facebook.


  1. says

    Molly, I love your movie examples and share many of them. Like many things most of my movie hero examples reflect stories that have been retold for centuries. One story of courage that I continually return to is Christ’s life. I can find his story retold in the following:

    Gladiator, Braveheart, Gilbert Grape, Private Ryan, Adam, Good Will Hunting, Bagger Vance, Deja Vu, Cry Freedom, Last of the Mohicans, The Fighter…. and that is just the beginning. As you can tell my list is really long!

    A real life story that reflects the above heroes and was celebrated this week was Marine Dakota Meyer who received the Medal of Honor for saving dozens of lives in Afganistan.

    I think his story impacts me because first he defied those that told him it was impossible. Second, he not only did the act once but continued many times until his mission was complete. It gives me strength to defy resistance and vision to complete my own seemingly undoable tasks.

  2. says

    Great post & list. For me there is power & energy in so many from your list and also for me: Working Girl, Dead Poet’s Society & Stand & Deliver. All late 80’s when I was starting out.

  3. molly says

    I always learn something from the folks who stop by here. After Googling for the story of USMC Dakota Meyer, I found that he had established a foundation to help educate the children of wounded Marines with the $1,000 given to him during the ceremonies welcoming him home:


    I think what’s most inspiring is the thoroughness of heroism and dedication in general. There are no short cuts, and there is a genuine altruism that anchors the behavior of folks like Meyer and those cited in your movie examples. Thank you so much for your comments today. Best, M. :)

  4. says

    Molly, What a great point. Dedication to the outcome envisioned. When I heard Meyer’s interview on NPR you could tell in his voice that failure was not an option. Yesterday at SOBCon I tweeted (way before your blog post went up) my favorite words Christ said (and everyone of those movie characters either said or did in some way), “It is Done”. Thanks for opening my eyes to a major reason I go to them to draw strength.

  5. molly says

    Hi Teri, those are great additions! I think my favorite scene from Dead Poet’s Society is when Robin Williams brings his students to the trophy case to teach them the value of Carpe diem. Of course, as a Walt Whitman fan, I must also confess to a love for the “O’ Captain” scene as well.

    I’m so glad you stopped by today. Thanks so much. Best, M. :)

  6. says

    Even before I read your list, I thought of the movie CONTACT, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name. It’s a movie ultimately about faith — ostensibly in God and/or science, but also in oneself and in others. It inspires me every time I see it.

  7. molly says

    Christa, I love that movie. We live in such an immense universe and it actually makes my head hurt to comprehend the unknowable, boundless enormity of it.

    However, I also love that it does indeed convey the need to *connect*. This intrinsic quality gives me hope for our collective futures.

  8. says

    For me, the St. Crispian’s day speech in Henry V is the ultimate. (I also have a huge soft spot for Working Girl. Whenever I have a good idea, I think to myself “Trask. Radio. Trask. Radio.”)

    • molly says

      Once more into the breach! Yeah, that’s another good one, Rosemary! I have to watch Working Girl again. It has been a long time. Thanks for the comment! :)

  9. Colleen says

    This is an inspiring list, although I must admit I’ve only seen a couple of them. My list is very girl-centric: Working Girl (as someone mentioned above), Thelma & Louise (not the plot of the story per se, but I love the idea that you can break out of life’s routine, a mindset that many people get stuck in), Under the Tuscan Sun, Garden State and one of my all time favorites Reality Bites. People complain and talk about changing their lives all the time, and it’s the fear of change and the unknown that keeps many in the same situation. It’s never too late to change your life, and always important to believe in yourself and abilities.

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