10 Best Films to Watch for Creative Inspiration
People in every profession can find themselves drained of motivation and needing something to recharge our batteries. Outfitted with thrilling soundtracks, stunning cinematography, and exceptional acting, movies can inspire us like no other art form.
Fortunately, thanks to the proliferation of digital media and streaming services, films in every genre are only a click away.
And for real-life inspiration, there’s no better genre than the biopic. Based on the true stories of ordinary people who became extraordinary by conquering overwhelming odds, persevering through failure, pain, financial hardship, existential danger, or even boredom – that modern-day soul killer – these films have the power to lift us out of any slump.
No matter what your creative outlet, these ten films are guaranteed to fire up your neurons as well as your heart.
Table of Contents
1. Wild (2014)
“Problems don’t stay problems; they turn into something else.”
Are you feeling stuck? Maybe all you need is to take a long walk in the fresh air — a long step.
Wild tells the story of writer Cheryl Strayed, who left a life of drug use, failed relationships, and sorrow over her mother’s death to complete a solo 1,100-mile hike across the US via the Pacific Crest Trail. Played emotionally by Reese Witherspoon, Cheryl – not an experienced hiker – faces down crushing loneliness, the fear of being a woman alone in the wilderness, and the physical challenges of hiking for 94 days to make peace with herself and her mistakes.
One of the highlights of the film are the breathtaking vistas of the desert, deciduous rainforest, and the rocky Pacific coast that accompany Cheryl on her journey, a more constant companion than any of the characters she meets.
Later, Cheryl went on to write a book about her hike, as well as several novels and an advice column.
If you have writing aspirations, love camping and hiking, are tired of the same old routine or are trying to get over heartache, Wild has your backpack.
2. Frida (2002)
“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”
Frida tells the story of Frida Kahlo, beginning with the bus accident that shattered her legs, back, and pelvis, leaving her in what would become lifelong, excruciating pain. During her recovery, she discovered painting – more specifically, the magical and vibrant self-portraits in which she put her both unique mind and broken body on display.
The movie’s magic lies in the ingenious way it brings Frida’s paintings to life: in one scene, Hayek’s skin and clothing are painted so that the audience doesn’t realise they aren’t looking at a painting until she moves. In another, the camera focuses on one of Frida’s actual paintings before fading into a shot of the actors, standing in the same pose.
The twist is Frida herself, played magnificently by Salma Hayek. A Mexican woman and artist, who loved both men and women, and occasionally cut her hair and dressed as a man, she held nothing back, painting her unique life as she saw it.
If you are an artist who has yet to find your audience, enjoy confounding gender roles, or trying to find a way to thrive in the face of a debilitating condition, Frida is your cheering section.
3. Ray (2004)
“I hear as you see.
Like that hummingbird outside the window, for instance.”
Does it seem like life circumstances are hampering your efforts? Imagine being a blind African American in the 1950s.
Ray is a biopic about the musical legend Ray Charles. He went blind as a little boy, but he also possessed a memory for music and perfect pitch, which helped him to go from performing solely in African American nightclubs to being wildly popular worldwide when he created soul – a fusion of jazz, gospel, rhythm & blues.
Ray is inspirational not just for the story of Ray Charles, but also the man who played him. Jaime Foxx not only played the piano for the movie but also glued his eyes shut during filming to understand his character better.
The movie itself was a long shot – no production company would touch it, so it was filmed independently. It went on to win two Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Jaime Foxx. Ray Charles himself found immense success and lived to see his music revered all over the world.
If you have dreams of overcoming a disability if you’re a struggling artist or musician or need a reason to stay optimistic, grab a table in the back and spend an evening with Ray.
4. Julie & Julia (2009)
“If no one’s in the kitchen, who’s to see?”
Julie & Julia showcases two lives in parallel: temp worker / aspiring writer Julie Powell and the woman who became cooking powerhouse Julia Child.
Brought to life by the incomparable Meryl Streep, it is Child’s journey – from bored diplomat’s wife, learning to cook at the Cordon Bleu, and finally, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a cookbook cherished by millions all over the world – that reminds us that life is long, the road unpredictable, and just when you think you’re out of inspiration, something as simple as making a hearty meal can change everything.
Julie Powell, who blogged her way through Child’s cookbook, wrote a book about the experience, which then became this movie.
If you’re a not-so-young-anymore writer, the 9-to-5 is draining your creative energy, or you’re just another servantless American cook looking for a good recipe, Julie & Julia will satisfy all your cravings.
5. Amadeus (1984)
“I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion.”
Do you worry that your creative endeavours will never be reasonable enough? This movie is a masterpiece for you.
Amadeus tells the story of Wolfgang Mozart through the eyes of his rival Antonio Salieri. Salieri resents the genius young composer and musician for overshadowing his meagre talents. (Side note: this rivalry is a bit of truth-stretching on the part of the film. Historians believe the two men had great respect for one another.)
The dialogue is hilarious, the acting superb (including a standout performance by Jeffrey Jones as the Emperor of Austria). And the soundtrack, which showcases Mozart’s extraordinary range, from lighthearted vaudevilles to the dark timbres of his Requiem in D Minor, perfectly complements a film that is both a joyful romp, as well as an unsettlingly realistic depiction of the emotional depths to which our artistic pursuits can drive us.
There is something for everyone to love here, whether you’re an actor, wigmaker, musician, or enjoy a good period piece. But if you find yourself too intimidated by others’ success to have faith in yourself, Amadeus will give you a reason to sing again.
6. Hidden Figures (2016)
“Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line.”
Are you dealing with a bad situation that is preventing you from achieving your goals? Take a couple of hours out of your day to spend with Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan.
Hidden Figures tells the story of three African American women working at NASA in 1961, amid the indignities and prejudice of the pre-Civil Rights era. Brilliant mathematicians, they are nevertheless segregated from their white colleagues, even down to the bathrooms (a half-mile from their work stations) and coffee machines.
The women work harder than everyone else – teaching themselves computer programming, petitioning the court to take engineering classes at a white high school – to assist NASA as it prepares to send astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Their contributions helped to keep Glenn safe and bring him safely back to Earth.
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong or that your contributions don’t matter, Hidden Figures will remind you to keep reaching for the stars.
7. Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
“Get off my mountain.”
Uninspired by human endeavours? Animals in their natural habitats have always inspired artists, musicians, and philanthropists, who in turn stimulate the rest of us to take better care of our world…
Animal lovers, journalists, and photographers alike will thrill to this intimate look at Dian Fossey’s lifelong labor of love for the mountain gorillas in Africa. I have to warn you: unless you’re a rock, this movie will make you cry. But then again, who hasn’t experienced the soul-resetting calm that comes after letting it all out?
Set in the 1970s, deep in the jungles of Rwanda and filmed with live gorillas, it’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of this film. But the real beauty lies in Fossey’s commitment and ultimate sacrifice for the lives of “her” gorillas, whose numbers were dwindling due to a typical mistaken belief that they were savage creatures. Sigourney Weaver’s passionate portrayal of Fossey is utterly convincing, thanks to her real interactions with the Rwandan gorillas.
Ultimately, Fossey’s groundbreaking work kept the mountain gorillas from becoming extinct. And to this day, Weaver is still very involved in the fight to protect the gorillas.
If you love method acting, care about endangered species, hope to contribute to National Geographic, or want to make a difference in the world, Gorillas in the Mist will give you something to fight for.
8. Moneyball (2011)
“But if we win, on our budget with this team, we’ll change the game. And that’s what I want; I want it to mean something.”
Do you sometimes worry that only people with money can achieve their dreams? If so, take a crack at Moneyball.
There are plenty of baseball movies, but this one is unique. Moneyball tells the story of Oakland Athletics managers Billy Beane and Peter Brand, two men who dared to challenge traditional scouting methods. Hampered by their tiny budget, the A’s could not afford to buy the big name players needed to get to the World Series.
Using mathematics, Beane and Brand determined the value of a player not by the stats associated with their position (pitcher, first baseman, etc.) but for how often they got on base. With their new strategy, they were able to acquire several players who were undervalued because of their age, injuries, and unique playing styles, but who consistently got base hits.
In spite of significant resistance from scouts and managers alike, the A’s won 19 consecutive games using Beane and Brand’s system and, even though they lost the Series, they changed the sport forever.
If you love baseball, math, and rooting for the underdog, Moneyball is here to remind you that there’s more than one way to win.
9. Apollo 13 (1995)
“You never know what events are to transpire to get you home.”
Humanity’s desire to go to space has inspired dozens of films, but few come close to being as inspirational as Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.
If music gets you going, the soundtrack features songs by Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane that ground you in the tumultuous ‘60’s era of the film, and James Horner’s thrilling orchestral score captures the elation and uncertainty of rocketing out of Earth’s atmosphere in a tin can.
The pure heart of the movie, however, is a concept that the astronauts themselves called “successful failure”. The mission of Apollo 13 – to land on the moon – failed. But a grounded member of the crew solves a potentially fatal problem for the shuttle using duct tape, plastic bags, and tube socks, proving that creativity can come in unusual packages, and failure is always relative.
If you’re suffering from unexpected setbacks or struggling with failure, a trip on Apollo 13 will give your engines a boost.
10. Coco Before Chanel (2009)
“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
Everyone knows the fashion line Chanel, but less well known is the eponymous creator’s humble beginnings as an orphan raised by nuns, a seamstress and cabaret singer. Played by Audrey Tautou, she is introduced to us as someone who has had her share of hard knocks.
The film shines for two reasons. One is the costumes – both of the restrictive, flamboyant styles before Coco began to design, and her own, which bring to life the audacity of Coco’s vision for women’s clothing in the 1920s. The other is in its delivery of her story, presenting Chanel as a realist who worked hard and succeeded, rather than an artist devoted to her vision.
Sometimes it’s a relief to stop waiting for a bolt of inspiration to strike and get to work.
If you like to buck trends, refuse to cave to societal expectations, or are trying to build a better life for yourself, Coco Before Chanel will show you what it takes to stand out.
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