Press "Enter" to skip to content

A question for you: Movies about inspirational people

Somebody asked me yesterday whether I still write movie reviews for the print version of Backwoods Home. Officially, I do (Dave willing). But as a practical matter, I ran out of family-friendly, English-language films of interest to a rural audience a long time ago.

P.T., the person who asked the question, hoped I would review biopix of inspiring people — particularly women.

Thought that was a great idea. With two reservations. First, most recent biopix (aside from often being about dissolute folk who wouldn’t be welcome on many backwoods homesteads) are just giant mess-blobs. Take movies like “Ray” and “La Vie en Rose.” Oscar-winning star vehicles they may be, but they try to encompass so much of the subject’s life that events, relationships, and incidents whiz by, leaving the audience (or this audience, anyhow) wondering, “Who? What? Why?”

The other problem, particular to inspirational bioflix, is that … well, they’re “inspirational.” Which in Hollywood terms means they’ve had all the juice sucked out of them. They take a complex, multi-faceted, maybe not-particularly-likeable human being and reduce his (or her) accomplishments to ooey-gooey glurge.

“Patch Adams”? Ick. That movie about the guy who invented the fabulous, failed car? Ptooey. “Finding Neverland”? I don’t care if it does star the Divine Johnny Depp; it discards one of history’s fascinatingly weird relationships and replaces it with honey-dipped sugar cubes coated with pink frosted lies.

So …. I’m asking you: what are the great, inspirational (but not “inspirational”) movies? Tell me some of your favorites in the comments section.

Your picks can be old or new. To open up the field, they can be movies about a real person or a fictional one, as long as they’re about realistic achievement. If they’re about a real person, the events shown should either substantially resemble the facts or at least not be so denatured that they’re icky-gooey-sappy. Let’s see some true grit here.

P.T. suggested one: “The Miracle Worker” — and said she wished there’d also been a movie about later parts of Helen Keller’s life. Another classic comes to my mind — the 1946 Rosalind Russell movie, “Sister Kenny”. It tells of the self-taught Australian nurse who devised successful treatments for polio symptoms when doctors considered disability or death inevitable. How? Simply by observing and acting on her observations, rather than being locked into the wrong-headed paradigm shared by all “medical experts” of her day.

So, dear readers (and especially you, great film buff G.P.), give me some inspiration!


  1. David Gross
    David Gross January 27, 2010 5:23 pm

    Gandhi, Man On Wire, Abel Raises Cain, The Endurance, Garbage Warrior, Sir! No Sir!

  2. Claire
    Claire January 27, 2010 8:22 pm

    Hey, David Gross. That was quick.

    Gandhi … absolutely, definitely. Good thought. It’s a movie I need to see again, too.

    Man on Wire … yeah, pretty amazing.

    The other four, I confess I haven’t even heard of. (Does this mean I’m going to lose my movie-buff credentials?) But if they’re of the calibre of your first two picks, I’ll want to see them. Off to Netflix now …

  3. dorf dude
    dorf dude January 28, 2010 4:50 am

    Worlds Fastest Indian, Anthony Hopkins

  4. Pat
    Pat January 28, 2010 6:06 am

    Real or fictional, Claire?

    Then how about “The Clan of the Cave Bear”? In a world not yet “human”, Ayla dares to be human. and resourceful… and true to what she is.

  5. Melodee
    Melodee January 29, 2010 1:49 pm

    The Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Ingrid Bergman.

  6. Job
    Job January 29, 2010 2:36 pm

    My three favorite movies may all fit the bill–“Greased Lightning” (the story of African American stock car driver Wendell Scott), “If You Could See What I Hear (the story of blind musician Tim Sullivan, and while a bit “inspirational,” a very fun movie), and the granddaddy of them all, “Sergeant York” (won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by telling you the subject, but I will say that I still almost cry everytime Joan Leslie tells Alvin that “they give it to ya’–the people of the State of Tennessee–for what ya’ done over there.”)
    And speaking of fast Indians, how about the Jim Thorpe story? And fast non-indians–how about the Steve Prefontaine movie–not the new one but the older one because while Monica Potter is crazy cute, it’s not as cool as getting to hear R. Lee Ermy talk about how that “magnificent son of a bitch” is going to sprint the last six hundred yards.

  7. pat rizzi
    pat rizzi January 30, 2010 8:11 am

    North Country with Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson. Averry good movie with a message.

  8. George
    George January 30, 2010 11:46 am

    Forgive me the lack of intellectual uplift in a movie but the original “Rocky” gets me moving and motivated to strive.

    Glad to have you blogging on here.

  9. Pat
    Pat January 30, 2010 5:12 pm

    The same is true of “Against The Ropes”, with Meg Ryan playing the real-life female boxing manager, Jackie Kallen. Kallen was brassy and determined, and couldn’t be put into a mold, but she had confidence in her own ability. Not a pretty film at all.

  10. George Potter
    George Potter January 31, 2010 12:15 am

    Ed Wood. Inspirational to me, anyway.

  11. George Potter
    George Potter January 31, 2010 12:21 am

    Seargeant York is a great choice, great film. Lynch’s The Straight Story comes to mind. I’ll think more on it. πŸ™‚

  12. George Potter
    George Potter January 31, 2010 12:36 am

    Out Of Africa
    Yankee Doodle Dandy
    Chariots Of Fire
    Memphis Belle
    Erin Brockovitch

    Note, I don’t consider any of those movies all that great. But they’re all well crafted films that fit the bill.

    Sort of depends on what you’d classify inspiring and biopics, o’course. Is United 93 (a movie I consider very close to great) inspiring despite the sobering, in-escapable ending?

  13. Pat
    Pat January 31, 2010 5:55 pm


    Rob Roy
    Jeremiah Johnson

    Maybe even Robin Hood (whether real or not)

  14. Pat
    Pat February 1, 2010 6:09 am

    Another sports film, Hoosiers, is a fictional account of a real-life, small-town H.S. basketball team who made it to the State Championships, and won it all.

  15. Claire
    Claire February 1, 2010 7:52 am

    I just knew you guys would have a ton of interesting suggestions. Thank you.

    About half the movies suggested here are ones I’ve seen but just haven’t thought of lately. About half I’ve never seen and in many cases (e.g. Sgt. York) have really meant to see for a long time.

    Different strokes, though. Of the ones I’ve seen that have been mentioned here, about half strike me as being exactly the sort of “inspirational” film that makes my brain itch. Ah well. That still leaves a LOT of films for me to look at or take a second look at. Much Netflixing ahead.

    And George Potter … You nailed it on United 93. It’s a “very close to great” film. And the ending, even though you know it’s inevitable is … there just aren’t words. I’ve recommended that movie several times — only to have people tell me they couldn’t bear to watch even five minutes of it.

    And on an entirely different subject … Ed Wood. LOL. Love it. But heaven forbid, I fear to think what it might inspire anyone to do …

  16. George Potter
    George Potter February 1, 2010 1:29 pm

    Claire said:

    ” Ed Wood. LOL. Love it. But heaven forbid, I fear to think what it might inspire anyone to do …”

    I was absolutely serious. Look at the heart of that film: you’ll find a man who 1)utterly refuses to lose his optimism, inspiration and good nature despite the world throwing every insult and soul destroying barrier his way and 2)knows that to accomplish anything, one must accept others on their own terms.

    As Bill Murray remarks in the film: “How do you do it? How do you convince all your friends to get babtized so you can make a monster movie?”

    True love, Bill. True love.

    The very soul of the film is when Ed, on his first date with the woman who would become his devoted wife and best friend, confessess his secret. She smiles, shrugs,and says: “OK.” Just that. OK. Acceptance, a gift more priceless than gold.

    Despite the noses in the air, the snobbery and the dismissal, Ed Wood managed to get out into the world and try to fulfill his dreams, and refused to let anyone stop him. He did more than 99% of the people who ridicule him for his efforts, and never gave up. They can laugh, but Ed was too busy living.

    That inspires me, well and true. πŸ™‚


  17. George Potter
    George Potter February 1, 2010 1:32 pm

    Oh, and been meaning to clarify: YANKEE DOODLE DANDY may not be a ‘great’ film –though it’s an almost deliriously enjoyable one — but Cagney’s performance is one for the ages. Damn, but that man had a fire.

  18. Market Theocracy :: :: February :: 2010
    Market Theocracy :: :: February :: 2010 February 1, 2010 3:57 pm

    […] Wolfe is blogging again and it’s involved me enough to try this again. I’ve been meaning to get MT restarted […]

  19. Jeffersoniantoo
    Jeffersoniantoo February 3, 2010 9:14 am

    300 Spartans(1962) still gets my blood up!!

    Take care all!!!

  20. Ellendra
    Ellendra February 23, 2010 3:49 pm

    Recently watched Astronaut Farmer. Whether its “realistic” or not is debatable, but I’ve been designing space colonies and such on the backs of napkins since I was a kid, so to me it was :p

  21. Jerry Ecker
    Jerry Ecker September 2, 2021 9:28 am

    I know i am 11 years late. What about Last Stand of Courage? Also fits into the theme of this blog?

Leave a Reply