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The 20 most inspiring movies on Netflix to lift your spirits

From tear-jerking true stories to Oscar-nominated films, the streamer has inspiration to spare.

<p>Universal/Everett; David Lee/Netflix; Universal/Everett </p>

Universal/Everett; David Lee/Netflix; Universal/Everett

We often choose a movie to watch based on how we want to feel. Comedies are a great remedy when you’re feeling sad, of course, and horror films are a nice jolt to the system when you’re craving a rush of adrenaline.

Sometimes, though, we don’t need frivolous frights or light-hearted laughs. Instead, we need a healthy dose of inspiration to help us get through the day. If that sounds like what you’re searching for, look no further than EW’s list of the 20 most inspiring movies on Netflix right now.

14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible (2021)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

This documentary has the inspirational movie recipe memorized. Just take one ambitious climber (Nirmal Purja), an insane dream (trekking the world’s 14 highest mountains in only seven months), and let those simmer for around two hours. Beyond the pulse-quickening story, this film largely succeeds thanks to the riveting footage shot by the expedition team. The other production efforts are still impressive, but nothing beats the raw experience of walking alongside those trying to make the impossible possible.

Where to watch 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible: Netflix

Director: Torquil Jones

Cast: Nirmal Purja

Related content: The 26 best documentaries on Netflix

Apollo 13 (1995)

MCA/Courtesy Everett Collection
MCA/Courtesy Everett Collection

Bill Paxton might have faced aliens as a colonial marine, but in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, we see that space is still scary without killer xenomorphs. Great performances from Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon help us imagine the horror of the real Apollo 13 mission and the technical failures that threatened the entire crew's survival. Everyone is insanely vulnerable, with EW’s critic noting, “The revelation of the movie is how low tech much of their activity seems, as if they were ’50s mechanics in a 21st-century vehicle.”

Where to watch Apollo 13: Netflix

EW grade: B (read the review)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise

Related content: Kevin Bacon was puked on by a cameraman while making Apollo 13

Becoming (2020)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

After Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir became a best-seller, it was only a matter of time before it was adapted into a film. Director Nadia Hallgren had immense access to Obama, following her across a 34-city book tour and turning the introspective writing into a dynamic reflection of the author as the archetypal modern woman. As EW’s critic said in their review, “[G]enerally, Obama comes across as she always has — commanding but approachable, thoughtful but funny, sincere but guarded. But after spending eight years in the White House glare, that guard is understandable.”

Where to watch Becoming: Netflix 

EW grade: B (read the review)

Director: Nadia Hallgren

Cast: Michelle Obama

Related content: Becoming director reflects on capturing the true essence of Michelle Obama

The Black Godfather (2019)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

Clarence Avant, a music producer affectionately dubbed the “Godfather of Black music,” mostly flew under the mainstream radar with his brilliant artistic contributions. This documentary aims to change that by chronicling an unbelievable life that reshaped the music industry and made waves in politics, discussions of race, and business. With appearances from big names like Snoop Dogg, Jamie Foxx, and even former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, this inspirational movie is the perfect send-off for Avant, who died in 2023.

Where to watch The Black Godfather: Netflix 

Director: Reginald Hudlin

Cast: Hank Aaron, Dina R. Andrews, Clarence Avant

Related content: Clarence Avant, music executive known as the 'Black Godfather,' dies at 92

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind may be a film about wind power, but the story runs on pure optimism. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s movie follows the titular boy (Maxwell Simba) who is kicked out of school because his parents can’t afford tuition. This doesn’t keep him from secretly studying science, however, as he builds a windmill that can provide power for his humble village’s broken water pump. Inspirational and innovative, this film instantly harnesses your attention and affection.

Where to watch The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Netflix 

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Cast: Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lily Banda

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Bob Marshak/Universal
Bob Marshak/Universal

Erin Brockovich is a (more or less) true tale of a single mother (Julia Roberts) who becomes a proto-social justice warrior by taking legal action against PG&E for contaminating her community’s water supply. The story is inspiring and the performances are stunning, especially Roberts’ Oscar-winning turn. As EW’s critic writes, “It’s a delight to watch Roberts, with her flirtatious sparkle and undertow of melancholy, ricochet off [Albert] Finney’s wonderfully jaded, dry as beef jerky performance as the beleaguered career attorney who knows too much about the loopholes of his profession to have much faith left in it.”

Where to watch Erin Brockovich: Netflix 

EW grade: N/A (read the review)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart

Related content: Flint water crisis explained by Erin Brockovich to Stephen Colbert

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song (2021)

<p>Sony Pictures Classics/Everett</p>

Sony Pictures Classics/Everett

For Leonard Cohen fans, the dives don’t get much deeper than this. Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song unpacks the legendary singer’s life and career through the lens of his famous “Hallelujah.” That sounds like a premise better suited for a podcast series, but the film (based on the book The Holy or the Broken) works by leaning into a blunt truth: No matter how talented someone is, they’re still too often defined by their most popular work.

Where to watch Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song: Netflix 

Director: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine

Cast: Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson, John Lissauer

Related content: Leonard Cohen's 20 greatest songs

Lionheart (2018)

<p>Netflix/Everett</p>

Netflix/Everett

Though it was sadly snubbed at the Academy Awards, Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart is a still breathtaking directorial debut. The film focuses on Chief Ernest Obiagu (Pete Edochie), who must step down from running a company, and his daughter Adaeze (Nnaji), who wants to take his place. But after he chooses her brother instead, the pair must reconcile their resentment and cope with the practical fallout. Like some of the best inspirational movies, Lionheart weaves a captivating portrait with threads of loyalty, loss, and heartbreak.

Where to watch Lionheart: Netflix 

Director: Genevieve Nnaji

Cast: Genevieve Nnaji, Nkem Owoh, Pete Edochie, Onyeka Onwenu, Kanayo O. Kanayo

Related content: Academy disqualifies Nigeria's Oscar entry from International Feature race due to predominantly English dialogue

Is That Black Enough For You?!? (2022)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

In the age of erroneous YouTube video essays, documentaries like Is That Black Enough For You?!? are more important than ever before. This Elvis Mitchell feature examines Black cinema (with an emphasis on 1970s Blaxploitation) and interviews stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, and Laurence Fishburne to help bridge generations of Black performers and media. The result is a carefully crafted, inspiring record of Black excellence at the movies.

Where to watch Is That Black Enough For You?!?: Netflix 

Director: Elvis Mitchell

Cast: Margaret Avery, Harry Belafonte, Charles Burnett

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Laila Bahman/A24
Laila Bahman/A24

The Last Black Man in San Francisco has only grown more topical amid growing economic uncertainty and a housing bubble ready to burst. Here, Jimmie Fails plays himself as a man fighting for the house his grandfather built in 1946. When he begins squatting with a friend (Jonathan Majors), the film uses American financial anxiety as a backdrop for a timeless tale about race, performative masculinity, and what's at stake when upward mobility is limited.

Where to watch The Last Black Man In San Francisco: Netflix

EW grade: A (read the review)

Director: Joe Talbot

Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps

Related content: Nominated for Nothing: The Academy doesn't get to hate The Last Black Man in San Francisco without loving it

Moneyball (2011)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia / Sony
Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia / Sony

In Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the beleaguered manager of the Oakland Athletics who finds clever ways to compete against wealthier teams despite his shoestring budget. Between the crazy true story and the stellar acting by Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, you don’t need to be a sports superfan to love this film. As EW’s critic pointed out in their review, “It’s a baseball drama about something novel and rich: Billy’s desire not just to win but to change the game — to take it back from the accountants and rediscover the joy of players who could still triumph by surprising you.”

Where to watch Moneyball: Netflix 

EW grade: A- (read the review)

Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Related content: Jonah Hill on Moneyball and being an underdog: 'I was at the bottom of a list of other actors you'd expect to see in this part.'

My Octopus Teacher (2021)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

My Octopus Teacher is a story of relationships, as told by a filmmaker who bonds with an octopus. Craig Foster spent a year free-diving and following the animal living in a South African kelp forest, and the more he understands her underwater way of life, the better he becomes at connecting with his son. This movie may be about a sea creature, but it's also an important story of humanity that is affecting, educational, and inspiring.

Where to watch My Octopus Teacher: Netflix

Director: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed

Cast: Craig Foster, Tom Foster

Related content: The Boys cast explain the bizarre influence of My Octopus Teacher on season 3

Pelé (2021)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

In certain corners of the world, the name of soccer (or should we say football?) star Pelé is spoken with the reverence reserved for saints. Because of this star power, it’s easy for even the biggest fans to lose sight of the real man, whose legend still grows by the day. Fortunately, this documentary blends interviews, games, and other archival footage into a heartfelt, honest portrait of the man behind the myth.

Where to watch Pelé: Netflix 

Director: Ben Nichols, David Tryhorn

Cast: Pelé

Related content: Pelé, Brazilian soccer legend who won three World Cups, dies at 82

Rustin (2023)

David Lee/Netflix
David Lee/Netflix

Rustin is a biographical drama with an impeccable pedigree: It’s directed by George C. Wolfe, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, and features great supporting actors like Chris Rock and Jeffrey Wright. Colman Domingo particularly shines as Bayard Rustin, a legendary LGBTQ+ activist who helped organize the March on Washington in 1963. He’s an often-overlooked figure, partially due to his sexuality, but this film helps further cement his place in American history.

Where to watch Rustin: Netflix 

EW grade: B (read the review)

Director: George C. Wolfe

Cast: Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Jeffrey Wright, Audra McDonald

Related content: Rustin director George C. Wolfe on recreating the March on Washington and the amazing man behind it

Society of the Snow (2023)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

Society of the Snow may be adapted from a non-fiction book, but this cinematic tale of a doomed rugby team’s plane crash in the Andes mountains brings several new elements to light. For one, the cast — most of them first-time actors from Uruguay — feels refreshingly authentic, while the crisp direction and artful cinematography make for a beautiful contrast with the characters’ cannibalistic fate. It’s not for the weak of heart, but this showcase of humanity’s resilience is inspirational on its own bleakly noble terms.

Where to watch Society of the Snow: Netflix 

Director: J. A. Bayona

Cast: Enzo Vogrincic, Matías Recalt, Agustín Pardella, Felipe González Otaño

Stronger (2017)

Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

Produced in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, David Gordon Green’s film traces Jeff Bauman’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) incredible recovery arc after losing both his legs in the blast. It’s one of Gyllenhaal’s most emotionally affecting movies to date, imbuing the tragic true story with a breathless authenticity. To quote EW’s critic, “Gyllenhaal gives such a powerfully lived-in performance that it’s hard not to follow him down into every moment: the awful instant a friendly encounter turns ugly at a pub; the terrifying flashbacks that jolt him as he’s wheeled out to salute the rapturous crowd at a hockey game.”

Where to watch Stronger: Netflix 

EW grade: A- (read the review)

Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown

Related content: Jake Gyllenhaal gets Stronger in first image from Boston bombing movie

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019)

<p>Magnolia Pictures/Everett</p>

Magnolia Pictures/Everett

What you see is what you get with Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. The movie celebrates the beloved author (and author of Beloved) who became one of the most authoritative voices on race, privilege, and raw emotion in American history. The late writer tells her story in her own words here, while other major figures (including Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama) bounce off her profound meditations. The very presence of the former leader of the free world says it all; When Toni Morrison speaks, we listen.

Where to watch Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am: Netflix 

Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Cast: Toni Morrison

Related content: EW's guide to 15 brilliant, essential Toni Morrison books

Unbroken (2014)

<p>Universal Pictures</p>

Universal Pictures

Unbroken’s true story is so crazy that it sounds made up. This inspirational odyssey centers on an American athlete (Jack O'Connell) whose Olympic dreams are dashed first by World War II and then by a plane crash, culminating in him becoming a Japanese POW. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Angelina Jolie’s film is as visually lush as it is emotionally raw, with EW’s critic deeming it an “oddly old-fashioned drama” that is “gorgeously shot and beautifully acted, and it has moments of heartbreaking poignancy.”

Where to watch Unbroken: Netflix 

Director: Angelina Jolie

Cast: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock

Related content: On The Books: Laura Hillenbrand rewrote Unbroken as a YA book

Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

Wonder Woman is many things to many people. While a patently killer superhero movie, Patty Jenkins’ feature starring Gal Gadot is one of the few “tights and flights” flicks that has something to say, not just someone to punch. According to EW’s critic, the film “gets so much right, especially when it comes to Gadot’s revelatory portrayal of Wonder Woman. The wait is over, folks. The DC movie you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived.”

Where to watch Wonder Woman: Netflix 

EW grade: A- (read the review)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston

Related content: Gal Gadot says Wonder Woman 3 could still happen with James Gunn and Peter Safran

Zero to Hero (2021)

<p>Netflix</p>

Netflix

Despite its jaunty title, Zero to Hero is a profound and serious story of human triumph in the face of adversity. This Hong Kong film’s guiding force is So Wa Wai (Chung-Hang Leung), a real athlete whose aspirations were nearly thwarted by cerebral spasms that made even walking difficult. Throughout the runtime, we see him remarkably regain his ability to run against all odds, paving the way for a major victory. If you need a truly inspirational movie, this is a solid place to start.

Where to watch Zero to Hero: Netflix 

Director: Chi-Man Wan

Cast: Chung-Hang Leung, Louis Cheung, Siu-ho Chin, Hoi-pang Lo

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.