The 15 Best Inspirational Movies of 2021

Get motivated with a few feel-good movies

The best motivational movies leave you laughing, smiling, and maybe even a little misty-eyed. This collection of inspirational and feel-good films is a tribute to what touching movies do well: motivate, educate, and offer an escape from the daily grind. 

If you're ready to celebrate real-life heroes alongside fictional characters that aim to move the needle forward in their own lives or for the greater good, you're sure to find something on this list. Grab a box of tissues and a snack and gather loved ones to stream these uplifting movies over a weekend-long marathon or a digital viewing party.

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Celebrating the Power of Community and Advocacy: Crip Camp (2020)

Crip Camp documentary

Higher Ground Productions

IMDb Rating: 7.8

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Judith Heumann, Jim LeBrecht, Denise Sherer Jacobsen

Director: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes

This film documents the true story of camp members and counselors who met at Camp Jened, an inclusive camp for young people with disabilities who become advocates for their community.

They are visible and independent at camp and strive to achieve the same qualities in everyday life by fighting for representation and long-overdue civil rights for people with disabilities.

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An Inspiring True Story of Activism: Mangrove (2020)

A protest scene in Small Axe: Mangrove

Amazon Prime Video

IMDb Rating: 8.2

Genre: Drama

Starring: Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby

Director: Steve McQueen

Motion Picture Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes

This movie recounts the real-life heroism and activism of Frank Crichlow, the owner of the Mangrove restaurant that serves as a gathering space for the West Indian community in London. In 1970, Crichlow and others organized a peaceful protest against mistreatment by the police and were later tried in court for inciting a riot.

Their trial leads to the first acknowledgment of racially motivated behavior in the London police system. The film is a stirring tribute to those who stand up against injustice. (Mangrove is one of five films in Amazon Prime Video's Small Axe collection.)

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Adventure Tale About Friendship and Chosen Family: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Raft scene from The Peanut Butter Falcon

Roadside Attractions

IMDb Rating: 7.6

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Starring: Zack Gottsagen, Shia LeBeouf, Dakota Johnson

Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz 

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes

This touching adventure tale follows Zak, a young man with Down syndrome who dreams of becoming a wrestler. After escaping from the senior home where he's assigned to live by the state, he quickly finds an unlikely new friend looking for a fresh start.

Heartwarming without being saccharine, it's a story about unconditional acceptance and forging friendships and family in unlikely but beautiful places.

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Finding Your Voice at Any Age: The 40-Year-Old Version (2020)

The 40-Year-Old Version

Hillman Grad Productions

IMDb Rating: 7.2

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Starring: Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Oswin Benjamin

Director: Radha Blank

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hours 3 minutes

Based on playwright Radha Blank's real-life career struggles, this semi-autobiographical film follows the main character's attempt to reinvent herself as a hip-hop artist. In music, she finds relief from feeling that she's sacrificing too much of her authentic voice to gain recognition in New York City's theater world.

If you need a reminder that success doesn't always have a set path or fall by a certain age, this is a cathartic and humorous homage to staying true to oneself.

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A Movie for Daydreamers and Doers: The Biggest Little Farm (2018)

Aerial shot of the farm in Biggest Little Farm


IMDb Rating: 8.1

Genre: Documentary

Starring: John Chester

Director: John Chester

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hour 31 minutes

This film follows the journey of a couple who leaves the bustle of city-living in Los Angeles to start a new life on a sustainable farm of their dreams. They struggle through obstacle after obstacle but emerge with a new appreciation for the land and nature and a desire to share their experience with others.

Be warned: This movie could leave you wanting to frolic in nature and take better care of the planet.

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An Uplifting Movie for Tireless Strivers: The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Father and son reading in The Pursuit of Happyness

Sony Pictures

IMDb Rating: 8.0

Genre: Biography, Drama

Starring: Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith

Director: Gabriele Muccino

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes

Inspirational movies based on true stories offer encouragement to all of us, and this biographical movie does that in abundance. It tells the story of how real-life entrepreneur Chris Gardner went from struggling and homeless with his young son to eventually completely changing his profession and transforming the course of his life for the better. 

It's impossible not to root for Gardner and his son and feel moved by the heartfelt outcome of the main character's hard work and determination.

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A Film for Fathers, Foodies, and Families: Chef (2014)

Scene of the food truck and father and son in Chef

Open Road Films

IMDb Rating: 7.3

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo

Director: Jon Favreau

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes

Some of the best feel-good movies revolve around food and family, and Chef keeps these priorities in heartwarming harmony. After a creatively and personally stunted chef gets a fresh start with a food truck, he rediscovers his passion for food and his family. If you love delicious food, there's plenty to eat up with your eyes in this food-centric feel-good feature.

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An Inspirational and Timeless Story of Unity: Remember the Titans (2000)

Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans

Walt Disney Studios

IMDb Rating: 7.8

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris

Director: Boaz Yakin

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes

This inspirational sports story is based on an African American coach's real-life experience brought to lead the first integrated football team at a Virginia high school. While the players, coaching staff, and town members express resistance and intolerance at first, hope and unity win.

This movie delivers an enduring message of racial acceptance that doesn't require you to love football to root for the team or feel moved by their bonds.

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A Feel-Good Music Movie with Universal Appeal: The Sapphires (2013)

The Sapphires movie

Goalpost Pictures

IMDb Rating: 7.0

Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama

Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy

Director: Wayne Blair

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes

Loosely based on the story of the real-life Aboriginal Motown girl group from Australia, The Sapphires, this movie tells the unlikely story of how they traveled to Vietnam to perform for U.S. troops. There's a little bit of everything: iconic music, love, friendship, and the universal importance of acceptance and visibility.

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Scene of main characters dancing in Hidden Figures

20th Century Studios

IMDb Rating: 7.8

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae

Director: Theodore Melfi

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes

Hidden Figures draws back the curtain to tell the true story of the brilliant African American female mathematicians at NASA. They were instrumental in making John Glenn become the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the earth, though unknown to the public. This movie is a celebration of their brilliance and their deserving place in the history books.  

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For Entrepreneurs, Big Thinkers, and Mothers Who Do it All: Joy (2015)

Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro in the movie Joy

20th Century Studios

IMDb Rating: 6.6

Genre: Biography, Drama

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper 

Director: David O. Russell

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Inspired by real-life, self-made millionaire Joy Mangano and her struggle to do more than make ends meet as an out-of-work mother and aspiring entrepreneur, this movie follows Joy's journey as she struggles with numerous professional and personal obstacles. It's easy to feel wholly enthralled by Joy's determination and won't-quit attitude. 

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Irresistible Cheer and Whimsy Any Time of Year: Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell as Buddy in the movie Elf

Warner Bros.

IMDb Rating: 7.0

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family

Starring: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart

Director: Jon Favreau

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes

One of the best feel-good movies during the holiday season, this story follows Buddy's search for his biological father after growing up raised by Santa's elves. What follows is cheer, merriment, and a heartwarming message about family bonds and believing in what you can't always see.

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A Comforting Reminder That It's OK to Feel All the Things: Inside Out (2015)

Joy from the animated movie Inside Out

Walt Disney Studios

IMDb Rating: 8.1

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black

Director: Pete Doctor, Ronnie Del Carmen

Motion Picture Rating: PG 

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes

Inside Out is one of those solid inspirational movies that offer time away from reality while also gently tackling the genuine nature of life transitions' ups and downs. 

While the story centers around young Riley and her new move to San Francisco, it's a priceless reminder to all of us, at any age, that embracing our emotions is an excellent thing.

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Finding Love, Off Repeat: Palm Springs (2020)

Andy Samberg and Cristin Millioti in Palm Springs


IMDb Rating: 7.4

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Millioti, J.K. Simmons 

Director: Max Barbakow

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes

Palm Springs delivers many of the same aspects you love about the original looping film plot from Groundhog Day, with a timely 2020 twist. While it's a love story that centers around two characters stuck on the same day at a Palm Springs wedding, it offers a wry, humorous, and slightly out-there message of living every day fully present and genuinely appreciating the opportunity to do so.

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A Feel-Good Holiday Love Story: Happiest Season (2020)

Scene featuring main characters from Happiest season

Tristar Pictures

IMDb Rating: 6.8

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen

Director: Clea DuVall

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes

If you love a festive holiday movie, Happiest Season checks those boxes with humor and hijinks. It centers around a young couple, Abby and Harper, traveling to spend the holidays with Harper's family for the first time. The only catch is that Harper's family doesn't know Abby is her girlfriend—or that Harper is gay.

Part rom-com, part holiday movie, this feature doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it offers Yuletide cheer with a fresh pinch of inclusivity.

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