Whether you are looking to inspire your team to increase innovation, or are personally looking to improve your own leadership abilities, here are 31 motivational movies that will change your perspective on leadership.
1. The Green Mile (1999)
Synopsis: In this Stephen King adaptation, Paul Edgercomb (Tom Hanks) is in charge of a death row facility in Lousiana where he starts to question if John Coffey (Michael Clark Duncan) is guilty.
Motivation: Although confronted with moral, and even supernatural, dilemmas, Tom Hank’s character is able to maintain order and the respect of his deputies.
2. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Synopsis: Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) is asked to be a therapist for Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a janitor at MIT with a genius IQ.
Motivation: Every employee is different, but this movie shows how relating to people on a personal level can create strong bonds.
3. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Synopsis: Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) wants to become a world-class boxer. She enlists the help of a reluctant trainer (Clint Eastwood) in this motivational movie.
Motivation: There are different styles of leadership, and sometimes being stern and demanding can produce results.
4. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Synopsis: FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is charged with finding a young criminal (Leonardo DiCaprio), even as he changes location, name, and occupation.
Motivation: Hanratty is a blunt, unfriendly person, but he shows how non-traditional leaders can produce results.
5. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Synopsis: In the midst of a genocide in Rwanda, a hotel manger (Don Cheadle) shelters refugees in a hotel to save them from certain death.
Motivation: While the obvious humanitarian quality of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) shines through in this movie, the role of delegation and quick decision making is not to be overlooked.
6. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Synopsis: At an elite boarding school in Vermont, John Keating (Robin Williams) inspires his students through poetry.
Motivation: John Keating always holds his student’s best interest at heart, a lesson that can be applied to any industry.
7. Coach Carter (2005)
Synopsis: In a struggling high school, Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) motivates a group of young men to come together to achieve goals on and off the basketball court.
Motivation: Part of leadership is about holding people accountable for their actions, but also instilling that value in others.
8. Men of Honor (2000)
Synopsis: Attempting to become the first black master diver in the U.S. Navy, Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr.) must overcome prejudices and discrimination to achieve his dream.
Motivation: The cliche phrase “leadership by example” is ever present in this motivational movie as Carl Brashear must persevere to break racial barriers.
9. Lean on Me (1989)
Synopsis: As a high school is torn apart by gangs and narcotics, a New Jersey superintendent turns to Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) to turn things around.
Motivation: Joe Clark represents sacrifice and passion in leadership in this biographical movie.
10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Synopsis: After being given a life sentence for murdering his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) must serve time in a rough prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Motivation: At play in this film is a leader driven by greed and self-interests, qualities that can tear apart any group.
11. Remember the Titans (2000)
Synopsis: At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and Bill Yoast (Will Patton) work with a football team at a recently integrated high school in Virginia.
Motivation: Leaders do not exist in a vacuum. Working with other leaders who may have a different leadership style is inevitable.
12. Office Space (1999)
Synopsis: After a bizarre accident during hypnotherapy, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is left in a state of indefinite bliss. He navigates his work and personal life in new ways.
Motivation: This film takes place, as the title suggests, in an office. And, while comical, the interactions reflect some negative aspects of corporate culture.
13. The Aviator (2004)
Synopsis: This biopic follows the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), a pioneer in aviation who finds both joy and depression in his success.
Motivation: Learning to balance life as a leader while still developing personally is a tough act for many, as portrayed in this movie.
14. Black Panther (2018)
Synopsis: In this Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, superhero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is confronted with a power struggle for his home country of Wakanda.
Motivation: This action-packed film explores the balance of leading those close to you while acknowledging the world at large.
15. McFarland, USA (2015)
Synopsis: In a small town in Texas, Jim White (Kevin Costner) leads a group of Latino students to excel in running.
Motivation: The character portrayed by Kevin Costner draws from a wide variety of motivational tools to help his team succeed.
16. Apollo 13 (1995)
Synopsis: On a mission to the moon, an oxygen tank explodes, leaving a trio of astronauts in grave danger.
Motivation: Trust is a central theme of this movie, as leaders are reliant on their employees for quick and accurate results.
17. Lincoln (2012)
Synopsis: As the Civil War draws to a close, President Abraham Lincoln persuades Congress to abolish slavery once and for all in the United States.
Motivation: Behind the scenes work is what gets results. Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 13th Amendment was won mostly outside of the Congress floor.
18. Captain Phillips (2013)
Synopsis: While off the coast of Somalia, U.S. containership Maersk Alabama is seized by pirates, leaving the Captain in a precarious predicament.
Motivation: In this film, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) follows protocol even before the ship is seized, ensuring that his crew is ready for inclement situations.
19. Wall Street (1987)
Synopsis: A young stockbroker (Charlie Sheen), befriends a mentor in Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), as the two of them take on Wall Street.
Motivation: Even if not formally defined, leadership is enacted in every day situations, for better and for worse.
20. Up in the Air (2009)
Synopsis: As a young employee (Anna Kendrick) looks to change the business model of a company, a veteran (George Clooney) shows her the ropes to make sure she understands the impact of her proposition.
Motivation: Understanding different points of view is part of leadership, as is making sure others appreciate this value.
21. Invictus (2009)
Synopsis: After being elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela uses and unlikely tool to unite a country.
Motivation: Results are not always numerical. Understanding the value in intangible things is a difficult skills to learn.
22. Moneyball (2011)
Synopsis: Going against decades of conventional baseball wisdom, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) restructures the Oakland A’s to win games with a limited budget.
Motivation: Testing new boundaries will have pushback, but risks can create great opportunities.
23. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Synopsis: Charged with capturing an important French ship off the coast of South America, the Suprise will stop at nothing to complete its mission.
Motivation: Spending lots of time with anybody is difficult, especially when in the open sea.
24. Thirteen Days (2000)
Synopsis: Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this film follows President John Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his staff as they work to avoid global war.
Motivation: It is easy to be a leader during good times, but managing a crisis is another story.
25. Miracle (2004)
Synopsis: A group of college hockey players compete in the 1980 Olympics with the goal of upsetting the dominant Soviet Union team.
Motivation: The group value should be greater than the sum of its parts, but that only happens with leadership.
26. Hoosiers (1986)
Synopsis: In a small town in Indiana, Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) leads a high school team to new heights in this basketball flick.
Motivation: No one was ever perfect at anything the first time around, development is key to success.
27. Norma Rae (1979)
Synopsis: After enduring long hours and harsh working conditions, Norma Rae (Sally Field) brings her coworkers together to demand better.
Motivation: It is easy to sit back and wait for others to take initiative, but true leaders take action first.
28. Darkest Hour (2017)
Synopsis: Just days after becoming the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) must withstand pressure from Germany, his own party, and the public as World War II rages on.
Motivation: Giving into the wishes of those with more power does not help the organization as a whole. Churchill understood that the hard path was necessary.
29. The King’s Speech (2010)
Synopsis: King George VI (Colin Firth) enlists the help of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to overcome his stammer.
Motivation: In this motivational movie, the subordinate becomes the leader and shows that leaders are only as strong as those that follow them.
30. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Synopsis: A new college graduate (Anne Hathaway) lands a dream job only to find her boss (Meryl Streep) is unscrupulous and demanding.
Motivation: Although comical, this film shows leadership gone wrong with mismanaged expectations.
31. The Last Samurai (2003)
Synopsis: As Japan moves towards a modernized and globalized economy and government, the Samurai fight to keep their way of life intact.
Motivation: Moritsugu Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) embodies the leadership ideal of selflessness and sacrifice.
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