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Motivational Movies For Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions

Making New Year's resolutions was easy. Making good on them can be a little harder. Luckily, these movies inspire betterment all year long.
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Need a push to keep your best foot moving forward all year and beyond? Welcome to the club. Personally, nothing inspires me to start anew and stick to my resolutions quite like watching others conquer their goals onscreen before I do. It’s also a chance to curl up on the couch just a little longer, but purposefully. So let’s take this small, but critical, first step together.

Whether the main characters are working overtime to achieve their dreams, flipping the same old script for the better, or growing into their best selves without even realizing it, these movies are famous for lighting the fire within. So before another year flies by, let’s slow down, watch (or rewatch) these inspiring stories of grabbing life by the reigns, and then, we’ll tackle our resolutions with reinvigorated oomph.

Pursuit of Happyness

Columbia Pictures

Based on remarkable “rags to riches” true events, this one’s all about never, and I mean never, giving up on a better tomorrow. Will Smith stars in this incredibly uplifting drama that follows a homeless father’s struggles to find work and take care of his son.

Spoiler alert: He succeeds and exceeds even his own expectations. Pursuit of Happyness is a wonderful reminder that a difficult period in life doesn’t have to define the rest of it. The main character (based on a real person named Chris Garner) goes from losing everything to becoming a multi-millionaire businessman, and the lessons he learns along the way prove priceless.

Legally Blonde


Believe it or not, Legally Blonde is based on a true story. Well, it’s inspired by a book based on a true story, but still. If you’re in the mood for a reinvigorating comedy that’ll remind you of that fact, Legally Blonde is a no-brainer.

The message is simple: a book cannot be judged by its cover. We, like Elle Woods, are brimming with potential and goodness. This fun and empowering flick is all about challenging stereotypes, especially the ones we’ve let hold us back. Elle proves to all who doubted her that she can go to Harvard and become a lawyer. She also learns she has to do it for herself and not change for anyone else. What, like it’s hard?

As Good As It Gets

TriStar Pictures/Gracie Films

The start of the year can be a lonely time. Especially if you have your heart set on falling in love and you’ve repeatedly struck out. That’s why it’s important to remember that someone who makes you want to be better is always closer than you think. With this in mind, staying open to possibilities is a valuable resolution. After all, that special someone may not be anything like what you imagined. As Good As It Gets is a touching reminder of that.

Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin Udall, is not likable, to put it mildly. He’s worked hard to keep everyone at a great distance from him and preserve his hardened shell. When he meets Helen Hunt’s character, he begins to soften and evolve. This romantic comedy isn’t just about one person or one could-be couple. It’s about the walls we put up and must then tear down in the name of love.

Life of Pi

20th Century Studios/Ingenious Media

Feeling drift? When it comes to life’s storms, we’ve all been there at one time or another. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Life of Pi follows the harrowing journey of a young boy who becomes the sole survivor of a shipwreck.

This award-winning movie centers on learning to survive when you’re not sure where you’re at or what’s on the horizon. Watching him float on the open sea alongside an orangutan, hyena, zebra, and a tiger, you’ll be amused, worried, and ultimately, find some real peace. After all, if they can find the shoreline, so can you.


Searchlight Pictures/Hello Sunshine

Need a movie about ordinary people conquering extraordinary challenges? Queen of characters who break the mold, Reese Witherspoon makes her second appearance on this list with Wild. And by the end of it, you’ll be reminded that you’re always stronger than you think.

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, this deeply moving drama is all about healing–specifically, the paths we take to do so. Following a personal tragedy, a 20-something woman sets out on a 1,100-mile solo hike to find her way back to her truest self. If nothing else, I guarantee it will inspire you to exercise more.

The Truman Show

Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions

Truly, I adore The Truman Show any time of the year, but there’s something magically motivating about watching it in early January. Perhaps that’s because it’s ultimately about new beginnings. Everything about the life of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is rigged. He’s been the beloved star of a reality TV show since birth, but he’s the only person on earth who doesn’t know that yet. Talk about an existential crisis.

Discovering his life is one big ruse, he has a decision to make: to continue living the life built for him without his consent or brave the unknown. Spoiler alert: Truman chooses free will, bidding everyone a “good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight” before embarking on the first day of the rest of his life.


Pixar/Walt Disney Pictures

For anyone who’s ever been told their dream wasn’t meant for them, Ratatouille is for you. This Pixar masterpiece is also for anyone who made a resolution to cook more this year.

You’d be surprised just how many people claim this computer-animated movie about a rat with ambitions to become a top chef compelled them to pursue their passions. Unless, you’ve seen it, of course.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

20th Century Fox/New Line Cinema/Samuel Goldwyn Films

Do you want to travel more this year? The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will awaken the wandering spirit within. Visually, this Ben Stiller comedy/adventure flick is a wanderlust dream within a dream.

Walter Mitty travels by air, land, and sea. There’s every stunning landscape your hungry eyes could desire. Best of all, we encounter the kind of characters one only meets when they’re embracing each moment to the fullest.

Pay It Forward

Warner Bros.

For a school project, a middle school social studies teacher tells his students to come up with an idea that will change the world for the better. Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) takes the assignment to heart. He comes up with a pure and clever concept rooted in acts of kindness.

Here’s how it works: one person does something altruistic for three people, they return the favor by “paying it forward” to three more people, and so on. In the end, Pay It Forward proves so inspiring, it’ll motivate you to do some good in this world.

(500) Days of Summer

Searchlight Pictures

Letting go is one of the main lessons in (500) Days of Summer. And that makes it the perfect New Year watch. Moving forward is also about saying goodbye to the parts of our past that no longer serve us, after all. If you’ve ever thought you found “the one” only to find out you were more in love with the idea of love than the actual person, you’ll likely find this “not a love story” oddly soothing. Plus, The Smiths will help to set the mood.

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a hopeless romantic who thinks he’s found his true love in Summer (Zooey Deschanel.) Then he gets dumped. Naturally, he begins to reflect on their time together, asking what went wrong, wanting to make things right. But again, this is not a love story. It just looks like one. Inevitably, he realizes that he’d romanticized their romance and dismissed the red flags. In the end, everyone gets the closure necessary to move on with a sense of gratitude, as it should be.

Cast Away

20th Century Studios/Dreamworks Pictures/ImageMovers

For those in need of a gratitude booster, here’s a good place to start. What’s important to remember about Cast Away isn’t just an emaciated and scraggly bearded Tom Hanks stranded on an island. It’s also not just the importance of companionship (as represented by everyone’s favorite volleyball, Wilson.) To me, the most striking aspect of the film is who he was before the plane crashed versus how he evolved by the time he was finally rescued four years later.

Humans are defined by their amazing ability to adapt over time. Unfortunately, that can also include going through the motions and falling into ruts without even noticing. Hank’s character has a relatively cushy life at the beginning of the movie. But he ends up broken down to his bare essentials, fighting to survive. At first, he doesn’t even know how to start a fire. But he leaves that island a changed man.

The film is bittersweet. Everyone thought he was dead, so when he finally returns, he finds that life has moved on without him. Without spoiling the ending, he’s okay with that because he knows he can get through just about anything.

The Family Man

Universal Pictures/ Saturn Films/Beacon Pictures

In this modern twist on It’s a Wonderful Life, Jack (Nicholas Cage) has everything he’s ever wanted. He has power, status, and a Ferrari 550 Maranello. He sings opera in his Calvin’s from his penthouse in New York City. But he had to make sacrifices to get there, like true love with his college girlfriend (Téa Leoni.) Many moons later, they have both moved on and moved up in their careers, but did he choose the right path?

When Jack’s given a glimpse of the road less traveled, it’s anything but glamorous. Sure, he’s happy to see the only woman he ever loved but less thrilled about the kids, dog, and minivan. He tries to flee and convince Kate to move back to the city, and he sees “himself” as a stranger. But magically, he begins to realize that no amount of money could replace this “simple life.” As a family, they’ve created something real.