15 Movies That Inspire Me to Write
Writers love to tell stories, but they also love to hear stories. It inspires them to write their own and share their thoughts, opinions, and experiences with the world. Sometimes just hearing a good story puts you in the mood to write. While a good book can do the trick, so can a good movie. Movies have the benefit of being able to combine images and words to tell a story in roughly two hours or less. So, they are the best story telling medium to provide quick inspiration to writers. Below are 15 of the movies that I pop into my DVD player whenever I need inspiration in my writing.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
Synopsis: A sheltered 15-year-old writer gets a freelance writing assignment touring with a 1970’s up-and-coming rock band.
Why It’s Inspiring: The story grabs you from the opening scene. The characters are interesting and multi-faceted. The plot is amazing but realistic. The world of rock music is both romanticized and criticized. Each scene is its own sectioned-off moment which leads to a satisfying ending. Movies about writers help writers remember why we do what we do. So to see them in action struggling with their craft is comforting and inspiring, especially when they achieve what they set out to do with their work. The story’s hero, William Miller, is young but experienced and knows his stuff. To watch him struggle with his dream job is something that all writers can aspire to experience and relate to.
2. Casper (1995)
Synopsis: A friendly ghost befriends the daughter of a paranormal psychologist after he is hired to drive out the ghosts that haunt the mansion belonging to a jilted heiress.
Why It’s Inspiring: Yes, it’s a kid’s movie, but it’s probably the most well-written kid’s movie ever made, balancing comedy, drama, and action to create a hybrid family-friendly movie that balances child and adult humor. Death can be a tricky subject to discuss in a kid’s movie. Casper makes death a very organic topic. Everyone dies. Sometimes at 12. Sometimes at 30. Sometimes at 80. It is how you live your life in the time you are given that matters.
The ghosts in the movie are trapped in a version of limbo, stuck on earth due to personal unfinished business, but it’s a tolerable limbo, especially when there are living people to either terrorize or befriend. This movie shows how a story doesn’t have to be chained to any one type of genre, and the characters can be funny one minute and sad the next, and it’s still realistic and organic in terms of creating a realistic world and people to populate the story that you are trying to tell.
3. The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
Synopsis: A teenage girl dying of cancer meets a boy at a cancer-support group, and the two plan a trip to Amsterdam together to meet her favorite author.
Why It’s Inspiring: Movies based on best-selling books can be great, and they can be awful. They can make you wish that your work is turned into a movie one day, or they can make you feel like locking the rights away in an airtight safe. The Fault in Our Stars is one of the great adaptations. It’s well acted, well produced, and keeps the tone of the book while still making it its own. Some of the dialogue comes straight from the book, and it’s interesting to hear the words spoken aloud. It also takes an overdone subject and makes it fresh and unique. There is tragedy but also humor. There is sadness but also joy. It is the kind of well-rounded story that any writer would be proud to have their name attached to in the end credits.
4. Garden State (2004)
Synopsis: A young actor returns home for his mother’s funeral and tries to make sense of his past.
Why It’s Inspiring: This emo story is very hipster and sometimes quirky, but there is a universal message sprinkled throughout. We cannot go through life numb to emotion in order to avoid pain and suffering. The plot of this story is difficult to explain without taking the audience from scene to scene. Instead, it is a buildup of individual moments that leads to a realization and arc for the protagonist, Andrew Largeman. Any mid-20’s American can understand the confusion that Andrew faces at that age. This is a time when you are still trying to figure out what you want to do and who you want to be with. A daily dose of mind-numbing pills can get in the way of making those decisions as can unresolved issues that need to come to light. This film provides some deep thoughts about how to handle these issues which are worked into conversations and monologues that writers live to create.
5. Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Synposis: A young woman is sent to a mental institution in 1960’s Massachusetts for treatment after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Why It’s Inspiring: This movie is slow and steady with the audience experiencing life from Susanna’s disconnected perspective. At first, the scenes bounce between past and present, transitioning times and places in fluid but confusing segues. Susanna’s condition is hard to describe and even harder to confirm as a mental illness versus a simply an unorthodox personality. Regardless, she is self-destructive and in need of some perspective. Once she has rested a bit, she becomes resistant to her treatment and to authority in general. She is easily persuaded by her friend and fellow patient, Lisa, to continue to resist that authority which blinds her from Lisa’s own intention to keep Susanna under her thumb, whether inside the hospital or out. We see Susanna’s perspective switch again as she finally accepts treatment and works her way to an earned release. This character arc shows what a writer has to do in order to show the struggles of a mentally ill and possibly unreliable narrator.
The book is very different from the movie and doesn’t follow a traditional narrative since it is a memoir and not fiction. So, it is interesting to see how the screenwriters were able to adapt non-fiction into a tonally similar but very different story. Both get their point across, and both are very truthful, even if the events of one are mostly fabricated.
6. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Synopsis: An orphaned genius is forced to see a therapist after getting in trouble with the law one too many times.
Why It’s Inspiring: This film sits on the shoulders of the conversations held between Will and his therapist, Sean, during their sessions. Dialogue is very important in this character-driven story, and much of the dialogue is spent trying to tear down the walls that Will puts up around others as the result of his traumatic past. He interacts differently with different characters while still keeping his cocky, genius-level guardedness and cynicism at all times. This can exhibit itself as anger, humor, or intimidation from scene to scene.
With Sean, though, he is the most himself since Sean will not tolerate anything less. If Will is disrespectful, Sean puts him in his place. If Will refuses to talk, Sean won’t speak first. If Will dances around a question, Sean kicks him out. The basis of his treatment is to get Will exposed while still feeling safe, and he finally has a breakthrough in his second to last session which is cathartic and tragic at the same time.
Each scene shows a subtle progression of their relationship and Will’s treatment, just scratching the surface of Will’s issues, but Will is smart enough to put the pieces together once it is laid out for him so it is interesting how the script works around the characters’ motivations and shortcomings to wrap up the conflict in a messy but cathartic way.
7. The Green Mile (1999)
Synopsis: A group of death row prison guards witness miracles performed by one of their inmates as he awaits execution in 1930’s Louisiana.
Why It’s Inspiring: Stories are supposed to inform audiences about lives and situations led that are very different from their own. This includes the best of circumstances and the worst. Everyone has wondered what death row would be like. This gives a very historical perspective of one of the most interesting and off-putting means of execution: the electric chair.
But the setting doesn’t make the story. This one throws in a supernatural element that has nothing to do with the politics of the situation or the moral issues of the practice of putting a criminal to death. Instead, it is about right and wrong, good and evil, action versus inaction. To mix history with the supernatural is unique and creates some interesting images and ideas. When every story feels like it has already been told, it’s refreshing to watch a mash up of genres create something new and original.
8. The King’s Speech (2010)
Synopsis: When the crown is forced upon him by an unwilling older brother, King George VI must overcome a lifelong stutter in order to deliver inspiring speeches over the radio as his country heads into a second world war.
Why It’s Inspiring: Biopics these days are concentrated into a very specific moment of conflict. The King’s Speech takes a very personal issue and makes it the subject of a little known story at the time. While World War II is a very widely written about event, the internal war that King George fought with his stammer at the time is not. But the inspiration of overcoming this personal issue illustrates how he went on to become an inspiring figure for his country during the war.
Sometimes we are in our own way when dealing with a situation, and to have him assume the throne in an age when it just so happened that he was now expected to speak publicly to all of subjects makes for a compelling story. At the same time, this story doesn’t diminish the bigger picture but instead gives him a reason to finally have to seek treatment and overcome all of his reservations of taking on the task of ruling England. In a medium where words are imperative, watching a character struggle to speak his is extraordinary.
9. Music and Lyrics (2007)
Synopsis: A washed up 80’s pop star convinces a reluctant woman with a gift for writing to help him write a hit song for a current pop star.
Why It’s Inspiring: Many times, watching a writer work on screen is very unrealistic. You see them either blocked for long periods of time or on a roll, pounding out finished work in one draft and in record time. You never get to see the writing process at work from the first spark of inspiration to the final rewrite. This story takes you through the entire process from start to finish. From word choice to rhythm to additional verses, Sophie and Alex engage in the time consuming task of writing a hit song that is both audience-friendly and has something to say. They draw from their pasts and sometimes have to climb over them to get to the end, but the story finds ways to keep the story engaging as the two write and rewrite until they have a polished piece of lyrical writing.
10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Synopsis: A man in trouble with the law chooses to carry out his sentence in a mental institution rather than prison and quickly comes to regret it.
Why It’s Inspiring: The group therapy sessions in this movie are long, drawn out, and interesting. You feel like you have a seat in the circle as the men share their troubles and seem to get nowhere with their nurse’s stone cold leadership. The dialogue is deeply layered, and the characters are diverse and constantly at odds, making for some fun and thought-provoking scenes to watch play out. These men don't know how to help themselves let alone each other so to watch them have to struggle through group therapy sessions with their individual mental ailments is a wonderful mess to observe. Watching these scenes can help a writer figure out what they are trying to say in their own dialogue.
11. The Village (2004)
Synopsis: A 19th-century Pennsylvania town is terrorized by creatures that live in the surrounding woods.
Why It’s Inspiring: There is so much going on in this movie. I catch something new every time. Like a Where’s Waldo book, there are different looks, actions, and meanings to catch in each scene. At the same time, the story doesn’t feel like it’s weighed down by plot. These underlying side plots and motivations illustrate how to build a world and include both obvious and subtle ideas within it. It’s also airtight in how it is executed and full of questions from how much some characters knew about what was going on to what happens after the screen goes black. This movie is not about how the story ends but how it started and whether or not the town is successful in its quest to be sheltered from evil and tragedy. It isn't about the monsters in the woods, it is about the hidden monsters within the seemingly safe village itself. It has a lot to say about human nature, and that, to me, is an inspiring topic.
12. Whip It (2009)
Synopsis: A teenage girl from a dilapidated Texas town secretly competes on a roller derby team on weekends.
Why It’s Inspiring: This movie follows the underdog tradition of most great sports movies. However, it’s an unconventional sport with a unique plot. Few sports are about women, and those that are don’t usually incorporate humor and fun into them. These characters take their sport very seriously, but they don’t take themselves seriously. They all are working towards a better life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t relish the fun and relationships in their current lives. It is how the characters act on their successes and failures that is inspiring in this story, making it not only inspirational from a writer’s perspective but from a woman’s in general.
13. White Oleander (2002)
Synopsis: A teenage girl is flung from one dysfunctional foster home to another after her mother is convicted of murder.
Why It’s Inspiring: Another movie on this list about women and how they view themselves is White Oleander. Also a movie based on a book, this movie is not so much a look into the horrors of foster care as much as how women can manipulate younger women into following their beliefs. It is also about the internal versus the external with young Astrid in conflict with her outward beauty being both a gift and a curse as well as her inner-self always being at odds with her environment and those who try to persuade her to be like them. Her biggest critic and inner voice is that of her murderously manipulative mother, and it is a voice that she knows she will never be able to or want to shake completely.
This movie is not inspiring so much in being populated with admirable characters but in sympathizing with flawed and sometimes pathetic people. Many realizations come into play throughout the course of the story, and each one gives meaning to the motivations and philosophies that are introduced to Astrid. It is up to her to weed through them and pull out the lifestyle that she wants to lead.
14. Wonder Boys (2000)
Synopsis: A writer, his editor, and his student spend a weekend in Pittsburgh getting into mischief and trying to figure out where their lives are going.
Why It’s Inspiring: A story about writers will always grab a writer’s attention, but where this story holds their attention is in the mundane hijinks and the flaws of each character creating more conflict for themselves and each other. They think like writers but speak to every audience member. They have interesting back stories which culminate into the events that go down over the course of one snowy weekend. The story is especially inspiring to me because it takes place in my hometown in very familiar conditions. It shows me how I can take my everyday surroundings and build a plot and characters around that setting.
15. You’ve Got Mail (1999)
Synopsis: The owners of two New York book stores compete for business in the Upper West Side but at the same time unwittingly carry on a romance online.
Why It’s Inspiring: The plot of You’ve Got Mail centers around the book industry, a line of work very interesting to a writer. It also takes place at the beginning of the age of the Internet, becoming a time capsule of that era and where our modern day means of communication started. It is about anonymity as well as trying to figure out what you want in life, a universal struggle that we all face. Joe and Kathleen come from opposite ends of the same spectrum, and it’s fun to watch them banter in real life while growing closer online.
Modern day stories are told differently throughout the years because there are new lifestyles to build around them. This film is a remake of an original where letter writing was the means of communication between the two leads. If the story were to be made again, it would need to be altered even further since the Internet of the 90’s was nothing like the Internet we have today. The challenge is to evolve with the times while still keeping the characterization and plot the same. This film is a perfect example of that and inspiring to figure out what modern conveniences a writer can build a story around.
What are your favorite movies to watch when you need inspiration? Leave your answers in the comments below!