Appearing on the list of the best films of all time, created by the American Film Institute (AFI), is a massive achievement, with only the very finest films by the greatest directors managing to be recognised by the celebrated organisation. Whilst this list is rightfully considered to be the most prestigious, the institute has created several similar lists that celebrate narrative diversity across the art form.
One of these lists is the ‘ten most inspiring films of all time,’ with the institute choosing eclectic picks, with a strict entry criteria to be eligible for inclusion. Announced in celebration of 100 years of the AFI, the list of one hundred films was unveiled during a three-hour special on CBS in 2006 and were selected by a jury of over 1,500 leaders from the film community.
As for the films themselves, each one had to be over 60 minutes long, be a prominent American production and inspire a legacy that has long reverberated throughout the country’s history. Whilst each film on the exhaustive list is worth special consideration, the top ten includes such films as Peter Yates’ Breaking Away, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky and John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Of course, every movie on the list should be celebrated in their own right, and while we’d like to dive into each 100 of the movies, there simply isn’t enough time, so let’s dive into the top three.
At number three is Steven Spielberg’s emotional war drama Schindler’s List, telling the story of the incredible work of Oskar Schindler, an industrialist who helped over one thousand Jews escape persecution in Germany during WWII. Starring Liam Neeson, Spielberg’s classic is considered as one of the greatest movies ever told about the war and the horrors of the holocaust.
Just above Spielberg’s film at number two is Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a film based on the iconic American novel by Harper Lee that follows the lawyer Atticus Finch who helps defend a black man against a wrongful charge of rape. A rare example of a truly classic book that is adapted into an equally respected film, Mulligan’s film perfectly captures the mood of Lee’s intricate novel.
Neither of these films however could champion the list of America’s most inspirational films however, with that prize going to Frank Capra’s iconic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life, a staple of the winter season that continues to inspire audiences to this day. Passed through several publishers before it was approved, Capra’s film, based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s The Greatest Gift, is a defiant piece of art that deserves its place at the top of the AFI’s list of the most inspirational films of all time.
The 10 most inspiring films of all time
- It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
- Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
- Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939)
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
- The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)
- Breaking Away (Peter Yates, 1979)
- Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)
- Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)