Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures.
Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures.

The all-time greatest movies about inspirational women

In times like this, we could all use some inspiration. Leigh Paatsch scans the movie menus for true stories of women who can motivate us all to better, higher places. Why not watch them with your mum, your daughter, your sister, your best friend or even your better half?

  

BECOMING (Netflix)

This recent doco on former US First Lady Michelle Obama has more substance than its oh-so-stylish veneer initially suggests. The filmmakers join Obama on a punishing 34-city publicity tour to push her best-selling book, and her ability to connect with people and convey an important message - often in a matter of seconds, and in crowded stadiums (remember them?) - really is something to see. Could this be the start of a run at the White House for 2024? There's plenty here to have you hoping so.

 

 

HIDDEN FIGURES (Foxtel or Rent)

Few inspirational true stories are as infectiously upbeat as this: the unfairly unknown tale of a group of black female mathematicians employed by NASA during the crucial pre-Apollo years. What truly impresses is the fine balance maintained between the personal journeys of the trio - who endured widespread discrimination both inside and outside NASA - and establishing the wider significance of their important contributions to the US space program. Overall, a great all-ages experience. Stars Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson.

 

Hidden Figures revealed the incredible lives of the black female mathematicians employed by NASA.
Hidden Figures revealed the incredible lives of the black female mathematicians employed by NASA.

ERIN BROCKOVICH (Binge, Foxtel)

A cause film with a difference, in that it doesn't take its lofty concerns too seriously. Struggling single mum Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) gets a low-ranking job in a law firm, gets nosy about a case involving the poisoning of a local water supply, and then gets on her high horse to make justice see things her way. A sugary blend of light comedy and high drama camouflages an engrossing legal paper chase. 

 

SOUL SURFER (Netflix or Rent)

It was the faith and family values instilled in teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton from an early age that helped her cope with a horrific shark attack at age 13. The young woman's unwavering belief in both herself and a higher power are key truths to the tale. Squeamish viewers should not be too alarmed by the shark stuff. Soul Surfer is no Jaws or The Shallows. The aftermath is what really counts here. Stars Anna Sophia Robb.

 

Julia Roberts played the gutsy lead role in Erin Brockovich.
Julia Roberts played the gutsy lead role in Erin Brockovich.

WILD (Rent only)

A slow-burning true story of self-discovery and finding redemption in places most people wouldn't dare look. Reese Witherspoon stars as Cheryl Strayed, a young woman reeling from two major life mistakes in a row. To put a failed marriage and a recurring struggle with heroin behind her, Strayed embarks on an arduous 1700km hike along the challenging Pacific Crest Trail.

 

Angelina Jolie in the eerie drama Changeling.
Angelina Jolie in the eerie drama Changeling.

CHANGELING (Foxtel, Amazon)

Every key detail of this startling period drama is on the historical record. Angelina Jolie stars as a single mother in 1920s Los Angeles reunited with her abducted son, only to discover the child presented by police is an impostor. Try as she might, the authorities refuse to acknowledge her claims. Directed with wise restraint by Clint Eastwood, a testament to making your voice be heard in a world not inclined to listen.

 

Reese Witherspoon in a scene from the film Wild.
Reese Witherspoon in a scene from the film Wild.

HE NAMED ME MALALA (Rent Only)

An uplifting documentary about the remarkable (and endearing) Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Shot through the head by a Taliban gunman for violating a decree forbidding girls to attend school, Pakistan-born Malala not only recovered from this brutal brush with death, but also converted an intimidating negative into an inspirational positive. Suitable for all ages (and walks of life).

 

 

THE BLIND SIDE (Binge, Foxtel)

This family-friendly drama revels in the hokey, the homespun and the heartfelt. Quite efficiently, as it turns out. Sandra Bullock plays a feisty Memphis mother whose kindness towards a homeless black teen points the gentle giant towards the big-time in American football. While there are several ouch-worthy moments, they are spaced far enough apart not to devalue the real worth of a remarkable true story. 

 

Sandra Bullock plays a feisty mother who helps a homeless teen in The Blind Side.
Sandra Bullock plays a feisty mother who helps a homeless teen in The Blind Side.

RBG (DocPlay or Rent)

A gently engrossing documentary on US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who at 87 years of age remains one of the most actively influential figures in American law. Quite rightly, the spry, modest and always engaged Ginsburg is the star of the show here, and the mere opportunity to be in her presence proves a lasting delight.

 

 

JOY (Foxtel or Rent)

An unusual biopic powered by an electric lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. She plays Joy Mangano, a driven single mother who made a fortune as the inventor (and popular TV sales face) of the essential 1990s domestic gadget the Miracle Mop. Mangano both designed her product and mastered the complexities of big business with little formal education or resources. Co-stars Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper.

 

Jennifer Lawrence dazzles as a mum who makes it in the world of big business in Joy.
Jennifer Lawrence dazzles as a mum who makes it in the world of big business in Joy.

QUEEN OF KATWE (Disney+ or Rent)

An incredible true story, beguilingly told. In a clear triumph over complete adversity, an illiterate, impoverished young Ugandan girl (Madina Nalwanga) discovers she has the makings of a true chess prodigy. Under the mentorship of an unqualified coach, our hardluck heroine chases her dream of becoming a Grandmaster so she can pull her family out of poverty. Be sure to stick around for the best closing credits sequence of this millennium. Co-stars Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo.

 

SUFFRAGETTE (Stan or Rent)

An arresting period drama isolates a crucial point in time for the movement that fought for the right to vote for British women. In the year 1912, Maud (Carey Mulligan) is a working mother despairing her destiny has hit a dead-end. A spark catches alight as Maud commits to what was very much an unpopular, outlaw cause at the time. Co-stars Meryl Streep as famous Suffragette spearhead Emmeline Pankhurst.

 

Originally published as The all-time greatest movies about inspirational women



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