20 Movies That Help You Make Sense Of Life

These films help people make sense of problems in life and accept the human condition.

These films help people make sense of problems in life and accept the human condition.

Meaningful films help people cope with life’s problems, research suggests.

People report that movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Up and Schindler’s List, help them to make sense of problems in life and accept the human condition.

Other films rated as meaningful include Hotel Rwanda and Slumdog Millionaire.

While these films are not necessarily uplifting, they are all moving and poignant.

And that is the key to a meaningful film: having an emotional range, being inspirational and containing both happy and sad moments.

People did not report these types of benefits when they watched other well-regarded but not so meaningful films like Catch Me If You Can and The Big Lebowski.

Mr Jared Ott, the study’s first author, said:

“Meaningful movies actually help people cope with difficulties in their own lives, and help them want to pursue more significant goals.”

For the study, over 1,000 people rated different films — 20 of which were chosen for being highly meaningful, while the other 20 were not (see below for the full list).

Professor Michael Slater, study co-author, explained the results:

“We found that people felt better able to make sense of difficulties in their own life when they recalled a movie that focused on values that were important to them.”

Films which were more meaningful, people said were more likely to help them:

  • “Feel like struggles in life are for a reason.”
  • “More easily handle difficult situations with grace and courage.”

People thinking about meaningful films were also more likely to agree with statements like:

  • “Both happy and sad experiences give meaning to our life.”
  • “Gains and losses are part of life.”

The research also showed the importance of individual values.

People found more meaning in films that espoused values they themselves believed in.

Mr Ott said:

“That happened even when the movie was classified as one of the less meaningful films.

The findings suggest why many people see movies as more than just entertainment.

Some films may help people cope and grow through difficult periods in their life.

And people may recognize this effect years after they have seen a particular movie.”

20 meaningful films

Here is the full list of more meaningful films, in no particular order:

  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Into the Wild
  • The Green Mile
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Schindler’s List
  • A Beautiful Mind
  • The Pianist
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Gran Torino
  • Rain Man
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Dead Poet’s Society
  • Braveheart
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Gladiator
  • Up

The less meaningful films used in the study:

  • Pulp Fiction
  • Casino
  • Blood Diamond
  • The Departed
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Mystic River
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Catch Me if You Can
  • Snatch1
  • There will be blood
  • No Country for Old Men
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors
  • Trainspotting
  • LA Confidential
  • The Princess Bride
  • Se7en
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sin City
  • Fight Club
  • Ratatouille

The study was published in the journal Mass Communication and Society (Ott et al., 2021).


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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.