What 16 Movies Can Teach Us About Life and Leadership



Movies can be an amazing source of insight and inspiration.

They fill our  hearts and heads with heroes, stories, songs, and scenes we can draw from.

Maybe you think of the theme song to Rocky when you work out.  Maybe you think of “waxing the car” or “painting the fence” while you master your craft.  What’s important is that you choose the stories, scenes or heroes that  serve you.

16 Movies that Inspire Life and Leadership at Another Level

Here is a sampling of 16 movies and what they can teach us about life and leadership:

  1. 300 – Play to your strengths.
  2. The Bad News Bears – The right coach can turnaround any team, from worst, to first.  It’s about the journey and the destination.
  3. Kung Fu Panda – The right team can kick arse.  You’re the sum of your network (remember the Furious Five.)
  4. Peaceful Warrior – Make every move about the move.  A warrior acts, only a fool reacts.  Don’t become a victim of your own limiting beliefs.  The people that are the hardest to love, probably need it the most.  Want more? … check out Lessons Learned from Peaceful Warrior.
  5. Surf’s Up – Find a way, because that’s what winners do.  When there’s no wave to ride, make one.
  6. The 13th Warrior – Your competition always has a weakness.
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Win the heart, the mind follows.  Find the best in everyone.
  8. Star Wars – Keep your ego in check (and carry a big light saber.)  Your intuition can serve you well if you master it.
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Make every project an adventure.
  10. The Lord of the Rings – The best heroes can come from the strangest places (who would have thought to check the shire?)
  11. Rear Window – Use your emotions and intuition as input.  Check your facts.
  12. The Wizard of Oz – You had it in you all along.  You just needed somebody else to bring it out.
  13. Slumdog Millionaire – Smart and gets results can change your lot in life.
  14. Bonnie and Clyde – Passion + smarts makes for a great team.
  15. Rocky – You gotta have heart.  Sometimes it’s about going the distance.
  16. It’s a Wonderful Life – Know your value and what you bring to the table.

What movies do you draw from?

Photo by cliff1066.


  1. Hi JD .. they do inspire us -some of the ones you’ve mentioned I’ve seen – others no .. Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines – leadership, dering do .. do and you’ll achieve. Pretty Woman – perseverance and a body (lacking!). It’s the upliftment, the lightening of the spirit that can then lead us to fulfill ourselves for the better.

    Good Idea – I must take note when I see a film again ..
    Thanks – Hilary

  2. Wow! Awesome post, I love the one about your competition always has a weakness 🙂 Play on your strengths too from 300.

    The movie that I like to draw from is Scar Face. No, don’t go out become drug dealers 😛 but there’s a quote in the movie that lifts me up always:

    “The world is one big (expletive) waiting to get (expletive)” — There’s opportunity everywhere!

    Great post JD!


  3. What a wonderful idea JD and such fun. Though I never went to many movies because my parents thought them addicting and I never have had much money (I am loving Netflix now!) I think there are so many lessons to be learned. When I watch a movie and it touches me, until I can not get it out of my mind – I know it was an important lesson.

    The last movie I went to was Julie & Julia, which I was taken to 4 times for my birthday. I could see it again. Not only was it a blogger who succeeded, and became a writer, but it was a story of a woman who kept working until she found her passion and niche…and success. “If at first you do not succeed, then try try again.” Every single person has a success or two.

  4. Wow! I love the way you summed this up so simply. I’ve seen quite a few of these movies and I agree with the lessons you got from them. As for the others… it looks like I’m going to have to check them out now! 🙂

  5. Hi JD,

    Most of the films you listed, I agree with but “Surf’s Up”? I tried to watch that movie but stopped about half way through because it was starting to get boring. Plus, I have to tell you, the way women were portrayed in that movie kind of bothered me. That said, I know that some not so Oscar worthy movies do have meaningful messages. I personally think “Legally Blonde” is a great film. So no worries, dude! 🙂

  6. J.D.,
    What a bountious list of movies you have provided! If I may suggest just one more: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It is a beautiful film that clarifies the longing of love and the horror of hatred in masterful style.

  7. What a fun post, and one I loved reading; thanks for thinking of it!
    I recently re-watched Star Wars, and I have to say, it was VERY spiritual. Makes me think George Lucas is a super spiritual guy.

    One of my favorite romantic comedies is Say Anything. There’s a scene where a guy at a party is trying to figure out how Jon Cusack’s character got Ione Skye’s character to go out with him:

    Mike Cameron: I don’t know you very well, you know, but I wanted to ask you – how’d you get Diane Court to go out with you?
    Lloyd Dobler: I called her up.
    Mike Cameron: But how come it worked? I mean, like, what are you?
    Lloyd Dobler: I’m Lloyd Dobler.
    Mike Cameron: This is great. This gives me hope. Thanks.

    To me that says GO FOR IT, no matter who you are; don’t believe in other people’s limitations. If you want something, make a move.

    Thanks, JD!

  8. Mulholland Drive – Not everything has to make sense. This is a common theme in David Lynch films that one can either enjoy or dislike in my experience.

    Ferris Bueller Day’s Off – “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” There is an amazing amount of wisdom there.

    Office Space – Ways to look at life and health. Notice the job the lead character has in the end and that he is rather happy with that job.

    My New Best Friend – Lead, follow or get out of the way. These are the choices in life.

    The Matrix, eXistenZ, and Vanilla Sky – Questions about reality and what if life was different than what we all thought…

    There are a few TV shows that I really enjoyed for how they twisted the world to makes things interesting. “The Outer Limits,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Night Gallery,” “Tales from the Crypt,” and “The Hitchhiker,” are the main examples that come to mind where all had some narration at the beginning and/or end to introduce various twisted, wicked ideas.

  9. Hi J.D.

    You got a great list here, many of them are my favorite movies. The Bad News Bears, Kung Fu Panda, Rocky, The Lord of the Rings.
    Personally RUDY does it for me. It is a bout a college football player, the funniest thing is I don’t care for football. None the less, I love this movie.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  10. Very insightful! The Peaceful Warrior has had a huge impact on my life. I first read it when I was about 20, then nearly 20 years later I watched the film. I was prepared to be hugely disappointed, but was pleasantly surprised. Not sure why Socrates was not as described, but still the moment before the gymnastics routine, when he was in the moment and the water drops were moving so slow, as then on the pommel horse. It was reminiscent of The Matrix.

  11. I’d add Last of the Mohicans for Hawkeye’s boldness. Leaders need to be comfortable with risking it all on a whim or for the sake of what they believe. Great example of boldness and sacrifice.

  12. Wow – great post!
    I just watched the new Star Trek Movie tonight and thought that this was a great flic for leaders. The dude that plays Captain Kirk nailed it and embodied fearlessness in facing opposition behind enemy lines and even in the cockpit of the USS Enterprize! It is a must see for leaders of any age or title!

  13. For work: Pulp Fiction’s Mr. Wolf “I solve problems”
    For life: Scent of a Woman’s Al Pacino [Frank Slade] “When in doubt, f#$k”

  14. Hi

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Master and Commander.

    The whole film is about the relationship between Jack Aubrey and members of his crew.

    Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again, and then write a more detailed review for my blog. Thanks, i was looking for an idea.

    All the best


  15. Fight Club.

    “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don’t need.”

    Kinda summarizes perfectly, what’s wrong with our society.

  16. Hi everyone!

    First: Loved this article!

    I have to go with Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow.

    Jack Sparrow is the personification of being an Entrepreneur.

    Here is some of his top qualities:
    Creativity: Thinks of new ideas and vision to combine different elements
    Innovation: Using creativity to achieve his goals
    Focus: While on a venture he’s always focused on the finish line and in the final prize!
    Knowledge: He has the skills to be a successful pirate and knows what needs to be done at all times
    Faith: Despite of all problems that appear between him and his goal, he always believes in his ability to overcome them and still win!
    Leadership: He’s a natural born leader with strong motivational skills.

    Best regards,
    Bruno Coelho

  17. I know a public speaker whose leadership-workshop is based upon TWELVE ANGRY MEN, which demonstrates leadership and personality-types far better than most of the movies listed above.

  18. You could include a Brazilian movie called “Elite Squad”. It tought me a lesson of how to be honest, even when you have many opportunities to become a corrupt person.

  19. Kung Fu Panda, Rocky and Lord of the Rings speak the most to me, because when we put our minds to something, no matter how “lowly” our beginning we can kick arse.

    And did you really say arse here on your puritanical blog?? 🙂

  20. @ Hilary

    Pretty Woman is a great example of opportunity, along the lines of Trading Places. I haven’t seen Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, but I’ll check it out.

    @ Kevin

    300 always rocks my world.

    I haven’t seen Scar Face, but I know it’s a classic and I have to check it out. That quote kicks arse.

    @ Patricia

    I saw Julia & Julia and you’re right, it was a great movie about finding your passion and niche. I especially liked the fact that Julia Childs didn’t let anybody limit her. She set her own bar and went for it.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. There are so many movies, and so little time.

  21. @ Nadia
    I agree – It only passes my “see once” test, not my “rent again” test.

    I don’t actually remember the bulk of Surf’s Up except for a few of the quotes and scenes. I mostly remember a penguin finding a hero, and then becoming one.

    Legally Blonde is fun and insightful.

    @ Rita

    I love the style of that movie. It was a great blend of theatrics, story, and impact.

    @ Megan

    Interesting – I’ve had re-watching Star Wars on my short-list of things to do. I recently re-watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy and I get a new perspective every time.

    Say Anything is a classic.

    I like your distillation – if you want something, make a move.

    @ JB

    Great distillations.

    Ferris Beueller is a classic. It’s the bench mark for making the most of a day.

    Office Space is a funny example of how just doing what you want might just get you what you want.

    I haven’t seen Vanilla Sky; I need to check it out.

  22. @ Giovanna

    I forgot all about Rudy. That is an inspiring movie. It’s up there with Vision Quest.

    @ Heather

    I’ve never read the book. I heard it’s way better than the movie, but since I saw the movie first, I got a lot out of it.

    That moment before the gymnastics routine is exactly what the best movies are made of.

    @ Jeff

    Well put … boldness and sacrifice are hallmarks of leadership.

    @ Tim

    I’ve always liked the model that Captain Kirk sets. It’s a hands-on, lead by example approach. He surrounds himself with a great team, and he always asks for input, even though he always has an opinion.

  23. @ Joan

    A powerful person and a powerful movies.

    @ Alik

    I haven’t seen either of those yet, but they’re in my queue. Great quotes are the hallmark of great movies.

    @ Liam

    Master and Commander is a great movie. Even the tagline is a great reminder – “The Courage To Do The Impossible Lies In The Hearts of Men.”

    @ Friar

    It cuts right through consumerism and it’s a great reminder to recheck our values.

  24. @ Bruno

    Beautiful set of attributes. He does show great motivational skills. I think he consistently demonstrates relevancy and he has enough empathy to know what matters to people.

    @ Larry J

    I love that movie. It’s such a simple movie, but it’s so engaging and so deep on so many levels. That movie reminds me to always look beyond the simple answer, and there are multiple stories to any given set of facts … and be careful what you label fact vs. interpretation.

    @ Guilherme

    I haven’t seen Elite Squad, but I like the title and the premise. I’ll have to check it out.

    @ Jannie

    True dat. Everybody loves an underdog and it’s a great reminder to step up to the plate, no excuses.

    I try to keep things mostly PG, but I might need to crank it up a notch (but I’ll keep my pirate talk in check where I can … in real life, it’s no holds barred though 🙂

  25. Rounders – When you are playing with professionals, it is best to assume they know how you play, what you like to hold, and they know you know that about them as well.

  26. I nominate “Chicken Run.” Besides being a brilliant claymation feature (made by the Wallace & Gromit folks), this film is about community leadership. Ginger, the heroine, is unstoppable in her quest to liberate her fellow chickens from the barnyard and certain death. At first, no one will even listen to her when she suggests that they learn to fly, but she eventually wins over hearts and minds…and succeeds. The chickens’ daring escape is not to be missed.

  27. I try to watch The Last Castle about once a year. It is great for leadership/motivation touching on principles service, sacrifice, and knowing how to get the most and best out of people.

  28. I thought the message of “Star Wars” was that if the force is with you, then you can accomplish anything 😉 My favorite message on this list is “Wizard of Oz.” Beautiful.

  29. @ Roger

    Beautiful insight and it reminds me of some of my best coaches. They believed in studying the competition — know the competition, respect the competition, don’t fear the competition.

    @ KSE

    I haven’t heard of it, but I checked out the trailer and it looks intriguing.

    @ Maureen

    Community leadership is a great trait. I like stories where somebody is able to inspire and unite people to a cause. It’s leadership in action.

    @ StanX

    It’s got quite an all-star cast. Enduring without yielding is definitely a helpful mental model for some scenarios.

  30. @ Chris

    That’s another movie with some great actors. Something about it reminded me of Cool Hand Luke (another of my favorites, especially when I think of determination.)

    @ John
    Music of the Heart strikes a chord … I’m a fan of movies where somebody gives their best to help others unleash their best … and everybody grows in the process (in a Dead Poet Society, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Coach Carter, and Freedom Writers sort of way.)

    @ Melissa

    Now that’s the right way to put it (hmmm … I sense the force in you is strong.)

    There really is something powerful to knowing that your best just needs to be unleashed.

  31. Forrest Gump – The power of doing things to the best of your ability and not thinking too much about what the world says.

    Life is Beautiful – For how to live life happily even in the worst of conditions

    Gattaca – For betting everything on your heart’s desire

  32. Hi JD – This is so true. That’s what I love about movies and if you pick a good one, it can leave you feeling so positive and good about life.

    I love the Wizard of Oz example. I’m betting that film has taught a lot to so many kids over the years.

  33. “It’s not about how hard you can hit — it’s about how you can take a hit and keep moving forward!” A timeless quote from Rocky Balboa that I constantly remind myself of. 🙂

  34. @ Vinayak

    Following your heart is a key to living life without regrets.

    @ Hilary

    Thank you, Hilary — you have a great Thanksgiving, too.

    @ Cath

    Movies really taught me about life’s possibilities.

    I make it a habit to watch the Wizard of Oz at least once a year.

    @ Chris

    That line was intense and I remember being surprised how the movie was way better than I expected.

  35. “Play to your strengths” is one of the very first lessons I have learned from you. I wasn’t really aware of this approach prior to “meeting” you.

  36. @ Vered

    I had a good mentor for that. I used to focus on improving my weaknesses, until one of my managers showed me the power of focusing on strengths.

    I eventually realized the guideline is “play to your strengths, but limit your liabilities.”

  37. I love this list – and what we can draw from different movies!

    I like the Mission Impossible series…for thinking about doing the impossible.

  38. @ Hank

    Great movie and top notch actors.

    @ Lance

    Anytime I find myself on an impossible mission, the theme song from Mission Impossible pops in my head.

  39. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an amazing movie about following your dreams and passions regardless of your age or place in life. The best part is towards the end when Brad Pitt’s character is travelling and there is a voiceover of what he is doing. Very inspirational.

  40. @ Charles

    I liked that movie more than I expected. I do like the lesson of following your dreams regardless of age or place in life.

  41. hi,

    Its really nice post, you can add movie “Cast Away” too, as its shows “Don’t loose hope in anywhere in any situation”. It should be in the list anyways others are great.

  42. Hook – story of re-discovery but one of my favorite lines is near the end when Peter is flying off he is barking out last minute advise…look after anything that is smaller than you. Too Small is advised to look after Neverbugs.

    Pay It Forward – Trevor practices entitlement (the good kind) when he asks Mr. Simonet why he gets to challenge them.

  43. Great post. As an author the U.N.I.Q.U.E. series of fable story leadership books, I spend my gramma days with my two year old granddaughter watching her favorite movies.

    Her favorite in the moment is “Rudoloph the Red-nosed Reindeer” – message, even misfits can lead the way in times of need.

    Another of her favorites is Charlotte’s Web – message, we are all unique and contribute to the team of humanity in some way. We just need friends who can support us.

    Point – I hadn’t watch children’s movies in years until my gramma days. I was amazed at how many of the children’s classics have life affirming leadership lessons.

  44. i see the all of movies and l knew what is the result comeback in our life. its truly mindblowing and enthusiastic .thank you i will always keep the list.

  45. Hi JD,

    Great list you have there… Makes me want to watch them again…

    I think the Widowmaker is also a good film about leadership in troubled times…

  46. I must be the oldest one to respond because one of my favorite movies has always been “To Kill A Mockingbird” with Gregory Peck. I saw it as a child but was old enough to intuitively know that “Adicus” had character and did what was right in the face of opposition. After I became an adult & saw it again, I understood even more about it. Adicus stood for what was right & didn’t back down, but he knew how to disagree without being disagreeable. It was about the wrongness of prejudice, how small-mindedness gets in the way of truth. He taught his children by example. Every time I see it, I think I learn something new. It’s a beautiful story. I hope some of you younger people find it available somewhere.

  47. I would like to add the movie ” Remembering the Titans”. I saw this movie in one of my leadership training programs held in our Organization. It tells how a leader should act during tough situation. Thanks a lot for this post:)

    All is well,

  48. I constantly spent my half an hour to read this weblog’s posts all the time along with a cup of coffee.

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