Posted by: Kristen Ridley | August 26, 2013

10 Most Inspiring Movies – No Women?

Women MoviesLast Friday on LinkedIn, I saw this list of Incredible Movies to Inspire Leaders. I don’t know about you, but I love lists! They are quick hits of fun, educational or otherwise interesting bits of information gathered into someone’s idea of “most/best” whatever.

Lists have the added benefit of being highly subjective, and therefore up for – often animated – debate and conversation about whether the list maker’s choices align with our own. One of the main reasons I started this blog is to start interesting conversations. So I’m a sucker for a list. But I digress . . .

Getting back to the Incredible Movies list from Friday, what struck me as I read through it, was that there isn’t a single woman as the main, or even A main focus of ANY of these movies. Now, in fairness, the author of this list is a man, so I guess it’s only to be expected that he would gravitate to movies driven by men and male characters. Like I said, one of the best things about lists is the opportunity to critique them.

When I looked through that list, as laudable as I think most of his movies are, I wanted to see a list that reflected the fact that movies about and driven by women are also inspiring. So, I decided to create my own list, one that offers inspiration and leadership advice, but from a woman’s perspective. And while my list does focus on women as main characters, I think the advice offered by these movies is really applicable to anyone. Of course, as the reader, you get to decide whether you agree or not, and I’m hoping you’ll weigh in and tell me what you think – even if you disagree with my choices! 😉

Each title links to a YouTube clip of either the movie’s trailer or my favourite scene from that movie.

#10 – The African Queen

If you can hold your own against Humphrey Bogart, I figure you are automatically a leader and an inspiration! Katharine Hepburn coaxes, cajoles, nudges, and occasionally bullies Bogart into doing something heroic. Aside from the fact that Hepburn’s character starts out as a spoiled rich woman who grows into a formidable and honourable person, this movie also demonstrates that having little to work with, and needing to fight through adversity to reach a goal doesn’t have to stop you. As a communicator, I often have to be creative and flexible in how I’ve tried to improve and evolve the communications approaches in my various organizations.

#9 – North Country

Charlize Theron stars in this based on true events story about the first successful sexual harassment lawsuit won in the U.S. As a female miner, Theron’s character is subjected to horrendous abuse from the male miners she works with, including the management. This movie reminds me that while change in most workplaces today is difficult, and irksome to implement, it’s absolutely nothing compared to what many of the trailblazing women who’ve come before me had to endure so that I have the ability, and, more importantly, the right, to complain about my job trying to improve communications in some of my past jobs.

#8 – Erin Brockovich

I love this movie because it’s a reminder that how someone “appears” has little if anything to do with who they truly are, or what they’re capable of. Erin took down a massive conglomerate doing really evil things to a small town just because she refused to give up, and was willing to be creative and inventive in getting what she needed to get the job done. I can always use a reminder that there lots of ways to get things done, and it’s far more important that you do get the job done, than whether you do things “the way we’ve always done it”.

#7 – The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen is a heroine for a younger generation, but her ability to be kind and giving to others even in the worst possible circumstances is inspiring to me. While this is a rough movie to watch, it shows that you can be a kick-ass powerful woman who won’t be beaten down without becoming hateful or bitter. Life can be difficult and put obstacles in our way, and sometimes we have to be firm and make hard choices, but we can choose to keep a small grain of humanity and kindness always with us, and use that to drive your overall actions, because that’s what real leaders do.

#6 – Miracle on 34th street

This movie has not one, but two inspiring women, in Maureen O’Hara and a very young and delightful Natalie Wood. The inspiration here comes from the realization of young Susan Walker that while logic and intelligence are important, they aren’t everything, and sometimes in order for magic and the seemingly impossible to happen, you have to throw caution to the wind and just believe! Communicators face plenty of seemingly impossible hurdles in our work, and some days, my stubborn belief that things that seem set in stone can actually be changed is what keeps me trying and believing.

#5 – Gone with the Wind

I can’t imagine that I even need to explain why this movie is on my list, but for the three people out there who haven’t seen it [and you three really need to watch this movie – “epic” doesn’t begin to describe it!] I will. Scarlett O’Hara is the spoiled, selfish, pampered daughter of the owner of the southern Tara plantation during the time leading up to and through the Civil War. Scarlett’s world of luxury and ease comes crashing down around her with the war, and she’s forced to dig into herself and find the fortitude and grit to look after not only herself, but almost everyone in her immediate vicinity. This one inspires me in two ways: 1) it shows that people can change. If you’d told Scarlett at the beginning of the movie that she’d be digging potatoes from the ground with her bare hands and eating them, or wearing the drapes as a dress she’d have told you “Fiddledy Dee!” but she does that and more to survive; and, 2) Things aren’t always neat and tidy, and sometimes the best choice available still isn’t ideal, and you have to weigh the choices available and make the best one you can, even if that choice isn’t perfect. Both of those lessons stand me in good stead as a communicator on a daily basis.

#4 – The Princess Bride

Full disclosure – you will never see a “best movie” list from me that does not include The Princess Bride. I think this is one of THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE, and I’m not even going to pretend to be at all objective about its wonderfulness, so there you go. The Princess Bride again offers me two lessons: 1) You can be gentle and quiet and sweet most of the time and still accomplish things. Princess Buttercup ends up in a number of unfortunate situations in this movie, and while she is certainly never going to give Katniss Everdeen a run for her money, she nevertheless asserts herself when the situation calls for it and does what she has to do but always remains ladylike; 2) Humour almost always improves things, and finding the humour in difficult situations can be the difference between losing your marbles in frustrating interactions and being able to laugh, breathe and move forward. Throughout my career, having a healthy sense of humour has been probably the best skill I have – and not just in my work either. Laughing is always better than the alternative. P.S. I wrote an earlier post with The Princess Bride’s lessons for communicators, in case you’re interested.

#3 – Norma Rae

Norma Rae as played by Sally Field in this movie about union organizing making hard-working women’s lives more equitable is my inspiration for those times when making a fuss and insisting on fighting for something important is appropriate. When you work in corporate environments there are a lot of things you have to  just accept, but as a communicator, it’s my job to sometimes push back and advocate for things I know would make things better for everyone. And while I don’t go around jumping up on tables and kicking and screaming the way Norma Rae does [much as I might occasionally be tempted to] I have learned not only when to push but how, so that everybody wins.

#2 – The Help

This film has a whole bunch of inspirational women in it, and the courage of the black characters is simply herculean to me, because I am fortunate to have been born a white woman, and in a time where what happened in this movie is history. But the women this movie is based on battled insane intolerance and discrimination and they did it with grace and dignity, and all the while they LOVED the little white girls they cared for, girls whose parents wouldn’t allow them as “the help”, to use the bathroom inside the houses they cleaned. How much more inspirational can you get?

#1 – The Miracle Worker

This is without a doubt the most inspiring movie I can think of. It is powerful and positive and proves without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what obstacles or hardships life throws at you, you can persevere and rise above them. When I feel whiny about the miniscule – compared to what Helen Keller faced – problems in my life, I think about Helen, compare her battle to my life and I shut the hell up! This is yet another movie where you get a “two-fer” since Annie Sullivan, Keller’s teacher and the person who taught her to communicate and opened the world to her is also a supremely inspiring person. The scene from the movie that the link goes to is my absolute favourite from the movie and I get shivers and tears in my eyes every time I watch it. I feel like there is nothing I can’t manage after seeing what Keller overcame. And after all, that’s the objective of inspiration, right?

Okay, your turn – what inspirational movies would you add to my list? Ideally if there’s a woman in there, that would be terrific, but feel free to add in whatever movies inspire you.



  1. I would have to add to your list in no particular order: Girl Fight, Monster,Frida, Tiny Furniture, Fish Tank, Water Lilies, Where do we go from here, Filly Brown, Pretty in Pink, and Naturally native, Thanks for your list Imma check out the Miracle Worker, Keep em coming Kristen and let me know your critical opinion of the latter suggestions.

    • Hi Ana, and thanks for your comment. I would absolutely agree with Frida! Monster, I’m not so sure about, as an “inspirational” film. Certainly, it has a woman as the main character, but I don’t necessarily see a female serial killer as an inspiration. If you’re thinking about Charlize Theron as the actor in that, possibly.

      I have not seen any of the other films you mention so I can’t comment on those. I will look into them though, so thanks for the recommendations!

      • I would have to stand behind Monster as inspirational in its context. It is to easy to label the main character played brilliantly by Charlize Theron as simply a “serial killer”. She is a complex woman who trying to pigeonhole her and sensationalize her, as the media did, to make her out to look like a lunatic only reinforces the status quo of what violent men are able to get away with and the stigmatization toward every woman who ever tried to fight back. keyword: Defend her self! I think she is a heroine for all those in silence, hurt and dying in the shadows and in the halls who wish they too could just once let the johns know what they really felt, what they really thought, what they really wanted to do! I am tired of denying these fantasies for many marginalized women and wish to see more risk taken in film to portray women in threatening positions, just enough to lift the veil of stereotypes and own their own ground as they choose. Let me know what you think Kristen!

  2. Hi Anna – thank you for your comment. While I totally see your perspective, I just can’t see a murderer as a heroine anymore than I would call a male killer a hero, however justified she may have felt herself. I can sympathize with what certainly appeared to be a very hard life, and wish she could have found some help, but I can’t call her a heroine. But that’s me, and mine is just one opinion. 🙂

    Thanks again for commenting, and for reading my post.

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