Movies are many things to many people. Some are merely entertainment, quickly forgotten. To others, they are nothing less than art. Some provide social commentary, others become deeply personal and make you re-evaluate your life and ask questions you’d never thought to ask.
Here at Screen Rant, we examine 14 Movies That Will Make You Rethink Your Life.
Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead!
15 Fight Club (1999)
One of the first overly violent films to be released after the Columbine tragedy, Fight Club was mauled by many critics who saw it as a savage assault on middle America and its values. Once the DVD release became a cult hit, however, Fight Club was given another look and its messages became far more clear.
A big lesson for a generation raised to consume the latest gadgets and fashions is simple: there’s an emptiness in such pursuits. Owning things is fine, but at what point do your possessions own you? Does the pursuit of happiness include the ownership of material things, or does the ownership of material things make you less happy?
The second lesson, and one many people didn’t see coming, is more to do with the attachment to our identity. Are we who we believe ourselves to be? We are not our jobs; we are not how much money we have in the bank. So who are we? When the “revolution” the movie has been gearing up to is revealed to be a satire constructed to teach both the unnamed main character, and the viewer, a valuable lesson about humanity, we are left with some very profound questions as to who we are.
14 The Truman Show (1998)
Why do we accept the reality around us? Is it because we are predisposed to or are we socialized to believe whatever reality we are presented with? Moreover, how do we know that our entire lives are not just being manipulated by a corporation that puts us on TV for the entertainment of the masses?
In The Truman Show, one man has been secretly filmed for his entire life and has had every moment broadcast for a reality television show. Only, there’s a catch. Truman himself has no idea that the world he lives in is a cleverly constructed film set. He lives his life entirely for the entertainment of a world he has no idea even exists.
The question for the viewer is both simple and scary: How do we know that our lives aren’t on TV? Are we being as manipulated as Truman? Are the people we love merely actors? Considering the erosion of privacy in the twentieth and twenty-first century, it’s a fear many people could share.
13 The Matrix (1999)
Cleverly constructed as a mix of action and philosophy, The Matrix poses some interesting questions about our perceptions of reality. The film’s premise is that office drone Thomas Anderson, who is secretly a hacker who goes by the name of Neo, has been living in a computer-generated simulation his whole life. Moreover, every human being is and the whole known world is merely a gigantic program called “The Matrix” which serves to imprison the whole of humanity, following a war that we have not only lost, but don’t remember ever having fought.
The film serves as an allegory for spiritual awakening, Neo learns that he has been imprisoned for his entire life, with only a vague sense that something is not-quite-right with the world. He is taught about his near-limitless potential as a mechanistic being and he begins the fight back against the machines that keep humanity captive.
An outstanding movie in many respects, The Matrix asks the audience a very simple, yet scary question: How do we know we aren’t in The Matrix? If you can prove you’re not, comment below…
12 Office Space (1999)
Office Space has become a cult hit among 20 and 30-somethings for a reason. Like Fight Club, it asks why you are living the life you are living if it makes you so unhappy. It doesn’t dress it up in the same way, but the question is the same. We go to a job we hate, to earn money to pay for things, to make us feel better about the life that makes us unhappy. But why?
Initially planning to steal money from his employer in a revenge bid for having been treated as less than a human being for so many years, Peter (Ron Livingston) changes his mind and returns the money. Still expecting to be fired and arrested for theft, he is pleasantly surprised to find the building has been burned down by a co-worker, with the evidence of his crime erased. Finally, free of the office that has enslaved him, he finds peace working as a construction worker, away from the corporate culture that has made his miserable.
While engaging in corporate fraud is a tad bit of an overreaction, it does make us ask a simple question: If you hate your life so much, why don’t you just change it?
11 Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Life is Beautiful teaches the audience that the power of optimism and perception can help you survive in even the darkest times. With the horrors of the darkest moments of World War II as a backdrop, the story follows one father’s attempts to shield his family and preserve their innocence.
While the horrors of World War II may be hard to relate to for some in modern audiences, the central message of keeping positive, no matter what life throws at us, is as poignant as ever. It is a simple message, beautifully crafted here, and one that many people can apply to many aspects of their lives.
10 Lost in Translation (2003)
Two people who are in-theory supposed to be happy but are actually incredibly miserable is certainly not the most original movie premise. But here, it is presented in such a way that it asks important questions regarding the nature of relationships in the modern world.
Lost in Translation has been highly praised for the performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, the latter becoming a star almost overnight. But more importantly, the movie does a remarkable job of showing that deep human connections can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of scenarios.
The movie doesn’t so much pose a question as much as it does an answer, keep your eyes open for those connections so they don’t pass you by.
9 Before Sunrise (1995)
Before Sunrise asks one very simple question about one of life’s most complicated things: love. Can the greatest love of your life last only one night?
Jessie and Celine meet on a train and disembark in Vienna, spending one night together talking about their thoughts on relationships and love. The plot is minimal, there’s not much beyond the conversation, but Before Sunrise still makes many points regarding love.
Each character is, for different reasons, seeking an escape from their life. Jessie in particular is deliberately looking to take the long way home in order to give himself some time to think and figure himself out as he believes himself to be no different to the rest of the boring masses.
By the end of their single night together, Jessie admits that he would, if given the choice, marry Celine rather than never see her again. The audience, while not challenged to, is left asking themselves if they too could fall in love in merely one night?
8 Jerry Maguire (1996)
Another movie made in the approach to the millennium that asked the questions, "Am I happy with my life?", "What am I motivated by?" and also,"Do I need to make some changes?"
Initially motivated by what he himself describes as “Bad Pizza,” Jerry (Tom Cruise) writes a mission statement to his employers calling on a focus on people over profits. He is almost instantly fired, leaving him with a lone client (Cuba Gooding Jr) that agrees to work with him. His mission statement, and an emotional outburst, encourages a fellow office worker (Renee Zellweger) to join him in setting up his own company. His fiancée leaves him, having been attracted to his lifestyle and status, and he is left without friends.
Rebuilding his life proves problematic, as Jerry realizes that he has almost no identity beyond his career. He builds an ersatz family within his new life, and finally realizes that these human connections mean far more to him than he previously realized.
7 Melancholia (2011)
Part of the “Trilogy of Depression” by Lars von Trier, Melancholia takes place in the days preceding a global catastrophe as a planet called Melancholia approaches earth. Seen through the eyes of a young woman dealing with her own issues, the film raises many philosophical questions about our own mortality.
Seen as a metaphor for our own depression, the planet itself, is a symbol for our own approaching deaths and asks us if we are making the most of our existence. While positing no answers, it does visualize something as intangible as depression in a way few films have been able to do. Given that mental illness affects so many people, yet is something that few people talk about, Melancholia not only quietly shines a light on the attached stigma, it also allows us to question what we think we know about depression.
6 The Man from Earth (2007)
What would the world look like if seen through the eyes of a man who has literally lived forever? The Man from Earth is a very clever look at human existence that asks and answers many questions regarding topics as diverse as Religion, Culture, History, and Humanity.
The plot itself is simple as it’s mainly a group of academics discussing the hypothesis of what would a man who has never aged make of the modern world? How could the life of one man be shaped if mortality is not an issue? How could he have shaped the course of history? And most importantly, if you had lived for thousands of years, would mortal lives still matter to you? Would you perceive yourself to be a god among men?
Criminally underrated, and rarely seen, The Man from Earth asks so many questions about the nature of humanity that it’s worth several repeat viewings. The surprising ending, where it’s revealed weather or not the protagonist is a fantasist, or really is an immortal, is handled both delicately and heartbreakingly. An indirect question raised by the movie is worth endless discussion, if you had true immortality, what would you do with it?
5 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003)
Is the pain associated with the end of a relationship worth it? Would you erase the memories of a relationship in order to spare you the pain you are feeling? For anyone that has experienced a painful break-up, the question of whether or not you wished you’d never met them is usually one you ask yourself. Eternal Sunshine asks this in a unique fashion by offering its protagonists just that option.
When re-encountering each other, with no memory of their pasts together, the couple are immediately drawn to each other. Once they discover their pasts, they are given a choice: try again, knowing that they could fail once more, or walk away.
Dressed up as both a love story in reverse and an intelligent science fiction film, Eternal Sunshine asks many questions about relationships and what it means to be “meant for each other.”
4 American Beauty (1999)
How would you act if you had nothing to lose? American Beauty explores this idea in provocative fashion. Unlike Jerry Maguire, Lester (Kevin Spacey) rejects much of his boring suburban life and regresses back to the point where he was last happy, his late teenage years. Rejecting both his responsibilities and his marriage, Lester begins acting more and more rashly and immature.
Lester begins working out, smoking pot, and takes a job flipping burgers. He is also deeply sexually attracted to his daughter’s best friend and the two flirt provocatively despite their age difference and Lester’s marriage.
While the film also discusses issues related to sexuality, drug use, and social status, at its core it asks a simple question: what is happiness? If you spend your existence building a life, only to be miserable in it, where did you go wrong, and can you go right?
3 Brewster’s Millions (1985)
What would you do if you had a million dollars? Maybe not such a difficult question. What would you do then if you had tens of millions and mere days to spend it all?
A very ‘80s comedy featuring the late Richard Pryor, Brewster’s Millions asks one of the simplest of questions, does money buy happiness? While finding himself instantly wealthy, with days to spend a fortune (in order to inherit a much larger fortune) Monty Brewster finds that money in itself does not buy happiness. Alienating his best friend, and learning that the sycophants he meets only like him for his money, Monty learns that neither love or friendship come with a price tag.
While the moral of the story is simple, it does make you ask yourself the question: if you had a month to spend $30 million, what would you do?
2 About Time (2013)
If you could time travel to any point in your life, giving yourself endless chances to “get it right,” how would you live and what would matter to you the most?
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) has lived a near idyllic life by the sea and is incredibly close to his attentive father (Bill Nighy). When he is 21, Tim learns that every male member of his family has the ability to travel in time and make whatever changes they see fit. Initially thinking that making money would be a good use of this ability, he is told by his father that his uncle pursued money and was miserable, and that Tim should seek something more important.
Falling in love, Tim accidentally time-travels and erases his first meeting with Mary (Rachel McAdams), the true love of his life. Using his ability, he manages to find her again and, using his knowledge of their first encounter, manages to fall in love with her once more. Using his ability to create a “perfect life” he makes whatever changes he sees fit in order to keep everything on track. Learning that his gift is not without consequence, and that certain changes can lead to unintended consequences, he eventually accepts life for what it is and stops using his power once and for all. He learns to see the good in every day, despite it not being perfect.
While his life becomes about love, and his purpose is clear, it does ask some deeper philosophical questions. If you could go back and change things, what would you do? Would you change the course of your life? Would you visit a departed loved one? Would you make your life about one thing? Tim chose love. What choice would you make?
While many films are wonderful escapes, some remain with you and ask you many questions about life. What movies have made an impression on you and made you question your life? Let us know in the comments!