Top 10 Real Life Inspirational Movie Figures
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
Script written by Q.V. Hough
Top 10 Real Life Inspirational Movie Figures
In the real world, these people changed lives, and in cinema, their legacy endures even more. We've included people like Margaret Keane, Erin Gruwell, Joy Mangan, Jean-Dominique Bauby, Oskar Schindler, Erin Brockovich, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Mahatma Gandhi. Whether they be artists, activists, civil rights leaders, the Queen, or everyday people like Erin Brockovich, they've made such an impact in real life and their story needed to be told on screen.
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Top 10 Real-Life Inspirational Movie Figures
In the real world, these people changed lives, and in cinema, they’re legacy endures even more. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Real-Life Inspirational Movie Figures.
For this list, we’re focusing on inspirational movie characters – both male and female – that are based on real-life individuals.
#10: Margaret Keane
“Big Eyes” (2014)
Artists don’t always create for the attention, but it always feels good when they are appreciated. In Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes,” Margaret Keane produces her now famous “big-eyed waifs,” only her husband Walter claims to have done the paintings while his wife continues working behind-the-scenes. Portrayed by the endearing Amy Adams, Margaret perseveres as a woman during a more conservative time in America, and she fights back once her work is slandered in public. On the surface, she’s an imperfect artist, yet her persistence makes her one of pop culture’s more commercially appealing women of her time.
#9: Erin Gruwell
“Freedom Writers” (2007)
In some communities, day-to-day survival is more important than academic education. This is the context for the Hilary Swank movie “Freedom Writers,” in which she plays a ‘90s-era teacher attempting to liberate minds and inspire personal freedom in Long Beach, California. As a young teacher, Erin Gruwell matures rather quickly, as she recognizes the underlying maturity of her students. And so, she teaches them with tangible, firsthand accounts of history, helping to make correlations that touch on their own lives but also provide hope for the future. By straying from traditional norms in the classroom, Erin gives her students a voice and helps them realize how education and creativity can change their lives.
#8: Alan Turing
“The Imitation Game” (2014)
For a man with such a beautiful mind, he lived during a most difficult time. During World War II, Alan Turing helped crack German codes, and his mathematical innovations paved the way for modern computers. But despite saving millions upon millions of lives, Alan can’t rest easy, as he lives in a time when being openly homosexual is not accepted. His personal life not only becomes public, but he’s persecuted as well. Throughout the film, Turing stays focused enough to literally change the world, proving that sometimes you’ve just gotta do the work, even if you’re not thanked for it.
#7: Joy Mangano
She’s a modern woman unwilling to play the traditional female role in society, and her practical thinking makes her a true American success story. Portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, Joy Mangano makes some tough decisions in David O. Russell’s film, and her no-nonsense demeanor undoubtedly affects those around her, for a better or for worse. Most importantly, Joy doesn’t lose sight her of her goals and her commitment pays off once the “Miracle Mop” innovation takes off. As a business mogul, Joy inspires through her ability to navigate rough waters, but she’s even more inspirational as a truly independent woman. She stands up for herself, and she understands the art of effective communication, as she’s not one to beat around the bush when striving to accomplish her goals.
#6: Jean-Dominique Bauby
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007)
Due to a serious stroke, this French man loses all communication with the outside world – or so it would seem. Based on Bauby’s unlikely personal memoir, Julian Schnabel’s unorthodox film details the events that defined Bauby’s life, whether it’s his work as editor of Elle Magazine or his point of view while dictating a book, using only the blink of an eye. The narrative itself pulls at the heartstrings of viewers, but Mathieu Amalric’s interpretation of Bauby highlights the man’s inner light and refusal to give up.
#5: Oskar Schindler
“Schindler’s List” (1993)
During World War II, this German industrialist chose life over death. At first, Oskar Schindler offers work to Jewish people, as it seems to be a wise business move given the reduced costs. But everything changes during Kraków’s liquidation, as Oskar realizes that he can do something about the horrors around him. By shifting the focus from wealth to humanity, he ultimately saves over 1,000 lives by offering work at a company that was destined to fail. And so, it’s this contrast that drives Steven Spielberg’s adaptation, as Oskar finds various ways to keep his operation going, all the while providing hope.
#4: Erin Brockovich
“Erin Brockovich” (2000)
Like Joy Mangano, this woman has a persuasive personality that is simply contagious. Of course, it also gets Erin Brockovich into some trouble here and there, but it becomes instrumental for the case that would change her life. Portrayed by Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich has a strong effect upon men and her fellow peers, but it’s her intellect that fuels her work. And so, when it comes time to take on the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for a direct-action lawsuit, she’s fully prepared for every bit of controversy that will come her way. She exemplifies substance and style, and she’s a woman that transcends clichés, allowing her to effectively fight for her plaintiffs. Independent and strong-willed, Erin Brockovich represents a natural female leader.
#3: Harvey Milk
Coming out of the counterculture era of the 1960s, this politician paid the ultimate price for never backing down. In Gus Van Sant’s biopic, Harvey Milk is depicted as a man willing to fight for his own beliefs, and certainly for gay rights in The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco and beyond. Harvey continuously pushes the boundaries, transforming the traditional norms of American policies while inspiring others to follow in his path. With Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance, he brought even more attention to the real Harvey, showcasing the inner drive that kept him progressing forward.
#2: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the years, this civil rights leader’s life has been largely documented. But the focus of Ava DuVernay’s film sheds new light on a crucial year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Recounting the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery and the underlying political setting, this MLK movie obviously showcases the perseverance of the great leader. At the same time, the film highlights the intricacies of organizing large-scale events that would undoubtedly have an impact upon American society. With David Oyelowo in the lead role, viewers receive a different look at King’s contributions to civil rights, leading up to a truly historical moment.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson
“Hidden Figures” (2016)
Queen Elizabeth II
“The Queen” (2006)
Leigh Anne Tuohy
“The Blind Side” (2009)
#1: Mahatma Gandhi
Just the name “Gandhi” is inspiring, as many recall the Indian leader’s non-violent ideals. Yet Richard Attenborough’s acclaimed epic celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s influence over the world in a film released nearly 35 years after his death. Starring Ben Kingsley in his breakout film role, the movie explores Gandhi’s eventful life, ranging from early racism on an South African train to the peaceful actions that precipitated his death in 1948. Kingsley’s performance was highly praised, and works together with the narrative to effectively demonstrate why Gandhi remains an iconic and relevant figure.
So, do you agree with our selections? Which real life movie figure inspires you the most? For more poignant Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.