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Do you remember the last time you left the movie theater feeling totally inspired? We love that feeling, the one that reminds you that you’re ready to take on the world. So we created a collection of our favorite flicks that do just that. Oh, and you can watch them all from the comfort of your own living room. They tell powerful stories of struggle and triumph, bias and inequality — real-life issues that elicit tears or a fist pumped in the air when the good guys win. Some of them just might make you laugh, too.
We’ve got everything from thought-provoking thrillers that are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat to a recent release that, while it may seem like a light romantic comedy, actually represents so much more. Grab a bag of popcorn and put your feet up for our list of the best films all about shifts in culture.
1. Best in Theaters Now: “Harriet”
You may have (hopefully) learned a bit about Harriet Tubman in your high school history lessons — the heroic slave-turned-abolitionist whose dangerous missions led to the liberation of hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad, but you’ve never seen her like this. Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet in this powerful biographical film that chronicles her escape from slavery, and her harrowing journey to help hundreds of others escape their shackles.
2. Best Historical Flick: “Selma”
“Selma” (2014) is a chronicle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and his pursuit for equal voting rights, centered on the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The film, starring David Oyelow as the late Dr. King, follows the true story of the famous activist embarking on a dangerous three-month campaign to secure equal voting rights for African Americans, culminating in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Feel free to watch the powerful film anytime you’re in need of some major inspiration.
3. Best Story of Immigration: “The Visitor”
“The Visitor” (2007) is the tale of an unlikely friendship between Walter Vale, a listless college professor who travels to New York City for a lecture, and the immigrant couple that he finds to be occupying his apartment — a Syrian musician named Tarek and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab. It turns out the foreign pair were swindled, and Vale begrudgingly demonstrates empathy by allowing them to stay. To show his appreciation, Tarek offers to teach the elderly professor how to play the African drum. What follows is Vale’s rediscovered passion for life and Tarek’s possible deportation. The film is not only a powerful reminder of the forces that can bind us and also tear us apart, but also a portrait of the challenges faced by immigrants in a country changed by the tragic events of 9/11.
4. Best Date Night Pick: “Loving”
It’s time to pull out your tissue box, folks. “Loving” (2016) is based on the real-life love story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple that got married in the 1960s. At the time, it was illegal for them to wed in their home state of Virginia due to miscegenation laws, and they traveled to DC to tie the knot after Mildred realized she was pregnant. Soon after, the Lovings were arrested, put on trial and banned from the state of Virginia for their apparently illegal union. They refused to give up their fight to live in the state though, and their perseverance and love eventually led them all the way to the Supreme Court, whose unanimous decision led to the end of the country’s last remaining segregation laws.
5. Best Thought-Provoking Thriller: “Get Out”
Alright, enough with the tear-jerkers for now. “Get Out” (2017) is a twisted, satirical thriller by director Jordan Peele that expertly weaves in metaphors for more serious topics such as racism, slavery and cultural appropriation. It centers around a young African-American man, Chris, and his Caucasian girlfriend named Rose as they make their way to her parents’ home for the first time together. What ensues are a series of microaggressions and eerie circumstances that lead to something so sinister that Chris could have never imagined.
6. Best Legal Drama: “On the Basis of Sex”
Felicity Jones stars as the iconic force that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex” (2018) — a fun and inspiring biographical flick about her journey navigating life as a student, attorney and mother. As she struggles to stay on top of a demanding career and new motherhood, the movie also shows her constant battle against those who underestimate and belittle her based on her gender. Finally, it follows Ginsburg as she brings a historic case to the U.S. Court of Appeals that forever changed the way the courts view gender discrimination.
7. Best Political Film: “The Butler”
An all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz and Robin Williams is helmed by Forest Whittaker as a White House butler named Cecil who served under no less than eight presidents. Over the course of three decades Cecil witnesses administration changes and how they’re reflected and received throughout the country.
8. Best Documentary: “The Other Side of Immigration”
Though “The Other Side of Immigration” came out back in 2009, its main theme is still more relevant than ever before. This powerful documentary by Roy Germano draws upon more than 700 interviews in Mexican towns where half the population has left to work in the United States. It explores the reasons behind the mass exodus and what happens to those who are left behind, providing an unprecedented view on life from the perspective of undocumented immigrant workers.
9. Best Film Highlighting LGBT History: “MILK”
Another uplifting historical flick, “MILK” (2008) stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The story begins with Milk and his partner Scott Smith moving to the city in search of a life purpose, opening a camera shop that becomes a hub for San Francisco’s growing LGBT community. Follow his journey as he makes the leap into the murky waters of politics, making friends, and eventually foes, along the way.
10. Best for Nasty Women: “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”
“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” (2014) is an award-winning documentary about the history of feminism and the birth of the liberation movement in the late 1960s, directed by Mary Dore. The film takes viewers on a journey, from the founding of the National Organization of Women (NOW) to the emergence of a more radical movement for liberation. It also touches on the challenges today’s feminists face and the present-day activists working tirelessly for equality.
11. Best Sports Movie: “Remember the Titans”
Denzel Washington stars in this iconic film about the 1971 court-mandated desegregation of Virginia high schools, portraying football coach Herman Boone. As the school’s first black coach, he faces the obstacles of prejudice and the challenge of uniting the team and leading them to victory. “Remember the Titans” (2000) remains one of the greatest sports films of all time that’s about so much more than just the game.