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11 movies to inspire kindness, compassion, and right action, part 1

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Whether portraying saintly humans or greedy social climbers that make even the most miserly among us cringe, Hollywood has found ways to inspire movie goers to better behavior. Some of the movies included in parts one and two of this list have won Academy Awards; some have made us want to swing through the trees on a fragile vine - or just simply try to bring out the best in others.

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1. Apollo 13 (1995)

Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, this action-packed film brings viewers along on the ride with the astronauts aboard Apollo 13, recounting their nerve wracking story as depicted by mission commander Jim Lovell in his book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, and documenting the work of those largely unsung technical personnel who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to save the lives of Lovell and his crew when their lunar mission went awry in 1971. Rating: PG.

2. Bright Eyes (1934)

Jane Withers is the mean child foil to Shirley Temple’s sweet heroine who softens the heart of crotchety old, wealthy Uncle Ned while helping her godfather reunite with his one true love in this 1934 Black and White classic. Our girl Shirl’ is at her best as she sings On the Good Ship Lollipop, backed by a choir of male aviator buddies. And true to the formula of Temple’s movies, by the end of the film, the kind, decent people win; the greedy ones lose. Rating: PG.

3. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts won the Oscar for her rendering of environmental crusader Erin Brockovich in this 2000 film. Although the movie’s ending suggests a more favorable financial outcome than what actually occurred for many of the clients involved in the class action against PGE, the story remains a beacon for many consumer rights activists who still believe that one person can change the world for the better. Rating: R.

4. Gandhi (1986)

Ranked 29th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 most inspirational movies ever (100 Years, 100 Cheers), Ben Kingsley’s transformation into Gandhi is remarkable. Directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, the film includes a cast well known to television and movie fans, including Candice Bergen (later of Murphy Brown and Boston Legal) as legendary photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Sir John Gielgud (one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century whose many diverse roles also included the stern but supportive butler in Arthur and the Master of Trinity in Chariots of Fire) as Lord Irwin, and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now and The West Wing) as the fictional Vince Walker whose character was said to be based on war correspondent Webb Miller.

The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, taking home a total of eight, including Best Picture, Best Director (Attenborough), and Best Actor (Kingsley). More importantly, though, Kingsley delivers many of Gandhi’s most memorable words on compassion in a way that makes all of us want to strive for a kinder, non-violent world. Rating: PG. View the trailer on IMDb:

5. Glory (1989)

Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman give inspiring performances in this war epic. Broderick portrays Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the Massachusetts 54th, one of the first African American regiments to see combat in the Civil War and one which received significant support from abolitionists and other civic leaders of the time, including Ralph Waldo Emerson. The story tracks the regiment from its formation in March of 1863 through the evolution of company members from their initial deployment as manual labor into full fledged soldiers who courageously led the Union’s determined, but ultimately failed assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina.

One of several scenes related to spirituality and compassion depicts a worship service by the frontline soldiers held on the eve of the Fort Wagner assault. The unit, honored so eloquently by this film for its valor, suffered significant casualties. Fifteen men were captured, 52 were declared missing in action, 149 were wounded, and Colonel Shaw and 29 of his men were killed in the field while another 24 later died of their wounds.

Although some have questioned the film’s accuracy (many characters were composites of several individuals while others were pure fiction), there is enough riveting storytelling combined with genuine historical detail to make the movie a permanent part of one’s film library. Rating: R.

6. Mighty Joe Young (1998)

Critics might vilify this Examiner for selecting the remake over the 1949 original (or for even putting either version on any list of films to watch), but the way in which Charlize Theron inspires viewers to care for animals by falling for a fake gorilla propels viewers’ “Awwwwwww!” meters off the charts – even more so when Theron sends the film’s greedy, heartless poachers packing. It’s Disney; it’s warm; it’s fuzzy. Rating: PG.

Next: 11 movies to inspire kindness, compassion, and right action, part 2