23 Great Movies to Inspire Sacrifice

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Sacrifice is about giving of oneself for another.  Whether that other is God, country, family, mankind or even some worthy cause, there is something so powerful about such a visible and even painful act of love.

In our world, sacrifice is difficult to offer. Perhaps because of all the entitlements we enjoy (Have we become weak in our consumption?), or perhaps because relativism reigns and love has become so intertwined with our fleeting emotions that it is no longer construed as worthy of sacrifice.

Whatever the reason, the world is sorely in need of an increase. Could a little inspiration spur us on? They say that visual images can become powerful conduits of change. Maybe a few great movies can set the stage. Rev us up. Inspire our wills to engage in something greater than ourselves. A few heroic examples may just inspire in us the courage, discipline or the will to stand tall.

And if not, well, we’ll have enjoyed two hours of great entertainment!

A couple of notes about the list: First, I know there are plenty of saint stories that demonstrate heroic sacrifice; but I opted to include two of my absolute favorites. And frankly, I’m sure there are plenty I’ve never seen, so I’m not even going to try to pretend to be an expert here! The same is true for war movies. I included a few; but I’m sure there are many more that you could add to my list.

Additionally, I did not include any movies about sacrifice for one’s own benefit. For example, one of our favorite movies is Rudy; but as inspirational it is, every ounce of sweat Rudy spills is in pursuit of his life’s dream of playing football for Notre Dame. While his goal is laudable, it is not a sacrifice for someone or something outside of himself. And all those other great “sport” movies? I felt the same about them – although my husband and son both declared that they are all about sacrificing for the good of the team. Maybe, but if I were to include all the inspirational movies about athletes, this list would be virtually infinite.

Most important to note: This list is simply meant to be a conversation starter. I am definitely not a movie guru! If you think of any greats that are missing, please comment and add them to the list!

For God

(OK. The first two movies are about God’s sacrifice for us; but I couldn’t think of a catchy title for that category.)

  1. The Passion (2004) – No explanation necessary. His Passion says it all.
  2. The Gospel of John (2003) – Masterful work of art depicting the entire Gospel with no additions.
  3. Mary of Nazareth (2014) – This movie walks with Mary through the life of Christ; most notable is her great joy, despite all that she must suffer. Everything she is and everything she has (including her Son), she offers to God.
  4. A Man for All Seasons (1966) – Amazing demonstration of courage in the face of great pressure to conform to the will of an earthly king.

For Country

  1. Les Miserables (2012) – This arguably could be listed under family as well – Jean Valjean’s sacrifice for Fantine and her daughter are so integral to the movie that they take center stage at his death. But with the huge overtones of sacrifice for love of country and the score that highlights that aspect of the movie, I opted to list it here. This has to be my all-time favorite movie. I could watch it over and over and never tire – especially of the final scene.
  2. The Patriot (2000) – I’ve heard that this movie is not at all historically accurate; but there must be some element of truth to the grueling nature of the sacrifices offered by early Americans. We saw this movie for the first time only recently, and while it was violent, I definitely found it inspirational.
  3. Air Force One (1997) – Don’t we all dream of a Commander in Chief who would be so courageous and honorable?! And who doesn’t love Harrison Ford as a hero?! I could have included his others here as well – Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Now that I think about it, perhaps the Star Wars series should have been on my list too.
  4. Casablanca (1942) – Great classic and one of the most quoted movies ever! When I was younger, I always wondered why in the world this movie ends as it does. Now I know – sacrifice – and I love the movie all the more.
  5. We Were Soldiers (2002) – Mel Gibson is such an honorable and prayerful leader in this movie. This is one war movie that demonstrates the sacrifice of both our men in uniform and their wives who held down the forts at home, never knowing when or if their husbands would return.
  6. For Greater Glory (2012) – This one shows how saints are made.
  7. Braveheart (1995) – Confession – I haven’t actually seen this movie. But I’ve heard about it forever and it’s on my short list. Ask me after this weekend and I’ll let you know whether I think it lives up to its reputation.
  8. Red Dawn (Chris Hemsworth)(2012) – Or you could watch the first version from 1984 with Patrick Swayze. – The concept of this movie is a little frightening these days considering the state of the world.

For Family

  1. It’s  a Wonderful Life (1947) – Love, love, love it! Sadly, I have actually met people who haven’t seen it. What better way to demonstrate the power of a single life?!
  2. Cinderella Man (2005) – Next to Les Miserables, this is my absolute favorite movie! What a wonderful depiction of a beautiful marriage and a devoted father.
  3. Life is Beautiful (1998) – My husband saw this on accident midway through one night and had no idea what it was called; but he assured me it was one the best movies he’d seen. We did the research and rented it right away. To have such a positive outlook in such horrendous circumstances for the sake of one’s son – I only wish I demonstrated such joy and optimism in the wake of something as minor as a spilled glass of milk!
  4. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2006) – Greatest movie ever about perseverance in a difficult marriage. Despite alcohol abuse and irresponsibility, this marriage survives – efforts were not not 50/50, but 100/0 for many years. I loved this woman’s example of joy and determination.
  5. Bella (2007) – Choose life.
  6. Pinocchio (1940) – Yes, it’s a children’s movie. But I am reading the book to my little ones right now (again) and this is such a biblical book! Gepetto is quite a father (Jesus?). And through his sacrifice, Pinocchio (who represents you and me) learns what it means to love (i.e sacrifice).

For Mankind

  1. Mother Teresa (Olivia Hussey) (2006) – No explanation necessary.
  2. Schindler’s List (1993) – Here we have an opportunist who learns the value of human life – and then sacrifices to protect it.
  3. The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945) – While there are other plot lines, the entire movie showcases the conversion of Mr. Bogardus, a selfish business man who becomes an extravagant giver.
  4. Amazing Grace (2007) – The amazing story behind the abolition of slavery in Great Britain.
  5. No More Baths (1998) – Our family has loved this movie for years.  Essentially it’s about a group of kids who find an unusual way to stand together and make a difference.

4 Comments

  1. Paula Zwenger

    Witness to Hope, the autobiography of John Paul II, would be a great candidate too.

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  2. Valerie Niemeyer

    “The Mission” and “Entertaining Angels” are two of my favorites, both powerful testimonies of lives of loving sacrifice for God and His “least of these”. Both require some discussion/teaching, and probably censure (fast forward), if less mature kids are watching, as the characters don’t always act neatly “in bounds”, morally speaking. But they are raw/real humanity…messy and challenging, inspiring and beautiful. The Mission has one of the most dramatic/impressive scenes of penance/reparation I’ve ever seen, as well as a beautiful soundtrack (we like to listen to it every Good Friday/Saturday). It paints a compelling illustration of the sacrifices and fruits of some early Jesuit missionaries, as well as of the complex drama around the issue of violent vs. non-violent resistance to oppression. See historical basis and inaccuracies for consideration here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mission_(1986_film)#Historical_basis

    “Entertaining Angels” has a most memorable scene where Dorothy Day is praying in the Church in a moment of desperation, struggling with the gut-wrenching difficulties of pouring her life out for the poor. Really good stuff, in my opinion…both movies. Some will criticize this or that aspect of either/both of them for a variety of reasons, but there is much Truth, Goodness and Beauty in them, regardless, and they are great “food” for thought, prayer and discussion. There are many misunderstandings about Day’s “politics”, and for those who wish to further explore her principles in light of Church teaching, see http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/1860/dorothy_day_a_saint_to_transcend_partisan_politics.aspx and/or her chapter in Omar Gutierrez’s book:: https://www.createspace.com/4169597

    Both are fitting stories for pondering in light of the Year of Mercy, and also the election year. (The Mission illustrates some of the evil elements that were part and parcel of the colonial era under the reign of Catholic monarchies…interesting to consider in light of contemporary “freedom of religion” concerns. ) God bless, Vicki! Wish I had time to watch all these movies! Good to have another “go-to” list for when the opportunities arise, though. Thanks… 🙂

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  3. Catherine Nicholson

    Daredevil, while too violent for young eyes, also exemplifies sacrifice of self for the good of others. See Netflix. Thanks for writing. God bless you.

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    1. Thanks, Catherine! I don’t have Netflix, but will definitely look it up!

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