I am in need of your advice!

In a few weeks time I have to show some students a film, and then talk about some aspect of related psychology.  The students will be around 17 years old, thinking about going to University, and I can show any film at all (including documentaries).

I want to show them something that has a chance of making a real psychological impact on them, and might even change their life.

So, my question is – what film should I show them?  What films have changed your life and how?  Any recommendations?  Let the debate begin!



  1. Twelve angry men. A court room drama that explored how individual prejudices can affect the way we interpret the world and other people. I was mesmerised throughout the film.

  2. Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”.

    As Albert Einstein said: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as [Gandhi] ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

  3. The Dark Knight: One of the most brilliant films I have ever seen. It encompasses extreme human philosophies and tackles issues that we take for granted – how to live – what is our utopia? What is the perfect form of governance?

  4. The Usual Suspects — for psychology this is a super one to show — we can really have a glare into our own psyches when we witness the surprise ending.

    Legend of 1900 — brilliant film about human beings.

  5. There Will Be Blood. It will certainly make a psychological impact.

    (Joking aside, I chose to be an English Major in Film and Media Studies instead of taking a route to be a dermatologist after seeing it – sorry for the American colloquialism of that sentence).

    Another good choice would be John Q.

  6. Short films for impact: has to be Milgram studies. But you don’t want a spoiler!
    Black hawk down has to be a film that had a major impact on me.

  7. Fight Club. One of the fews films I’ve seen that really destroyed the expectations I had of a movie going in.


    The central theme of the unnamed narrator ultimately giving into his subconcious and being lead by it, with the creation of Tyler Durden, in order to do the things that make him feel free, well, I really didn’t see it coming and makes repeat viewings of the film take on new meanings.

    Also, American Psycho could be another good one for showing how the mind tricks people. in this case the idea that Bateman is convinced he is killing when in reality it’s all in his head and allows him to vent frustration and anger as well as the psychotic side of Bateman being cold and ruthless enabling him to fit in with Yuppy society.

    Neither change my life per se, but certainly had an impact on me in terms of film making and character development.

    Though they are both an 18 so they’d need letters from mommy to be able to see them in school…

  8. The man from earth (2007). Not to be confused with the man who fell to earth with David Bowie. That or Texas chainsaw massacre.

  9. La vita e bella. A mixture of comedy and tragedy, very bitterweet and food for thought. It’s also great for that age group.

  10. I’m struggling to think of films that have changed my life. Books, maybe….
    But for this situation, I can’t help thinking of Good Will Hunting.
    Also, if the students are around 17, does that mean you can’t show 18 certificate films?

  11. A Clockwork Orange – made me question everything… & made me think before I do…

    Born Free – wild animals are not to be caged! but they should be protected from us (humans)…

  12. I saw Back to the Future when i was a kid. Than i started destroying my own toys, radios, tvs and try to combine them to make a time machine or some kinda magical device XD. It went on all my childhood and i destroyed A LOT of toys.. And all those curiosity and imagination lead me to this. Now im a cartoonist who tries to study engineering .. ^_^

  13. A Day in the Life of Bonnie Consolo. It is a short (maybe 20 min.) documentary about a woman born with no arms and how she goes about daily life doing ordinary things that everyone does. She just uses her legs and feet in place of her arms. Amazing! I saw it in jr. high or high school, and it has always stayed in my mind. I’m 53 now, and just this year thought I’d try to find it again to show my kids and grandkids. I found it, and it is just as incredible as I remember.

    In one scene of the film, Bonnie Consolo writes a check for her groceries, tears it out, and hands it to the cashier (all with her feet, of course). It was fun after the film watching my kids get pens and paper and try to write their names using their feet. Great film!

  14. I’d say that the movie that had the biggest impact on me (and continous to have) is Jacob’s Ladder (IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099871/)

    Not a horror movie per se, it is a movie about confronting your own mortality and perhaps what you regret in your life.

    The tale of a Vietnam war veteran living in New York is very subtle at first, but throughout the movie the vet realizes that he can’t be sure of what is real. This leads to a lot of religious iconography, profound, quite moments and pure terror.

    It is a movie that is worth watching and rewatching multiple times. I don’t know how many times I have seen it but I still find new things to think about…

  15. Rashomon: the idea that stories change with the teller. Frequently copied, never bettered IMHO.
    Midnight Express: I won’t use recreational drugs–and I won’t visit Turkey.
    Shirley Valentine/Educating Rita: it’s never too late to start living a more fulfilling life.

  16. Mephisto (1981)

    The protagonist’s aspiration is to play Mephisto – but in order to achieve this dream he in effect sells his soul (to the Nazi Party) and realises too late that in reality he is but Faustus to the Nazi Leader who is the true Mephisto in this powerful parable about fame as a disease of the spirit.

  17. What The Bleep Do We Know – but not for the reasons most people probably say about that movie. It was the first time someone told me, without sugar coating, that mysticism was bollocks and newage was full of shit. I thought the movie was amazing, a guy I was considering dating laughed at me and told me how ridiculous it was, then backed up his claims with references.

    He and I have been together over 7 years now and I’m a staunch supporter of skepticism.

    1. It was a friends recommendation of this move that led me to skepticism. I was impressed with some of the claims in the movie, then when I looked into it, I saw how they were all embarrassingly self-deceived.

    1. I’d agree with Shawshank if you have time and the Pursuit of happiness as well! Another good one of Will Smith is 7 Pounds.

  18. The Passion of the Christ

    Not necessarily for it’s obvious religious connotations but for the fact most people accept he existed the contentious issue lies in whether you believe he’s the son of God. Also the fact he is severely beaten for several hours and all he has to do is deny his belief. Plus had he not been crucified would Christianity exist?

  19. For me it would have to be “Oldboy” which is one of the finest films ever made. It is a superb observation of the lengths people go to when their world falls apart.

    How about “run Lola run” I’m sure you could use it to look at the psychology of decision the making process… It’s also an incredible film… Think sliding doors with a gritty German edge

  20. Films don’t change anything about my life since I’m not highly suggestible. But there are films that have certainly lasted in my memory for having emotional impacts. One of the biggest was Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar.”

    For other titles that have a lot more depth than a Spielberg or Zemeckis movie, try:
    Life of Oharu
    Fires on the Plain
    Ivan’s Childhood
    The Sacrifice
    Being There
    Altered States
    The Best Man
    Ballad of Narayama (Immamura version)

    That should be enough to start you off. As a rule of thumb, see anything by Bresson, Mizguchi & Andrei Tarkovsky.

  21. I agree with @Shahriar Hyder. The Matrix really have profound impacts upon me too. It really changed my understandings on universe, life sciences & even raise my curiosity towards philosophical issues like free will & determinism.

  22. Some Kind of Wonderful was my selection, it was about going to University, parents, girls among other things, but the message from it was to be true to yourself and do what you really love.

  23. I think you should show them a film that they may not have seen before. University students will have probably already seen films like the Matrix and Fight Club. Some ideas for what they may not have seen yet:

    Clockwork Orange
    Dr Strangelove
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  24. Lots of amazing films mentioned above. I return to your brief – a film that changed my life – when I was about 17. So I looked at 1975 releases: http://www.imdb.com/year/1975/ – top ten

    Any of those ten could work – although there are a couple that you would probably wish to avoid!

    But to echo others above – as a film that made a huge – HUGE – impact on me and how I see the world it would have to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    I remember walking out of the cinema past the queue for the next showing, with tears streaming down my face. If that film doesn’t move you and change your life – then (in my view) you are not alive.

  25. I have a number of suggestions from myself and colleagues here.

    Boys Don’t Cry
    Girl, Interupted
    Requiem for a Dream
    Pay it Forward
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    The Truman Show
    Donnie Darko

    1. Yup, Girl, Interupted seems a good choice to me, it made me rethink my own diagnosis and how I thought about other people with a mental health issue.

  26. When I was that age, somewhere around 15-17, we were shown a very strong film at school, called Bahnhof Zoo. A German film about kids who start taking drugs and basically go through hell on earth. The subtitles didn’t take much away from the impact of the film.

    It was a very “heavy” film, there should be lots of psychology to discuss from it

  27. David Mamet’s House Of Games – Started my interest in magic and subterfuge.
    12 Angry Men – A lesson in the art of a persuasive argument
    Ferris Bueller – Live life to the max. Plus every single character has a story (even if they only have one line of dialogue)

  28. The Secret and What the bleep do we know are two life changing films.

    My 16 year old, who was pretty reclusive watched The Secret and it really did change his whole outlook and philosophy, and he is know a uni doing PPE and preaching its teaching to anyone who will listen!

  29. Groundhog Day is an unusual choice perhaps but it’s really inspiring. At the end he’s an expert in many things, particularly piano playing of course. And it’s easy to dismiss that as “well, he had all the time in the world”. But of course, we *all* have all the time in the world. The way it changed my attitude was that I realised that some part of my subconscious was actually stopping me from bothering to try practising new things, because of the fact it would be a long time until I was good at them. But the key revelation here is that in five years time, I will still be five years older. I can’t stop that time going by, I can’t stop that moment arriving, and I can’t stop myself from aging. The one choice I do have is, on that day in five years time, will I be good at piano, or not?

    It’s a good discussion-starter and of course, being a comedy, it is easy to watch and holds the attention.

  30. I’m not sure you can change their life, but let’s give it a try.

    – Adaptation (Spike Jonze). Dig deep in a self-referential trip. Much more profound than inception. Finish them with ideas from Hofstadter’s GEB,

    -Funny games (Haneke). Well, you may be sued for forcing 17 old people to watch that, but this movie shows that violence is really not funny.

    -Die Welle (Dennis Gansel). A cliché, but people like to see cliché psychologists.

    -99 Francs (Ian Kounen). Cool, fun, trash, Expose the whole advertising shit.

    Good luck in your quest !

  31. Agree with @diego Waltz with bashir is great for a psychology class, deals with repressed memories, trauma, pornography. Really good.

    Othewise. media and how it messes with us:
    Natural born killers, violence and media, not sure of restrictions though. Otherwise the 1976 movie Network is amazing and so prescient.

    Insomnia is an excellent movie, sleep deprivation, guilt, murder and Al Pachino. Wonderful.

    The Last Supper is good, from IMDB: A group of idealistic, but frustrated, liberals succumb to the temptation of murdering rightwing pundits for their political beliefs.

    Lives of Others, The (Leben der Anderen, Das) as a study of surveillance and how it effects us and the ones who listen, could tie it up with Facebook and web 2.0.

    For pure psychological impact there is always something like Motorcycle Diaries.

  32. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (with the interesting subtitle in German “Every man for himself and God against us all). Fascinating take on the nature vs nurture debate with a good measure of philanthropy, prejudice, suspicion and innocence thrown in. In German with subtitles. A very rich source of topics for discussion and a beautifully filmed story to boot.

  33. If you mean you’ll be able to show the entire film, I’d pick something like The Usual Suspects or (for a lighter touch) Withnail and I. Both of them examine (principally) male psychology with power and skill.

    I wish _I_ had had a film to watch before deciding on which university to go to!

  34. I can’t actually say that any film has changed my life but a few I would recommend because they either highlight overcoming prejudices, sympathy for fellow man, keeping hope alive, and grabbing hold of life are :-

    12 Angry Men
    Cathy Come Home
    Schindlers List
    The Pianist
    Shawshank Redemption

  35. It’s got to be Cars By Disney Pixar,

    “Because it’s not just about winning the race”

    Go on, hands up everyone who welled up during the final race 😉

  36. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos
    I didn’t know that it was possible to be so passionate about science and reality until I watched him talk so poetically about it in the series.
    I realized then that he knew something that I didn’t.

  37. Ma Nuit Chez Maud. There is an important sequence that is about listening, not talking, and what is said and not said late at night. One of the most truly intimate films, which acheives that without sexual content.

    This significantly changed how I dealt with my relationships.

  38. Gladiator.
    I was a teenager when saw the movie and had kind of an epiphany watching it. In the middle of all those beheading and killing for entretainment (how they did back then with the actual gladiators, not the movie it self) it hit me that we were killing each other for a long long time and our life is not worth much, contrary what people a lot times says.

  39. – box of moonlight
    – man on the moon (make them laugh, make them laugh, no matter what!)
    – groundhog day
    – brazil
    – der Himmel über Berlin (wings of desire)

    1. When i was a youngster i saw the “Koyaanisqatsi”. I think if you understand this movie then its heavy enough. I not wants to say that a movie can change a career but it can make to grow the mind.

  40. Not sure how appropriate for 17 years olds this will be however if your wish is for deep thinking and a profound impact in the most unconventional way Bad Boy Bubby is the vehicle to achieve this. Too many concepts to cover without spoiling plot. Thinking god out of existence, nature or nurture, the concept of death to name but a few. I must say Richard Wiseman I imagine you wouldn’t have seen this Australian made masterpiece and I think you should after all I have watched and enjoyed and I have read and enjoyed 5 of your books so I must have exquisite tastes!

  41. The Fog of War.

    An engrossing documentary about Robert McNamara (US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War), and the lessons he has learned from his interesting life.

    McNamara’s candor in talking of his mistakes and failures is amazing.

    Informative, emotional, enthralling. In every way, it is simply an excellent film.

  42. Born Free-saw as child,still important
    Roger and Me plus other Michael Moore docus-speaking as Amer.
    Religulous-confirmed my feelings and good to open minds to tolerance and against superstion
    the producers-humor is vital

    1. I aggree “All Quiet on the Western Front” (the 1930 film) really brought a contrast to any kind of pro-war computer games…
      However i don’t know if a nowerdays 17year old may be impressed by this movie as much as it impressed me…

  43. “Seconds” directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Rock Hudson.

    Against the advice from the TV station, that the film was unsuitable for children, my father let me watch this when I was only nine or ten years old.

    From that film I learned that the world and people are not always what they seem.
    It also made me realise that death is final and, in a bit of a roundabout way, showed me how horrible capital punishment is.

    Many years later, when Rock Hudson came out of the closet, the film took on a whole new dimension.

    It’s not a horror film as such, but no horror movie have ever scared me more than the last fifteen minutes of this. Even after having seen it countless times, the impact is still the same.

  44. I’ve just finished MAKING a documentary film which absolutely changed my life. (You never specified ‘watching’!)

    It’s not out until later next year, but I might be able to let you have a screener for a private audience. Drop me an email if you’re interested.

  45. I love Oscar & Lucinda. It always makes me cry like I’m having some sort of breakdown. But I don’t know why that would make you want to show it to teenagers . . .

  46. Didn’t change my life, but I’d vote for Dogma. Ridiculous enough to keep them interested, but with some important questions considered.

  47. I put a vote up for The Matrix, Fight Club and Validation.
    I would also highly recommend watching a short film called “Tic Tok”. It really changed my perspective on life as a whole.

  48. In China they eat dogs

    It is about responsibility ethics and asks philisophical questions about what role intent and effect of doing something play in judgement of that doing.

  49. The Smartest Men in the Room (I hope I got the name right. It’s about Enron.)

    Fight Club or Spotless Mind are good ones to show to talk about psychology, too.

    1. I second that one! 180Movie is a great example of a well-thought argument, and shows how many of us really don’t evaluate an issue thoroughly before forming an opinion!

  50. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. Mind-blowing film that changed my perception of what stories can do, and how real emotion can be portrayed on film. Wonderfully constructed by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry. Inspired me to go into the creative arts at University and to work far harder on my own writing.
    Also worth seeing for such a real and touching performance from Jim Carrey, so unlike his usual comic style.

  51. Ghost in the Shell has had the greatest impact to me, but I think a more applicable movie would be something like good will hunting or GATTACA

  52. Another vote for Run Lola Run. You can even show it with German audio without subtitles and it still makes sense. It’s very clever and thought-provoking.

    Or another film (that certainly changed my life) is The Age Of Stupid.

  53. Being a student myself! I can say that Blade Runner affected me psychologically and it was the film that made me want to pursue a career in the media!

  54. ‘Chinatown’ – bleak but stunning, this packs an enormous emotional impact the first time you see it. I went to see with two friends whilst at university – both were practically silent when we came out and one felt the urge to walk on her own. Rarely have films captured the potential for human corruption – political and personal – so tellingly.

    ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – classic sci-fi: beautifully shot, fantastically realised, with plenty to think about, it goes from the start of humanity to the birth of a new species.

    Both of these should fit the bill, I think.

    I’d also agree the mentions of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ would be good alternatives.

    1. Could have mentioned ‘The Seven Samurai’ too. It must have had quite an impact as I remember certain moments in it quite so clearly.

  55. I second the recommendations for The Lives Of Others and One Flee Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Also worth considering:

    – A Beautiful Mind
    – Girl, Interrupted
    – Primal Fear

  56. The Return (Vozvrashchenie) by director Andrei Zvyagintsev, I was quite young when I saw this film in 2003 (probably about 16/17) it was the first film I had ever seen with subtitles. I thought it might have been hard to watch but I ended up being so engrossed in the story and captivated by the cinematography that the subtitles didn’t seem to matter at all. This film alone started my love for world cinema/foreign language films in general and I couldn’t be more thankful for it. my world has become far more enriched by what the world has to offer in terms of film than I could ever have thought possible… who knows, If I hadn’t seen this film I probably would be talking about Avatar right now

    1. my secon vote for memento, too it changed my complete view on normal movies, an absolutely incredible movie

      my first vote for magnolia, cause ist’s a movie you’ll think about after you watched it

  57. A Beautiful Mind. This film opened my eyes to the fact that Professor John Nash taught himself not to let his mind indulge with the voices and images he saw, I have schizoaffective disorder and hear voices, at one time, they hurt and tormented me, after watching this film, and truly realising the potential of my own mind, I have been able to manage well with the voices , I still hear them, but I don’t listen to them anymore and have acheived things I NEVER thought I could.

  58. Resolved. Documentary about the subculture of U.S. High school debate. In a white suburban dominated sport of academic speed debate, a successful black urban debate team emerges who threaten the established norms of what it means to debate. Lots of references to the transformational theories of Paulo Freire.

    To Kill a Mockingbird

    My Waking Life. Seems pointless, but that is the point. Superb animation.

    Girl Fight. Good one for discussion of gender identity.

    The Insider with Russell Crowe about the tobacco industry.

    Good Will Hunting.

  59. Resolved. Documentary on high school debate, subtext, an urban an black team’s rise and impact on a white suburban dominated culture of speed teenage debate.
    Fascinating glimpse into an academic subculture

  60. definitely “The Help” Richard, a very impactful film.

    did you ever see my e-mail to you about stand-up comedy ?? need your help this time please !! Nick Holbrook –

  61. “Dark City”, about personality and memory, and also a cool SciFi
    “Awakenings” (1990) Please consider this one, it is amazing, kept me thinking for a long time.
    A beautiful mind: Not bad either
    Don’t use “The Help”, I hated it.

  62. 1999 was a fantastic year for movies, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, American Beauty, but the slam dunk for me was Fight Club, that informed me so much during the dot com bubble and beyond!

  63. Fahrenheit 451 – it puts our socienty and the gods technology, entertainment and selfishness we’re all worshipping into the perspective of arts, literature, and individualism.

  64. There have been a lot of movies that have impacted my life, but if I had to narrow it down I would say Jaws. Granted I was 8, but it set me on a lifetime of research into marine biology, love of sharks and debunking junk science (which the film is full of) and more…

  65. ‘The Man From Earth’ is a great film although it hasn’t changed my life. However, ‘Jesus Camp’ has changed me. Before seeing it I didn’t care about religion one way or the other, but when you see the film it brings home just how harmful religious indoctrination can be. It is not easy to watch small children being brain washed and mentally scarred by these vile teachers. This film made me very angry and actively anti-religion. Everyone should see this film.

  66. Lots of great suggestions here. For me it would have to be Fight Club. I found it electrifying seeing it in the cinema and first time I ever sought out quotes from a movie to print out.

    O Lucky man! would be my alternate choice.Or maybe Dr Strangelove.. or Lord of the Flies… damn! too many possibilities.

  67. Memento is a good choice, and can be related back to psychology as his memory loss is based on the case of H.M. Watching it was great revision for a cognitive psychology exam

  68. “Now, Voyager” or “Mildred Pierce”. They may be a bit long, though, and I’m not sure that 17 year olds can deal with black and white.

    I would second “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for that demographic. I’m still intruiged (even moreso now that I’m a psychology student) by its idea of erasing certain memories, the pros and cons, and that it could even be possible!

  69. Another vote for Groundhog Day. Living a day over and over until you get it right is quite a profound thing. Lots to discuss here because not everything he did was what I would call moral, even on the final day.

    Also another vote for Memento. Memory is at the core of our identity, and we all have to deal with imperfect recall eventually. Running time backwards is a neat way to achieve understanding. It’s fun to watch in reverse as well.

    1. I watched Harold and Maude more times than any other film. Can’t tell you why it fascinated me but it did.

  70. I love “Fight Club” as well, but it is rated R. Aren’t they 17? Just realized that most life-changing movies are R-rated!

    I’d suggest:
    “Shallow Hal”, “The Prestige”, “Millennium Actress”, “Mean Girls”.

    1. “The Prestige” (from Christopher Nolan with Hugh Jackman) is one of my favorite movies too!
      It’s about magic, identity and total dedication.

  71. Into the Wild, definitely. A movie that shows you how most people get to the end of their lives without having really lived. It’s a beautiful film about exploring life, living new experiences, getting to know different people and have new horizons every day. It’s also about realizing how attached we are to the material world, and how we fail to see beauty when it’s right in front of us.

  72. Schindler’s List. The movie shows how one person can make a difference for hundreds of people. Kids today need to see that an individual still makes a huge difference in the world. Schindler was an amazing man!

    1. My first choice too. He knew he couldn’t save everyone from the gas chambers, but saved as many as he could. When I saw it in the cinema, everyone (myself included) was wiping away tears on their way out. The last scene, in full colour at the end of a black & white film, was the most powerful as it brought to a sharp focus the enormity of his compassion and his legacy.

  73. Crash (2004) has really stuck in my head since I watched it. It has interweaving stories dealing with society, violence and racism. You get an insight into the perpetrators and victims lives and see that its not clear cut in terms of ‘baddies’ being all bad and ‘goodies’ being all good! Really great film.

  74. 17 year-olds should be entertained while being taught something, so I’d recommend Groundhog Day. How life is precious and you should live each day doing good deeds, no matter how small or large.

  75. A lot of mentions for 12 Angry Men, but none yet for To Kill A Mockingbird. The greatest cinematic hero of all time in Gregory Peck as Atticus? Although it changed my life when I was around 12 not 17.

    Also, Silence of the Lambs had a massive psychological impact on me. Although I’m maybe mistaking that with “scared the crap out of me”, Hannibal Lecter is always a great discussion point as a character though!

    Also, needs more Kubrick on the list. 2001 : A Space Odyssey I saw when I was around 17 and it blew my mind.

  76. Groundhog Day (as others have already voted for).

    Changed my life.

    Besides just plain being very funny and touching, it also made me think about what it means to live in the present, to appreciate the seemingly ordinary, to peek behind the surface. Everyone has a story, and even people who seem annoying (like Ned) can be someone to get to know. Skill takes dedication and practice, day after day. So many lessons to learn.

  77. Reservoir Dogs – just show the ear cutting scene. Your brain creates a far worse visual image than can actually be created on screen.

    1. If there’s a non-German version, I’d show them that. Just to break the idea that fascism is somehow innately German.

  78. “Central Station”. It opened up a whole new world to me and made me realize how sheltered I was. It also led me to others such as “Pixote” and “Los Olvidados”

  79. Bang, Bang your dead.

    Ben Foster is an outcast trying to fit back in after a false bomb threat he made a few months ago as a result of frequent bullying.
    Trevor is chosen to star in a play called Bang Bang You’re Dead as the main character, Josh. After parents and the community hear of the play and its suspicious actor, they call for it to be canceled.

  80. In a Better World.

    Outstanding play by Danish director. Presents examples and remedies for bullying and several variations on repairs to broken relationships, especially between fathers and sons. Remarkable film.

    Reason; realising that the real value/joy in life is not in the getting but in the becoming.

    Quote from the movie:
    Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
    Neo: What truth?
    Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
    Neo: There is no spoon?
    Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

    Moral of the story; in order to change the world, you have to change yourself

  82. Memento. It is THE movie that had a real influence on my life. When I was a teenager depressed about the meaninglessness of life it pulled me up: of course life is meaningless – accept it and move on.

  83. In order to have a lasting impact on me, my perception and the way I look at films, maybe even my life, I have to REALLY look at it, see it more than once, thoroughly understand its structure, the way it is build, the story it tells (implicitly and explicitly) – to analyze it, in short. In thise sense, many of the films I studied while in university, changed my life in the sense that they changed my way of looking at films. A film that I see once or twice in the theater is more an emotional event that passes – sooner or later. Actually, and this is really coincidental, I think about a couple of scenes from your films not infrequently, 25 years after seeing and studying them. One scene in particular. I can’t even say for sure from which movie it is, probably ‘Welfare’. It is an interchange between a man and an offical (welfare officer or police man). The man tries to explain some kind of predicament as best as he can (which is not very good), while the official tries to frame this in the categories of his official jargon – unable to process anything that does not fit the preformulated categories. Like a stupefying mechanical phone hotline. Finally the man – who (rightly) feels he can’t make himself heard – runs away in frustration. I think of this scene often, this tragic interface between man (human, individual) and institution – especially because I now work in an institution myself and similarly have to translate people’s requests into jargon, slots and categories.

  84. ***** ‘La Dentellière’ is a total must see for 17 year olds. If that doesn’t smack them right between the eyes then nothing will. If the young men don’t weep with remorse at that final scene when Isabel Huppert returns to the asylum and gazes at the poster of the Greek island windmill, then they should be taken outside and shot by that nice Mr Clarkson.

  85. One of the films that changed my perspective a lot was the movie “300”. Unfortunately, we live in an era where the needs, wants, lifestyles, etc; of the many often outweigh, the needs, wants, lifestyles, etc; of the few. This action film goes completely against that system of beliefs. It also enforces the idea that intelligence can often outwit sheer brawn out on the battlefield.

  86. The Road? Couldn’t stop immersing myself in that God-awful thought-experiment for weeks after? Even seeing a cold, wet and gloomy woodland landscape now makes me think of it…

  87. The Green Mile is an excellent film. Some think it is based on certain elements of Jesus Christ, i.e. healing the sick, dying for our sins, etc. It was written by Steven King, who also wrote another favourite film of mine, The Shawshank Redemption.

  88. How about Olivier’s “Hamlet”? Very impressionable to a 17-year-old.

    A “Matter of Life and Death” for distinct political overtones and some breathtaking images, camerawork and artwork, but, in terms of dissective and analytical qualities, “The Life of Brian” is a wonderful window into the world of faith for the aethiest, zealot and all points in between.

    Oh, and “LoB” is also very funny and entertaining.

  89. I’d give another vote to GROUNDHOG DAY. Not only was it influential for me (And I still watch it once a year or so), it’s PG!

    Many of the films being suggested are inappropriate for an underage teenager to watch (at least probably in their parent’s eyes)!

  90. Waking Life

    A film about dreams and reality and what happens if the lines are blurred. Truly life changing and gets you thinking “what if reality were dreams and dreams were the reality”

    Like the Matrix but much more cerebral

  91. Bridge to Terabithia is great, it shows how life can be wonderful at first and than deal with death in a way that can really change the way people will face life.

  92. You know your students better than I do, so I’d pick one from the following that you think will resonate with them:

    Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) — John Huston (Paranoia, projection and greed).

    2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — Stanley Kubrick (Evolution of human intelligence).

    Savages (1972) — James Ivory (Wildy creative satire illustrates Freudian theory of personality).

    Hamlet (1996) — Kenneth Branagh (Eric Erickson’s stages of psychosexual development, especially Identity vs. Role Confusion (Adolescence) and Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young Adulthood).

    The Spanish Prisoner (1997) — David Mamet (Shows con men and women taking advantage of attention blindness and cognitive bias).

  93. It didn’t change my life, but the film which provoked most post film conversation between those who had seen it was ‘Donnie darko’
    My son is a Psychology student and he enjoyed discussing the connotations of the film.

  94. Shooting Dogs – my students were very interested as it is written by a journalist and the main character is based in his experiences in Rwanda.

    City of God is always good , Once Were Warriors and Schindler’s List also.

  95. Many great and not-so-great films have been suggested. Most are inappropriate for your purpose. I think the best suggestion so far for having life-changing impact suitable for the audience of interest has been “Life Is Beautiful.”

    If you would prefer a fascinating, moving, perception-changing film that you can easily connect to important issues in cognitive psychology, I don’t think you can do better than “The Thin Blue Line.” It raises issues similar to those raised in “Roshomon” and “Twelve Angry Men,” but I think your audience will relate to it much better. “You might also want to consider other Errol Morris films (http://errolmorris.com/film.html ). “The Fog of War” was suggested and is outstanding, but I don’t think your audience will relate to it as well.

  96. Apart from Schindler’s List (I replied to an earlier recommendation), I was deeply moved by Claude Lelouch’s version of Les Misérables (1995) set in Nazi-occupied France. I attended a screening with ‘Q&A with the Director’ at the London Film Festival, in which M. Lelouch said that he had set it in WW2 as there were huge similarities between himself as a boy growing up in that time and ‘Cosette’ in Victor Hugo’s original story.

  97. Anything by Charlie Kaufman:

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
    Being John Malkovich.
    Synecdoche, New York.

  98. Doesn’t matter the name of the film : it is the really first film i’m ever seen in a cinema. That was an incredible show… I was 6 years old, and suddenly there was a “before” and an “after” in my life…

  99. American Beauty had a huge effect on me. It was a very important movie about subjective consciousness, and I have written an article about it on my blog, which you can access through my username.

  100. “Stress” a NatGeo documentary about the effects stress has on the body. It focuses for a long time on Richard Sapolsky’s research on non-human primates. It’s relatively short, but very interesting and not-too-technical.

  101. Elephant Man and Forbidden Planet somehow traumatized me. In a good and bad way at the same time.
    But I don’t know if a 17-year-old would buy it.

  102. Definitely ‘Validation’ if you’re short of time, otherwise ‘The Truman Show’ (although that’s more Philosophy) or if time is No issue at all, ‘Apocalypse Now’ or ‘2001’.

  103. Phew, so many movies! I looked through the comments trying not to repeat. These movies haven’t “changed my life”, but they were really great to watch a portrayal of what people do to survive. Some are:

    – Children of Men
    – Saving Private Ryan
    – The Road
    – Castaway
    – Night of the Living Dead

    Some repeats that bear repeating again:

    – Clockwork Orange
    – Schindler’s List

  104. Requim for a Dream

    it’s about the effects of drug abuse. i think it’s gonna be suitable since your audience falls under the category of those who would experiment.

    or maybe American Psycho or The Machinist. all are good psycho baased films.

  105. The Lives of Others………not just a great film, it would help teenagers understand a bit more about the inevitable corruption of non-democratic societies, and hence the value of democracy, even with all its flaws.

  106. ‘Silent Night’ is a wonderful movie. Based on a true stary, it takes place in Germany on a Christmas Eve. A very courageous lady takes her son to their cabin in the bush to avoid his being taken into the German army. During the course of the evening, small groups of both Allied and German troops come by. The mistrust, fear, and hatred between the two is evident. The interactions throughout the night provides a study in human psychology.
    It stars Linda Hamilton.

  107. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

    my favorite scene – at the end, in Wonka’s office, the only thing that’s left is what’s right.

    so much to riff off of in that flick. hard to pick just one movie, but that’s what i’d go with.


    It’s about magicians and perception and trickery. It’s also about the dangers of ambition and obsession. Plus it has David Bowie playing Tesla. What more do you want?


    The same story told from different POVs demonstrating the unreliability of personal perception. Also has the advantage of being one of the greatest movies ever made.

  110. It has to be Shawshank Redemption. So many angles by which to view the movie.
    Second choice: How to die in Oregon. Powerful.

  111. There are a bunch of really good movies that can affect your life, and quite a few of them have been mentioned here. Of the movies that have already been mentioned I agree with Requiem for a Dream (a powerful movie about drug use, and one they will never forget), The Shawshank Redemption (simply the best movie ever made), Dead Poet’s Society (a wonderful movie about being yourself), and Schindler’s List (which shows how 1 person can impact the lives of so many others).

    In my Intro to Psychology class I did a paper on Retrograde and Anterograde Amnesia, and I showed the class a scene from Memento during my presentation on my paper, good times.

    There were a lot of really good suggestions throughout all of the replies, but I’m going to add one more movie that I didn’t see anyone else suggest. Grave of the Fireflies (directed by Isao Takahata) is one of the most powerful movies ever made, and it really shows the horror of war in a way that no other movie I’ve ever seen has been able to do.

    If you don’t cry at the end of Grave of the Fireflies you don’t have a soul. It’s an absolutely amazing movie that everyone should see at least once.

    Last thing, please do another post saying which movie you chose to show to the group. It would also be interesting if you posted some of the students reactions to the movie that you picked.

  112. American History X.

    It’s about prejudice – the #1 world problem – and it addresses a very important aspect of a teenager’s world: belonging somewhere… many young join wrong things just to feel part of something. (and we countinue to do that as adults too)
    I remember when the movie came out everyone was like: YOU GOTTA SEE THAT MOVIE! It’s awesome! And the way he tries to cover the sign on his chest, but his palm is too small…..

    Very strong movie, very strong.

  113. It was watching David Attenborough docs on TV that changed my way of thinking and began a (long) process of thinking in a more analytical way. That was in the olden days, though there are still points to be made about morality/social codes/ a sense of fair play/deception which we have in common with all social animals and some others. It’s not just humans/magicians who lie and cheat…

    Also, if you’re showing a film, you really should show a cartoon first, like in the olden days. I suggest Bugs Bunny in What’s Opera, Doc? which is truly a classic.

  114. My vote is for the last lecture by Randy Pausch, called “Really achieving your childhood dreams”. A CS professor dying of cancer tells his story. That certainly makes me feel very mortal and is very much a wake up call in regards to just how little time we’ve been given, and you never know how long you have, so make the most of what you have.

    Or how about “Hero at 30,000 feet” by Derren Brown? DB is just damn entertaining, and the whole thing is about taking a more active part in your life and not just let it slip by.

  115. 1. The Cube – such a compact metapher of life
    2. Repo Men – made me think a lot, tough ethical question
    3. Total Recall – it is all in your mind

  116. Mind blowing films not yet mentioned:
    “Pi” – is he crazy or are complex mathematical formulas the answer to everything?
    “Primer” – the best time travel movie ever. You have to watch it multiple time to figure out the timelines involved. Stays with you for a long time afterwards.

  117. Surely it should have some existential impact, but I don’t think it should be done by showing the negative side of things. “How little time we have”, “How big a responsibility we have” only adds weight to peoples shoulders. Instead focusing on the positive side, the posibilities, I think would make people want to go out there and live their lives.

    Added to that, I should probably be a movie that not many of them have seen, but it should be expensive enough to be entertaining and have a good plot. So either something new and indie or something old and big.

    Unfortunately I have no good suggestions of either kind. I think the movies that changed my mindset the most are movies such as Fight Club, Contact, The Pianist and Waking Life.

  118. The Heiress – (1949,Dir. William Wyler). with Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift

    Really I’m recommending “Washington Square”, the Henry James novel on which it’s based, but it is a marvellous adaptation (and fairly faithful) a paen to pragmatism and self determination

    Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Dir, Roman Polanski) with John Cassavetes, Mia Farrow

    A fabulous exercise in paranoia, my favourite mental state!

  119. Two great mentions have problems to be considered. “Cosmos”, although majestic, will look somewhat dated nowadays and it should take many hours to complete. “Kooyanisqatsi”, although my favorite movie of all time, will hardly connect to 17-year olds in the digital age, unless they’re prone to reflection.

    “Dead Poets Society” should give them enough to rethink their own world and to start living more and more like individuals. Probably the most accessible “trip” here. “Groundhog Day” might be a great second option. Both are “old” enough to have escaped the radar of 17-year olds.

  120. One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, my favourite film and Jack Nicholson is perfect in it. I’m certain a whole lot of psychological depth could be uncovered in Nicholson’s role in this film.

  121. Some good movies that are memorable to me:
    Good Will Hunting
    Roshamon (wonderful perspectives)
    What if you just showed them clips of car accidents caused by distracted driving or speeding? Unless there is a movie that encompasses this topic. That would probably have more of an impact on them and stick with them and hopefully get the young drivers to think more behind the wheel. Speaking from experience- I can’t believe some of the stupid thing I did behind the wheel in my teens and twenties!

  122. Manufacturing Consent Norm Chomsky and the Media. Great documentary about the media in the United States.

  123. while I agree with fight club, the first thing that came to mind was Forrest Gump.

    I first saw it when I was about 16, and not only did it teach me a lot about american history (I am an aussie), it helped me become blind to race, disability & many other forms of discrimination

  124. The passion of the Christ
    The constant gardener
    La vita e bella
    The pianist
    John Q

    Those movies influenced my life. Some of them kept me awake for three nights.

  125. 17years old?
    This one is good. Swedish short film but i has subtitles. it force you to think outside the box, and it´s a fun to. And it´s easy for 17years old people to discuss afterwards. Just 6 minutes.. that´s all what it takes. have fun. thanks for a good blog.

  126. since the students are under 18 and the min subject is life and psychology i would like to recommend the following :

    1. gandhi how to lead a simple life and be a truthful leader– it is not a film definitely a lesson being an indian i am proud about our father of nation ( einsteins famous quote already there )
    2. rashomon ( viewing from the tellers perspective )
    3. 12 angry men ( court room drama — logical sense of intellectual arguments )
    4. into the wild — how natures beauty lie in front of us and still we are ignoring it
    5. life is beautiful 6. my left foot 7. one who flew over cuckoos nest —- 5 6 7 defines how life is precious
    8. earth and ashes – afghan film – relationship & affection
    9. departures — japanese oscar winning film – love your work
    10. hotel rwanda — real life story of saving and not betraying those who has faith upon the leader and his determination

    1. an inconvenient truth
    2. david attenboroughs nature docu
    3. winston churchill speeches

    1. 7 habits of success – steven covey
    2. tuesdays with morrie
    3. goodbye mr. chips — elliot

    thanks for the opportunity richard though i enjoy your blog and optical illusions and at times cracking your friday puzzles, this is my maiden comment as i thought it will be helpful for the young kids and their future. thanks again ( sorry a bit late ?? )

    sundar g chennai india

  127. It might be too late, but I must recommend F for Fake. A very unappreciated skeptical movie and a really interesting look a the art of film-making.

  128. Aaltra, La Meglio Gioventu, or Fra Diavolo (Laurel & Hardy) (for the last one, make sure the room has small children watching the movie as well)

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  131. Fight Club-By far the most life changing film I’ve seen. If you’re living with a dead-end or boring job, with a house packed with shit you don’t need, than this is the film for you. Cause one day YOU WILL die.

  132. RENT [2005]

    technically, it’s a musical but since I’m not from NY, I only got the privilege to watch the film adaptation which features most of the Original Broadway cast. but i swear, it change my life.

  133. Yo its gotsa be the movie “Blood In, Blood Out” no doubt, bcoz dat story is based on true life growin up u hav friendz dat u take as blood brotherz and one dat same friend turn on u lyk a snake outta tha bush! This movie has a many motto’s to live by, and u learn from yor mistakes lyk leavin a dope-needle layin around and yor baby bro myt get his handz onto it, now i aint sayin take drugz, but dats a lesson in lyf to learn, and wen u see dat part wen da one guy dat becomes a cop shoots his cousin in tha back wen he is on a run wit a cash heist, dat part just made my heart skip a beat bcoz dats da same dude u think is yor blood brother can bite u in tha back, da whole story even wen they both did tha crime 2getha and one went to jail and tha other to tha army to reform dat became a cop, now dat was dirrty! And dat cop dude in tha beginnin was tha wild one dat killed a guy from anotha gang and tatted him on tha chest V L, for Vatos Locos…

  134. i know its 2 years late but a film that made a massive impact on me was ghost in the shell,
    it trys to show us that artificial intelligence is no different from our own and that computers can spontaneously develop ‘ghosts’ personalities good for uni students too captivating animation….
    or mary and max shows two completley contrasting lives becoming one through communication

  135. Pay it forward. A movie that definitely impacted my life positively. Showing people how one small kind act could do so much more and spread across the world. This m movie is about a young boy who’s given a project on how he could impact the world. After wanting to do something original and something not everyone has heard off he decides on paying it forward. Paying it forward is when someone does random act of kindness for somebody in need and in return asking the person they helped to pay it forward, helping another random individual.

  136. Pay It Forward. A movie that definitely impacted my life positively. It shows how people can help so many more by just paying it forward and asking only in return to pay the favour forward and help a random individual in need..and all from a young boy who just wanted to find an effective way everyone can make the world better.

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