10 Movies that Make Us Feel Like We Haven’t Accomplished Anything in Life

Whenever I want to pass the time, I often go on YouTube and watch auditions for the television series The X Factor. I don’t recommend doing this unless you want to feel unworthy for a few hours. Carly Rose Sonenclar’s voice is beautiful and amazing–especially for a 13 year old girl–but it is also irritating to know that Carly Rose Sonenclar is a 13 year old girl on The X Factor while I’m a 20 something year old whose greatest accomplishment is being able to memorize Meryl Streep’s entire filmography in chronological order.

When it was still on the air, I would watch episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show and hate myself for not accomplishing a third of what, say, the little girl who raised millions of dollars for charity did by the time she was eleven, and then I’d hate myself for hating myself and not being proud of somebody else’s achievement.

Lately, I find it difficult to fathom Tavi Gevinson’s success at such a young age, and it only bothers me more that she isn’t some weird little girl who talks to her stuffed animals, but instead an intelligent, creative, mature teenager who has more class than many adults I encounter on a daily basis.

And then there are the movies. Movies are wonderful. Movies make me laugh, make me think, and make me feel things for fictional characters that I’m not sure I have the capacity to feel for actual human beings. Movies, when done well, are among the best of life’s offerings. Yet every now and then–and I hope I’m the only one who feels this way–movies elicit within me an unhealthy amount of self-loathing. I refer, of course, to movies that are generally considered “inspirational,” but to me make me feel like I haven’t accomplished anything in my life. Below are ten films that describe what I am talking about.

10. 12 Angry Men (1957) dir. Sidney Lumet

12 angry men

12 Angry Men is a great film about one juror who convinces eleven others that a man may not be guilty of a crime and should not be convicted. Throughout the course of the film, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda), slowly persuades the eleven other jurors that the man may be innocent, and as such, they change their minds, one by one, to vote not guilty. To some, this may be an inspiring film about the justice system prevailing and the power of one individual’s voice of reason, but to me, this film reminds me of how unreasonable people are around me and the little power I have over changing their minds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to convince one of my co-workers that I did not, as he or she claims, forget to do what they accused me of forgetting to do. If only I knew Juror #8’s secret.

9. A Beautiful Mind (2001) dir. Ron Howard

beautiful mind

Everyone’s favorite Ron Howard movie (does such a thing exist?), A Beautiful Mind tells the uplifting true story of John Nash (Russell Crowe), a brilliant mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia. Not only is Nash able to overcome his illness, but he also manages to maintain a romantic relationship with his wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) and their son. Did I mention that Nash is also a genius? Well, he is, and before the film ends, he receives a Nobel Prize for his work. This all sounds lovely, but when you’re a young 20-something who can barely figure out how to use the GPS app on an IPhone, it doesn’t feel all that inspiring.

8. Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) dir. Michael Apted

coal miners

Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her performance as famous country music singer Loretta Lynn, whose life is a quintessential rags to riches story. And boy, were there a lot of rags. The film depicts in great detail the poverty of Lynn’s childhood, and we also get brief glimpses of her tumultuous relationship with her abusive, cheating husband. But eventually, like all great success stories, Lynn comes out on top, managing to be one of the most iconic singers in country music history. I wish this could inspire me, but when I think about Lynn’s ability to overcome her financially limited childhood to become a superstar, I just feel bad about myself for feeling cheated when the box of Cheerios is empty and I have to settle for Lucky Charms.

7. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) dir. Frank Darabont


You know you’ve hit an all time low when you think a group of prisoners have done more great things with their lives than you, but that is exactly how I feel whenever I finish watching The Shawshank Redemption. Think about it: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) gets a lot done during his prison sentence. He builds and runs the prison library, he garners the respect of the prison Warden (Bob Gunton) to the point where he becomes his right-hand man, and he even forms a relationship with Red (Morgan Freeman), a fellow prisoner who becomes his best friend. Oh yeah, he also escapes. This is sad, because I’m free to do as I please on a daily basis and I barely accomplish half of what Andy does. Instead of building a library, for instance, I have piles of books from the library that I still haven’t returned, even though I make a note to do so once a week.

6. Shine (1996) dir. Scott Hicks


A few months ago, I watched Shine for the first time with my family, and by the time the film was over, everyone in the room was crying. So was I, but for all of the wrong reasons. Instead of feeling proud of David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush), the brilliant pianist whose career was cut short by a nervous breakdown only to revive again in his later years, I was ashamed of myself for not preparing for all of those piano lessons my mom made me take when I was a child. I thought about the old piano classic “Heart and Soul” and how I told the piano instructor–and I’m paraphrasing–that it was a waste of my time to practice. Well, when I look at what I’ve accomplished in my life compared to Helfgott, I suddenly wish that I stuck with the piano lessons. Maybe I, too, could have been great.

5. Erin Brockovich (2000) dir. Steven Soderbergh

erin brok

Oh Julia, you have such a great screen presence. Movie star Roberts won an Oscar for her portrayal of real-life Erin Brockovich, an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant at a law firm and ultimately takes down a California power company in a class-action settlement that became the largest in US history. In addition, Erin is a single mother, which means that she has to take care of two young children who are unaware of life’s struggles and view their mother as a self-entitled workaholic who is never around. By the end of the film, most audiences have a smile on their face as Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday is a Winding Road” kicks into the soundtrack, but I usually contemplate my inadequacy as a human being.

4. All the President’s Men (1976) dir. Alan J. Pakula

all presidents men

Horray for Woodward and Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal and forced Nixon to resign. Horray for journalism and the First Amendment. Maybe, but as I watch scene after scene of the two reporters sifting through a maze of details in order to uncover a complicated scandal, I think of every time I have given up on the slightest difficult project for the comfort and ease of not having to stress. I don’t doubt the importance of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigative reporting for the future of the US, but it does not help the future of my self-esteem.

3. Gandhi (1982) dir. Richard Attenborough


It is awfully difficult to feel good about your life after you watch Gandhi. The film is a conventional biopic of the influential lawyer turned nonviolent protester who is arguably the most quoted public figure in history. When we think of peace and nonviolence, we think of Gandhi. When I think of Gandhi, however, I think of the day I became angry over the stranger who cut me off on the highway. I really wanted to be peaceful and nonviolent in that moment, but I couldn’t help but honk the horn and express my outrage. To most, Gandhi is an inspirational film about a heroic figure, but to me, it is reminder that Ben Kingsley will never play me in a movie.

2. The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher

The Social Network

When I was in college, I was partying hard and skipping math class. So was Mark Zuckerberg, but he was also in the process of becoming the youngest billionaire in US history. Fincher is an excellent director and The Social Network is indeed his magnum opus, but it kind of pisses me off to know that I could have used the time I wasn’t in math class to create a popular social networking site instead of, say, sleeping. It doesn’t help that I waste most of my time on the very website I could have invented if I wasn’t sleeping, creating an endless cycle of guilt and self-loathing. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg for reminding me of all the things I have yet to accomplish in my life.

1. Forrest Gump (1994) dir. Robert Zemeckis


The ultimate downer, Forrest Gump is the worst thing to happen to a person’s self-esteem since carbohydrates became a topic of public discourse. Tom Hanks stars as Forrest, a mentally challenged man who is responsible for every wonderful thing that happened throughout the 20th century. If you’re a football player, you’re going to hate yourself when you find out that Forrest is better than you. If you’re a soldier, you’re going to feel guilty for leaving that man behind. If you’re a track star, you’re going to envy Forrest’s ability to run for weeks without stopping. If you’re in a romantic relationship, you’re going to wish it was with someone you met in your childhood. Whatever it is that you do, Forrest Gump has done it better than you. This film is meant to inspire, but really, all it does is make me feel unworthy.

As you can see, inspiring films are perhaps the most dangerous of them all. It would be so easy to watch the accomplishments of others and feel nothing but joy and satisfaction, but when I sit back and contemplate my life and my achievements, I cannot help but feel inadequate. I cannot help but wonder if I should stop watching so many movies and start, I don’t know, saving the world or something.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Jon Lisi is a PhD student who writes about film, television, and popular culture. You can follow his work here: http://jonlisi.pressfolios.com/.

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  1. Country music does nothing for me (I always think it was America’s revenge for giving us Elvis and soul music) and although vaguely aware of her name and to a lesser extent, musical status, I’d certainly never heard a Loretta Lynn song before and so I was mildly curious to see how I might take to this celebrated bio-pic. Very warmly as it happens. Doesn’t mean that I will be listening to country music outside of the this though.

  2. That was a depressing read, guess I’ll avoid the films like the plague…. for now.

  3. Giovana Picone

    I really like the tone of this and it made me chuckle.

  4. Brandon Merriman

    I was relieved to see I am not the only person who feels this way watching most movies.

  5. Matthew Sims

    I have intentionally steered away from watching “Shine” simply because I know it will make me feel guilty for not practising piano enough.
    I think that “Forrest Gump”, while definitely being an amalgamation of all viewer’s disappointments, is a fiction and thus, should be lower on the list.
    However, still a very unique idea for a list and very well written.

  6. When a movie is about the amazing achievements of someone under 21, I usually can’t stomach the whole thing. Not because their achievements are not amazing. but because when the movie is done I realise the most I have accomplished is eating a whole bag of Doritos! Shame shame shaaaame.

  7. Haha you guys have some of the most creative lists on this site!

  8. Ben Harper

    Not sure if I agree with your actual list completely, but I do like your article, man. Great idea for one to begin with and written with a great tone sense of humour. Nice one.

  9. Kelsey Clark

    Interesting list. There are a few I thought fit the bill and didn’t make it, but you only have so much space! Great concept.

  10. Michelle Webb

    What a great idea for an article. Well executed!

  11. Jordan

    The title for the article was brilliant and made me laugh before I even started reading! I have only seen “Shine” and “The Social Network” out of the films in this list…. not sure I want to track down the others now though 😛

    • The Social Network is a GREAT movie but spoiled for me by its very inaccurate portrayal of the backstory of Facebook.

  12. Lisa Lee

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading this article! Great concept and really well-written.

    • Jon Lisi
      Jon Lisi

      Thanks, and I hope you laugh because this was definitely meant to be satire and I was just over-exaggerating the absurdity of the feel-good movie.

  13. Joshua Sammy

    Oh my word, I know them feels. Funnily enough, I tend to avoid ‘inspirational’ movies like that for that very reason (that, and they tend to be artsy and pretentious, which I cannot tolerate), and instead I have a set of movies that ACTUALLY inspire me. Movies like children’s movies. Movies that are about people who think they aren’t good enough but they really are. Like Wreck-it Ralph or the multitude of Muppet movies, Meet the Robinsons or even Mr. Bean’s Holiday. Hmm… now I’m wondering whether to make my own list…

  14. Jemma Baddock

    One of the best and funniest articles on The Artifice! Such a funny concept, and so true! Thankyou for the read.

  15. The little green monster of envy rears its ugly head here.

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