On the surface, movies are all about keeping people entertained. However, there are lots of films that aim to do something bigger than that. These movies were made to make people see the world from different perspectives and think about things on a deeper level. Often referred to as social impact films, this subset of cinema has become increasingly popular over the last 30 years. Many of these movies have even become major box office hits and they’ve helped spread the word on some very serious issues. If you’re looking for something new to add to your watch list, a good social impact film might be exactly what you need. Continue reading to see our list of the 10 best social impact films of all time.
1. The Thin Blue Line
Released in 1988, The Thin Blue Line reinvestigates the murder of police officer Robert Wood. The incident happened in Dallas in 1976 when Wood pulled over a suspected stolen car. The film explores whether or not the person who was convicted of killing offer Wood was actually guilty. The Thin Blue Line brings new evidence to light and plays a part in Adam’s release from prison. It sheds light on the justice system and raises questions on the need for the death penalty.
2. Bowling For Columbine
Bowling For Columbine is a 2002 documentary directed by Michael Moore. In the movie, Moore explores the things he believes caused the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The incident resulted in 15 deaths and shocked people all over the world. The movie earned lots of positive reviews and helped change the way people looked at gun violence.
Selma is based on the Selma to Montgomery voting protest march of 1965. The film takes a look at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement as well as the bravery of local residents who were willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to fight for their rights.
4. The Birth of A Nation
When The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, the world has never seen anything like it. The silent film centered around the Civil War by focusing on the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln as well as the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. However, in the film, the Klan is not depicted for being a hate organization. Instead, the are seen as a group dedicated to protecting American values. In 2016, another film titled The Birth of a Nation was released, this time focusing in the slave rebellion of Nat Turner.
Philadelphia is a 1993 courtroom drama that stars Tom Hanks as Andrew Becket and Denzel Washington as Joe Miller. It tells the story of Andrew, a successful lawyer who his law firm fired after revealing he was gay and had AIDs. Despite winning his lawsuit against the firm, he ends up dying of the disease. The tragic film has often been credited with opening the public’s eyes to the realities of the AIDs crisis.
6. Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me is a 2004 documentary that shows the health effects of eating fast foods. In the film, Morgan goes on a McDonald’s only diet and commits ordering everything Super Size. Throughout the film, viewers can see how the diet starts to impact his health and his appearance. Not only did the play a role in inspiring people to make healthier choices, but it also resulted in McDonald’s removing the Super Size option from their menu.
7. An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth is a 2006 film praised for raising awareness about the effects of Global warming. It depicts presentations from former United States Vice President Al Gore, who is passionate about educating the masses on the impending doom that is global warming. Gore went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his efforts to inform people of their impact on the environment.
8. Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is a 2005 film about the complicated relationship between two cowboys who end up falling in love. It is set between 1963 to 1983 when same-sex relationships were especially frowned upon. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack and Heath Ledger as Ennis. After its release, the film won several awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. At the time, the public praised the movie for its inclusivity of gay characters in cinema. Due to its worldwide success, more studios were open and ready to support more LGBTQ-centered films in Hollywood.
Some of you may be surprised to see Bambi on this list, but the classic cartoon really is a social impact film underneath it all. The film inspired social awareness on the importance of conserving wildlife and their habitats. After its release, there was a drop in deer hunting in the US, which was popular at the time. Even hunters complained about the film’s negative impact on their ‘sport’ which was now seen as inhuman. As such, the movie is said to have laid the groundwork for environmental activism.
Blackfish is a film/documentary about the life of a killer whale named Tilikum. Under director Gabriella Cowperthewaite, the movie focuses on the orca’s capture in 1983 and its stressful life in captivity. It raised the question about the point of keeping whales in cages. SeaWorld, where Tilikum was being held, experienced a drop in sales and attendance from people who now wanted better for the orcas living there. In 2014, Blackfish received the BRITDOC Impact Award for the positive change the film brought about.