The horrifying list of inspirational films about humanity building a better future

Summary: Yesterday’s post looked at the rise of dystopias in modern film, discussing what this reveals about America. In keeping with the trademark optimism of the FM website, today we look at the opposite – inspirational films about humanity working together to build a better future. It tells us something important.

Top Ten Inspiration Films

Just as we looked at depressing films about the future of society, let’s look at films about humanity uniting to overcome a common threat (not other people), acting preemptively and boldly. Films set in a recognizable present day showing how together we build a better future.

These are a sub-genre of inspirational films, different from the more common kinds of inspirational films. Such those are about wars amongst ourselves, sports triumphs, heroic deeds of lone saviors, or visions of the glorious distant future.

"Gorath" (1962)
Available at Amazon.

The #1 inspiring film: Gorath (1962).

This is the most inspirational film of the modern era! Gorath was released in Japan as Rogue Star Gorath (妖星ゴラス Yōsei Gorasu). The director Ishirō Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka created the Godzilla films.

Set in 1982, Gorath is a star plunging into the solar system. Fortunately, we have an active deep space exploration program. An expedition to Saturn is re-routed on a suicide mission to explore this visitor.

Scientists determine that it will hit Earth. The people of Earth unite to implement an awesome plan — “Operation: South Pole”. An armada of ships carry supplies to build a massive base in Antarctica. From it people build hundreds of giant atomic rocket engines. Each has a base 500 meters below the surface. The rockets are in an area 600 kilometers in diameter, producing a force of 6,600,000,000 megatons (per second?). (That is too low by a factor of 1,000.)

The cost is fantastic. Time is short. Spoiler: at the last minute the engines successfully push Earth out of Gorath’s path. The devastation is great, but Earth survives.

Gorath is a typical low-budget “B grade” science fiction film. The plot is simplistic, the dialog stilted and formulaic, the special effects are good for that time (but crude to us), and the science is bizarre. But the scale of their vision is immense and the premise is inspiring. A threat unites humanity. Together we accomplish a great work. It reminds us what we could do if we spent less on war and instead worked together.

Gorath approaches the Earth.

Gorath approaches the Earth

The giant atomic engines move Earth!

Atomic rockets at Antarctica

The trailer for Gorath.

 

The #2 inspiring film is ____________________!

I do not have a second film on the list. I find it depressing that there are so few inspirational films about humanity working together in our time. No wonder the peoples of the world find it difficult to work together. We, at least Americans, find it difficult — or uninteresting — to even imagine such a thing happening. Without seeing a path to a united humanity, however improbable, can we make it happen?

Cinderella can only dream about a better future for herself if she believes that only the Blue Fairy can make it happen.

Perhaps you can create a happy ending for this post by nominating more films for this list — according to the criteria described above. If not, perhaps somewhere there is a writer gifted by the muse who will write an inspirational story that catches America’s imagination.

Why we don’t see more articles about good news?

The answer can be seen from readers’ reaction to the 4,000+ posts on the FM website. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Posts about good news get less traffic. People want to read news about horrors and deeds of lone valor. We also like exciting stories cheering our side’s angelic warriors and hissing at our foes, satan’s minions.  We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America.

This post will get few views because it looks inspirational.

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40 thoughts on “The horrifying list of inspirational films about humanity building a better future

  1. I would add “Arrival” to the list. The leaders are portrayed as genuinely caring individuals who have to overcome a tremendous number of social challenges to work together. They don’t build anything physical but the cultural changes implicit in the story are difficult enough.

    You could argue that the focus on the two main characters is a bit too much for this list, to which I would agree, but it is the best I could do with the most recent sci-fi films in a limited amount of time.

    1. Pluto,

      I don’t understand how “Arrival” is a case of humanity working together in the face of a common danger. We do the exact opposite, only avoiding war by virtue of a duex ex machina provided by the aliens. It’s as inspiring as Pinocchio, where the Blue Fairy is the major problem-solver.

    1. Bernie,

      “Defiance” is about individuals working against other people. Here are the criteria:

      “Let’s look at films about humanity uniting to overcome a common threat (not other people), acting preemptively and boldly. Films set in a recognizable present day, not visions of Heaven on Earth in some distant future. These are a sub-genre of inspirational films, different from the more common inspirational films about wars, sports, individuals’ heroic deeds, or lone saviors.”

      “Defiance” is about heroic individuals working against other people. Inspiring, but not of the sub-genre discussed here.

  2. The only one that comes to mind is “Amazing Grace”. It shows the long and tedious battle to end slavery in Britain. The only problem (in terms of your criteria) is that it focusses on only one man, although many were involved with him.

    1. Kira,

      I agree that “Amazing Grace” is an inspirational film — about important history! But it is about humanity fighting itself. There are countless films about that.

      What about films that show us moving beyond the depictions of endless human strife, showing humanity uniting? Star Trek and other “utopian” films show a wonderful future, but almost none show us getting from here to there.

  3. While cartoonish ( but fun!), Independence Day comes close to your criteria. Greater enemies can bring factions together for a time, but we just don’t see the unfolding problems as a common or great enough threat.

    1. Steve,

      That’s a great point! While Independence Day does not show the world’s people coming together — each just defending their own land — it does show local enemies working together. And the second film, Resurgence, does show the world united in a great work — building a peaceful world with a united defence force.

      This is perhaps a quibble, but are these two films really inspirational? As you note, they have a cartoonish feel. IMO, it’s a campy feel. Hollywood uses that to show their contempt for the source material. For example, in the Batman live-action TV show (1966-68). Also seen in the 1970s Superman films (after the serious first half of the first one, after which they fired Richard Donner and turned the series into an increasingly campy comedy).

    1. Clued,

      Babylon Five is inspirational! It shows a future Earth in which we’ve unified. The “Babylon Five project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences …” Why build Babylon Five? Because One through Four failed. That’s humanity at its finest!

      But I’m looking for stories of our time, showing how we unify to make such future stories possible. Otherwise they are just entertaining fairy tales. Cinderella can only dream of marrying a Prince if the Blue Fairy is the only way to make it happen.

      Also note that like the Star Trek series, the writers soon lapsed into writing about the glorious future as just like ours. The high offices are filled with corrupt and evil people. Civil wars (on Mars), etc. Without a clear explanation of how we get there, writers lose their vision of the glorious future.

    1. Matthijs makes a powerful observation. I enjoyed Pacific Rim, but with a little more context it could have been a great film. First, by describing how the alien attack unified humanity beyond the joint program to build weapons. Second, by not using the tired old trope of a “forlorn hope” of abandoned soldiers saving the world.

      Then the film would have been inspirational!

    2. It could have been fun, too, watching a tired humanity get back off its knees and rally behind the Jaeger Program for a final massive assault against the Kaiju. I can imagine the scene now, with the two surviving full-size mechas being backed up by a fleet of agile futuristic attack submarines, and maybe a few smaller mechas for support, as they face the three super-sized monsters for the film’s climax. Of all sad words of tongue and pen…

      Here’s hoping that the sequel will be better.

    3. Matthijs,

      The changes you suggest could have been easily done in the script. In the opening describe how the world’s nations unified in the face of this threat. At the end, show not only the base cheering but people around the world rejoicing. With a coda at the end about the world’s people unifying to prepare for the second round.

      As for the sequel, the director — whose vision made this possible — will not be there. It will be a Chinese production. I suggest low expectations.

    1. Gute,

      I don’t see the nations of the world coming together in World War Z. They fight it separately. Is there any sign that the world at the end is better than it at the beginning?

      More generally, that implies that almost every disaster film is inspirational in this sense. They follow the script of disaster arises, is fought, is defeated (unusually by an individual or small group). Afterward — and this is the key point — we return to the status quo antebellum. “Contagion” is another example.

  4. I feel like you are doing a lot of “moving tne goal posts” in your responses above. With so much of Hollywood’s output being heavily escapist blockbusters post-“Jaws” and “Star Wars,” it’s difficult to find an optimistic film that doesn’t have some elements that someone is going to find campy.

    If disaster films don’t count, how the hell does your example work? Is human society profoundly changed for the better at the the end of the film? From your description, it sounds like another film in the vein of “When Worlds Collide” and Hollywood remakes that film almost yearly. Deep Impact, 2012, etc.

    1. Christopher,

      It would help if you would reply to quotes, because otherwise readers have no idea to what you are referring.

      “that doesn’t have some elements that someone is going to find campy.”

      I didn’t say that “campy” was a relevant factor. I did mention “campy”, but specifically said that was a “quibble.”

      “If disaster films don’t count”

      Obviously disaster films count, because the film I specifically cite as an example is a disaster film.

      “in the vein of “When Worlds Collide””

      When world’s collide is the exact opposite of the criteria I set. Instead of humanity uniting to fight a threat, the scientists are ignored. A rich guy finances construction of the rocket ark.

      “Deep Impact”

      I haven’t seen it. The Wikipedia entry makes no reference to a world uniting — only to a joint US-Russian rocket launch. At some point these things are subjective, depending on what one considers the world uniting in a great project — and what one finds inspirational. Do believe many who saw this were inspired? Were the critics who reviewed it?

      “2012”

      I haven’t seen it, but from Wikipedia it certainly meets the criteria. A bit of a downer, with almost everybody dying and everything destroyed. But the survivors on the 4 ships might build a better world. Again, what people find inspiring is subjective. Do believe many who saw this were inspired? Were the critics who reviewed it?

  5. You know what would make an awesome “humanity unites to save the world” film? A very close adaptation of “The Puppet Masters” by Heinlein. Complete with the campy “nudity saves the day” ending. “Camp” is not always contempt.

    I agree with your basic thesis, but I think it is better supported by the rise and utter dominance of super hero films (and even there, there are exceptions–the most heroic moment in The Dark Knight is when the death row inmate refuses to play the Joker’s game) as you have pointed out in previous posts, than a lack of optimistic films. But the USA has been fascinated with total destruction since near our very beginnings. It is no accident that the country that saw itself as “the city upon a hill” also popularized pre-tribulation rapture theology. The desire for Utopia is often closely linked with a desire for a cleansing by horrific destruction.

    1. Cristopher,

      “The Puppet Masters”

      The action in it was, from memory, pretty much a US-only operation. But the great expedition to Titan at the end was probably a global project — and certainly was an inspiring ending!

      I’ve wondered why Hollywood has not made films of classic science fiction stories. Many of Heinlein’s stories would be easy to adapt to film, and not require outlandish CGI costs.

    2. Two bad adaptations of Heinlein ( Ok, I never saw the film version of The Puppet Masters, but I heard it was basically an Invasion of the Body Snatchers rip off. Starship Troopers was a campy anti-miltary director’s diatribe.) may have given his estate qualms about selling off the rights to anything else. It may be hard to adapt much Golden Age sf because it’s already been influential, and Hollywood is reluctant to give the directors the independence it would take to make a fresh looking take on the source material.

      Besides, why bother when you can make another mediocre Philip K Dick adaptation? (Another favorite author of mine.)

      We may be lucky that Hollywood is focused on superheroes. They are doing a mediocre(mostly)job of that too, but least I haven’t seen anything as horrid as the Will Smith “I Robot” film recently. What a sad take on a seminal work of sf.

    3. Christopher,

      “I haven’t seen anything as horrid as the Will Smith “I Robot” film recently. What a sad take on a seminal work of sf.”

      Here is a different perspective: the film was (as you imply) contradictory to Asimov’s robot books. The film “I Robot” was an adaptation of ideas in Jack Williamson’s short story “With Folded Hands” (1947) and his novel The Humanoids. It’s a powerful insight on another interpretation of the three laws. Note that Asimov devised the three laws in 1940. The first story with all three was “Runaround” in 1941.

  6. Also, I’d love to see a remake of “Them.” A friend in college made me and some other friends watch it and we started off thinking it was going to be a campy, laugh-at-it sort of film, and we were all surprised that it was a gripping action film that seemed ahead of it’s time.

    1. The 1954 version gave me same impression. I’d watch it again if they only updated CGI.

      If I recall correctly, about 10 years ago there was a movie “Them” but totally unrelated to original. It was a pretty good depiction of evil “Lord of the Flies” feral children. It was billed as a true story.

  7. In regards to “Prometheus” and “Interstellar”, I felt they met your criteria in a small way. In both cases the groups were disparate and were representatives or explorers for Humanity. The team in “Interstellar” included advanced AI Robots with whom they had developed bonds. They were progammed to be heroes.

    1. longtrail,

      “They were progammed to be heroes.”

      I’m looking for large scale efforts. Hollywood loves to show heroic individuals or heroic small groups (very diverse, of course) who save the day. While fun, they are fantasies of empowerment. Superhero films carry this theme to its logical conclusion.

      They don’t inspire us to the collective action capable of real reform of society — let alone putting us on the path to larger ends, such as ending war and uniting humanity.

  8. Longtrail, I would have to say I thought “Interstellar” was chock full of optimism. But I wondered if the “future humanity saves the day” element would place it far out of our dear editor’s criteria.

    1. Gute,

      Yes, that is inspirational. I watched all three series with my sons ten years ago. Fantastic!

      But the criteria said stories in our time (i.e., even the near future) — so that we can see the story as not just an inspiration (even fairy tales can be inspirational) but as showing a pathway, or even possibility, for us to build a better future.

      In other words, showing us a better world in the distant future is fantasy. We need something more. That there are so few examples of that shows the depth of our problem.

    2. Few examples is right. Just doing a google search doesn’t provide much information.

      I thought I was the only one who watched the shows, but I guess not.

  9. You can make a case for Star Trek, at least DS9, in the episode where Sisko and others get transported to 2024 in the midst of general awfulness and a precipitating event that starts them on the path to Utopia. Of course they screw up the timeline and have to unscrew it before leaving. (My favorite part is the US has fallen apart, and yet in the midst of chaos they’d still managed to switch to the metric system)

    1. It’s Past Tense, parts I and II in season three, which is coincidentally where the show gets consistently good. (Or so I’m told, I recently finished season 3 and it’s been awhile since a bad episode)

  10. Oh, the episodes are titled Past Tense, it’s a two-parter, though the point remains. (I think my favorite myth from Trek is that it’s possible to staff an entire organization with highly competent individuals, at least the size of a ship/outpost. Flawed judgments maybe, but all very good at their core competencies)

    1. The Murr,

      “I think my favorite myth from Trek is that it’s possible to staff an entire organization with highly competent individuals, at least the size of a ship/outpost.”

      I don’t believe that is a myth in the usual sense of the world, unless you also call warp engines a myth. In the past century we have developed simple tests for personality and intelligence. Who knows what we’ll have in 300 years?

      Also, I don’t believe the individuals in the original Star Trek were all extraordinary people. They had fears. They made mistakes. They committed treason.

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