We all have an appetite for movies that inspire us by depicting characters who fought great odds. Such movies come up regularly and in the history of American cinema there must be well over a hundred. I personally love to watch the story of a tough man set in the center of a dramatic conflict, and I often wonder how the world would be if men were largely like these heroes. Anyway, here is my own list of the most inspiring male characters from movies.
1. Russell Crowe as General Maximus in Gladiator
In this Roman period drama, Russell Crowe brings to the screen one of the most memorable larger-than-life characters in modern cinema, General Maximus. Apart from being the greatest general in the Roman army, Maximus is also a fearless man of honor. The king Marcus Aurelius wants him to be his successor and restore to Rome the ideals of democracy and justice that had made it a great power. However, when Marcus Aurelius is murdered by his own weak and vengeful son (played by Joaquin Phoenix), the new king sentences Maximus to death. Maximus escapes and disappears into the dark underbelly of Rome: its network of slaves and gladiators. From here he rises as the greatest gladiator Rome has ever seen, and challenges the emperor.
The entire movie is a canvas devoted to this one man’s greatness, and will leave you inspired and moved with its vision of what fearlessness and honor mean.
2. Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in Rocky
Rocky is one of the most endearing and inspiring male characters from movies, and perhaps one of the only ones who never felt stale even after four sequels. Rocky starts off as a modest and good natured boxer of Italian origin who has never seen the big time and seems destined for obscurity. But that’s only the outside. What lurks beneath is a man incapable of ever quitting a fight, no matter how tall the odds that life throws his way.
An entire generation was moved to tears, when Rocky, pummeled by Apollo in the ring for 14 rounds and finally flattened by a knockout punch, slowly and painfully stands up again and urges the referee to start the fight.
3. Russell Crowe as James Walter Braddock in Cinderella Man
Another boxing movie, yet another inspiring male character from movies and real life! This one is the true story of James Walter Braddock, a riches to rags boxer, who finds himself and his family bearing the brunt of the great depression of the 30s after an injury ended his promising career prematurely. He becomes a common day laborer, before his friend and manager, Joe Gould, helps him get fights again. Braddock literally rises from dust and after a fairytale journey, finds himself confronting the young and powerful Max Baer for the World Heavyweight Championships. Braddock is a 10-to-1 outsider, and written off by everyone, including Baer.
What follows is one of the greatest upsets in boxing history, as the Cinderella Man sustains blow after blow and goes on to beat Baer, resurrect his career, and give hope to an entire nation fighting great odds.
4. Josh Lucas as Coach Don Haskins in Glory Road
This inspiring true story is set in 1966, when African-Americans were persecuted in Basketball as everywhere else. Only 2-3 black players ever got into even the most liberal teams, and Kentucky, the top seeded NCAA heavyweights, never had even one.
Coach Don Haskins challenges all precedents and takes on the grudge and hatred of a generation, when he takes over the small-time Texas Western team and brings in 7 black players into his team of 12. He recognizes their obvious talent, fights their recklessness and the bad blood between the black and white players in his team, and blends his group into a solid unit. They really begin to fight for each other when they realize that they are not only up against America’s best, but also the entire philosophy of apartheid. Definitely among the most inspiring male characters from movies.
5. Henry Fonda as a Juror in 12 Angry Men
Henry Fonda is the only dissenting juror in what others regard an open-and-shut murder case. A young boy from the slums is on trial for murdering his father and the evidence is overwhelmingly against him. The 11 other jurors all vote guilty within a minute and are astounded when Henry Fonda disagrees. What follows is an hour and a half of intense and gripping argument.
The whole movie is only dialogue in one room but expect to be glued to the edge of your seats by one of the greatest legal dramas of all time. While Henry Fonda does not fight a great authority or battle the ideas of an entire generation, the lesson he leaves us with is that there is no accomplishment more heroic than an original, thinking mind, unmoved by bias of any kind. For me, he certainly is one of the most inspiring male characters from movies.
6. (and 7) Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush as King George VI and His Speech Tutor in the King’s Speech
There is not one but two inspiring male characters in this movie. There is Colin Firth, who plays the reluctant king (George VI) who is in power during the Second World War years, and overcomes a debilitating speech defect induced by fear, to inspire a nation. Then there is Geoffrey Rush, his unorthodox and uncompromising middle-class speech teacher, who is not overwhelmed by hostility, royalty or tradition. They both overcome great differences, tall odds and mental barriers in their bid to fix the king’s speech. Geoffrey Rush is willing to stop at nothing, and Colin Firth is the sincerest man he has ever met. Together they achieve what the experts had deemed impossible.
There are a lot other inspiring male characters from movies, and I feel quite dissatisfied ending this list at 7. But I guess I would feel much the same way, even if I went on to add another ten names! Who would you add to this list?
Top image source: mediacircus.net