38 Movies (And 2 TV Shows) That Left Me Smiling In Awe

This is a non-sequencial list of movies (arranged by release year) I've seen that really left me gazing at the screen with a childlike sense of wonder. Yeah, most of them are new, but I can't help it. As technology has improved, it has become easier to create awe-inspiring moments. These aren't all my favorite movies, but they left me feeling good, sometimes with a tear, sometimes with many.
View:
Log in to copy items to your own lists.
1.
Citizen Kane (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance. (119 mins.)
Director: Orson Welles
“ Widely regarded as the best film of all time, Citizen Kane has some of my favorite cinematography work. The brilliant character study kept you guessing until the very end. When the twist was revealed, audiences witnessed one of the earliest senses of tragedy and wonder and it had the same effect on me nearly 70 years later. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
2.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed. (130 mins.)
Director: Frank Capra
“ Arguably the most famous feel-good ending of all time, I think you have to be almost inhuman to NOT feel good at the end of this film. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
3.
Seven Samurai (1954)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves. (207 mins.)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
“ While not my favorite film, I do give it the honor of being the greatest film ever created. Kurosawa really gets you invested in all of the characters and the battle scenes are some of the most intense ever filmed. It's not exactly a feel-good movie, but every minute of it is simply incredible. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
4.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. (161 mins.)
Director: Sergio Leone
“ Leone knew how to keep things interesting in his films, and this is what I consider to be his best. Endlessly cool moments and the most recognizable Western score in cinema history bring this incredible movie to life, but I think the most credit should go to the cinematography for keeping my eyes glued to the screen. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
5.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Humanity finds a mysterious, obviously artificial object buried beneath the Lunar surface and, with the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000, sets off on a quest. (149 mins.)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
“ Many consider this Kubrick's best film and rank it among the best ever, and with good reason. Aside from throwing the three-act structure out the window and creating a brilliant wonder of a film, the effects still hold up, even without digital enhancement. It's also one of the most ambiguous movies ever created and thousands of interpretations have emerged from it. The seemingly endless "cosmic phenomenon" scene is infamous and the final shot is even more so. But without a doubt, the final scene with the space child created an enormous sense of wonder and surprise, leaving many, including me, speechless. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
6.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen. (137 mins.)
“ Spielberg patented his "light-show ending of epic proportions" with this film, and what an incredible light show it is. The mystery surrounding the alien spacecrafts is effortlessly portrayed and the grand ending dropped countless jaws around the nation, including mine. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
7.
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader. (121 mins.)
Director: George Lucas
“ While I believe that Episode III is the most visually striking one, IV remains the one that gave me and just about everyone, one of the biggest surprises of awe any movie has that has ever been filmed. The climax still remains a visual feast and the ending brings a great sensation of heroism. I think the movie speaks for itself. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
8.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home world. (115 mins.)
“ Yeah, cliche'd as it might be, E.T. still has one of the most famous visually striking endings ever created. Spielberg improved on Close Encounters by creating cinema's most lovable alien and an ending that left audiences in tears and awe. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
9.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A filmmaker recalls his childhood, when he fell in love with the movies at his village's theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater's projectionist. (155 mins.)
“ Pretty much the patron saint of "if you love movies, you should watch this" movies. A great story of friendship, romance, and growing up, the surprise ending shocked me and truly made me appreciate my friends and still gets to me when I think about it. It left me gazing at the screen in hope that the ending would not end. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
10.
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship. (96 mins.)
Director: Rob Reiner
“ Probably the most unconventional movie on this list, but hey, I'm a sucker for good romances. With one of the most famous "I love you" speeches ever written, this movie really left me feeling good at the end and reminded me that sometimes what we needed was right in front of us all along. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
11.
Fearless (1993)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A man's personality is dramatically changed after surviving a major airline crash. (122 mins.)
Director: Peter Weir
“ I think this is a movie that people should only watch once. It is a film that really teaches to value life. Yes it is slow, but the powerful ending really never leaves you and is very much worth the ride. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
12.
Forrest Gump (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
While not intelligent, Forrest Gump has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran, eludes him. (142 mins.)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
“ This movie has just about everything: friendship, romance, action, comedy, adventure, drama, and then some. Yes, it is sad, but when you think back through our lead character's extraordinary life, its hard not to smile and be reminded that no one can get through life by themselves. We can get through the tough times when we remember those who care about us. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
13.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency. (142 mins.)
Director: Frank Darabont
“ I find I'm touched most in movies when I see how much two people care for each other. This movie really digs deep in the theme of friendship and strength and ends on one of the highest notes in cinema history. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
14.
Braveheart (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
When his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, Sir William Wallace begins a revolt against King Edward I of England. (178 mins.)
Director: Mel Gibson
“ I put off watching this until I found out it was my dad's favorite movie. So we watched it together for Father's Day and wow. The ending is so inspiring, that if my dad wasn't in the room, I would have been crying like a baby. My jaw was left open while the final scene played in slow motion and kept tugging at my heartstrings. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
15.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life. (126 mins.)
Director: Gus Van Sant
“ Yes, the movie's a tad slow, but it has got to be one of my favorite screenplays ever written. Nearly every line has a deeper meaning and the ending definitely leaves you with a warm, inspired feeling. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
16.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. (169 mins.)
“ I've talked to a few war vets and they say they don't like this movie because once you strip away the incredible battle scenes, you're left with another run-of-the-mill melodrama. I agree to some point, but this movie still gives me a chance to care for its characters and really appreciate friendship and freedom by the end. It's one of my favorites and its power always sticks with me. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
17.
The Truman Show (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
An insurance salesman/adjuster discovers his entire life is actually a television show. (103 mins.)
Director: Peter Weir
“ As my favorite Carrey performance, Peter Wier's tale of a man in a controlled environment always reminds me that when life feels like we're trapped in a box, we can always rely on the ones we love to help us out. The emotional ending and one of my favorite final lines always helps me when I'm feeling down. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
18.
Fight Club (1999)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
An insomniac office worker, looking for a way to change his life, crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker, forming an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more. (139 mins.)
Director: David Fincher
“ I can honestly say that Fight Club made me a better person. It shows that a fight is just a fight and to just get over them. Aside from being one of the most ingenious socio-political commentaries ever made, the ending really leaves you with a good feeling and it gives us hope that we all have strength to overcome obstacles, we just have to find where it is first. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
19.
Amélie (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Amélie is an innocent and naive girl in Paris with her own sense of justice. She decides to help those around her and, along the way, discovers love. (122 mins.)
“ Quite possibly the happiest movie I've ever seen, there's not one second of Amelie that I didn't love. It's... It's just so happy! The ending is... IT'S ALL JUST SO HAPPY! ” - JW_Hendricks
 
20.
Samurai Jack (2001 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
A samurai sent through time fights to return home and save the world. (25 mins.)
“ Samurai Jack was a true marvel of a show. It was quiet when it needed to be, adventurous when it needed to be, and action-packed when it needed to be. The show was an absolute masterpiece, in visuals and storytelling. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
21.
Spirited Away (2001)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
During her family's move to the suburbs, a sullen 10-year-old girl wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits, and where humans are changed into beasts. (125 mins.)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
“ As my (and just about everyone else's) favorite Miyazaki film, Spirited Away really show just how much strength children have and, in my opinion, is a testament to the love, strength, and sense of adventure we all had as a kid. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
22.
Big Fish (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A frustrated son tries to determine the fact from fiction in his dying father's life. (125 mins.)
Director: Tim Burton
“ I honestly think this is one of the most underrated movies of the past 20 years. Think of it as a fantasy take on Forrest Gump. The quirky characters were expertly written and I really grew to love them all, even with their flaws. The ending immediately grabs you and is one of the most effective portrayals of true friendship I've ever seen. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
23.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against Sauron's army to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring. (201 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
“ What's to say about this movie that hasn't already been said? Incredible action sequences, mind-blowing effects, and a ridiculously long ending all culminate into a grand emotional film that really left me staring at the screen with my jaw on the floor and my face covered in tears. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
24.
Lost (2004 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
The survivors of a plane crash are forced to work together in order to survive on a seemingly deserted tropical island. (44 mins.)
“ Lost's first season was incredible, feeling more like a long movie than a TV series. The mystery never stopped and the cliffhangers kept on coming. And while the series developed countless plot holes and unanswered questions, it never failed to keep things interesting outside of the second season. What really surprised me, though, was how emotional it could get. The series finale, while stupid in theory, was pulled off in such an emotional and powerful manner, that very few who saw it could keep themselves from staring at the screen in tears, sad that the show was ending, but happy that they were part of the wonderful ride that was Lost. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
25.
Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A drama about the fate of brothers forced to fight in the Korean War. (140 mins.)
Director: Je-gyu Kang
“ Not many people in America have watched this movie, but more should. It is an epic-scale retelling of the Korean war which centers around two brothers. As stated above, what touches me most in films is when I see how much two people care for each other, and Tae Guk Gi does one of the best jobs I've ever seen. I can say that this is the film that has made me cry the most, but I love it because it made me appreciate brotherly love that much more. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
26.
300 (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. (117 mins.)
Director: Zack Snyder
“ This entire film showed absolute mastery in the visual and technical aspect. Aside from the epic battles, there was some emotion to be had, but not on the scale as some other films on this list. The ending is in the vein of Braveheart, but whole movie captures you with its unique and wonderful visual style and never lets go, even through the credits. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
27.
The Fountain (2006)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
As a modern-day scientist, Tommy is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi. (96 mins.)
“ This isn't so much an emotional powerhouse as it is a visual masterpiece. There's not much I have to say about the movie except that it is very underrated and contains some of the most visual, awe-inspiring moments I've seen in films; especially the ending. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
28.
V for Vendetta (2005)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
In a future British tyranny, a shadowy freedom fighter, known only by the alias of "V", plots to overthrow it with the help of a young woman. (132 mins.)
Director: James McTeigue
“ I was very surprised by this movie. It really shows just how much one can care for their country and the ending gives a real feeling of the phrase, "All for one, one for all!" It really encompasses the scope of what people will fight for, especially their freedom. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
29.
The Dark Knight (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.0/10 X  
When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the Dark Knight must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice. (152 mins.)
“ I really don't know what to say about this film, because every time I watch it, I am left with an inescapable sense of awe. Heath Ledger's performance was absolutely flawless and the film always had a grand feeling to it. By the time it ended, I was in almost a state of shock, but that's what makes the film so good. It leaves you breathless and speechless. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
30.
Avatar (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. (162 mins.)
Director: James Cameron
“ Okay, this is probably where most people will think my credibility has been ruined. Yes, this film was an unoriginal mess story-wise, but the world James Cameron created was so visually striking, that I simply got lost in it. I forgot about the story and gazed at the wonderful colors and was actually sad when the movie ended because I wanted to see more of the world. Every shot of Pandora was masterful and really made me feel like I was a part of the world. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
31.
Ink (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
A mysterious creature, known as Ink, steals a child's soul in hopes of using it as a bargaining chip to join the Incubi - the group of supernatural beings responsible for creating nightmares. (107 mins.)
Director: Jamin Winans
“ As the only indie film on the list, Ink does a great job of feeling like a bigger-scale movie than it actually is. It weaves time, space, dreams, love, hate, and even business into a wonderful fantasy tale. The movie has a distinct visual look that really uses it to its advantage, especially for its ending, which is more emotional than I would have thought and is one of the few I've seen to keep me teary during an action scene. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
32.
Star Trek (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father's legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful Romulan from the future creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time. (127 mins.)
Director: J.J. Abrams
“ While considered blasphemy for most true Star Trek fans, I really enjoyed J.J. Abrams visual feast. The emotional opening really hooked me in and the entire movie kept me glued to the screen. Abrams uses humor only to lighten the mood in a few spots, which is a tricky thing to do right, but he does it effortlessly. The colors used for the effects always have a sense of wonder and really left my jaw hanging, especially at the end. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
33.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Yearning for escape and adventure, a young boy runs away from home and sails to an island filled with creatures that take him in as their king. (101 mins.)
Director: Spike Jonze
“ When I first heard they were making a film based on my favorite children's book, I thought it was going to be horrible. But Spike Jonze really surprised me. Many have said that this is not a movie for kids, but a movie about being a kid, and they are right. This movie really analyzes what it's like to be a kid and picks apart the main character's personality to let us see how he ticks. The end brought tears to my eyes and made me realize just how much I cherish my childhood. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
34.
127 Hours (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
An adventurous mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive. (94 mins.)
Director: Danny Boyle
“ I remember when the event that this film is based off of happened. I thought it was cool, but I was small and didn't realize just how emotionally intense the story was. There's one shot towards the beginning that shows our main character trapped, shouting for help as the camera zooms out, showing miles of barren land. This is a truly powerful movie and the end left my mouth hanging wide open with a wonderful, inspired feeling. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
35.
Inception (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
A thief, who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology, is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. (148 mins.)
“ No one knew what to expect from Inception. Yes, it was confusing at times, but the technical aspects more than made up for it. The film kept things interesting and just blew my mind. Along with the breathtaking set-pieces, there were some nice bits of emotion sprinkled throughout and the ending definitely made me hold my breath in amazement. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
36.
Kick-Ass (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a superhero, even though he has no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so. (117 mins.)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
“ When I saw Kick-Ass in theaters, I expected another standard action comedy that I would forget a little while later. What I got was a hilarious (if offensive) movie with incredible (if offensive) action scenes that always left my mouth gaping in amazement. The wonderfully underrated, heroic score brings a lovable cast to life and with one of the most satisfying villain deaths of all time, this movie definitely left me feeling good. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
37.
The King's Speech (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
The story of King George VI of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it. (118 mins.)
Director: Tom Hooper
“ While I don't think it deserved the Best Picture award, I did think this film was an excellent biopic that shows that no one, even if they are a king, can get through problems by themselves. It's our friends that help us through life. The ending is one of the most inspiring of the past few years and leaves you with a great, strong feeling of hope. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
38.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
The toys are mistakenly delivered to a day-care center instead of the attic right before Andy leaves for college, and it's up to Woody to convince the other toys that they weren't abandoned and to return home. (103 mins.)
Director: Lee Unkrich
“ Oh, Pixar. These guys, with the exception of the "Cars" franchise, never fail to make a film I love, but this one is my favorite. It is also their most emotional movie to date. Going to college, I could really relate to the movie, make it much more emotional for me. The ending is a true testament to love and friendship and gave me one of the best feelings a movie's ever given me. ” - JW_Hendricks
 
39.
Super 8 (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
During the summer of 1979, a group of friends witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town. (112 mins.)
Director: J.J. Abrams
“ Super 8 was shrouded in mystery until the time of its release. I like that J.J. Abrams keeps people guessing and it even continued throughout the movie. It's one of the few movies in this era that even bothers developing its characters and does an excellent job. The train crash scene was excellent and the ending, while I do wish there was more closure, was simply beautiful. The Spielberg nod really knocked the visuals out of the park and was what I like to call "a very creative way to make people tear up." ” - JW_Hendricks
 
40.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and to learn its secrets. (154 mins.)
Director: Michael Bay
“ Now, before you start flaming me, hear me out. I'm sure you've realized that I believe that sometimes awe can be conveyed with visuals alone and this film did just that. The film started out lackluster, plagued by the humor of the 2nd film in the series, but as the movie went on, it got better, until it reached its seemingly endless climax... then it got awesome. The surprisingly dark and more emotional movie had surprisingly grand cinematography, incredible special effects, and super cool moments that kept the kid inside of me entertained and my jaw hanging. ” - JW_Hendricks