99 Movies & Shows That Will Change How You See The World
The best kind of media is one that makes you feel something deeply—a powerful movie can bring us to tears, provide laughs during dark times, or open our eyes to perspectives we otherwise wouldn’t see. Compelling television can help make us smarter, kinder, and more inclusive. The benefits of thoughtful media run the gamut, but one thing is for sure: They all change how we see and experience the world.
Below, we’ve rounded up 99 movies and shows that have been as influential and impactful as they have been entertaining. We asked family and friends, explored the morasses of Reddit and community forums, scoured “Best Of” lists, and recounted the ones we were most taken by ourselves. We also asked The Daily Good readers — and boy, did you all deliver on some amazing recs!
Of course, these 99 recommendations are all subjective—so if there are any you want to recommend, drop them in the comments. And also check out our list of some of our favorite streaming documentaries and docuseries!
Dramas & Comedies (And Many a Combo of the Two)
1. Hamilton. The story of how America came to be—performed by how America looks today, with an incredibly engaging soundtrack blending Broadway, hip-hop, and rap.
2. The Big Short. Starring an A-list roster (Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Marisa Tomei), it’s an informative retelling of the housing bubble burst and the consequential economic collapse of the early aughts.
3. The Truman Show. This mix of drama, comedy, satire, and thriller is one that still has a lasting impact in the age of social media: Truman (played by Jim Carrey) has never left his idyllic hometown, and the whole world is watching his every move—literally.
4. Moonlight. A coming-of-age film of a young Black man, Chiron, over three stages of his life. It’s wholly intimate, beautifully filmed, and a much-needed look at the lives we don’t often see in media and representation.
5. Schindler’s List. There isn’t a quippy one-liner to describe this real story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved hundreds of Jewish lives in the Holocaust and WWII. Its historical significance is still part of the zeitgeist today.
6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This 1975 film adaptation of the book follows patients at a psychiatric hospital, and provides thoughtful reflections on mental health, individual power, and freedom.
7. Parasite. The first-ever foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, this drama/thriller from South Korea examines the widening gap between the rich and the poor, as well as inequality and greed.
8. Get Out. This psychological thriller put Jordan Peele on the map as a Director, and it’s a scathing social commentary on racial tensions and relations today. A young Black man visits his white girlfriend’s family estate and…things escalate rapidly from there.
9. Lion. Based on the true story by Saroo Brierley, Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar star as Brierley, as he recounts getting lost on the streets of India as a child, being adopted by an Australian couple, and finding his birth family decades later. It’s a remarkably told story of courage, determination, and finding yourself across cultures and countries.
10. Erin Brockovich. Produced by Danny DeVito and starring Julia Roberts, the movie reenacts the fight between real-life secretary Erin Brockovich and a California utility company poisoning a small town via groundwater contamination. A classic underdog story, but one that remains relevant even now.
11. Radium Girls. In the same vein of David vs. Goliath, Radium Girls follows women working in a radium factory in the 1920s, who begin to deal with mysterious illnesses. – Anonymous Reader
12. Selma. Black history is American history, and this film from Ava DuVernay revisits the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
13. Requiem for a Dream. Struggling to find happiness and connection, the four main characters deal with drug addiction in this 2000 film from Darren Aronofsky. – Anonymous Reader
14. The Pursuit of Happyness. Inspired by true events, we see a single father and his son experience one hardship after another: eviction, living in a shelter, and so on. But despite their setbacks, they’re determined to lift themselves out of poverty and find happiness and stability.
15. Crash. Race, class, family, and gender…this one covers it all, with the characters’ interconnecting plotlines taking place just after 9/11. The all-star cast includes Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, and more.
16. Jojo Rabbit. A World War II dramedy through the POV of Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, who first starts out as a German nationalist and then realizes some harsh truths about the world.
17. The Green Mile. Inspired by Stephen King’s 1996 novel, the movie spotlights death row supervisor Paul Edgecombe and his encounter with John Coffey, a “gentle giant” of an inmate convicted of killing two people. You’ll walk away thinking about the value of a human life, and the use of the death penalty.
18. Synecdoche, New York. Without giving away too much, this psychological drama and thriller is about a struggling theater director who’s dealing with both professional and personal issues. To cope, he creates a lifesize replica of New York City inside a warehouse and hires actors to live within it.
19. A Beautiful Mind. This biopic from Ron Howard is about Nobel Laureate John Nash, who lived with paranoid schizophrenia—and it was one of the first movies out there to spotlight this mental illness in the mainstream.
20. Fight Club. We’re breaking the golden rule here (we don’t talk about fight club), but this is another mental health-related movie. A depressed man meets a strange salesman, and together they form an underground club. If you haven’t watched this one from David Fincher, add it to your list—that’s all I’ll say, promise!
21. Catch Me if You Can. The real-life story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a one-time con artist who committed fraud and forgery. Not only is the movie endlessly entertaining, but it also provides lots of insights into the world of crime, how the FBI leverages former criminals for its work now, and that lasting legacy today.
22. BEEF. This new release on Netflix follows leads Ali Wong and Steven Yeun after a road rage incident—not only do we see Asian representation in a way we haven’t historically seen before, but we also learn about the lengths people will go to in an increasingly opposed world.
23. The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin is best known for this drama, wherein a US president and his team deal with not just politics but their personal lives, too. Starring an ensemble cast like Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, and Bradley Whitford, this series makes you is a great insider look (albeit not 100% accurate) at what’s happening in DC.
24. Orange is the New Black. Based on the memoir by Piper Kerman about her time in a women’s penitentiary, we follow the fictional lives of the incarcerated (through flashbacks and real-time events). It’s a poignant look at the brokenness of the prison system, the complicated decisions we often have to make in life, and the kinds of stories often ignored in the media today: poor women, Black and brown women, trans women, and more.
25. Bridgerton. This series (and its related spinoffs) focuses on the Bridgerton family in London’s high society in the Regency area. The show has inspired ongoing dialogue about race and equality, fashion, and even the recent resurgence of romance novels.
26. The Wire. Still considered one of the greatest shows of all time, we get to see the Baltimore drug scene through the eyes of the police, drug dealers, and users. Lauded for its realism and relatability to larger societal ills, it’s essentially both a bird’s eye view and a worm’s eye view on a complex issue.
27. Pose. Focused on the AIDS epidemic, this show is best known for its authenticity—it stars trans actors, is written by and directed by trans actors, and has been deemed the most groundbreaking LGBT show of all time.
28. Breaking Bad. Once Walter White, an unhappy father and chemistry teacher, learns he has terminal cancer, he turns to making meth as a way to pay the bills for treatment. The show made waves upon its release for creating a special kind of “anti-hero” and how good people can do bad things.
29. Maid. Inspired by Stephanie Land’s memoir, this limited series follows a single mother as she escapes an abusive relationship and turns to housekeeping to make ends meet. For a deeper understanding of poverty, intimate partner violence, and the reality of many women worldwide, this is a can’t miss.
30. Gilmore Girls. Witty, honest, and warm-hearted, this series features Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, a single mother and her bright daughter in an idyllic Northeastern town. The multigenerational drama and love between these two is palpable, reminding you that your mother can be your best friend.
31. Sex Education. A show that actively teaches us about sex, instead of making it taboo? In a way that’s inclusive, sharp, and shame-free? 10/10, recommend.
32. The True Cost. Named by many readers as one of their first forays into sustainability (including this author’s!), this powerful documentary connects fashion and consumerism with globalization, mass production, power, and poverty. Who makes our clothes—and what’s the true cost at stake here?
33. Kiss the Ground. This documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson came up several times in our outreach to The Good Trade readers, for its inspiration and education on the regenerative agriculture movement.
34. The Family of Donor 5114. Alternative paths to parenthood have included sperm donation—but it’s not always a cut-and-dry situation. This documentary features a group of adolescents over eight years who find out they were conceived from the same sperm donor. What are the ethics and morals we should all consider here?
35. An Inconvenient Truth. First released in 2006, this documentary follows former Vice President Al Gore as he fights for more awareness and action towards the global warming crisis. It was one of the first mainstream documentaries that talked openly about climate change and inspired a new generation of climate activists.
36. 13TH. What’s the connection between the prison industrial complex, slavery, and racism? Ava DuVernay makes the case in this riveting documentary.
37. Blackfish. Tilikum, a killer whale held in captivity at SeaWorld, killed three people including his trainer. Does keeping animals like Orcas in captivity keep them safe…or is it just as dangerous? That’s what this film aims to answer—and what might be better for everyone involved instead. —Macy L., TDG reader
38. What the Health? Another recommendation from several readers, this documentary showcases the link between diet and disease—and how industries like healthcare, pharma, and food are made richer because of it. ––Melissa R., TDG reader
39. The Business of Being Born. Made by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, this documentary looks at the American history of obstetrics and childbirth (oh, and the profits made from it), and the importance of midwives in other cultures. —Juliette F., TDG reader
40. My Octopus Teacher. A filmmaker’s year-long friendship with an octopus—and what we can all learn from it. It’s an Academy Award winner, praised by Jane Goodall, and recommended by TGT readers, too. —Hannah L., TDG reader
41. Bowling for Columbine. This 2002 doc is as relevant as ever today, despite being about the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. Michael Moore explores the popularity of “gun culture,” the high homicide rates in the US, and actions we can take to minimize gun violence.
42. Flee. Produced by Riz Ahmed, this animated movie tells the story of Amin Nawabi, an Afghan refugee in Denmark. It’s a powerfully vivid portrayal of the refugee experience and is based on a true story.
43. I Am Not Your Negro. Written using James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and following the lives of his friends who were later assassinated (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.), this piece of media is a scathing look at race in modern-day America.
44. Sound and Fury. The doc features the Artinians, a family with both deaf and hearing children across multiple generations and their debate over cochlear implants. How would an implant change their relationship with deaf culture and their community?
45. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. This riveting biographical documentary is about photographer and activist Nan Goldin and her fight against the Sackler family, urging them to own up to their part of America’s opioid crisis—one that she herself can relate to.
46. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist, who’s long been critical of the Chinese government. His father was exiled during his childhood in China, and he was arrested by the Chinese authorities in 2011. Released in 2012, this personal film looks at his work and ethos as he prepares for several exhibitions, and how he blends art and politics.
47. How to Change Your Mind. Are all drugs actually bad? What potential do they hold? Author Michael Pollan explores the world of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA, and how they can be used for good—like with healing and overall health.
48. Parts Unknown. Anthony Bourdain traveled around the globe to celebrate and indulge in delicacies we haven’t typically heard about, from the food in Myanmar to the sourcing of cocoa in the indigenous Andes. It’s as much a food show as it is one about community and humanity.
49. How to Get Rich. This relatively new Netflix series stars Ramit Sethi, a personal finance expert, as he meets with individuals struggling with money in some way. Not only does he work with them as case studies unfold in the show, but he also shares insights on how to build wealth the right way.
50. Taste the Nation. Padma Lakshmi tours across America to experience the different cultures, dishes, and stories that have influenced the US as a “melting pot” today, including Cambodian immigrants in Massachusetts, Nigerians in Houston, and Appalachians in the Mountain South.
51. High on the Hog. And we can’t talk about American food without Black food, as chef and writer Stephen Satterfield shares with us. Satterfield examines the connection between Africa and Texas over four insightful episodes.
52. Planet Earth. This British mini-series is about the wildlife all around the earth, from deserts and deep oceans to forests and caves, originally narrated by historian and biologist David Attenborough. (If you’ve already seen it, we highly recommend his other work like Wild Isles, Blue Planet, and the Life of Birds.
53. How It’s Made. How are everyday items made? Pinball machines, braille, aluminum foil…the list goes on. Enjoy this long-running series that’ll pique and satiate your curiosities about the manmade things we surround ourselves with.
54. The Vow. This docuseries spanning nine episodes explores NXIVM, a self-help group that eventually transformed into a sex slave cult. One of the most popular documentaries in the world about cults, it’s equal parts eye-opening and chilling, and a hint of justice.
55. Coco. This Pixar movie is set around Día de Muertos (the Mexican Day of the Dead), with a spotlight on a young boy named Miguel, his family, and the musician he idolizes. It’s a beautiful story rooted in music, connecting with your loved ones whether alive or dead, and going after your ambitions.
56. Inside Out. Learning about—and dealing with our emotions—is an invaluable part of life, and this film is a wonderful way to teach little ones. When a young girl moves to a new city, five emotions—Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust, and Anger—help guide her through this major life change.
57. Hidden Figures. All too often, history erases or ignores the contributions of women—but not here. This film features the (true) story of three Black women mathematicians who played a vital role in the early years of the NASA space program.
58. The Peanut Butter Falcon. Suggested for kids age 10+, this dramedy reminds us about the power of words and of friendship. A young man with Down syndrome runs away from his nursing home to fulfill his dreams of being a wrestler and makes an unlikely friendship. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “sweet, tender, and it won’t fail to charm.” – Anonymous TDG reader
59. Up. After losing the love of his life, Carl—a very grumpy elderly balloon vendor—decides to pursue his lifelong goal. Along the way, he discovers a young stowaway—Russell—and the two go on an adventure of a lifetime. A beautiful piece about savoring the moments we have with one another, while we still can.
60. Remember the Titans. This oldie but goodie highlights the power of friendship and acceptance, across race and background. It’s a PG-rated film about a newly integrated football team learning to play together, and how they become the mighty mighty Titans.
61. Marley & Me. Pets are family, and this one proves it: Couple John and Jenny decide to get a pet ahead of becoming parents, but Marley is anything but easy. Of course, he becomes as much a member of their kin as anyone else—but it’s another one you’ll want tissues for.
62. Bill Nye the Science Guy. Millennials know and love Bill Nye for his approachable and digestible approach to all things science. If his OG show from the ‘90s feels too old, check out his newer series: Bill Nye Saves the World and The End is Nye.
63. Ms. Marvel. Based on the eponymous Marvel comic, this Netflix series tells the story of Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old budding Avenger navigating life, high school, and her new powers. It marked one of the first times South Asians and Muslims saw representation in superhero storylines—especially in non-stereotypical ways.
64. Schitt’s Creek. Rated TV-14, this heartwarming comedy follows the Roses, a formerly wealthy family, now relocating to the podunk town of Schitt’s Creek. David, one of the main characters, is pansexual and the LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance in the show is one we should all strive for IRL, too.
65. Never Have I Ever. Mindy Kaling’s latest Netflix series follows Devi, an overachieving high school student with a bit of an anger problem, particularly after the loss of her father. Not only do the episodes accurately depict the journeys of grief and self-acceptance, but they also put South Asian representation at the forefront.
66. This is Us. Following one family’s intergenerational story, this tearjerker of a series covers everything from love and loss to biracial adoption, anxiety and mental health, and PTSD. Warning: You’ll need tissues, but this one’s worth watching.
67. Abbott Elementary. Recommended for teenagers or older children, this comedy about a group of passionate teachers in Philadelphia makes you think deeply about the public school system, from funding inequity to teacher shortages to community engagement. (And it’s hilarious, too.)
68. Sesame Street. Not to be too on the nose, but if you want your kiddos to learn about the world in a comforting, thoughtful, and kind way, you can’t go wrong with this long-running series.
69. Everything Everywhere All at Once. This movie—and leading actress Michelle Yeoh—took the world by storm over the last year, as it followed Yeoh’s character trying to protect the world after a multiverse is discovered. What are all the different versions of reality that might exist out there?
70. The Matrix. This existential film has impacted everything from culture to tech since its 1999 release. The plot focuses on a computer-generated dream world designed to keep humans under control. What’s our individual responsibility in the world, and when should we opt for reality over fantasy?
71. Arrival. A professor leads a team of investigators when aliens touch down around the world. As we often see, sci-fi isn’t just about the plot at hand but about humanity, too, and the same exists here. (I won’t give away the ending, but it’s worth the watch.)
72. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The two protagonists try to erase their memories of each other but it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. What’s the value of memories, even if they’re bittersweet or sad?
73. Inception. Leo DiCaprio is a professional thief who steals information from the subconscious of others…but it all comes with a price. We as viewers wonder what’s reality and what’s not, and the complex storylines and stunning cinematography also help drive the premise home.
74. Black Mirror. This futuristic sci-fi series explores what’s next for technology, parasocial relationships, and the modern world, and every episode represents its own contained storyline.
75. Severance. A mix of drama and thriller, this sci-fi series asks, “Can we separate our working selves from our non-working selves?” Employees at a biotech company, who had previously opted in to surgically divide their home lives from their work lives, begin to discover the truth about their jobs.
76. Star Trek. What began as a sci-fi franchise in the 1960s has now expanded into reboots, novels, comic books, and more—keep up with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the gang as they enter space aka The Final Frontier.
77. Sense8. This sci-fi series, from the same duo behind The Matrix, features eight people around the world who realize they are telepathically connected to one another. Seen as a threat to others, they must find a way to survive being hunted, and it’s full of love and courage as they fight on.
78. The Last of Us. Fans of The Walking Dead or A Quiet Place may like this game-turned-series. After a pandemic (sorry), a smuggler helps a 14-year-old girl cross the US as she may be humanity’s last chance for survival. A beautiful friendship plays out, and it’s far more heart-warming than you’d think.
79. The X-Files. One of the most popular shows of the 1990s, the premise suggests: The truth is out there. Tackling everything from conspiracy theories to ETs, the main duo Mulder and Scully—one skeptic and one believer—consider what’s real versus fiction, and you may just walk away with more questions about the world than answers.
80. Lost. Despite its…controversial finale, this sci-fi drama was loved by millions and filled with mysteries including time travel, polar bears in the jungle, and smoke monsters. In addition, we learned about the connections between each of the characters and how no one is as black and white as they seem.
81. Stranger Things. Sure, it’s another sci-fi series—but there are a number of reasons it’s dominated global rankings. It’s a show that masterfully pays homage to the genre at large (and the 1980s), but it also includes queer characters, girls’ leadership, and non-traditional depictions of friendships and family.
82. The Twilight Zone. No sci-fi list would be complete without this one, a series that impacted TV and society for decades to come. While each episode thematically focused on sci-fi plots (as an anthology), it also spoke truths about humanity, identities, and our culture as a whole.
Reality TV & Competitions
83. Drag Race. RuPaul, the world’s most famous drag queen, acts as the judge in this drag queen competition show. It’s fun, uplifting, and inclusive—there’s a clear reason why this show is entering its 16th season in 2023.
84. The Great British Bake Off. It’s rare to see a competition be so…wholesome, but this one is. It’s a comfort show when you need it, but it also helps teach us about the world of baking and sweet treats, especially ones less common in the US.
85. Shark Tank. Pitch four well-known entrepreneurs your own winning business idea, and you could walk away with a sizable investment to take your vision to the next level. This reality TV show is one that helps you learn about entrepreneurship, harnesses your business skills, and invites you to dream big.
86. Survivor. Could you make it on a desert island, without much of anything? For 44 seasons, the team has set out to figure out exactly that—and while it revolutionized the appeal of reality TV, it also offered an inside look at long-term survival, human psychology, and goal-setting.
87. Queer Eye. This reboot from the early 2000s features a new (queer, gay, and gender-nonconforming) Fab Five. Together, they “makeover” folks far beyond the surfaces of just fashion and food, and instead focus on kindness, healing, and self-love, which truly stands out as the heart of this show.
88. Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. JVN, one of the stars of the aforementioned Queer Eye, asks experts about topics we don’t often think about—like bugs, skyscrapers, and figure skating.
89. Jeopardy. You can test your trivia skills and expand your knowledge in just 20 minutes a day, and we have Jeopardy to thank. Learn about the history, pop culture, sports, and every category under the sun.
90. Ted Lasso. It’s the quintessential “comfort show” right now with more leadership and life lessons than you can imagine: Believing in yourself, seeing the good in others, and the benefits of forgiveness. It’s about an American college football coach managing a British soccer team, and no, despite its feel-good approach, it doesn’t feel overly cliche or kitschy.
91. The Good Place. What happens to us after we go, and can we change it? This rockstar cast helps us to think about the bigger things in life—morals, ethics, how we treat one another, and most importantly, how we grow.
92. Modern Family. A long-running sitcom, Modern Family changed the way Americans saw themselves on TV starting back in 2009. Over 250 episodes, the series followed a large family in Los Angeles that consisted of divorcees, adoptees, and interracial relationships, and it truly upended the stereotype of the “nuclear family” over time.
93. Grace & Frankie. Two enemies become best friends after their husbands leave them—for each other. But beyond its intriguing premise, the real treat is about the beauty of life and aging together, and you’ll fall in love with both leads, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
94. Saturday Night Live. Not quite a sitcom but a sketch show, this weekly late-night show takes the news and makes it both accessible and funny. The series has paved the way for many of the most famous comedians we know and love today, but it’s also been a solace and comfort during some especially dark times.
95. The Daily Show. Another not-quite-sitcom but regularly airing show, this Peabody Award-winning program covers the top headlines in a way that’s…actually interesting, and clever. Jon Stewart skyrocketed the show to fame during his tenure, and now we can enjoy a smart, sharp rotation of hosts like Trevor Noah, Hasan Minhaj, and Leslie Jones.
96. I Love Lucy. A groundbreaking show in many ways starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They showed pregnancy on-screen, were an early example of interracial relationships in media, and created the idea of “syndication.”
97. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. A coming-of-age sitcom about Will Smith (the character, who’s played by Will Smith himself), a Black teenager in the ‘90s sent to live with his wealthy family in Bel-Air. The show covered everything from the lack of parental presence to gun violence to prestige and class.
98. Jane the Virgin. This “spin” on the Latin telenovela for American TV is deliciously addicting to watch, as we see the titular character Jane learn that she’s pregnant, despite never having sex. The incredible chemistry between the cast, their approach to social issues, and the way they reframed how “young mothers” are typically seen created a long-lasting impact in the media landscape.
99. Kim’s Convenience. A Korean family runs a convenience store in Toronto, and we watch the family dynamics with two first-generation Canadian-Korean children change and evolve in ways both funny and heartwarming.
Henah Velez (she/her) is the Senior Editor at Money with Katie at Morning Brew, as well as a writer at The Good Trade. She holds a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship and is a proud Rutgers grad. Originally from NJ, Henah’s now in the Bay Area where she loves shopping small, hanging with her pets, or traveling.