On the one hand, we could argue that ALL films are “about self-discovery”—in that the whole point of the hero’s journey is to learn a lesson, overcome an obstacle, and end the movie as a changed person.
But some films take it a little more literally: characters go on physical journeys that navigate their own inner ones. Whether they’re seeking change, healing, or adventure, these protagonists go on some sort of expedition to “find themselves.”
Here are some of the best movies about self-discovery and finding oneself, which may inspire you to do the same.
10. The Kings of Summer (2013)
Coming-of-age movies are all about self-discovery and steering that rocky minefield of adolescence. The Kings of Summer perfectly encapsulates this, telling the story of three boys (Nick Robinson, Moises Arias, and Gabriel Basso) who ditch home to live in the woods.
Their makeshift hut provides a haven of freedom away from the shackles of lame, overbearing parents. Within the forest, they discover the true meanings of friendship, love, family, and where they really want to be headed in the world.
9. Eternity and a Day (1998)
Theo Angelopoulos’ lyrical drama reflects on the universal topics of death, love, poetry, and regret. After finding out he’s terminally ill, Alexandros (played by Bruno Ganz) is pushed to look beyond the boundaries of his small life.
While trying to get his affairs in order, Alexandros manages to save a young boy from human trafficking and complete Dionysios Solomos’ unfinished poem, as an avid lover of 19th century poetry.
Setting out on these adventures and projects brings back memories of his deceased wife—memories Angelopoulos takes us through gracefully, testing the boundary between life and death.
8. The Bucket List (2007)
The threat of death spurs the need for more life in Rob Reiner’s comedy-drama The Bucket List. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star as two terminally ill men who share a hospital room. Despite living different lives, neither of them have managed to do what they’ve always dreamt of.
From skydiving to climbing Mount Everest, the two embark on a wild journey. Through these experiences, Carter (played by Morgan Freeman) and Edward (played by Jack Nicholson) uncover what it means to live.
As it turns out, the value of life has little to do with fancy cars and tourist attractions but rather the connections we make along the way.
7. American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty is a classic mid-life crisis story, if a little perverted. Kevin Spacey leads as a disillusioned telesales operative who’s hungry for a change of pace.
He quits his job to start flipping burgers, smoke weed, and work out instead—essentially, he reverts to the life of a teenage boy. And that means liking teenage girls, too.
After ditching all social expectations of himself, Lester (played by Kevin Spacey) is euphoric with liberation. And yet, he reveals something dark and twisted buried within.
Sam Mendes directs this Oscar-winning black-comedy, which acts a satire of suburban American culture. Academics have frequently analyzed the film’s take on identity, paternity, materialism, and modern life.
6. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Wes Anderson’s vibrant movie takes us on a trip across India. When the death of their father reunites three estranged brothers, they decide to take the train ride as a chance to bond. Through learning about each other (which isn’t easy), they learn more about themselves.
Anderson uses the colorful religious backdrop of Hindu temples, Himalayan convents, and more to explore the spiritual side of life—one that the three brothers have been neglecting.
Striking a perfect balance between humor and grief, The Darjeeling Limited starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman remains a firm favorite among Anderson fans.
5. Eat Pray Love (2010)
Eat Pray Love has all the ingredients of a good “finding yourself” flick: meditation, religious retreats, street food, and travel.
The biographical romance-drama stars Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert, who has everything she’s supposed to want in life. The job, the car, the husband… yet, somehow, it’s just not enough for her.
Elizabeth makes the bold decision to leave her comfort zone and travel the world—something all of us dream of doing at some point in our lives. Director Ryan Murphy provides us a nice breath of fresh air in this movie (as one of the lighter movies featured in this list).
4. Wild (2014)
Jean-Marc Vallée directs Reese Witherspoon in his adaptation of the memoirs by Cheryl Strayed.
It’s summer, 1995, and Cheryl decides to hike the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. But why? She’s certainly no fitness freak. Well, we soon learn that Cheryl’s journey is one with a much deeper purpose: to heal.
Bad weather conditions and lack of supplies don’t stop Cheryl from pushing on, determined to redeem the trauma she faced earlier in life.
Wild is your classic template for a self-discovery movie. There’s even a recurring spirit animal! The red fox symbolizes to Cheryl the guidance of her mother, who sadly passed away from cancer.
3. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Will Smith is in pursuit of many things in this movie: a career, a salary, a home, and a family. He’s in pursuit of a full life, which Chris Gardner simply doesn’t have. Gabriele Muccino takes a look into what it really means to be broke and how difficult it is for people to get out of it.
As a struggling salesman who can’t even make rent, Chris doesn’t have the luxury of “finding himself” on a fancy vacation halfway across the world. Instead, Chris must live on the streets with his five-year-old son (played by Jaden Smith) while juggling an unpaid internship.
That said, he learns a lot about himself and the real values worth holding onto in life. His labors ultimately make victory taste that much sweeter.
2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
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Ben Stiller directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which is definitely a one-of-a-kind movie.
A unique blend of fantasy and realism grabs our attention from the offset, taking us on a breathtaking visual rollercoaster. It tells the familiar story of a man who ditches the monotony of his office job to walk on the wild side. At least… he daydreams of it.
It’s not until one famous photojournalist’s photo goes missing that Walter actually does anything about it. His fantasy world suddenly comes to life, leading him through mountains, volcanoes, and shark-infested waters.
1. Into the Wild (2007)
Into the Wild is the most potent movie on this list because, first, it’s based on a true story, and second, it’s unbearably tragic. The malnourished corpse of Christopher McCandless was found in Denali National Park in September 1992. He was only 24 years old.
With this film, director Sean Penn ensures that Christopher won’t only be remembered for that. Poetically narrated by Jena Malone, Into the Wild is a passionate account of Chris’ life, who decides to cut and run from society as soon as he graduates school.
In a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, we witness Christopher’s desperate search to find peace and fulfillment in nature, adventure, and change. But his extremes prove to be too much. On the brink of death, he writes down his final revelation: “Happiness is only real when shared.”