Feel-good Underdog Movies

First Published: 07-Nov-2021
This is a list of my favourite movies on hope, niceness & underdogs that I revisit often (no particular order)
Note: Not an exhaustive list. There are obviously great movies I haven't seen yet. Plus the list is filtered to my taste which will be different from another's taste

1. The Martian

Great adaptation of the book by Andy Weir. Don't get fooled by posters, etc and think it is your typical space movie. It's a movie about hope & shit tons of positivity. And how a man stranded alone on a different planet uses this positivity along with science to solve his problems & find his way home. Within 10 minutes of the movie, you will fall in love with Mark Watney (protagonist) and the energy he brings - such a lovable nerd.
Where to watch: Hotstar

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Stuck in a prison for decades, for a crime he didn't even commit, Andy Dufresne (protagonist) gets busy livin', instead of dyin'. He wants to make the prison library better. Warden says no. He writes a letter a week to the State Senate requesting funds for 6 years straight. After they give him $200 for books, he begins writing 2 letters a week. The man just won't give up.
With one of the biggest narrative payoffs towards the end, there's a reason this movie is on top of IMDB's all-time best list for a decade now. You'll be rooting for Andy in the movie and long after the movie is over too.
Where to watch: Prime

3. Intouchables (French)

You'd think a movie about a quadriplegic (both hands & legs paralyzed) will make you feel sad, right? Wrong. You will be laughing throughout this movie. A millionaire quadriplegic chooses an ex-convict as his 24x7 caretaker for one reason the caretaker looks at him as just a man & not as a paralyzed man. And boy do they both go on a ride together. This movie is about friendships & about being open & honest. The movie will leave you feeling gooey & mushy & smiley by the end. And yes, this is a true story!
Where to watch: Not on any OTT in India

4. The Greatest Game Ever Played

A golf movie that puts you on the edge of your seat. 20-year-old Francis Ouimet is the son of a daily wage labourer. And he wants to play in the US Open Golf Championships. But the Club says "We don't have space for 'you' people in the club" (class discrimination being rampant in the early 1900s)His father says "The game is for the rich, not for us. If you play, you will have to leave the house"
4 rounds of the championship later, we have a three-way tie between Harry Vardon (legend; previous winner), Ted Ray (legend; previous winner), & Francis Ouimet (amateur; debutant) - the only US player left. What ensues is a thrilling tie-breaker game between the 3 & Ouimet achieves a famous upset victory to be crowned 1913 US Open champion. Along the entire way, he gets help from a 10-year-old caddie (my favourite character) with whom he becomes lifelong friends (friendship goals!).
Watch out for the scene where his father, dirt-covered, toiling away digging in the ground, looks up to see the contractor reading the newspaper with the headlines "Mr Ouimet - America's last hope". It will get you. Not just this one scene.
Many other scenes. Like the one where his mom is in the crowd asking around whether her son is winning or losing because she does not understand the rules of the game. This movie will get to you. And yes again, this is a true story.
Where to watch: Hotstar

5. Hacksaw Ridge

Desmond Doss signs up as a combat medic for US Army in World War II. But he refuses to touch a rifle because he undertook an oath of not killing. His commanding officers, fellow trainees torture him, beat him up for not being a team player.
He soaks it all up without reacting. His unit goes to war and are left injured on a cliff after a stunning counterattack from Japanese forces. The camp at the bottom of the cliff presume the unit is dead. Unknown to them, Doss is alive and he begins to send one injured body after another down the cliff by rope, all the while hiding from the Japanese' prying eyes. Watch out for the scene where he buries one of his comrades alive for a few minutes as the enemy walks by before digging him back up.
He ends up saving 75 members of his unit single-handedly, without touching a weapon.The best part - it is a true story. In fact, a few acts of Desmond, which really happened, had to be cut because the director felt the audience would think they are too good to be true.
Where to watch: Not on any OTT in India

6. Gridiron Gang

Sean Porter works as a football coach at a juvenile prison. Till he came, it was just another job that coaches did with child convicts whose future had anyway been destroyed. No one put in the effort because they knew the children, once released, will be back in prison sooner or later for another crime. But Sean Porter came with a new ingredient that others before hadn't - sincerity.
He sincerely believed that he could teach the children valuable lessons of discipline, purpose & teamwork through football & change their lives for the better.The movie chronicles this journey, his relationship with the kids & the success of the sports program at juvenile camps. True story, by the way.
Where to watch: Sony LIV

7. Golconda High School (Telugu)

The narrative is something we have seen often but it is the like-able characters & the smaller plot moments added that make this movie very good.Golconda High School, which has been around for a while, is in danger of losing its cricket ground. The trustee wants to use the ground for setting up an IIT coaching centre, a reference to the extreme IIT-ization of education in Andhra Pradesh at that time (actually, still...).
Lots of discussions happen and it ends with a bet - win the inter-school tournament and the trustee will resign. Lose & the ground is used to build the coaching centre. The principal calls on an ex-student (protagonist) to coach the team.
It's an uphill task for him since it's been 15 years since the school's team even made it to Round 2 of the tournament, forget winning. The rest of the movie is about how he fights for the ground. The movie also touches on topics of all-round development, dreaming big and commitment.Watch out for the classroom scene where he teaches the team about the importance of dreaming. You will get chills.
Where to watch: Zee5

Honourable mentions

  • Lagan (Hindi)
  • The Pursuit of Happyness

This is a running list that I will keep updating periodically.