Interested in watching a movie that focuses on ideas you’ve been kicking around in your mind recently? Looking for examples of characters that exhibit Stoic qualities like resilience, discipline, and inner tranquility? You’re in the right place– we’re about to look at 29 movies about Stoicism you should check out.
To be fair, Hollywood hasn’t focused a ton of attention in the direction of this ancient philosophy. Don’t despair, though– there are tons of truly incredible films where characters display some of the most core qualities we talk about when discussing what it really means to be a Stoic.
So, without further ado, get your popcorn ready and stick with us for our list of the best movies with Stoic themes!
To start off, let’s look at a handful of films that actually feature ancient Stoics as characters. These are few and far between, so if you’re looking to watch a film where you get to watch Marcus Aurelius or Seneca navigate the complexities of the Roman Empire, these are the four you’ll want to check out.
This epic historical film explores the events surrounding the decline of the Roman Empire. Directed by Anthony Mann, the entire plot revolves around Marcus Aurelius’ desire to name General Livius as his successor rather than his own son, Commodus.
“Keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, and unassuming; the friend of justice and godliness; kindly, affectionate, and resolute in your devotion to duty.”
- Marcus Aurelius
If you’re a fan of older films and you are eager to see one of the most famous Stoics portrayed on film, check this one out!
Who doesn’t love a good miniseries? This 2004 Italian miniseries focuses on the life and reign of Emperor Nero, during which Seneca served as his advisor.
This entry into our list of Stoic movies probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. Winner of the Best Picture and Best Actor Oscars at the 73rd Acadamy Awards, along with three other awards.
“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.”
- Marcus Aurelius
If you haven’t seen Gladiator yet, what are you waiting for? Often considered one of the greatest historical epic films ever made and certainly one of the best films of the 2000s, this is an excellent watch. Containing themes of stoicism, masculinity, revenge, and violence, it’s the perfect mix of philosophical concepts of downright awesome cinema.
Any follower of Stoic philosophy will be very pleased to learn that there’s a new film starring John Malkovich as Seneca. Focusing on the end of the Stoics' life and the start of Nero’s despotic reign, Seneca – On the Creation of Earthquakes hit the theaters in March of 2023 after having its world premiere a month earlier at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival.
“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.’
- Seneca the Younger
The film's story begins with Seneca being banished by Emperor Claudius. The wife of Claudius later asks that Seneca tutor their son, Nero, whom Seneca has a great influence on for a series of years.
Anyone interested in the life of the ancient Stoics is going to want to see this film– despite its unideal reviews on sites like Rotten Tomatoes.
Ok, so there aren’t a ton of movies out there that actually focus on the lives of the Stoic philosophers or even feature them as side characters. That being said, the newly released film starring John Malkovich certainly points toward the fact that Hollywood might be catching on to the rapid rise of interest in Stoicism.
If you’re left wanting after our list of Stoic movies, don’t fret. Here are a bunch more films to check out that are not only great movies but also feature Stoic themes or characters that display Stoic qualities.
For full disclosure, I just watched this film last night and loved it. I’m a sucker for historical movies in the first place, and I was particularly struck by the Stoic character of Abbe Faria, an elderly Italian priest imprisoned at the Château d'If.
Stuck in the same prison as the main character, Edmond Dantès, Faria becomes Dantès’ mentor and teaches him philosophy, swordsmanship, and more. We see in this character an ability to maintain true inner peace despite impossibly hopeless circumstances along with the pursuit of taking action when most others would wallow in despair.
There are two versions of this film, one made in 1969 and the other in 2010.
The older film stars John Wayne, while the 2010 remake stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. Both versions of this film showcase strong-willed characters who display grit, determination, and moral fortitude.
“A half-hearted spirit has no power. Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Average people enter into their endeavors headlong and without care.”
The story follows a woman who wants to seek justice for the murder of her father by a hired hand. Her unwavering pursuit of retribution, despite facing numerous challenges, displays a sense of inner strength and resilience akin to Stoic virtues.
The hard-nosed U.S. Marshall that she finds to help her, played by John Wayne in the 1969 version and Jeff Bridges in the 2010 version, showcases characteristics of self-reliance, practical wisdom, and courage throughout the film.
This 2013 war drama is based on a 2005 novel of the same name. Centering around the story of a young girl that lives during the Nazi era, the protagonist experiences extreme hardships. Despite this, she exhibits resilience, courage, and a strong sense of compassion, especially in her friendship with Max, the Jewish man hidden in her foster family's basement.
The Stoic virtue of wisdom is certainly on display in this film as well. Her love for books and her determination to learn represent a pursuit of knowledge and personal growth amid chaos and adversity.
Additionally, the film touches on themes of acceptance, fate, and the recognition of circumstances beyond one's control. Regardless of whether you’re new to Stoic philosophy or you’re a scholar on the topic, this is a film worth checking out.
If you try to search around online for Stoic films, you’ll often find people mentioning Andy Dufresne as a Stoic character.
“Injustice never rules forever.”
- Seneca the Younger
Dufresne, the main character, is a banker wrongly convicted of murder. Doomed to navigate life in the Shawshank State Penitentiary, Andy maintains a sense of dignity, rationality, and inner peace despite facing unthinkably harsh circumstances in prison.
The film also portrays the power of the mind and maintaining hope in seemingly hopeless situations. Andy's ability to retain a sense of purpose through his actions, such as his efforts to help fellow inmates and create the library, reflects Stoic ideals of finding meaning and contributing positively to the world despite external circumstances.
Furthermore, the film explores themes of acceptance and the recognition of the things one can control versus what one cannot, which is one of the aspects of Stoic philosophy that many modern practitioners find to be so useful in their daily lives. Andy's focus on his inner life, his determination to preserve his dignity, and his ability to endure hardship are on full display and offer a powerful example for us to learn from.
If you’re looking for some inspiration in your efforts to exhibit patience and a calm demeanor no matter what else is going on around you, this is one you won’t want to miss. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s often considered one of the best films of all time.
Based on the 1980 novel Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, this is a tale about a talented yet troubled gymnast and his relationship with a spiritual guide. This spiritual guide– a gas station attendant named Socrates– becomes his mentor and imparts wisdom about life, mindset, and self-discovery.
The film explores themes of self-awareness, personal growth, and the importance of living in the present moment. Socrates, portrayed as a wise and enigmatic figure, encourages Dan to embrace the "way of the peaceful warrior," emphasizing the significance of mental discipline, inner strength, and mindfulness.
Though this film is far from explicitly Stoic, there’s a lot of food for thought here for anyone interested in Stoic philosophy. Many of the main themes of the movie parallel Stoic ideas, such as self-mastery, acceptance of the present moment, and the pursuit of inner tranquility despite external circumstances. Socrates' teachings focus on controlling one's thoughts, embracing challenges as opportunities for growth, and finding peace within oneself.
Whether you’re a Stoic or not, this Kubrick film is definitely worth the watch. Based on a novel from 1844 entitled The Luck of Barry Lyndon, the film follows the life of Redmond Barry, later known as Barry Lyndon, who rises from modest beginnings to become a member of the aristocracy in 18th-century Europe.
Throughout his journey, Barry faces numerous trials and adversities, and Barry's experiences often lead to reflections on the capriciousness of fate and the uncontrollable nature of events. His ability to adapt to changing circumstances, accept setbacks, and maintain a level-headed approach to life echoes Stoic principles of accepting what cannot be changed and focusing on what one can control.
In this film, there’s also an overarching sense of what Marcus Aurelius would call “Plato’s View”– a broader perspective on the patterns of human behavior and the reality that we are all equal in our shared fate of birth and death. This is well displayed in the epilogue:
“It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”
Why is it that so many of the films with Stoic themes also happen to be some of the best movies ever made? Master and Commander is a truly epic period film that is perfect for lovers of historical films and Stoicism.
Starring Russell Crowe as a captain in the Royal Navy and Paul Bettany as the surgeon on the ship. Again, this is certainly not a directly Stoic film, but there’s a lot to chew on as you follow the story of the protagonist, Captain Jack Aubrey.
Captain Aubrey, portrayed by Russell Crowe, embodies qualities such as discipline, courage, rationality, and leadership under incredibly challenging circumstances. He is remarkably capable of maintaining composure, making rational decisions, and leading his crew through pretty crazy (and dangerous) situations. In this light, his character reflects Stoic ideals of self-control, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence in one's duties.
While you’re watching the film, you’ll be engrossed in the harsh realities of life at sea during the Napoleonic Wars and the challenges faced by the crew aboard HMS Surprise. Amid unpredictable and often dangerous conditions, Captain Aubrey somehow manages to maintain a sense of order and purpose.
Furthermore, Captain Aubrey's commitment to duty, his respect for his crew, and his ability to adapt to changing circumstances illustrate Stoic principles of focusing on what is within one's control and accepting the inevitable challenges of life.
Haven’t seen The Revenant yet? Well, my friend, the time has come.
In the story of Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, we get a front-row seat to the harrowing circumstances of a frontiersman who is left for dead by his companions after a bear attack. His journey becomes a relentless quest for survival, marked by extreme physical suffering and emotional turmoil.
Glass demonstrates remarkable resilience, endurance, and a relentless will to survive against overwhelming odds. His ability to endure physical pain, navigate the harsh environment, and maintain his determination despite facing tremendous adversity will be recognizable as reflecting Stoic values to even casual followers of the philosophy, giving us a remarkable example of resilience, self-reliance, and enduring hardships with courage.
You’ll also find that the film explores themes of acceptance and adaptation to nature's indifference and the uncontrollable forces of the wilderness. Glass' struggle to survive, fueled by inner strength and an unwavering sense of purpose, is right in line with Epictetus’ ideas about accepting what isn’t in your control and focusing on your attitude and actions instead.
Of course, there was no way we were going to get through this list without at least one Clint Eastwood film. Directed, produced, and starring Eastwood, the film follows an aging outlaw and killer named William Munny.
As so many other movies begin, Munny is drawn back into a life of violence for one last job. As Munny reluctantly takes on the task of avenging a prostitute's assault, the film explores themes of justice, morality, and the consequences of violence.
In Munny’s character, we see a number of Stoic traits. These include resilience, self-control, and a sense of duty. Despite his violent past, he struggles with inner conflicts and attempts to reconcile his actions with his moral compass. His journey throughout the film reflects a sense of self-reflection and a desire for redemption.
Some evenings, there’s nothing that will quite hit the spot like a Liam Neeson flick. This survival thriller is based on a short story and follows the tale of a group of men whose plane crashes and leaves them stranded in Alaska.
If that isn’t trouble enough, the men have to confront a number of different packs of wolves that are stalking them through their journey. As you might imagine, the men aren’t just dealing with truly extreme physical challenges, but they also are fighting their own inner demons.
The character of Ottway, played by Liam Neeson, embodies Stoic qualities in his demeanor and actions. Ottway displays resilience, resourcefulness, and a pragmatic approach to survival, attempting to guide and protect the other survivors. He grapples with loss, existential questions, and the harsh realities of nature yet maintains a stoic composure and determination to persevere despite overwhelming odds.
The Intouchables is a French film that centers around the relationship between Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic, and Driss, his unconventional caregiver from a disadvantaged background.
This film is a bit different from many of the others on our list– rather than an epic historical film or a classic western, The Intouchables is more of a buddy comedy. In the movie, Dris brings a fresh perspective to Philippe's life, who is initially living a rather sheltered and isolated existence. Driss' directness, resilience, and ability to find joy in life despite facing personal hardships offer a sunnier perspective on how one can incorporate Stoic virtues into their daily life.
There’s a good chance you’ve already seen this one, but it could be worth another watch if you’re looking for examples of what Stoic principles look like in the face of true adversity.
For those that have never seen it, the basic premise is that Chuck Noland (played by the ever-lovable Tom Hanks) is a FedEx executive stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. He faces immense challenges, including isolation, scarcity of resources, and the struggle for survival in a hostile environment.
Chuck's experiences on the island force him to confront his fears, adapt to his circumstances, and find ways to endure the hardships of solitude and physical deprivation. As Chuck grapples with the limitations of his situation, he begins to adapt, learning to provide for his basic needs and finding ways to endure his isolation.
Another point worth making is that Chuck’s experience is truly transformative, both physically and emotionally. Anyone who has dug into some of the writings of Epictetus will know just how important personal growth is in Stoic philosophy, and Cast Away is a great film for seeing exactly what that type of growth could look like in the face of extreme circumstances.
Feeling like Clint Eastwood isn’t getting quite enough love on our list? No worries. The next Stoic film you’ll want to check out is Gran Torino, a seriously enjoyable story about a cantankerous and bigoted Korean War veteran who becomes an unlikely hero. The main character, Walt Kowalski, grapples with his past traumas, feelings of alienation, and the changing world around him as his neighborhood undergoes demographic shifts.
Throughout the film, we see our curmudgeonly hero exhibit qualities like resilience, self-reliance, and a strong sense of personal integrity. He faces challenges with a level-headed approach and maintains a sense of control in his actions, even when things get pretty rough.
We see Walt transform as the film goes on through his unlikely friendship with his Hmong neighbors. I won’t ruin the ending, but it’s not a stretch to start thinking about some prominent Stoic ideas in the way that Walt acts toward the end of the film.
An adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book of the same name, Into the Wild, tells the story of Christopher McCandless. Something of a folk hero, we follow McCandless in his quest for self-discovery, rejection of societal norms, and desire for ultimate freedom.
Christopher seeks a life of authenticity and simplicity, and his journey represents a pursuit of personal autonomy and a rejection of the conventional trappings of modern life. As he makes his way across the U.S. and eventually makes it to Alaska, McCandless both meets impactful individuals and confronts harsh challenges.
This is a really interesting film from a Stoic perspective. Again, I don’t want to ruin the ending for anyone who isn’t familiar with the story, but there are some really fascinating questions brought to the surface about the balance between solitude and human connection, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and much more.
Another film with Stoic themes that’s based on a true story, 127 Hours, follows the incredibly harrowing experience of Aron Ralston. A mountain climber, Ralston, becomes trapped by a boulder in a remote canyon in Utah and must resort to extreme measures to survive.
If you’re searching for a movie that embodies the Stoic themes of endurance and the acceptance of circumstances beyond one's control, this is one to watch tonight. As he faces imminent death, Aron initially experiences panic and despair. However, he soon shifts his focus to assessing his resources, making rational decisions, and adapting to his dire situation, allowing him to show incredible resourcefulness, determination, and courage.
The film also touches on themes of introspection, self-reflection, and the appreciation of life's value. Aron's transformative experience in isolation leads to introspection, personal growth, and a deeper appreciation for life, all of which can be found throughout the works of the great Stoic authors.
If you’re looking for a movie that will really show you just how good you have it in your own cushy life, check out The Deer Hunter. This is a seriously powerful film that shows the experiences of a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania town before, during, and after their service in the Vietnam War.
Again, this is not a 100% Stoic film by any means. But we do get to witness the characters deal with the physical and psychological toll of war and spend a few hours engrossed in themes of endurance, survival, and the struggle to maintain a sense of humanity amidst the chaos and horrors of combat.
Set in the early 20th century, Legends of the Fall is an epic film that deals with themes of love, loss, and the impact of war. More than that, though, it grapples with the tension between wilderness and civilization as embodied, respectively, by Tristan Ludlow (played by Brad Pitt) and his brother.
Pitt’s character is portrayed as a free-spirited and fiercely independent individual who faces numerous trials and tragedies throughout his life. His ability to endure loss, face adversity, and maintain a sense of inner strength despite experiencing profound emotional turmoil will resonate with followers of Stoicism, and the themes of fate are also inescapable.
This dystopian movie certainly exhibits some Stoic themes, including personal growth, facing adversity, and resilience in the face of extreme circumstances. The main character, Theo, undergoes a moral awakening as he becomes involved in protecting a pregnant woman during a time when there is a global infertility crisis. During the film, his actions shift from indifference to a sense of purpose and commitment to protecting the future of humanity.
If you’re searching for a more recent flick that displays Stoic ideas, check out To Leslie. Directed by Michael Morris, this is a great watch. Following a troubled alcoholic named Leslie, after she has squandered the entirety of her $190k lottery winnings, we get to watch as an extremely manipulative and difficult character undergoes a seriously impressive personal transformation.
A classic American Western from 1962, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance follows the story of Ransom Stoddard, played by Jimmy Stewart. A young and idealistic lawyer, Stoddard represents the values of civilization, justice, and the rule of law. As you might imagine, his beliefs initially clash with the rugged, lawless ways of the West, represented by the character of Tom Doniphon, portrayed by John Wayne.
The film's exploration of truth, morality, and the myth-making process resonates with Stoic concepts of accepting reality as it is despite the narratives or appearances created by society. Ransom's journey involves coming to terms with the truth of his past, confronting his beliefs about heroism and justice, and accepting the complexities of reality.
Haven’t quite gotten your fix yet? Don't worry-- I won't leave you hanging! Here are five more movies with Stoic themes definitely worth checking out:
25. Sully (2016)
26. The Shootist (1976)
27. The Son (2022)
28. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
29. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
Are you searching for more information to help you as you incorporate Stoicism into your daily life? Make sure you check out our Stoic Quotes blog for more articles, quotes, inspiration, and philosophical musings!