Art has the power to help us grasp ideas, experiences, and feelings that we are otherwise unequipped to comprehend. Using the creative and symbolic force of its medium, art can encourage questioning, jolt awareness, and incite understanding.

In our modern day, film functions as an especially influential form, as it maintains access to a mass audience and financial backing not regularly awarded to other art forms. IVY Magazine sat down for a recent interview with Hollywood producer Kevin Turen, who shared his thoughts on the surprising power of film to shape minds and win over hearts. In light of this interview, we take a look at five films that will broaden your perspectives and change your life.

1. Schindler’s List

Source: IMP Awards.

How do you communicate a genocide of unspeakable tragedy to future generations, and keep alive the memory of six million victims? Steven Spielberg’s 1993 historical drama, Schindler’s List, is considered one of the greatest films of all time, harnessing the full force of the cinematic medium in an attempt to answer these questions and serve as the conduit through which generations of people learn about The Holocaust. Of the film’s black and white presentation, Spielberg said: “The Holocaust was life without light. For me the symbol of life is color. That’s why a film about the Holocaust has to be in black-and-white.”

Schindler’s List is an example of a film that succeeds as both a critical and commercial success, garnering seven Academy Awards and earning a reported $321.2 million worldwide at the box office on a $22 million budget. In 2004, The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

2. Philadelphia

Source: Roger Ebert.

Released in 1993, Philadelphia was the first big-budget Hollywood film to tackle the issue of HIV/AIDS. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the drama succeeded in bringing attention to the real life story of Clarence B. Cain, a Philadelphia attorney who won a discrimination case against his employer, Hyatt Legal Services, for firing him after they discovered he had AIDS. Cain sued Hyatt in 1990, winning the case just before his death.

Philadelphia defiantly addresses homosexuality and homophobia of the era, drawing on the tour de force performances of lead actors Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington to reach and impact a wide commercial audience. The film marked a watershed moment in Hollywood’s movement towards a more realistic portrayal of homosexuality on the big screen, and a poignant humanization of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as the film’s protagonist, Andrew Beckett.

3. Gandhi

Source: Roger Ebert.

Richard Attenborough’s 3-hour biographical drama brings to the screen the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement against British rule during the 20th century. It is difficult to grasp the enormity of a life such as Gandhi’s, yet the spiritual power of Ben Kingsley’s portrayal comes as close to illuminating Gandhi’s heart and motivations as any medium can.

Released in 1983, a year in which the United States was wracked by political apprehension, an economic recession, and nuclear anxiety, Gandhi is a heartening exemplar of the emotional resilience and pure humanity that is our common thread. The film was massively popular worldwide (becoming India’s highest-grossing film of all-time, at the time of its release), and garnered eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

4. Blackfish

Source: Roger Ebert.

Blackfish, a 2013 documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is about Tilikum, the orca held by SeaWorld that was involved in the deaths of three people. Blackfish is a searing exposé of the controversy around keeping orcas in captivity; the film is especially effective in delving into the psychological harm associated with the animals’ capture, the separation from their families, and the death of their young ones after breeding at the water park.

Blackfish is a model of the extent to which documentaries can impact the issues they address. The film’s release incited a number of bands, including Heart, Martina McBride, The Beach Boys and Pat Benatar, to cancel their concerts amid the controversy around the film. In March 2016, SeaWorld announced that it would end breeding of killer whales.

5. The Deer Hunter

Source: Roger Ebert.

Michael Cimino’s 1978 drama, The Deer Hunter, is one of the all time great war films. The movie features an all star cast — including Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep, among others — and brought an unprecedented realism to Hollywood depictions of the controversial Vietnam War. It was the first feature film to be filmed on location in Thailand, lending the scenes an unhinged rawness representativeness of the madness of war.

However, The Deer Hunter did not go without criticism: film critics maligned the work for its one-sided representation of the Vietnamese soldiers, and questioned the veracity of the Russian roulette game at the center of the story. Yet in his 1978 Chicago Sun-Times review of the film, Roger Ebert wrote: “The game of Russian roulette becomes the organizing symbol of the film: Anything you can believe about the game, about its deliberately random violence, about how it touches the sanity of men forced to play it, will apply to the war as a whole. It is a brilliant symbol because, in the context of this story, it makes any ideological statement about the war superfluous.”

The Deer Hunter is not a purely anti-war or pro-war film, but rather functioned as a shocking and poignant testament to the human tragedy of the Vietnam War, which had come to a conclusion three years prior. In an era in which “body count” became a gauge of military success, The Deer Hunter is a powerful reminder of past atrocities. In 1996, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

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