The story of the poor, oppressed, and suffering protagonist reaching on top of the world has universal appeal. Hundred of thousands of movies have been made on the plot. From a Cinderella sliding on the glass slipper to the journey of the orphaned Pip in Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations,’ classic literature used the plot to ponder on the mercurial nature of human existence. World cinema has never been shied away from the universal appeal of rags to riches plot. Moviegoers around the globe identify themselves and experience the cathartic moment of relief with the protagonist on the screen who conquers and breaks the obstacles blocking his destiny. Such movies console the wounded souls of the viewers by depicting an imaginary feature in which they might win unexpected wealth and success.
Even though the rags to riches movies stopped being the darlings of major Hollywood production houses as they were in the 30s, a years after the Great Depression, they are still in high demand on various platforms; a reason why the streaming platform Netflix keeps a diverse repository of rags to rich movies. So, here’s the list of really good rags to riches movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now.
11. The Social Network (2010)
Inspired by Ben Mezrich’s book about the founding of Facebook, ‘The Social Network’ is a biographical drama movie written by Aaron Sorkin. The Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield-starrer revolve around Mark Zuckerberg, a young adult in his freshman year of Harvard who designs a social networking site exclusively for his college students that goes viral. In the subsequent years, the young college student becomes one of the most powerful men on the planet, as Facebook slowly overtook other social networking platforms. ‘The Social Network’ is the story of Facebooks’ early years and the controversies faced by its founder when he faced several lawsuits against him.
10. Schumacher (2021)
Directed by Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker, and Michael Wech, ‘Schumacher’ is a sports documentary film that centers upon the titular racer who is often proclaimed as the greatest Formula One driver of all time. The movie focuses on Schumacher’s most exciting wins of his career and the intimate details of the personal challenges that he faced along the way. With interviews from his competitors and family members like Sebastian Vettel, Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard, Corinna Schumacher, and Willi Weber, the documentary paints a very intimate portrait of Michael Schumacher, a man who rose from obscurity to rule the racing world.
9. 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible (2021)
’14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible’ is a documentary film written by Gabriel Clarke and Torquil Jones. The movie follows Nirmal Purja, a Nepali high altitude climber, as he takes on the daunting task of climbing all of the world’s 14 highest peaks in just seven months, breaking the previous record of 7 years and 310 days. Unfortunately, as he begins to pitch his vision in front of potential sponsors, Nirmal is met with disappointment. Ultimately, the brave climber puts everything on the line by remortgaging his own UK house to achieve his seemingly impossible dream, which eventually earns him global fanfare and widespread media coverage.
8. 3 Idiots (2009)
Featuring stand-out performances by Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan, Sharman Joshi, and Kareena Kapoor, ‘3 Idiots’ is a coming-of-age comedy film directed by Rajkumar Hirani. The movie revolves around a rebellious and brilliant young adult named Rancho and his two college friends, Farhan and Raju, as they navigate the challenges of life to find their purpose. While their college life is full of fun, the family challenges and responsibilities continue to weigh them down and threaten to crush their dreams ultimately. In all the chaos, can the trio gather the courage to follow their hearts and build a life that they have always dreamt of?
7. Pelé (2021)
Directed by Ben Nichols and David Tryhorn, ‘Pelé’ is an autobiographical film that revolves around the titular protagonist as he becomes a national hero from a talented young footballer in a time when his country was going through an uncertain time. With archival footage of some of his most memorable performances, the movie brings iconic football moments to life and offers viewers a glimpse of greatness in action. While the film naturally highlights Pelé’s charisma and success, it also does not shy away from portraying his flaws and paints a complete picture of the Brazilian footballer.
6. The White Tiger (2021)
Based on Aravind Adiga’s novel of the same name, ‘The White Tiger’ is a drama movie written and directed by Ramin Bahrani. The Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas-starrer follow a young boy named Balram who loses his father to tuberculosis and, due to his poverty-ridden living conditions, has to work in a village’s tea stall to make a living. But despite the hardships, deep down, Balram can’t contain his ambitious goals and desperately looks for opportunities to rise to the top. When he is hired as a driver by a wealthy Indian family, Balram’s loyalty is gained through threats which only fuel his ambition and make him even more committed towards his final goal.
5. Dangal (2016)
‘Dangal’ is the kind of movie for a non-Bollywood moviegoer to start tasting the delicacies of Indian cinema. The movie, which went on the became a mammoth hit with record figures in the Indian box office, is based on the true story of the life of the amateur wrestler Mahavir Singh and his two daughters, Geeta and Babita Phogat. ‘Dangal‘ traces a father’s extraordinary journey and struggle to make his daughter two world-class wrestlers, challenging social taboos, bureaucratic red tapes, familial pressure, and his age. By the time his daughters became India’s first world-class female champions in wrestling, ‘Dangal‘ has also become a sports-drama the global viewers can emotionally connect with.
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4. Mary Kom (2014)
Written by Saiwyn Quadras, ‘Mary Kom’ is an autobiographical drama movie that stars Priyanka Chopra, Darshan Kumaar, and Sunil Thapa. The Omung Kumar directorial follows the titular protagonist as she falls in love with the sport of boxing from a young age and dreams of someday doing something special for her country. Sadly, her father, who is a rice farmer, understandably disapproves of Mary’s choices, but the stubborn fighter makes it very clear that she has no plans of quitting the sport anytime soon. As she put herself through relentless training for several years, Mary eventually ends up representing India in the World Amateur Boxing Championships and cements her legacy in the following decades.
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3. Rising High (2020)
‘Rising High’ is a German comedy-drama movie written and directed by Cüneyt Kaya. The film follows three ambitious and unruly young men named Viktor, Nicole, and Gerry, who are willing to go to any lengths for fame and fortune. So, when one of them manages to upend the Berlin property market with illegal tactics, the trio ends up making more money than they could have ever imagined in their wildest dreams. But the story does not end there as greed slowly paves the way for their eventual downfall.
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2. Guru (2007)
When Gurukant, a hyperactive boy, fails to meet his schoolteacher’s and father’s expectations, his parents are disappointed. Director Mani Ratnam’s much-acclaimed business saga ‘Guru’ follows Gurukant, who sets out on a journey to Turkey in search of a fortune. In Turkey, he finds not just employment, but a truth that changes millions of life later. He comes back to India with a determination of starting his own business. But the country was reeling under licence-raj and bureaucratic red tape. Moreover, hailing from a poor family background, the way to find the capital for his venture was to marry a girl from a wealthy family. He has done his research and ties knot with Sujata, the daughter of a wealthy man named Jignesh. After the marriage, Gurukant begins his unstoppable journey to become one of the biggest corporate entities in the history of India.
1. Barry (2016)
‘Barry’ is Vikram Gandhi’s take on the life of former U.S. President Barack Obama as a college student. The movie focuses on his life as one of the few black students at Columbia University, NY, in the early 80s. He was known as Barry within the campus, which was a place marked with sharp lines of separation based on racial politics and judgment. Barry had to fight the prejudices and racist opinions of his fellow students and other staff to find his place in the University. The painstaking process leads him to a self-exploration and identity search as he gets involved with different communities and social circles. The movie chronicles the formative years of Barack Obama, a crucial period in the life of the first black president of the US.
When exploring a 20-year-old future president’s campus life, the director also gives us a glimpse into the gaps and patches of American history. While Barry grapples with the difficulties of being bi-racial, at a specific location of Columbia University, there was Harlem, the historic African American community, just a few minutes’ walk from the University. Barry was the only black student in his class, and even though he was not subjected to blatant racist attacks, he comes across micro-aggression everywhere.
‘Barry’ reminds us of the vast genre possibilities of rags to riches movies. They can push the boundaries further and not restrict themselves as mere heroic narratives of protagonists determined to earn money for ungraded social status. Movies of this genre can also shed light on the invisible battles people are fighting in various facets of society in terms of race, class, caste, religion, gender, sexual preferences and geopolitics.
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