Education, Consulting & Mentorship for Aging Service Professionals


10 Movies That Highlight The Healing Power of Recreation & Leisure.

Recreation is sometimes seen as just something we do in our spare time. But, for many – recreation is utilized to combat all sorts of life challenges. Check out this list of movies that showcases how recreation in various forms can be used to help physical health, mental health, creating a sense of belonging and more. We don’t play because it’s fun — we play because it’s necessary.

Disclaimer: Clicking on the pictures of each movie will bring you to an affiliated site to purchase any of these movies, etc. As an Amazon Affiliate, I do get receive a small commission on anything you purchase with my links.

Patch Adams

After struggling with depression in a mental hospital, Hunter “Patch” Adams (Robin Williams) decides he wants to become a doctor. He enrolls at Virginia Medical University but is disillusioned by the school’s clinical perspective on patient care. With the aid of a wealthy friend, Adams opens his own medical clinic for those without insurance. He forms a deep bond with fellow medical student Carin Fisher (Monica Potter) before a tragedy causes Adams to re-evaluate his approach. This movie is a semi-autobiographical account of the real Patch Adams (Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams) who is an American physician, comedian, social activist, clown, and author. He founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971. Each year he organizes volunteers from around the world to travel to various countries where they dress as clowns to bring humor to orphans, patients, and other people. Patch Adams was a doctor who realized that patient center care, and recreation/leisure (especially humor therapy) can aid in healing. A must watch for anyone in the healthcare field.

The Gesundheit Institute, a non-profit healthcare organization, is a project in holistic medical care based on the belief that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the society, and the world. Our mission is to reframe and reclaim the concept of ‘hospital’.For more information on the real Patch Adams visit:

Welcome To Marwen

No one expects Mark Hogancamp to recover from a devastating assault that wipes away all of his memories. Putting together pieces from the past and present, Mark meticulously creates a Belgian town and becomes a heroic World War II fighter pilot. His astonishing art installation soon comes to life with breathtakingly realistic dolls — a testament to the most powerful women he knows. Through this fantasy world, Hogancamp finds the strength to triumph in the real world and face his attackers.

This movie – which is based on real events, showcases the wonders that art and recreational activity can do for healing and trauma. By creating these art installations, Mark was able to create his own form of therapy that ultimately helped him recreate his life from the ground up. For more information on the real Mark visit

The Fundamentals Of Caring

A writer (Paul Rudd) retires after a personal tragedy and becomes a disabled teen’s caregiver. When the two embark on an impromptu road trip, their ability to cope is tested as they start to understand the importance of hope and friendship.

This is a great movie for anyone in healthcare, especially caregiving. It shows the importance of independence, of humor, of friendship. How those we care for are still people – and how a recreational trip can aid in all sorts of healing, adventure, and hope. This movie is available on Netflix on demand.


Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old balloon salesman, is about to fulfill a lifelong dream. Tying thousands of balloons to his house, he flies away to the South American wilderness. But curmudgeonly Carl’s worst nightmare comes true when he discovers a little boy named Russell is a stowaway aboard the balloon-powered house.

This movie is great at showcasing active elders! (I might be biased but I LOVE a good movie that focuses on geriatrics!) The story delves into a trip that helps Carl heal from the hurt of his wife’s passing, and form an intergenerational friendship with Russell! This movie has great talking points when it comes to recreation in older adult care, intergenerational programming, and how recreation can aid in healing our hearts. The grief does not go away, but recreation pursuits like travel (maybe not via a balloon house) can help anyone of all ages in a therapeutic way. They are a way of saying goodbye, of starting new, of creating a memory in their honor.

Soul Surfer

SOUL SURFER is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, through her sheer determination and unwavering faith. The film features an all-star cast, including AnnaSophia Robb and Helen Hunt, with Carrie Underwood in her film debut, and Dennis Quaid. In the wake of this life-changing event that took her arm and nearly her life, Bethany’s feisty determination and steadfast beliefs spur her toward an adventurous comeback that gives her the grit to turn her loss into a gift for others.

This movie shows us how utilizing recreational pursuits that have purpose and meaning to us can aid in healing from physical and mental pain. Bethany utilized surfing as a way to regain strength in her body, and well as her mind and spirit. By keeping active in the leisure pursuits you love, it is possible to heal in ways we might not have imagined before.

The Notebook

A man with a faded, well-worn notebook open in his lap. A woman experiencing a morning ritual she doesn’t understand. Until he begins to read to her.  The Notebook is an achingly tender story about the enduring power of love, and a story of miracles.

Now, this movie is most known for the Allie & Noah love story of their youth. I would like to take a second to really emphasize the story of their later adult life. This story is actually a retelling – one that Noah reads to Allie (who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s) every day. As far as recreation is concerned – reminisce therapy in geriatric healthcare is a wonderful part of the therapeutic recreation process. Showing people pictures, recounting stories, etc. is a beautiful way to connect and recount memories even if that person can no longer remember them themselves. This movie also showcases that MUSIC is huge and important in our lives. Allie, though does not remember much of anything – still remembers how to play the piano. Now, her husband states its a miracle (which I would stretch it sure is) but it is a miracle that has been studied – our brains’ musical abilities are not connected to the memory portion of our minds. Therefore, music prevails much, much longer than anything else. This is known as one of the greatest love stories, and I think it so – in the enduring quality of utilizing leisure to aid your loved one in a purposeful life, for as long as possible.

Yes Man

Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is stuck in a rut with his negative ways. Then he goes to a self-help seminar and learns to unleash the power of yes. Living in the affirmative leads him to all sorts of amazing and transforming experiences; he gets a job promotion, and even finds a new romance. But Carl finds that too much of anything, even positive thinking, is not necessarily a good thing.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that saying YES to every single thing is healthy. We obviously know that is not true. But, the premise of this movie is utilizing recreation and leisure (and getting out of your comfort zone) to heal your mental health. Being able to find leisure pursuits you enjoy saying “yes!” to, and pushing yourself to find those hobbies can lead to a much more positive, happy and fulfilling life. And I don’t think you need to go to a YES MAN seminar to do it!

The Silver Linings Playbook

After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano winds up living with his parents. He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany, who offers to help him reconnect with his wife if he will do something very important for her in exchange.

The movie showcases mental illness is a pretty accurate way – the manic meltdowns, the obsessive delusions, the neglect to take medications etc. The main character Pat utilizes running to keep in shape – but running has been shown to be a great leisure pursuit for those with addiction and mental illness (creating endorphins, and burning excess energy). Tiffany eventually asks Pat to be her dance partner for a competition, and the movie does a great job showcasing how leisure with purpose, routine, and mutual support can aid in positive effects for those living with mental illness.

The Bucket List

Billionaire Edward Cole and car mechanic Carter Chambers are complete strangers until fate lands them in the same hospital room. The men find they have two things in common: a need to come to terms with who they are and what they have done with their lives, and a desire to complete a list of things they want to see and do before they die. Against their doctor’s advice, the men leave the hospital and set out on the adventure of a lifetime.

This movie is another great story about older adults, and how life-changing events can lead you down a path you’d least expect. Having a list of things of recreational pursuits you’d like to accomplish in your life is something many of us strive to do – but might not actually tackle it until we’re in that hospital bed like Ed & Carter. This is a great movie in terms of how recreation can aid in dealing with grief, coming to terms with mortality, and how adventure can help you live your very best life, no matter how old or how sick you might be when you start.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Socially awkward teen Charlie is a wallflower, always watching life from the sidelines until two charismatic students become his mentors. Free-spirited Sam and her stepbrother Patrick help Charlie discover the joys of friendship, first love, music and more, while a teacher sparks Charlie’s dreams of becoming a writer. However, as his new friends prepare to leave for college, Charlie’s inner sadness threatens to shatter his newfound confidence.

This is a great movie and novel as a coming of age story in general. But, what makes it tie into recreation and especially therapeutic recreation is that Charlie utilizes his passion for writing into writing letters about his life, to deal with his past traumas. The letters he writes are a way of coping, and actively dealing with his trauma in ways that other recreational or various other therapies might not have worked as well. Being able to understand and utilize a modality that is most effective and one that you are passionate about can aid in the best therapeutic benefits.

What do you think of this list? What movies can we add to it? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t forget to follow on Facebook & Instagram!

SUBSCRIBE to keep up to date on all What The Rec has to offer.

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.