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Film favourites: Politicians to pop stars reveal the movies that changed their life

The transformative power of film is something that Hollywood has always depended upon. Think of those portentous voiceovers on trailers: they seem to promise the viewer – in their peculiarly over-enunciated way – a more exciting, more romantic, somehow better life. It's all a stardust-sprinkled illusion, of course: watching Angelina Jolie pout through a love scene won't actually make you any more beautiful. Nor will gasping at Daniel Craig as he fells evil henchmen make you any stronger, pound for pound. But for 90 minutes, anything seems possible.

And what if the impact of a film lasts longer, goes a little deeper than the bottom of a large tub of popcorn? For some, movies can be life-changing in a way that goes beyond the superficial. Of the luminaries here, when asked which film changed their life by Film Club, a school-learning initiative, many attributed their glittering careers to a night at the movies. Would Danny Boyle have been the toast of the Oscars if he hadn't been encouraged to take on the Hollywood titans by his fellow countryman, Nicolas Roeg? Would Sienna Miller have turned up to her first audition if she hadn't been seduced by the old glamour of Some Like it Hot? For others, films have provided the first glimmers of creative inspiration. Did Ali Smith's complex, award-winning novels grow out of a teenage viewing of Celine and Julie Go Boating? Has Michael Sheen's painstaking dedication to capturing real lives on screen been inspired by Francis Ford Coppola's unstinting, occasionally loopy, devotion to his craft? And what exactly did Gordon Brown take from the tale of a zealous young lad running on a mission from God in Chariots of Fire? If you don't run, you can't win? The possibilities, as voiceover man might boom, are endless.

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister

Chariots of Fire

I choose "Chariots of Fire" because it's all about the potential of young people being realised.

Danny Boyle, film director

Walkabout/ Don't Look Now

Nic Roeg has been a real inspiration as a director. Finding out that he was a British film maker astounded me. I watched his movies, including "Don't Look Now", "Walkabout" and "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (with David Bowie) and it was wonderful to feel that someone from our own country had made those films. The thing about Hollywood is that it always feels so far away, so distant, so glamorous, so out of reach. But it isn't.

Zoë Heller, author

Now, Voyager

This movie , which came out in 1942, is about an unhappy Boston heiress who escapes the thrall of her tyrannical mother and finds happiness in an affair with a married man. I saw it in my teens and it made a lasting impression. I loved – still love – the costumes. I loved Bette Davis's performance as a frumpy depressive blossoming into a sophisticated beauty. Above all, I loved the moral subtlety with which the film portrays adult (and adulterous) love.

Ken Loach, film director

A Blonde in Love

There are one or two films that were very important to me when I had already started working. If I had to pick one, it would be "A Blonde In Love", directed by Milos Forman. It's a Czech film, made in the Prague spring of the mid-Sixties, before the Russian invasion. It is about a short romance between a pianist in a band and a factory girl in a small town. It's funny and humane, warm and wise and quite delightful.

Barbara Broccoli, film producer

Lawrence of Arabia

Just for the whole epic nature of the film: seeing it in the big Odeon was incredible. The greatest films were being made when I was growing up.

Ali Smith, author

Celine and Julie Go Boating

I first saw it at the local theatre in Inverness when I was 14 or 15. It's a story of two 1970s young women who meet by chance or magic and find themselves breaking into a boarded-up house and rescuing a girl who's being poisoned by ghosts. It's very long, it seems meandering and crazy and as "structureless" as reality. Of course, really it's very tightly made. The main thing is the shock of understanding that this film gave me. I remember realising that reality and the imagination should thrive together and might depend on each other, that nothing was fixed in life or in story, that things could change for the better. And I remember most vividly understanding, for the first time, what story structure was, why we have it, and what a literal lifesaver it can be.

Sienna Miller, actress

Some Like It Hot

I loved the story, the comedy, the clothes, the glamour .

Michael Sheen, actor

Apocalypse Now

I watched it when I was quite young and I didn't really understand what was going on, but it kind of made me laugh, and it made me frightened, sad and angry. It made me feel all kinds of things and it looked amazing . It was obviously a film made by someone who was really passionate about what they were doing. Later I found out that Coppola went a bit mad when he did it and lost all of his money. It was a real passion film, a bit of a mess and madness. It's a good example because the main thing is to really care about what you are doing, to put your heart and soul in to it. If you do that, then people tend to care about what you're doing.

Frank Skinner, comedian

True Grit

It inspired me to be myself and to take on challenges, against the odds. I've been inspired by the scene in which Rooster, the hero rides straight at Ned Peppers and scares him away.

Alan Sugar, entrepreneur

The Shawshank Redemption

The film that changed my life was "The Shawshank Redemption", starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.

Tom Meighan, lead singer, Kasabian

State of Grace

It features my two favourite actors – Gary Oldman and Sean Penn. Oldman's performance as Jackie Flannery is ferocious and an inspiration for me going onstage.

Barbara Follett, Minister for Culture

Cry Freedom

This film has enormous personal significance for me because my first husband was shot dead by the South African death squads at exactly the time it was set.

Ian Rankin, author

Gregory's Girl

This definitely influenced me. It was about contemporary working-class life in Scotland and was funny and quirky and relevant. It showed me that stories don't always have to be epic – a small-scale story can be just as effective. I started writing short stories about my hometown, my family, and my friends. Eventually, one or two of these would turn into longer pieces. I was on my way to becoming a novelist.

Maxine Peake, actress


When I was 11 or 12, we read "A Kestrel for a Knave" in English class and when we had completed it, we were allowed to watch the film. It was the first time I'd seen anything so real. I was struck by the acting: they weren't acting as far as I could make out. It was about us and it respected us – which as kids we weren't used to. I remember the whole class being blown away, there was a real excitement. It caused a bit of a boisterous outburst afterwards: a few of the lads ran riot.

Lily Cole, actress and model

Pierrot le Fou

Jean Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou" for the power it invests in imagination, spontaneity and creativity. More recently, Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep", for the same reason.

Nitin Sawhney, musician

Pather Panchali

This was Satyajit Ray's debut film from 1955, filmed in West Bengal. As the first film of the Apu trilogy it incorporated a fantastic score by Ravi Shankar along with Ray's own style of poetic realism. As a study of human nature and the stark realities of ageing, disease and poverty I still feel this film is unparalleled.

Theo Walcott, footballer

The Pursuit of Happyness

Just because of the way Will Smith's character would do anything to make his son happy, and how much he would do for him.

Andrea Riseborough, actress

Key Largo

This is a fantastic film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. There is one scene in it where you see anger being born in Bogart's pupils. He doesn't move a muscle in his face, it's the most extraordinary thing to see.

Richard Madeley, television presenter

Waterloo Bridge

I saw this film when I was eight years old and it had a shattering impact on me. I fell utterly in love with its star, Vivien Leigh. I'd never been in love before. I cut a picture of her out of the "Radio Times" and carried it with me until it disintegrated.

FILMCLUB is an after-school activity giving children free weekly access to thousands of films and the chance to explore the world of film through after-school film clubs. FILMCLUB is launching Films That Changed My Life, a season bringing to life the significance of film in people's personal and cultural development. The 100 films nominated by celebrities and the public will be available for FILMCLUB members at www.filmclub.org