True Spirit is climbing the Netflix Top 10 movie list — stream it or skip it?

Teagan Croft as Jessica Watson in True Spirit
(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Another day, another rising star on the Netflix Top 10 Movies list. The film is True Spirit, and true to its name, it's based on a true story. The film tracks Jessica Watson, who sought to break the record for youngest person to sail around the world unassisted. 

And while one critic noted "I’ll be surprised if this one isn’t quickly lost in the algorithms," True Spirit is currently doing the exact opposite. Currently today (Feb. 9), we've spotted it at No. 5 on the Netflix Top 10 Movies in the U.S. chart, and while it was at No. 4 the last two days (and could always get there later today), these standings are on the rise, as it debuted at No. 10 on Sunday (Feb. 5), and spent two days at No. 6 thereafter.

A definite contender for our list of the best family movies on Netflix, True Spirit has done alright with the critics so far, with an OK Rotten Tomatoes score.

But none of that says that you should watch True Spirit tonight. So, since everyone's needs for movie night vary, let's break down everything you need to know.

What is True Spirit?

True Spirit's story is somewhat simple. In 2009 Aussie Jessica Watson (Teagan Croft) began her attempt to sail around the world — from Sydney to Sydney — all by herself. A true declaration of independence, so to speak. And she did so at the age of 16. 

Unsurprisingly, Watson did so despite the doubts that came from her parents (played by Anna Paquin and Josh Lawson) and the general press. Who could blame them? Many 16-year-olds don't belong driving a car, much less circumnavigating on their own.

Watson survives the rough waters and solitary nature of it all with two means: a video log that documents her experience and advice radioed in from an expert named Ben Bryant (Cliff Curtis). Oh, and there's one added complexity: Watson has been dealing withs severe dyslexia for years.

It all adds up to a fairly inspiring story of surviving the world, and the doubts that come from inside you and from others.

True Spirit reviews: What critics say

At the time of publication, the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes marks True Spirit at a decent 78%. That score is just high enough to make you think "maybe it's worth it" or "I'm not sure." So, let's break down the reviews.

Noel Murry at the Los Angeles Times isn't exactly positive, writing that "Director and co-writer Sarah Spillane hits the emotional beats of Watson’s story a bit too hard." And that True Spirit's "dramatic moments feel more artificially heightened than real." 

He's not all negative, though, writing "it’s nice to see a process-oriented film about charts, ropes and staying busy on a boat, rather than violence or crime. The real-life Watson set out on her voyage to inspire others to dream big — and then made careful plans to realize those dreams. Give credit to Spillane for making sure that this movie isn’t just about the heartwarming highs, but about the hard work it took to reach them."

Teagan Croft as Jessica Watson in True Spirit

(Image credit: Julian Panetta/Netflix)

Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for, also gave a mixed review, stating "Overall, however, there's something a tad anodyne and 'off' about this production. It's so perky and clean-scrubbed that it feels like a Disney Channel version of a wilderness survival tale." Still, Seitz says that True Spirit "does not miss" as a "a crowd-pleasing film," and that its sailing scenes that combine location footage and "green screen bits, are stirring, sometimes breathtaking, and occasionally storybook-poetic."

Stephanie Zacharek, writing for Time, doesn't criticize the film much, writing that True Spirit "is appealingly breezy, though it does have its share of tense moments involving killer waves and charcoal-toned stormy skies."

We can confirm that the original audio gives you a less cartoonish feel.

Outlook: Should you watch True Spirit on Netflix?

As has been noted multiple times by the critics, True Spirit isn't exactly perfect. To use the obvious metaphor, anyone going to True Spirit looking for exacting and daring cinema will be dealing with some choppy waters.

That said, families looking for an inspiring and wholesome film should definitely check out True Spirit. Especially if you have kids with adventurous ambitions.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.