- You’ve had a bad day. You’ve had a bad week. You’ve had a bad year (hello, 2020!). And sometimes, you’re not in the mood to watch “the best” films. There’s nothing wrong with Citizen Kane, but if you’re feeling like garbage, it’s probably not the film you want to watch while you’re down in the dumps. Sometimes you not only want a movie that can lift your spirits; you need that movie.
With that in mind, we’ve humbly compiled a list of 25 feel-good films to put you in a better mood. These aren’t just blithely cheerful, brain-dead pictures. They’re all terrific movies that carry an uplifting message that is earned, thoughtful, and will definitely leave you smiling as the credits roll.
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, 18 other credits…
Cast: Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Robin Williams, Jonathan Freeman, Frank Welker, Gilberg Gottfried, Douglas Seale, Charles Adler, Corey Burton, Jim Cummings
It’s hard to go wrong with a Disney film when you need a little emotional pick-me-up. This 1992 classic tale of sand, sorcery, and a street-rat’s rise to fame is hands down one of the best the studio has to offer. It’s got all the hallmarks of the Disney greats: a likable underdog for a protagonist who falls in love with a beautiful princess and, despite all odds, wins her hand; a bevy of supporting characters, from a flying carpet, a thieving monkey, and a hilarious genie, to tigers, a talking parrot, and sword-wielding palace guards; and a thrilling adventure story that perfectly blends magic and music together into an unforgettable tale. Do yourself a favor and revisit the Cave of Wonders and take a magic carpet ride to a whole new world with Aladdin and Jasmine; you’ll be glad you did.
The Princess Bride
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: William Goldman
Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, and Christopher Guest
The framing device of this movie is literally an old man reading the story you’re about to see to his grandson in order to make that grandson feel better. I’ve never read William Goldman’s original novel, but I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to show this a kid who was feeling under the weather or to an adult for that matter. “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” this is a movie that truly has it all, and even in it’s “darkest” moments, it’s still funny, warm, and a reprieve from your daily worries. And if “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” doesn’t put a smile on your face, I fear nothing will.
An American Tail
Director: Don Bluth
Writers: Judy Freudberg, Tony Geiss, David Kirschner
Cast: Phillip Glasser, Amy Green, Erica Yohn, Nehemiah Persoff, Christopher Plummer, John Finnegan, Pat Musick, Neil Ross, Madeline Kahn, Dom DeLuise
You would be forgiven for thinking that this animated tale that starts with an anti-Semitic attack, a troubled ocean crossing, and the separation of a family of America-bound immigrants is not exactly “feel good.” But it’s in the first act of this under-appreciated classic that the dismal stakes are established so that the film’s ultimate conclusion is that much more rewarding.
The underdog in this case is actually a tiny, charming mouse of Russian Jewish heritage by the name of Fievel Mousekewitz. Rather than be stopped in his tracks by those who would choose to prey on him when he gets lost in the big city, Fievel makes a variety of friends from all classes, nationalities, and backgrounds throughout his travels. It’s through his quest to reunite with his family that he actually manages to bring about meaningful change in mouse society at large in the New World. That’s a lesson that’s every bit as uplifting today as it was 30 years ago.
Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Paul Rudd, and Brittany Murphy
Let’s face it: Clueless is the Jeff Goldblum of ‘90s movies. Easy to like and simply stuffed with charm, Clueless is a breezy comedy with some knowing bite thanks to sharp-toothed scripting from writer/director Amy Heckerling and such a pure-hearted center that it’s as impossible to dislike as its bubbly protagonist. Carried deftly by the preternaturally charming Alicia Silverstone in a star making role as the immaculate and perpetually optimistic Cher and flanked by similarly shiny-haired co-stars in Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy (RIP!) and the baby-faced Paul Rudd, the film is a classic high school comedy of genius proportions. Making the most of its gleefully shallow setting in Beverly Hills, Heckerling never shortchanges the intellect or innate goodness of her less than deep protagonist, a foresight that ultimately helps to define it from similar films of its ilk. So go ahead, sit back, ignore that Cher’s love interest is her ex-stepbrother, and relax. Are you feeling those blues anymore? Ugh! As if!
School of Rock
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Mike White
Cast: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, and Sarah Silverman
Often overlooked in favor of the blingier and prestigious stones in Linklater’s crown (lookin’ at you, Boyhood and Dazed and Confused), the real feel-good title of the director’s filmography is the blindingly optimistic and infectious School of Rock. Led by Jack Black at his most charmingly manic, the film follows a music-obsessive man child named Dewey who nabs a substitute teaching gig from his goody two-shoes best friend in the interest of making a quick buck. In an initially selfish attempt to spite his ex-band mates, Dewey enlists the students to form a new band of his own. The film is formulaic at its core – Dewey inevitably is charmed by the children, and the newly formed musical group goes on to blow the roof off of a concert hall at a local battle of the bands – but few family comedies are quite as charming, sharply written, or, simply put, musically perfect than the strange, beguiling melange that is School of Rock. Stuffed with catchy original songs and earnest through and through, School of Rock is one of the best unofficial musicals of its time, and a perfect cinematic salve to soothe your wounds.
Singin’ in the Rain
Directors: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Writers: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Cast: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, and Cyd Charisse
Golden Age Hollywood is always a treasure trove of feel-good movies. Without the fanciful visual effects films enjoy these days, classic films hinged entirely on story and character, resulting in a much more intimate viewing experience. Singin’ in the Rain is an excellent example, and as one of the best musicals ever made, is a swell feel-good movie pick—especially for film lovers. The film is a “backstage musical” that takes place during Hollywood’s transition from silent film to talkies. Gene Kelly plays a popular silent film star whose singing and dancing acumen makes the transition easy, but his leading lady’s dreadful voice puts her career in danger. Meanwhile, Kelly comes across a fan/chorus girl played by Debbie Reynolds, and together they join forces with Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) to turn Kelly’s new talkie into a fully-fledged musical. The performances are winning, the set design is spectacular, and the musical numbers are some of the best ever filmed. You really can’t go wrong with Singin’ in the Rain.
The Last Days of Disco
Director: Whit Stillman
Writer: Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny
Despite centering around the improbably shallow and entitled lives of some of New York’s young white elites, Whit Stillman’s lush ode to the age of Disco is simply stuffed with colorful and increasingly odious characters, the highlight of which is Kate Beckinsale’s effervescently callous narcissistic, whose entitlement and lack of self awareness allows her to flit in and out of near-ruin without so much as smudging her makeup. The Last Days of Disco is a talky, loose amalgam of narratives centering around an increasingly diasporic group of college friends, and while the topics of conversation aren’t always light (there’s a mortifying scene in which a girl learns that she’s contracted an STD after her very first sexual experience), Stillman’s touch is. Hilarious without being pointed, filled with dancey jams of the late ‘70s era and capped with a final sequence that would melt the heart of even the most unconvinced viewer, The Last Days of Disco is an underrated gem of mood-raiser.
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Olivia Williams
Though in a current career renaissance thanks to the boom of his increasingly ambitious modern efforts like Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, the primest examples of Anderson’s optimism come in his earlier efforts. And no shade to Bottle Rocket (the first feel-good offering from the quirky American voice), but Rushmore is easily the best creation of his early years. Featuring a young and untested Jason Schwartzman as the central Max Fischer, Anderson’s ode to his schoolboy years is a gorgeous and riotously funny coming of age story that follows young Fischer as he simultaneously develops an attachment to a mysterious and European teacher (Olivia Williams) and a friendship with an idiosyncratic local businessman (Bill Murray). As relationships tend to do, things get increasingly complicated from there as a treacherously complicated love triangle forms. Rushmore isn’t afraid to tackle darker sides of the human experience, but as is often the case with Anderson, the film’s final sequence plays like some of the most gorgeously life-affirming of the last few decades. Sometimes, shedding a few happy tears can be even more cathartic than a few laughs.
Director: John Carney
Writer: John Carney
Cast: Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aidan Gillen, Jack Reynor, and Kelly Thornton
While 2016 was quite possibly the worst year ever, it did give us one of the best feel-good movies ever: Sing Street. This 80s-set musical/coming-of-age story hails from Once and Begin Again filmmaker John Carney and follows a young Irish boy who starts a band in order to impress a girl. In writing their original music, they cover the various trends of the decade—there are songs that sound like Duran Duran and there are songs that sound like The Cure. At heart, it’s a story about young love and discovering who you are while not shying away from the harsh realities of real life—yes indeed, this is optimism that doesn’t ignore realism. That’s sometimes a tough mix, but one that’s certainly necessary at this particular point in time. The songs are genuinely great, the performances are incredible (especially from newcomer Lucy Boynton), and the ending is a humdinger. I dare you to watch this movie and not smile.