The 31 Best Feel-Good Movies to Boost Your Mood
Hollywood has been making comedies and heart-tugging sagas for over a century, but the best feel-good movies have a little something special: the game-winning goal, the romantic kiss, the musical number that takes you totally by surprise. VANITYFAIR.COM gathered 31 titles that are good movies to watch when you need a pick-me-up and a guaranteed happy ending.
City Lights (1931)
God help you if you can make it through the final scene of this silent-film classic with a dry eye. In between bouts of uproarious slapstick, his Little Tramp befriends a blind woman who sells flowers on the street. What little he has, he gives to her, which leads her to believe he must be a wealthy and powerful person—a fiction the Tramp indulges. When her sight is restored at the end of the film, she sees the Tramp for what he really is—taking pity on him, but not recognizing him. She places a coin in the poor man’s hand, and the touch sparks her recognition. Her benefactor this whole time was a man in desperate need himself. —Anthony Breznican
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Every holiday season I gorge on this treacly confection of forbidden love: between the angel Dudley (Cary Grant) and the mortal Julia (Loretta Young), wife of the local bishop (David Niven). The enchanting nighttime skating scene encapsulates the film’s essence when taxi driver Sylvester (James Gleason) tells his passengers—skaters Dudley and Julia—that they needn’t bother with the fare: “My pockets are just bulging with the coins of self-satisfaction…. because you and the little lady have restored my faith in human nature.” —David Friend
In this fanciful small-town comedy, James Stewart is an amiable local oddball who believes he is accompanied at all times by a six-foot-something invisible rabbit named Harvey. Filmmaker Henry Koster (who also, coincidentally, directed The Bishop’s Wife) has crafted a lighthearted variation on the Don Quixote story, romanticizing the role that terminal dreamers play in making others see the world not as it truly is but as it could or ought to be. The moral of Harvey is delivered by a cab driver who regularly takes patients to and from the mental health clinic. When Stewart’s character finally goes in for his treatment, the cabbie declares: “After this, he’ll be a perfectly normal human being…and you know what stinkers they are!” —A.B.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
This ebullient musical was weirdly underrated in its era, which might be yet another reason it’s been so celebrated since—everybody loves an underdog. Sure the songs are famous, and the dancing from Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds is dazzling. But the Hollywood in-jokes, the swooning romance, and the “lets put on a show!” energy make it the most uplifting musical of its era. —Katey Rich
Roman Holiday (1953)
I shouldn’t have to sell you on the premise of Audrey Hepburn gallivanting around Rome with Gregory Peck (for which she received her first and only Oscar as best actress!). But for the modern Hepburn head who finds a dated mainstay like Breakfast at Tiffany’s too queasy for comfort, it is with my distinct pleasure to inform you that every inch of Roman Holiday ages well. What a relief, to watch the trope of the off-duty princess and her unwitting chaperone play out to wholesome ends. It’s a deservedly iconic film for all the romantic escapism, but it’s also easy to forget that Roman Holiday, which features some truly top-shelf slapstick comedy, is also very, very funny. —Delia Cai
Lilies of the Field (1963)
This is the role that won Sidney Poitier the best-actor Oscar, and 60 years have done nothing to diminish the charisma he brings to the role of Homer Smith, an itinerant handyman who befriends a group of refugee nuns and helps them construct a church in the middle of nowhere.
Though a story about overcoming racial differences, Lilies of the Field is remarkably free of cringe. It sees its characters as individuals first, and gradually each of them comes to see each other that way too, not so much looking past their respective differences of race, faith, or nationality, but sharing them, blending their traditions, and finding common cause that bonds them. —A.B.
Harold and Maude (1971)
If you glanced at a plot summary of Harold and Maude, you might gasp: A death-obsessed teen boy falls for a free-spirited 79-year-old woman. Harold is frittering his youth away staging realistically gruesome fake suicides. Then he meets the magnificently salty Maude, close enough to the grave to teach him the value of life. Hal Ashby’s flop flipped itself around into a cult classic and one of history’s best rom-coms, as generations of goths and weirdos embraced Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon’s captivating coupling. —Joy Press
Gregory’s Girl (1981)
Set at a Scottish high school and made for a miniscule budget, Bill Forsyth’s second film
became a surprise hit around the world. Every character is beautifully sketched, from the teenage pastry wizard to the luckless geek dead set on hitchhiking to Caracas where women supposedly vastly outnumber men. But the tender heart of the movie is the romantic triangle between goofy dreamer Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair), female soccer star Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) and Susan, a sly pixie in a beret played by Clare Grogan, soon to be a pop star as singer of New Wave group Altered Images. Gregory’s Girl is a perfect coming-of-age comedy, blending unsentimental realism and first-crush sweetness. —J.P.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
High school senior Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) goes to extreme lengths to make his ditch day with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and uptight best friend (Alan Ruck) the most magical day of their lives, full of joyrides in a Ferrari, art museums, and parade crashing. John Hughes’s love letter to Chicago is packed with quotable lines and charismatic scenes, but what really makes it a masterpiece is the pure joy of this film, a story about one friend showing another how much there is to live for. —Rebecca Ford
The Princess Bride (1987)
The adaptation of the beloved William Goldman novel has everything a nine-year-old could want from a movie. Romance! Adventure! Rodents of unusual size! And more than a few innuendos that you totally pretended to understand until realizing, on subsequent rewatches, just how little you had. A grandfather (Peter Falk) reads his grandson (a pre–Wonder Years Fred Savage) the sweet story of Buttercup (Robin Wright), Westley (Cary Elwes), who are separated when his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Their multiyear journey back to each other includes a betrothal to the smarmy Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and a kidnapping by a rag-tag team of outlaws (Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, and André the Giant). In need of an eminently quotable postmodern love story with a happy ending? As you wish. —Natalie Jarvey
Working Girl (1988)
The opening moments of Mike Nichols’s workplace comedy—those sweeping helicopter shots of the Statue of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry set to Carly Simon’s Oscar-winning original song “Let the River Run”—are all that’s required to sell the Cinderella story of aspiring businesswoman Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith). But there are a lot more gems to follow: Sigourney Weaver’s vampy villain as WASP-y boss Katharine Parker, Harrison Ford’s top-tier dreamboat status as Tess’s collaborator turned love interest Jack Trainer, Joan Cusack’s wacky best friend, Cyn, quipping, “Coffee, tea, me?” and, of course, the iconic—if debated—line: “I have a head for business and a bod for sin.” —Savannah Walsh
Field of Dreams (1989)
It’s not really about baseball, or cornfields, or Iowa. It’s about second chances. Field of Dreams is a story of magical realism that indulges the fantasy of a do-over. Kevin Costner’s salt-of-the-earth farmer hears an ethereal whisper that says, “If you build it, he will come.” The “who” of this is never fully specified, but he takes it to mean that he should convert a large portion of his already struggling farm into a baseball diamond. Ghosts of disgraced ballplayers appear, a reclusive author (James Earl Jones) dissolves his cynicism, a doctor who abandoned his dream of the big league (Burt Lancaster) is pulled from the past, and Costner ultimately reconnects with his own lost father in a simple game of catch. It’s rooted in fantasy, but Field of Dreams reminds us that the only way to live is to swing for the fences every time. —A.B.
Sister Act (1992)
They just don’t make ’em—that is, fizzy musical comedies about blowsy lounge singers witnessing a murder, taking refuge in a convent, and teaching its buttoned-up residents how to rock out—like they used to. Whoopi Goldberg’s so perfectly cast as nun-on-the-run Deloris Van Cartier that it’s tough to believe the role was originally intended for Bette Midler. (The fact that Goldberg can’t really sing only makes her more right for the part.) And she’s surrounded by a cast of pros—Maggie Smith, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Najimy—all elevating what could have been a forgettable bit of ’90s schlock into an endlessly rewatchable classic. Even Pope John Paul II can’t watch Deloris and her chorus without wanting to give a standing ovation. —Hillary Busis
The Pelican Brief (1993)
A legal thriller that begins with hit jobs on two Supreme Court justices does not sound like warm and fuzzy viewing, but The Pelican Brief, adapted from John Grisham’s 1992 bestseller, is powered by something better than romance: young Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, playing tender truth seekers against a rotten political core. Roberts, with a luminously vulnerable performance, is a Tulane law student whose titular theory about the assassinations catches her in the crosshairs. Washington is a hot-shot journalist, the only one left she can trust. Well-paced enough to drive a rainy-day matinee (car bombs, Mardi Gras chase scene), it’s peppered with cameos, like a baby-faced Cynthia Nixon and bad guy Stanley Tucci. Nineties nostalgia is part of the feel-good designation, but so is the arc of good over big-money evil bent on defiling the environment. If only we could be so lucky. —Laura Regensdorf
Groundhog Day (1993)
It isn’t every day that a mainstream rom-com also works as a human-rebirth allegory, distinguished by its cyclical rhythm, experimental structure, and undercurrents of Buddhist, Hindu, and Judeo-Christian beliefs and ideals. But, wait. It is every day. Because the film repeats the same 24-hour period ad infinitum—until TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) finally embraces the joys of living a life vitalized by truly loving one’s partner and spreading loving kindness. If you get to the closing snowfall scene and your heart doesn’t swell two sizes, see your cardiologist. —D.F.
Clueless has everything a feel-good movie should have: low-stakes drama, an iconic lead character thanks to Alicia Silverstone, and an instantly recognizable soundtrack. Sure, the love story between ex-step-siblings is somewhat weird but c’mon, who could resist a baby-faced Paul Rudd?! It’s the movie that launched many questionable trends (mini backpacks and fuzzy-tipped pens!) and a slew of annoying catchphrases (“As if!”). It remains a perfect film to queue up when looking for a pick-me-up. —Kelly Butler
French Kiss (1995)
When it comes to feel-good movies, Meg Ryan is the queen: You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle. But unfortunately, one of her finest works requires a DVD player (or a VCR…if you still own one of those). In an attempt to get her longtime boyfriend back after international infidelity, plane-afraid Kate (Ryan) hops on a flight to Paris, where she meets Luc (Kevin Kline), a sleazy and debauched Frenchman. If those two stars are not enough to convince you, there’s French countryside, talk of tasty wine and cheese, and endlessly quotable dialogue. It’s a bold movie, with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension. —Kathleen Creedon
The Birdcage (1996)
Pleasures abound in this deliriously funny (and strangely topical!) update of La Cage aux Folles from Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which casts Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a gay couple forced back into the closet—sort of—when their son (Dan Futterman) reveals that he’s engaged to the daughter of a conservative senator. It’s a top-notch farce with quotable lines for days, as well as one of the deepest benches (Gene Hackman! Dianne Wiest! Christine Baranski! Hank Azaria, for God’s sake!) you’ll find in any ensemble comedy. It is scientifically impossible to watch this movie without smiling like a loon for more than 100 minutes—probably. (I haven’t tried, and I don’t intend to.) —H.B.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
There’s no underdog story as heartwarming as Will Hunting’s (Matt Damon). With each visit to therapist Sean Maguire’s (Robin Williams) office, Will’s odyssey unfolds onscreen, as he sheds his tough Southie armor and evolves away from fear and insecurity, blossoming into a self-actualized young man. As Damon shared with Vanity Fair earlier this year, the genius of Robin Williams shines through at the end of the film, with an improvised line that, if you’re like me, has you sitting through the entire movie just to get to it. As you smile through salty tears at the end of Good Will Hunting, it’s enough to make you want to take a chance on yourself too. —Burake Teshome
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The early aughts were the heyday of the teen rom-com, and with its 1999 release, I’d go as far as saying that 10 Things set the standard for all those to come. An adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, the plot is as high school as it comes: dueling sisters, a seemingly unattainable popular girl, and “fake” dating that leads to real feelings. But Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles’s performances—and sizzling chemistry—rise above the froth, and make it endlessly rewatchable. Throw in a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a killer soundtrack, peak ’90s outfit inspiration, and you have the makings of movie magic. Plus, only Ledger could melt hearts with an inherently cringey public performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” —Jaime Archer
Galaxy Quest (1999)
I was not a Trekkie, but I am eternally here for this smart send-up of Star Trek culture in which the washed-up actors from a series called Galaxy Quest get swept out of their dismal circuit of fan conferences and local ribbon-cuttings into a real-life adventure with a bunch of extraterrestrial visitors who worship the show’s fictional characters more than any earthling ever could. Alan Rickman lends Shakespearean pathos to his Spock-inflected Dr. Lazarus, while Sigourney Weaver (who knows from aliens!) makes comedy gold out of her one job: translating the crew’s orders to the ship’s computer. There’s even an architectural cameo by that paragon of LA modernism, the Stahl House. (Tim Allen wakes up in the living room, desperately hungover.) It’s part parody, part adoring homage, and all a reminder of why we love television…and the movies. —Radhika Jones
Spirited Away (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki’s sweeping epic follows Chihiro, a spunky tween girl whose big move to a new neighborhood is interrupted when her family happens upon a quiet, quirky town that, come nightfall, bursts into a bustling spirit-world vacation spot. When Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs by the wicked Yubaba, she’s left with no choice but to scrub floors in the witch’s bathhouse. Has being 10 years old ever been more difficult? Inside Miyazaki’s breathtaking animation and set to Joe Hisaishi’s aching score, Chihiro tangles with river spirits, learns the power of true friendship, and—in one of modern cinema’s most relatable moments—stuffs her face with rice balls while sobbing. You can’t free your parents from an evil witch’s curse on an empty stomach. —Mark Alan Burger
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
In this charmer directed by Gurinder Chadha, Jess Bhamra, an Indian teen growing up in Hounslow, defies her parents to play on the local girls’ soccer team with new pal Jules (Keira Knightley). Goals are scored, the cute coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is crushed on, dreams are fulfilled, and the power of sport to foster camaraderie and excellence is affirmed. You haven’t seen team spirit until you’ve seen the Hounslow Harriers help Jess change into a sari in the locker room postgame so she can dash back to her sister’s wedding. And if Ted Lasso had watched Jules’s dad explain the offside rule using table condiments, it wouldn’t have taken him three seasons to figure it out. —R.J.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Few things can combat the modern ailments of being chronically online, but Joe Wright’s 2005 take on Pride & Prejudice offers a near perfect escape. Complete with rich cinematography and exquisite performances, the slow-burn chemistry between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy—portrayed by Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen—is enough to cure any bad day. As Jane Austen once wrote, “There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” —Sarah Morse
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
Even as a kid, Keke Palmer exuded charisma and confidence, and her performance as 11-year-old Akeelah Anderson is one of the joys of this underappreciated gem. The little girl is a troublemaker, headstrong, and frequently absent from school. Her widowed mother (Angela Bassett) is doing her best, but struggling to give her daughter the support she needs. When Akeelah displays an aptitude for spelling, she becomes an unexpectedly formidable contender on the spelling bee circuit. This could be the gateway to a better life, but competing at the national level requires training, focus, and money—the middle one she has, the other two she doesn’t. Laurence Fishburne plays a grieving professor who becomes her coach, but as her mother tells her: “If you just look around, you’ve got 50,000 coaches.” Akeelah’s triumphs lift up her entire community, and seemingly everyone in the neighborhood rallies to help her fulfill her promise. —A.B.
Sing Street (2016)
Are you one of those people who are into love, dreams, Irish people, yearning, rebellion, tough-loving big brothers, nostalgia, creativity, teenagers pouring their hearts out on acoustic guitars, music in general, and ’80s pop in particular with all the cool eye makeup and overcoats? Sing Street was directed and cowritten by John Carney, who gave the world the Oscar-winning movie about buskers in love, Once. This one’s just as pure of heart and just as full of transportive original music, but I’d argue that it’s also—what’s the word?—better. It’s 1985, in inner city Dublin. Young Conor is thrust into a Christian school full of bullies and run by a creepy totalitarian named Brother Baxter. Over the course of the movie, Conor starts a band to impress an aspiring model named Raphina, casts her in his new band’s music videos, finds his voice in all senses of the word, and imagines a future that even we are not quite sure is possible. Is there sad stuff in the movie? Yes—did you not hear me say it’s about Irish people? But it’s just so damn moving and funny and true that it sticks in your head like a great pop song. —Jeff Giles
Lady Bird (2017)
The movie that introduced the world to director Greta Gerwig perfectly captures the agony and ecstasy of being an adolescent girl. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) dreams of breaking free from life in small-town Sacramento, where she regularly clashes with her flinty mother (Laurie Metcalf) and stumbles through romances with Lucas Hedges’s Danny and Timothée Chalamet’s Kyle. Lady Bird is flawed, yes, but also relatable. And the movie’s more melancholy moments are lightened by Gerwig’s delightful wordplay and a killer soundtrack. If only growing up in real life was imbued with this much whimsy. —N.J.
Is a feel-good movie still a feel-good movie if it reliably makes you cry every single time? I vote yes, at least if we’re talking about the kaleidoscopic fantasy that just might be Pixar’s last true masterpiece. Our hero is young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who stumbles into the Land of the Dead one fateful Día de Muertos and unwittingly sets off on a quest to right an ancient family wrong. The animation is beautiful; the music is compelling; the jokes are really, really funny, particularly when they involve the self-important ghost of Frida Kahlo. And yes: The emotional climax, when it comes, is shattering enough to melt even the iciest adult heart. (Really—when the movie first came out, it became a whole thing!) You’ll weep, and it’ll feel great. —H.B.
Are your troubles here to stay? Do you need a place to hide away? Just turn on this movie, in which a struggling singer-songwriter named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) gets in an accident, hits his head, and wakes up in a world where the Beatles never existed but miraculously he can remember their songs. And remember them he does—writes them down, performs them, and rides their greatness to global fame. Like the Beatles songbook, this movie (written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle) contains multitudes: love, via a winning performance by Lily James; comic relief (Kate McKinnon as Jack’s deliciously crass manager; Ed Sheeran as himself); surreality (the premise!); the infectious joy of music; and the glory of finding someone who’ll still need you when you’re 64. —R.J.
In the Heights (2021)
Though its theatrical release was unfortunately marred by the pandemic, In the Heights wound up being the right movie at the right time. Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical hit theaters (and the service then known as HBO Max) in June of 2021, just as hordes of newly vaccinated, entertainment-starved people were ready to finally leave their homes. A joyous musical about the pleasures (and occasional pains) of living in a vibrant, tight-knit community was just the ticket. But even without that context, In the Heights has myriad pleasures—particularly a showstopping aquatic rendition of “96,000,” and Nina (Leslie Grace) and Benny’s (Corey Hawkins) gravity-defying performance of “When the Sun Goes Down.” —H.B.
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Only a truly feel-good movie could win like, all the Oscars without prompting a giant backlash. But the knives never came out for Everything Everywhere, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s dizzyingly creative action dramedy. Whether she’s playing a frumpy laundromat owner, a poised international movie star, or a lovelorn woman with hot dog fingers, Michelle Yeoh effortlessly grounds even the movie’s wackiest diversions. And she’s got a perfect foil in her fellow Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan, whose interdimensionally loyal Waymond is the movie’s unquestionable heart. It’s a wild, unforgettable ride—such a crowd-pleaser that even in another life, we would’ve really liked just doing laundry and taxes with this movie playing in the background. —H.B.
Rye Lane (2023)
Looking for a joyful, inventive romcom set in contemporary black Britain? Rye Lane suggests you should be. Raine Allen-Miller’s debut film takes us on an emotional and cinematic journey, though it unfurls over the course of a single day. Accountant Dom (Industry’s David Jonsson) and aspiring designer Yas (Vivian Oparah) meet-cute in the gender-neutral bathroom of an art gallery, where Dom is sobbing over a breakup. Yas is similarly heartbroken, and the two soon find themselves wandering South London together. They order burritos from a food stall called Love Quac'tually (a hat tip to Brit romcom guru Richard Curtis), swap dating flashbacks, untangle their emotional messes, and—ever so sweetly—fall in love. —J.P.
SOURCE : VANITYFAIR.COM