By Katherine J Igoe published
We've all been there: When faced with all the options on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and so on, the temptation to watch something you know you love (Friends on repeat, cough) is high. But there's so much out there that serves as eye and ear candy to boost your mood. We're talking about the feel-good movies that, when the world outside feels like it's on fire or crashing down (or both), make it all just melt away and life seem better and happier. These great movies won't fix everything, but they will help you take your mind off of the bad, at least temporarily. And sometimes, to be honest, that's enough.
These picks will help you add to your collection of happy movies (listen, we already know you love Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The Notebook, which is the only reason they're not on here). Obviously the rom-com is a classic feel-good selection, plus there's plenty of action, animation, and dramas that offer just as much enjoyment as your standard romance. This list might even give you a new favorite or two for your feel-good rotation.
Four years of fun in one night? What could possibly go wrong! Beanie Feldstein gives a masterful performance in Booksmart—a hilarious movie about two high schoolers who attempt to do everything they didn't do throughout high school right before they graduate.
2. 'Legally Blonde'
"...What, like it's hard?" Do yourself a favor and watch Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Coolidge, and more iconic women in Legally Blonde if you're looking for a good laugh...and a reason to go to law school!
3. 'Little Women'
Okay, so there will be tears while watching Greta Gerwig's remake of Little Women, but hear me out! Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timmy Chalamet, and Laura Dern's performances (yes, there are a lot!) are incredible. Then there's the storyline itself. While watching Jo grapple with her career and love, we're reminded of our own choices and what really matters in this life. It's pure and it's excellent.
4. 'The Parent Trap'
Whether you re-watch this one for the Lindsay Lohan excellence or the scenes with Daddy Quaid or the dose of childhood nostalgia, The Parent Trap will warm your heart.
5. 'Wine Country'
If you're an Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, or Rachel Dratch fan and are looking to giggle for a bit, watch Wine Country. The movie is about a group of girlfriends who head on vacation together to celebrate one of their birthdays. Naturally, everything goes wrong.
6. 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before'
The first time I watched this movie, I couldn't stop telling everybody I knew that I wish this was around when I was in high school. Lara Jean's intense feelings for her crushes feel incredibly real and not overdramatized, unlike so many teen romantic comedies that have come before it. At its core, this series is as feel-good as it can get.
7. 'Paddington 2'
If you haven't, you should read why Paddington 2's Oscar snubs are a total travesty. The first film is sweet and tender, but the second one offers both those things AND a scene-stealing performance by Hugh Grant AND a brilliant metaphor for Brexit, all wrapped up with heartwarming gooey marmalade.
8. 'Little Miss Sunshine'
The family at the heart of this indie dramedy has a lot going on—they're struggling with depression, drug abuse, body image, and that just cracks the surface. And, honestly, they're not awesome at dealing with those issues. But there's something about watching the purposeful not-perfectness of it all come together that just cheers your soul. And if nothing else in the movie does, young Abigail Breslin's dance number in the finale definitely will.
9. 'Toy Story 3'
Ok, yes, the first two are pitch-perfect and defined our childhoods. But, much like the third Star Wars, this brings home the trilogy without missing a beat. In the coming-of-age tale that is Andy and his toys, this reckons with the final chapter—and its inevitable farewell—with grace. Those last (sniff) five minutes (sob). Watch, cry happy tears, watch again.
Keri Russell earned forgiveness for any issues you may have had with Felicity in this movie, about a small town waitress who is stuck in a terrible marriage who gets pregnant and begins an affair with her OBGYN. Over the course of her pregnancy, she learns a lot about life and herself and finds the strength to go for what she really wants. It will put your bad day in perspective while simultaneously inspiring you to take control of your life.
11. 'Akeelah and the Bee'
This is one of those movies that inspires you and makes your soul feel lighter all at once. The movie follows a young girl from South Los Angeles named Akeelah (Keke Palmer) as she studies for a spelling bee with her mentor (Laurence Fishburn) and it's sweet and wonderful and makes you feel things. It's just infinitely worth a watch, okay?
12. 'About Time'
This underrated romantic dramedy is about a man who learns that he's inherited his family's ability to travel back in time and uses his power to help him overcome his own anxiety and awkwardness that's messed up his potential meet-cutes with his future wife. It sounds a little cringe-y on the face of it, but the execution is actually, somehow, not.
13. 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'
Who knew an animated superhero film could be 1) beautiful, 2) touching, and 3) absolutely perfect for even non-Marvel fans to enjoy? No big spoilers, but John Mulaney as Spider-Ham and Jake Johnson as a Spider-Man who eats pizza and has gotten fat are just two of the genius voice casting choices in this brilliant film.
14. 'When Harry Met Sally'
Aside from the lack of cell phones and '80s fashion, much of the movie is still timeless. Nora Ephron was the best screenwriter of her time (and all time, TBH), and listening to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal deliver the perfect line readings while their characters fall in love is like sipping a cup of warm tea. I could, and probably have, fallen asleep to this movie—it's poetry.
15. 'Girls Trip'
This movie is the vehicle that rightly made Tiffany Haddish a household name. What's refreshing about this movie (beyond its brilliant take-down of cultural appropriation) is that it allows its protagonists to be brilliant, flawed, sexual, transgressive, dirty, and a million other things on top of being laugh-out-loud funny. You'll never look at grapefruit the same way again, also.
16. 'Crazy Rich Asians'
Aside from the ridiculous premise underpinning the movie (why, exactly, does Nick Young not tell his girlfriend that a) he's unbelievably wealthy and b) his family's the most intense? He's lucky he looks like Henry Golding, otherwise that would be a dumpable offense), the film's both an alternate reality of expensive real-estate/fashion/lifestyle and a sweet story of two kinda-mismatched people making their relationship work despite their families.
17. 'Inside Man'
This Spike Lee-directed heist movie is perfectly paced, expertly shot, and flawlessly executed. Yes, you know who committed the crime immediately (or do you?) but the how is what makes the story tick. Then you can rewatch it to catch all the clues you missed the first, second, or third time around.
18. 'Top Gun'
Is this a controversial pick? Yeah, kind of (people have been debating whether the movie is, in fact, "good" for a while now). If you've never watched, it's as ridiculous as you've been led to believe. Yes, there is a shirtless volleyball scene. Yes, it's exactly as funny as it sounds. But in there is a classic Tom Cruise performance, a very handsome Val Kilmer, and a pre-America's sweetheart Meg Ryan in a prototypical '80s film that, if you ask some people, is secretly filled with hidden meaning.
19. 'Out of Sight'
If you want to watch two attractive people whose jobs are to hate each other (J. Lo as the marshal pursuing George Clooney as the conman) but who have off-the-charts chemistry, you cannot to better than Out of Sight. The first of two Steven Soderbergh films on this list, it's an early blueprint of future feel-good films. You know...the ones with Clooney playing another funny, sexy thief?
20. '13 Going on 30'
It's Big with a woman. In this romcom classic, an '80s teen makes a wish to fast-forward to her 30s and wakes up 17 years older and looking like Jennifer Garner—but still with the mind of a 13-year-old. Mark Ruffalo shines as a kind of sullen, reluctant love interest.
21. 'What We Do in the Shadows'
You wouldn't think you'd need another found footage mockumentary OR another film about vampires, but it turns out that's exactly what you need. The shenanigans that the undead get up to living in a flat and trying to tolerate each other as roommates is...actually side-splitting. The premise is so funny that it spawned a hit TV series, and the film is part of the reason Taika Waititi went on to direct the (also incredibly funny) Thor: Ragnarok.
22. 'Father of the Bride'
The best wedding movie of all time? Maybe. A great movie to watch and feel happy butterflies inside whether you're in the wedding mindset or not? Definitely. A bit dated? Sure, but supremely enjoyable anyways.
23. 'Ocean's Twelve'
The first film is incredible, no doubt. But the sequel is just an excuse for extremely hot, funny people to cavort around Europe and get up to some crime in their spare time. This was also the reason all these stars made the movie, I'm pretty sure, and it's clear they're enjoying themselves as much as we are. Yes, this is the second Soderbergh funny film to make the list.
24. 'Easy A'
The more intuitive pick for an Emma Stone classic might (correctly) be La La Land. But this is the underrated gem that stars a fantastic Amanda Bynes performance, Penn Badgley as the correctly cast love interest, and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as over-the-top parents. How could you not?
25. 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory'
This movie is a classic for a reason and if you haven't given it a true, start-to-finish rewatch since you were a kid, you're only hurting yourself. (Of course, you can and should feel free to skip forward through the depressingly mis-named "Cheer Up, Charlie," number, which almost ruins the movie and is just the worst.)
Melissa McCarthy has never been better than in this action comedy, in which she plays an incredible CIA agent who starts as an analyst and ends up out in the field avenging the death of her partner. She and Rose Byrne are laugh out loud funny in every scene and it's the kind of movie you'll watch again and again and then quote with your friends forever.
No need to fix perfection ("As if!" Sorry, had to). Itself a remake of Emma (see below), this is the role that made Alicia Silverstone a household name. Matching her with the ageless Paul Rudd with just a hint of his future sense of humor, this is the most perfect example of a "two people who hate and also love each other" plot, partly because it fits perfectly into the OTT '90s setting. Also, those styles are back—proving yet again that Cher, one of my fave characters ever, was totally ahead of her time.
28. 'Monsters, Inc.'
Pixar makes plenty of heavy movies that are way more adult than their bright animation would suggest, but Monsters, Inc. perfectly walks the line between "funny and smart enough for adults" and "not adult enough to ever risk bumming adults out."
29. 'Groundhog Day'
It might feel like you're living the worst day of your life and every day is the same, but this classic Bill Murray movie will remind you that A) that is not true and B) even if it were true, eventually, you can do some pretty amazing things living the same, seemingly-worst day of your life on repeat.
Sometimes, you just need something a little campy and absurd to turn a bad day into an amazing one and this murder mystery, based on the classic board game, fits the bill. "Flames...on the side of my face."
Popstar is probably the best movie you ever made a conscious decision to avoid seeing in theaters. The advertising campaign was a mess, but the actual movie is sharp-witted satire about the music industry and influencer culture that is just *chef's kiss*.
32. 'The Emperor's New Groove'
The Emperor's New Groove is the Disney movie that doesn't quite feel like a Disney movie. The movie's infamously troubled production resulted in a wacky, irreverent buddy movie instead of the sweeping romantic epic the filmmakers had originally envisioned, but the end result is also amazing, underrated, and great for a quick pick-me-up if you're feeling down.
33. 'Bringing Up Baby'
A screwball comedy involving a search for a missing dinosaur bone and a pet leopard? Brought to the screen by legends Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn? Yes. Please.
34. 'The Birdcage'
If you don't know this film (or only know vaguely of the musical), you're in for a treat. This farcical case of bait-and-switch is so silly and sweet, it's bound to lift your mood. When Robin Williams plays the straight man—pun intended—against Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman, you know the movie's bonkers in the best way. The portrayals were nuanced at the time for being forward-thinking and compassionate about gay relationships (a bit less progressive now, but still watchable). And it's funny, without being cruel.
If you like Austen films like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, this throwback love story is your perfect match. Gwyneth Paltrow is sweetly mischievous, even if her English accent is a bit fuzzy. The film's packed with stars: among others, a young Toni Collette, the gorgeous Jeremy Northam, and Ewan McGregor in a spectacularly bad wig.
36. 'Good Will Hunting'
As a Bostonian, I can tell you that the film gets a lot right about the city and its inhabitants. As a movie fan, I've always known that Robin Williams is the beating heart of this movie—every time he's on screen, you breathe a sigh of relief. He's like the therapist for the viewers as well as Matt Damon's troubled genius Will. It's a little sadder now, but the film honors Williams' memory in the best way.
37. 'The Big Lebowski'
TBH, this movie might have taken a few viewings before I really got it. At first it seems like the height of randomness. Nothing really happens to The Dude, aside from his car getting destroyed and his rug getting peed on ("It really tied the room together!"). But that's its brilliance. Jeff Bridges is totally unflappable, just abiding with the ridiculousness around him. Maybe have a glass of wine before you watch it for the first time and just go with it.
Granted, you have to really like quirkiness to be into this film. But! The film contains 80 gorgeous Parisian locales, and is a love letter to the city as much as its characters. Audrey Tautou keeps the story of the withdrawn but romantic Amelie from descending into parody, but she's still sweet as pie. As a nerdy, introverted kiddo, this movie really spoke to me, and it still does.
39. 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin'
A lot of Judd Apatow movies could go on this list, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin beats out some of his other films, for me, because it's sweet to its core. (Bridesmaids felt like a loooot of yelling and crying.) Here, the men—including Paul Rudd, looking the same as he did in Clueless—have a goofy, ridiculous rapport. The secret genius of the movie is that NONE of them know how to date or talk to girls, but we love them anyways.
40. 'The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement'
I know: The first movie is so cute and lovely and beloved by so many. But the second one has a really young and darling Chris Pine, and an Anne Hathaway who's really grown into the role. Their romance is really cute...and then actually, kind of hot. Considering that we might get a third movie, this one would also be perfect prep for that glorious day in which we peek into the lives of the hopefully still married royal couple.
41. '27 Dresses'
I know Katherine Heigl gets a bad rap, but there's also a reason she was so popular back in the day. This was at the height of her rom-com popularity, and it's the perfect vehicle for her. Anyone who's even been in ONE wedding can empathize with this poor woman who's had to plan 27 "special days" for her friends and acquaintances. Added bonus: A young James Marsden, looking cute and acting snarky, to ground the film from becoming too saccharine.
42. 'How to Train Your Dragon'
The second and third movies are okay, but the original one has something totally special. Not only do the misunderstood dragons basically act like oversized, fire-breathing cats, but the journey of love between Hiccup and his animal soul mate Toothless is as good as any BFF relationship on film. The film's really a lesson in not going with the crowd or accepting an often-repeated stereotype as true—which resonates every time I watch it.
43. 'Inside Out'
Obviously the major caveat of any Pixar movie is that it will make you cry, a lot. And this one, about the inner emotions inside a one vulnerable girl, is no exception. Bing Bong! (Watch the movie and you'll know what I'm talking about.) But something about Amy Poehler's voice is just so soothing to me, and the voice cast—Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, to name a few—is perfect for the characters. The film's core is about coming to grips with and facing your feelings, which should be a calming experience for just about everybody. It's therapy, in film form.
44. 'The Martian'
This one might be a bit intense if you're just looking to turn your brain totally off. But the story about the will of a human to survive in a planet that's actively trying to kill him is actually incredibly uplifting in the end (kind of spoiler alert). Add a hefty dose of Matt Damon charm and humor, and it's riveting—without being traumatizing, as you might think with a story like this.
45. 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle'
Who knew that a remake that's geared for kids would be so good, and actually kind of tender? The best way I can describe this is it's like The Breakfast Club, inside an old video game, in the middle of the jungle, with a bunch of comedians. The Rock and Kevin Hart, in particular, constantly riff like BFFs and it's just a plain delight. There's a reason why this got a sequel, and it's because this movie formula is absolutely perfect.
Katherine’s a Boston-based contributing editor at Marie Claire online who covers celebrity, fashion, entertainment, and lifestyle—from “The Bachelor” to Everlane to Meghan Markle. She also edits the Couples + Money series, so she’s always looking for volunteers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Igoe: “I go to the store,” not “Her huge ego".
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