10. Hearts Beat Loud (2018)
Available: Hulu, Hoopla (US), to purchase on iTunes (UK)
A love of music is the heart beating loud at the centre of this 2018 winner. It’s impossible to watch Hearts Beat Loud without smiling or tapping your foot. Seriously. The story’s a simple yet effective one. On the cusp of leaving for college, Sam Fisher (Kiersey Clemons) and her widower father Frank (Nick Offerman) end each day by jamming in their makeshift studio.
With Frank’s record store on the verge of closing and Sam off to the west coast, there’s a nostalgia brimming at the edge of every scene. All things must end – even Sam’s fledgling relationship also has an upcoming expiration date. That’s the underlying rhythm of the film: even though all things must pass, that doesn’t make their importance any less real while they’re happening. The supporting cast are superb – Toni Collette and Ted Danson, to name two – but the MVP here is Offerman, whose against-type turn as Frank will make your bottom lip quiver.
9. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Available: Starz (US), to rent at Microsoft Store (UK)
You can’t beat a good road trip movie. Especially when it’s about a dysfunctional family cooped up together in an old Volkswagen van. A happy-go-lucky kid, Olive (Abigail Breslin) is blissfully free of the trappings of self-doubt which plague her family. Desperate to participate in a nationwide Little Miss Sunshine contest, she applies and scores a place, but it’s cross country and requires her entire family (Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin) come along for the ride. Their exploits on the road are funny and poignant, with a top-shelf cast bringing their A-game to this wickedly funny story of familial triumph over adversity.
If your heart doesn’t melt watching Olive lose her marbles upon discovering she’s in the pageant... well, it should.
8. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Available: Netflix (US), NowTV, SkyGo (UK)
In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne has to crawl through a tunnel of literal shit to get to the sweetness on the other side. That’s essentially the experience you go through watching this classic feelgood tearjerker. Behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, Andy battles his unjust prison sentence along with the disdain and ire of the prison warden, who manipulates Dufresne at every turn.
Andy’s journey from downtrodden prisoner to a man who understands what freedom really means is the epitome of feelgood. Along the way, he befriends his fellow inmates whose lives he enriches and vice versa. Robbins delivers a career-best performance and Morgan Freeman sets himself up as the voiceover artist in every movie made since. If those two leading turns aren’t enough to satiate your movie needs, then what of the film’s central lesson, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’”? No. You’re crying.
7. Uncle Buck (1989)
Available: Starz (US), to rent at Amazon Video (UK)
During the '80s, John Hughes and John Candy cooked up some of their best work. And Uncle Buck is their masterpiece. It's both laugh-out-loud hilarious and heart-warming to the point of giving you the sniffles. Candy plays the self-professed "bum uncle" to his brother's kids Myles, Maisy and Tia for whom he's responsible for during a family emergency.
The movie does fish out of water better than any film in recent memory. Buck's dealings with Tia's boyfriend Bug, Miles' drunk birthday clown, and Maisie's snotty schoolteacher are genius, and proof of Candy's deserved reputation as a comedy icon. More understated and less celebrated is Candy’s gift for imbuing his comedy with an abundance of kindness. Keep an eye out for Laurie Metcalf’s turn as nosy neighbour Marcie, her comedy chops are a real treat.
6. The Princess Bride (1987)
Available: Cinemax, FuboTV (US), BFI Player (UK)
We open on a boy (Fred Savage) being read a bedtime story by his grandfather. What could be more heart-warming than that? The Princess Bride is bookended by this wraparound story, which drips with East Coast wit and smarts. It brilliantly sets the stage for a tongue-in-cheek riff on the damsel-in-distress tale that finds Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), a farm owner, in dire straits when the love of her life, farm boy Westley (Cary Elwes) is taken by pirates.
Things spiral out from there in a wonderfully-weird spin on fairytales. William Goldman’s screenplay takes potshots at every turn, giving the cast scene after scene of endlessly-quotable dialogue. With a raft of sight gags and slapstick silliness, this is the quintessential family feelgood pic.
5. The Wedding Singer (1998)
Available: AMC on Demand (US), to rent on Amazon Video (UK)
Adam Sandler is at the top of his game as recently-jilted wedding singer Robbie Hart. The mulleted crooner is both genuinely funny and likeable as hell – but he’s not working alone. Sandler’s shared chemistry with Drew Barrymore’s happy-go-lucky waitress Julia is reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age of screwball comedies.
Thankfully The Wedding Singer manages to avoid modern rom-com trappings with a zippy script and a top-notch supporting cast. It’s a bona fide feel-good flick, that weighs on the importance of good friendship as a solid foundation for an amorous relationship. Throw in the plentiful gags that still stand up today and you’ve got a solid feelgood movie where love and laughter take centre stage.
4. Paddington 2 (2017)
Available: FuboTV, HBONow, TNT (US), Amazon Prime Video (UK)
Everyone's favourite marmalade-eating bear receives his second big-screen treatment. After his home is destroyed, the pint-sized Paddington makes his way from Peru to London, England, in the hopes of finding a new place to live.
While the original sets things up nicely, it’s Paddington 2 that dishes out the real warmth of Michael Bond's classic children's character as Paddington’s goal of finding Aunt Lucy the *perfect* gift leads to his imprisonment. Even behind bars, he wins over the inmates with his commitment to making marmalade and upbeat spirit. This sequel brims with wit and invention thanks to the furry little chappie at its heart. As he says, if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.
3. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Available: HBO Now (US), Disney+ (UK)
Director Chris Columbus struck gold when he cast Robin Williams as a dowdy British nanny with dentures. One of the biggest hits of Williams’ career remains to this day a funny, tender, and compassionate look at divorce. When unemployed actor Daniel Hillard pushes his wife Miranda too far, she kicks him out. Desperate to see his kids, Daniel dresses up as a Scottish housekeeper called Mrs. Doubtfire and becomes the family’s new nanny.
Williams shines in the role as a man who’ll do whatever it takes to be a father to his children – even if that means wearing a fat suit and a prosthetic. It’s impossible to imagine the movie without Williams’ unmatched improvisational wit and penchant for physical humour. Both he and Mrs. Doubtfire will win you over, together with the film’s message that we must accept change…well, and be willing to stick our faces in cream pies, too, if necessary.
2. As Good As It Gets (1998)
Available: Netflix (US), NowTV, SkyGO (UK)
Jack Nicholson hams it up as Melvin Udall, a romance author with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He’s also a cantankerous, short-tempered git who refuses to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, making life hell for his neighbours and his favourite local waitress Carol (Helen Hunt). That situation changes when his neighbour Simon (Greg Kinnear) is hospitalised after a robbery-gone-wrong and needs someone to take care of his dog, Verdelle.
As Good As It Gets tempers the sweetness of the story – Melvin grows a genuine heart after taking care of a terrier – by never going full-on schmaltz. Sure, Melvin’s still a bastard but the lesson here is that those around him learn to love his redeeming qualities. Instead of the film bowing to the idea that HE has to change, it refreshingly reminds us that we all should strive to be more compassionate.
1. Amelie (2001)
Available: Hoopla, MaxGo, DirectTV (US), to rent on Amazon Video (UK)
Hook Amelie straight to your veins for an immediate feel-good hit. Waitress Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) is a charming kook who discovers a hidden box of trinkets in her apartment and vows to reunite it with its original owner. That mission takes her on a journey flooded with goodwill and heart, as she strives to help others lead more fulfilling lives.
The romance of being a romantic is abundant in Amelie’s world. She’s in love with the small moments of joy, eager to cherish the tiny things many shrug off as mundane. It’s that imagination which escalates this sweet Parisian flick into a real heartwarmer. As Amelie’s own shortcomings make her unable to realise she too is deserving of happiness, you’ll be aching for the moment when she finally sees what’s right in front of her and takes her own advice.