At the minute, the entire world needs a dose of the warm and fuzzies. That’s where the best feel-good movies come in. They are the comfort food of entertainment – the equivalent to a gooey bowl of mac and cheese. These are the films created to boost your spirits; to make you feel wholesome and keep you elevated when times are tough.
Whether you’re burned out from the constant refresh of the news cycle, or you’re feeling anxious because of the state of the world, the feel-good movie is here to help. From heart-warming family favourites, to action-packed adventures, to laugh-a-minute comedies, your bases are covered here, so dive into our top picks of the 30 best feel-good movies.
30. The Way, Way Back (2013)
Available: Direct TV (US), purchase from Amazon Video (UK)
Long, unending days; the feeling that the entire world lies at your feet. Ah, the bristling promise of summer when you’re a teenager. That sentiment is perfectly captured in this sweet, breezy dramedy. Duncan (Liam James), a 14-year-old, is dragged to the beach for the season by his mother (the always-excellent Toni Collette) along with her vile new boyfriend (Steve Carell). Duncan’s resistance melts away when he lands a job at the local water park and befriends Owen (Sam Rockwell), the wisecrackin’ manager.
The Way, Way Back is a great reminder that when life hands you a beach vacation… head to the water park? No, no: it’s a reminder that you can find friends in the most unexpected places, its positivity and good humour guaranteed to make you smile.
29. Jurassic Park (1993)
Available: FuboTV (US), purchase from Google Play (UK)
Yes, a dinosaur movie can also be one of the best feel-good movies out there. Spielberg’s monster epic from the early ‘90s reigns supreme when it comes to its heart-pumping factor, sure, but in terms of giving you the warm and fuzzies? Really? The tale of a gaggle of scientists and unsupervised grandchildren let loose on an island with a bunch of hungry, hungry dinos is surprisingly uplifting.
Stories about man vs. monster tend to be all about action and Jurassic Park is no exception. But it’s also about human resilience in the face of great danger. It’s about our ability to rise up when we’re faced with the threat of being torn asunder by prehistoric beasts or sold down the river by scheming lawyers and hackers. That we’re in fact, no different at all to those creatures, is the biggest lump-in-throat feeling of all. It boasts one of the most uplifting movie scores of all time too, the perfect cherry atop this glorious blockbuster sundae.
28. The School of Rock (2003)
Available: Showtime, DirectTV (US), NowTV, Prime Video, SkyGo (UK)
Of all the Richard Linklater pics out there, The School of Rock snags the honour of being his most blindingly optimistic. Jack Black channels his energetic earlier self from High Fidelity and throws in a dollop of kindness and patience as Dewey Finn. A musician desperate to make ends meet after getting fired from his old band, Finn snags a substitute music teacher gig despite having zero teaching experience. While his initial idea is to one-up his former bandmates by transforming his class into a new band, his motivation switches soon thereafter when he wins the kids over and vice versa.
It’s stacked to the rafters with singalong tunes (this writer still frequently gets earwormed by “No you’re not hardcore, unless you live hardcore!”) and a soaring Battle of the Bands finale, that’s certainly bordering on cheesiness, but to be honest? You’ll be cheering them on so loud, you won’t notice.
27. Wonder (2016)
Available: Prime Video, Hulu (US), purchase on Chili, RakutenTV (UK)
Based on the R.J. Palacio novel, Wonder follows the story of Auggie Pullman, a ten-year-old on the cusp of entering middle school after being homeschooled his whole life. Auggie’s no ordinary boy. Born with a craniofacial disfigurement, he wears a helmet most of the time to avoid the stares and cruel jeers of onlookers, a safety blanket he must shed once he begins public school.
But this isn’t just Auggie’s tale of overcoming school bullies. Director Stephen Chbsoky opts, like the novel, to divide the film into the stories of those orbiting Auggie. His mom, his sister, his dad, his best friend, all of those whose lives are affected by this young boy’s condition are given their own emotional arc. That’s what sets this flick apart: sure, this kid’s got an indeterminable spirit but so do the people he’s surrounded by, all of whom champion the value of empathy.
26. Julie & Julia (2009)
Available: Netflix, Showtime (US), Netflix (UK)
Shows like The Great British Bake-Off have proven the feelgood factor of homely hobbies, largely because of their low-stakes appeal. No-one will perish if a souffle doesn’t rise – and that’s the core of Julie & Julia. As a way to counter her soul-crushing job, competent home cook Julie Powell decides to blog her way through Julia Childs’ classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Powell’s journey is intertwined with Childs’ experience writing that very book decades before as she battled cooking classes, publishing snafus, and the like. With both tales of culinary adventure unravelling simultaneously, the similarities between the two women shine through, making this a glorious ode to food and to following in your heroes’ footsteps. And before you ask: yes, there are SEVERAL cooking montages.
25. Jerry Maguire (1995)
Available: Netflix, Showtime (US), NowTV, SkyGo (UK)
“You had me at hello.” A one-liner cemented into pop culture that sums up what’s so endearing about Jerry Maguire. From the get-go, Cameron Crowe’s movie wins you over. It’s hard for it not to: this is the ultimate rise of the underdog tale. Tom Cruise – arguably in his finest career role to date – tackles the part of sports agent Jerry Maguire, who, when struck by a crisis of conscience decides to quit his job and go out solo.
From his “mission statement” moment as he exits his former workplace all the way to him begging Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) to give him a shot: he doesn’t let up. His relentlessness to win at life, even when he continues to pile on the mistakes, stems from a place of genuine goodness. Watching Cruise claw his way back to a real human being, making amends with Dorothy (a near-perfect Renee Zellweger) and revealing his truth to his step-son Ray, it’ll tear at your heartstrings.
24. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Available: Netflix (US), BFI Player (UK)
You can’t beat a good old fashioned action-adventure with a smartmouth antihero. Harrison Ford’s first stint as the archaeologist adventurer shows off his leading man charisma in spades. That twinkle in his eye is part of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark pure entertainment gold from start to finish. Who doesn’t love a simple yarn of good vs. evil?
Jones’ archaeologist treks across the globe in the hopes of securing a rare artefact before a bunch of Nazis get their evil mitts on it. His path is naturally fraught with wrongdoers seeking to overthrow him at every turn. He remains in gruff spirits throughout, of course. Throw in Indy’s ex and a whippersnapper sidekick and there’s no reason why you’re not already hitting play on this absolute gem.
23. Fighting With My Family (2019)
Available: Prime Video, Hulu (US), Netflix (UK)
A great misleading title, Fighting With My Family is based on the true story of W.W.E wrestler Paige’s rise to fame. The movie charts her early beginnings in Norwich, England, where her two professional wrestler parents encourage both Paige and her brother Zak to apply for the WWE, through to the cut-throat training process all the way to her first fight.
Even if you go into the movie knowing the outcome, that doesn’t matter; watching her rise, again and again, after barriers continue to appear is why this is one of the most heartwarming movies of the last year. Paige’s final triumph, cheered on by her parents (Lena Headey and Nick Frost, in a hilarious double-act), friends, and family will have you jumping in your seat as tears stream down your cheeks.
22. About Time (2013)
Available: Netflix (US), Prime Video, Netflix, Sky Go (UK)
Sure, Richard Curtis’ Christmas crowd-pleaser Love Actually is packed with festive cheer, but About Time gives it a massive run for its money. Domnhall Gleeson plays Tim, whose father tells him of a life-changing secret on his birthday: all the men in his family can time travel when they turn 21. His first, albeit hormonal, instinct? He should use his new ability to bag himself a girlfriend. He does, meeting Rachel McAdams’ Mary and starting a family.
What follows is a bittersweet story that threads a great deal of heart-wrenching moments into the technicalities of his gift – such as what happens to his children when he goes back in time. Hats off to Gleeson for a charming leading performance but the M.V.P. here is Bill Nighy as his father James, who teaches his son, in a stirring speech, to really live each day to the fullest.
21. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Available: Disney+, SlingTV (US), Disney+ (UK)
One of many ‘90s Shakespeare adaptations, 10 Things I Hate About You reworks The Taming of the Shrew. The story takes place in Seattle, where the father of Padua High’s most popular girl Bianca refuses to let her date unless her rebellious sister Kat does. What follows is a web of amusing romantic plottings, bursting with goodwill and kindness above all else.
Forget the sinister underhand subtext of ‘80s teen movies, this is overflowing with goodness and positivity: even from the supposed ‘bad rebels.’ The feelgood vibes aren’t exclusive to the high schoolers: Allison Janney’s guidance counsellor is hysterical. Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays the loveable nerd Cameron says that filming this movie was one of the best summers of his life – and it really shows.