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The best feel-good movies of all time

Watch these films if you want to feel warm and fuzzy

Everyone needs a dose of the warm and fuzzies from time to time. 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 best feel-good movies.

By Gem Seddon

(Fox/LucasFilm/Canal+/Paramount/Universal)
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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.

(Disney)
Ratatouille (2007)

This is one vermin you’d want in your kitchen. Pixar’s trend of making the unloveable downright adorable continues in this tale of cooking and friendship. Patton Oswalt voices Remy, a culinary whiz with dreams of being a famous chef. There’s one catch: he also happens to be a rat. He relocates to the big city and finds an unlikely ally in restaurant busboy Alfredo Linguini. Together the duo churn out sensational dish after dish, drawing in the crowds to try their delectable cuisine. 

Ratatouille is a sweet story that extols the virtue of friendship and how we shouldn’t judge talent based on looks. Plus: who doesn’t love a rat in a tiny chef’s hat?

(Disney/Pixar)
Big (1988)

Is '80s Hanks the best Hanks? Quite possibly. There are so many moments from Big that stand out thanks to the simple moral of the story – savour what we have in the present. It’s that concept which serves as fertile ground for some frankly *amazing* montages. When Hanks’ teen self is granted a wish to be big on a fairground machine, his life is transformed overnight when he wakes as a 23-year old. Cut to the big city living, the silly string parties, the dancing on oversized keyboards in department stores. 

The glitz and glamour of adulthood is alluring; a seemingly far more exciting place to live when you’re a kid with a curfew. But the lesson in Big is a fundamental one: don’t wish your life away. Embrace today – the future will be there tomorrow, waiting for you. 

(Fox)
Hugo (2011)

Taking a pause on his love of mobsters, Martin Scorsese delves into an awe-inspiring steampunk world where truth and fiction collide. Young orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield) lives in a 1930s Paris train station, avoiding the ire of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) while pilfering clock innards to help fix a broken automaton left by his father (Jude Law). 

Hugo makes a friend in Isabelle (Chloe Grace-Moretz) whose father is none other than Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) – a fictional take on the early motion picture pioneer. You’ll fawn over its lush visuals, yet it’s the importance of helping others that underscores Hugo, which is a beautiful ode to the art of movie-making. Or, as Melies puts it: how the art of film is itself, the invention of dreams. 

(Paramount)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1985)

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Some choice words of advice from the ‘80s most carefree teen. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is for every person on the planet who doesn’t want to go to work. Ferris’s devil-may-care attitude is one that’s endured because his heart’s in the right place all along. He pulls his girlfriend out of school, sure, but by enlisting his best friend Cameron into the scheme he forces the gangly youth to confront his biggest fear. 

But it ain’t all sober life lessons. The film’s a hoot from start to finish, thanks to writer-director John Hughes’ panache for crafting characters so achingly true to life. Ferris’ sister Jeanie and Principal Rooney, whose efforts to expose his lies are thwarted at every turn, generate much of its comedy. Rooney’s secretary Grace is, however, the film’s MVP when it comes to sight gags and one-liners. 

(Paramount Pictures)
Clueless (1995)

The teen flick against which every new teen flick will forever be measured. Alicia Silverstone stars as Beverly Hills brat Cher, who discovers she's clueless in matters of the heart despite her like, totally awesome fashion sense. Director Amy Heckerling's film is still stupidly witty and hasn't aged a day, even though it's over twenty years old. 

A hilarious, heartfelt glimpse into growing up, it’s made all the more delightful thanks to Silverstone’s turn as Cher. Her bright, shiny point-of-view may seem ditzy yet she’s anything but. She cares about her family, her friends, her environment, and is always willing to divert her sunny optimism to those less fortunate. It’s easily one of the funniest AND smartest teen movies ever made that’ll make you laugh and want to be kinder. We hope not sporadically.

(Paramount)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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.

(LucasFilm)
Groundhog Day (1993)

Living the same day over and over is a plot device seemingly yanked from a Stephen King story or a Twilight Zone episode. In the hands of Harold Ramis, it’s transformed into a warm-hearted comedy that features Bill Murray's finest role. It’s Murray who’s the victim of the time loop, as disgruntled weatherman Phil Connors. 

Groundhog Day simply wouldn't have its classic status without his performance that wrings laughter and poignancy out of his predicament. His mounting frustration with the niceties of small-town living serves as an endless well of amusement. Instead of taking the easy option of undoing Phil’s predicament when he falls in love, the film avoids that obvious syrupy solution and takes a much more interesting path: Connors’ only way out of this is for him to dedicate his time to becoming a better person. 

(Columbia Pictures)
Cinema Paradiso (1988)

A heartwarming story of friendship told through the rose-tinted glasses of time - what’s not to love? Cinema Paradiso opens on a prominent film director (Jacques Perrin) looking back on his life. The remainder of the movie is told mostly through flashbacks where we learn of the fledgeling bond between young Sicilian scamp Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) and his local cinema’s projectionist, Alfredo (Phillippe Noiret). Their relationship forms the core of the story as Salvatore becomes enchanted by motion pictures, learning of their power to affect audiences. 

Both an ode to friendship and that shared love of movies which binds us together, we challenge you to not bawl your eyes out when Alfredo’s parting gift to Salvatore is revealed. 

(Mirimax)
Working Girl (1988)

The '80s – the era where poofy hair and shoulder pads were seen as the cutting edge of fashion, and quick-witted best friends were the only friends worth having. Working Girl makes great use of all these elements, a true product of its era that's managed to stay funny and warm nearly thirty years later. 

Melanie Griffiths stars as Tess McGill, a young go-getter keen to make her mark on the business world by masquerading as her boss Katherine  - played by an acerbic Sigourney Weaver - who's out sick. Tess takes risks, she busts balls. You'll probably fall in love with Joan Cusack as Tess's smart-mouthed pal, and wonder why she's not been given more roles like this over the years.

(Fox)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1988)

Back when it was super-hip for guys to expose their midriffs, and to replace vowels with similar-sounding consonants, we had Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. It's not just a tale of two teenagers who travel through time to get help from historical figures for a school report. It is that, yes. Really it's a teen comedy that went against the grain of its contemporaries, the preppy John Hughes movies of the eighties. 

See, Bill and Ted don't possess Ferris' cunning, or the self-awareness of those Breakfast Clubbers, which is why they're being chosen to save mankind makes the film like, totally funny, dude. Nearly thirty years later their mispronunciation of Socrates is still one of its most hilarious moments alongside their chosen maxim we should all strive to live by: “Be excellent to each other.” 

(Orion)
Chef (2014)

What do you do when your professional reputation goes up in flames after a bad review? Simple: start an online flame war with the critic. That's what kicks off the journey of Carl Casper, a chef who quits his L.A. restaurant gig and heads back to his hometown of Miami to restart his career. 

Jon Favreau produces, writes, directs and stars, bringing plenty of heart and warmth to this foodie parable about rising up to embrace new things: that involves a reinvention with a battered old food truck. Chef will have you either, a) Googling where to find your nearest delicious, mouth-watering cuban sandwich, or b) seriously considering opening a food truck and driving it cross country with your best friends. 

(Open Road Films)
Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

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.

(Gunpowder and Sky)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

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.

(Fox)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins’ character Andy Dufresne has to crawl through a tunnel of poop 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.

(Columbia)
Uncle Buck (1989)

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.

(Universal Pictures)
The Princess Bride (1987)

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.

(Universal)
The Wedding Singer (1998)

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.

(New Line Cinema)
Paddington 2 (2017)

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.  

(StudioCanal)
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

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.

(Fox)
As Good As It Gets (1998)

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 difficult 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. 

(Sony)
Amelie (2001)

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. 

(Canal+)

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