How’s 2016 been working out for you? Absolute bloody disaster, right? Same. The world has gone mad and there’s no sign of things improving vastly in 2017. Don’t go outside, because there’s nothing good to be found there. Stay indoors and watch one of these 25 films absolutely guaranteed to cheer you up.
25. Pitch Perfect (2012)
Set in the highly competitive world of a capella singing competitions, this 2012 sleeper hit is sold by a charming comic cast, led by Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. It has the against-the-odds, little-guys-versus-the-big-baddies qualities of a great sports movie, but with cheesy pop hits instead of touchdowns and goals and that sort of thing.
24. Sunshine on Leith (2013)
A musical written around the songs of The Proclaimers, the Scottish twins famed for their insistence on walking enormous distances, doesn’t sound especially enticing. Try it though because it’s so enormously chirpy that it would be a hard-hearted grump who wasn’t stamping along passionately by time it comes to the big 500 Miles sing-along.
23. Duck Soup (1933)
Whack on any Marx Brothers movie and lose the stresses of the world in a hail of masterful physical comedy. None of their films are what you’d call plot-heavy, they’re just excuses for lots of sketches. This, about a dictator who declares war on a neighbouring country for personal reasons, might be a little too close to real-life politics right now, but it’s nice to laugh about it rather than cry.
22. Up (2009)
It starts with emotional devastation, as in just a few minutes we follow Carl and Ellie Fredricksen from childhood, through marriage, struggles to conceive, and then Ellie’s death. Once it’s wrung you out, however, the rest of this Pixar masterwork lifts you with a story of a lonely child and a broken-hearted old man becoming friends on a mad adventure.
21. Billy Elliott (2000)
A hallmark of feel-good movies is to have some poor downtrodden soul achieve a dream that seems impossible. That’s exactly what happens when Billy, a kid growing up in a northern mining town where hope is in short supply, decides that he wants to become a dancer.
20. Some Like It Hot (1959)
The thing that makes this so feel-good is the performances. Marilyn Monroe was never more delightful than she was as unlucky-in-love singer Sugar Kane. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are comic genius as musicians on the run from the mob who go into hiding by disguising themselves as women. There’s a vein of sadness running through it, but feel-good movies don’t have to be relentlessly positive, they just need to make you see the world in a better light.
19. Babe (1995)
Talking animals are almost always pleasing. They’re particularly charming in this adaptation of Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep Pig, in which a plucky little piglet avoids becoming a farmer’s dinner by learning to herd sheep. It’s a very sweet story made with enormous enthusiasm and a ton of visual wit.
18. Big (1988)
So many things to love in the tale of a boy who wishes to be older and turns into Tom Hanks. The giant piano! That weird song about rollercoasters and cocoa pops! Difficulty with canapés! It reminds us that we should enjoy the life we have now and not wish it away in a rush to get to tomorrow. Hanks is spectacular.
17. Etre et Avoir (2002)
This 2002 documentary will make you weep, but in a very happy way. It follows one year at a school in small-town France, where one teacher, Mr Lopez, looks after 200 children of varying ages. It’s a beautiful account of how much one person can affect the lives of so many.
16. Top Secret! (1984)
A feel-good movie in the sense that it’s so hilarious you won’t be able to feel unhappy while it’s on. There are no lessons to be learned from this film. Ostensibly this 1984 comedy is about a spy mission to rescue a scientist from some Nazis. Really it’s just a big collection of absurdist gags, including the funniest ever use of a fake cow.
15. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A very unhappy family goes on a road trip so its youngest member, awkward little Olive, can enter a beauty contest. Life lessons are learned, bonds are formed and home truths are aired in a lovely film all about how bizarre and difficult families can be, but how nobody knows you better than the people forced to live with you.
14. Tootsie (1982)
When failing actor Michael, played by a very game Dustin Hoffman, can’t find any work he takes the bonkers decision to disguise himself as a woman in order to win the role of a lifetime. By not playing any of it as broad as that sounds, this becomes not only very very funny but also extremely moving. It’s about upending the way the world sees you.
13. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
With some feel-good movies you really have to go through the ringer to get to the heartwarming part. Shawshank is just such a film. There’s plenty of death and injustice and abuse in the story of a wrongfully imprisoned man, but when you get to the moment he’s finally freed all that misery is worth it. Honest.
12. The Lego Movie (2014)
For about an hour The Lego Movie is just a surreal animated comedy, boundlessly creative in its madness. Delightful, silly and simple. Then something changes and it becomes not just a string of daft gags, but a story of fathers and sons, with a massive emotional wallop. It’s still a massive injustice it wasn’t even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. Check out Empire's review of The Lego Movie here
11. Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Politics at the end of 2016 is an absolute car crash, but watching Jimmy Stewart take on government corruption in Frank Capra’s big-hearted drama will give you the feeling that good still exists. Most of this list could have been made up of Jimmy Stewart movies. He is human serotonin.
10. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
In this Preston Sturges classic Joel McCrea is a director of shallow comedy movies who is fed up with a career that has no real meaning, believing he should be making big important pictures. To prepare for said important picture he disguises himself as a homeless beggar to see how poor people live. What he finds on this ridiculous journey is that there are few things more important than comedy. If you can laugh, things will probably be alright.
9. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cameron Crowe’s comedy, featuring Tom Cruise’s finest performance, is cheering on several levels. It’s a rush for anyone who’s ever dreamt of packing in a job they hate and following their dreams. It’s a charming romantic comedy about second chances. It’s a sports movie with a cracker of a big win. It’s just the best.
8. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Ferris Bueller is pure wish fulfillment. It’s the fantasy we’ve all had of bunking off school/work and spending a day living life to the fullest. Nobody wrote teenagers like John Hughes and Ferris was his masterwork, a cocky little beggar who was nevertheless seductive and likeable, the self-confident popular kid we’d all like to be. Call in sick and spend the day watching this.
7. Sing Street (2016)
It was only a modest success on its release early in 2016, but you should seek out John Carney’s jaunty musical. A boy with a fractious home life, no friends at school and a keenness to impress an older girl forms his own band, inspired by the biggest groups of the 80s. Memorable songs, winning performances from an unknown cast and a relentless belief that things will be ok in the end make this an A+ mood-enhancer.
6. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
This is the perfect romantic comedy. You could try to find fault with it but you would not succeed. As two friends bickering their way toward falling in love, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are effortlessly adorable. Nora Ephron’s script is full of witty, beautifully observed moments, and nothing tops that final confrontation at New Year’s Eve. You could watch it a million times and always be delighted anew.
5. The Princess Bride (1987)
The film starts with a little boy being read a story by his adoring grandpa. That framing automatically makes it comforting, sending you back to times when someone would tell you stories of magical things faraway. Then, of course, the story it tells is an enormously funny, deeply weird spin on traditional fairytales. You probably know every line, don’t you?
4. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Some would argue that Frank Capra’s Christmas classic is mostly not a feel-good film, given much of it deals with a man wanting to kill himself because he’s buggered up most of his life. However, it’s all about those final moments, the run through the snowy town to get to the family that loves him. At that point your heart soars and any attempt not to be swept up in its cheesiness is futile.
3. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly will dance all your cares away as he goes sploshing down the street, giddy with love for Debbie Reynolds. Singin’ In The Rain is a bold, primary-coloured rush of unabashed enthusiasm. There is no room for misery here. There is no opportunity for your daily concerns to creep in. For 103 minutes you’re going to have a lovely time and you have no choice in the matter.
2. Groundhog Day (1993)
Proof that feel-good doesn’t have to mean saccharine. Bill Murray is the cynical weather reporter who gets stuck living the same day over and over again, until he eventually learns to enjoy the little things and stop looking for reasons to be unhappy. It’s got an acid wit, but a big, soppy, optimistic heart.
1. Amelie (2001)
If this doesn’t lift your spirits then you’re beyond hope. It’s everything you want in a feel-good movie. Charmingly oddball Amelie secretly helps people who are living unhappy lives, but can’t work up the courage to fix her own issues, until love forces her to. It looks like a dream, Jean Pierre Jeunet’s creativity is limitless and Audrey Tautou is weapons-grade adorable in the lead role. Everything about it is a joy. It could even cure the malaise of 2016, the worst year in history not to include an actual world war.