It’s been a really trying couple of years, to put it mildly, what with the epidemic, many lockdowns, and various political upheavals – and we’ve never needed escapism more. For this reason, team affectionguide has put up a list of 30 great feel good movies that are certain to make you grin and maybe shed a few cathartic tears when you least expect it. You won’t find any innovative edginess, challenging, or demanding movies here; only pure, chicken-soup-for-the-soul deliciousness and comfort.
You’ve probably seen most of these motivational movies before, but that’s the appeal of best inspirational movies. No matter how many times you’ve seen Andy Dufresne struggle for his freedom in The Shawshank Redemption, Phil Conners wake up to the sounds of “I Got You Babe” in Groundhog Day, or how often you’ve escaped to the world of Soot Sprites and forest spirits in My Neighbor Totoro, coming back to these good inspirational movies always feels like cuddling up with an old friend. Beyond the tried-and-true favorite inspirational movies, we also offer newer picks that are guaranteed to win your heart: Crazy Rich Asians’ vibrant delight or the brilliant humour and compassion of Into The Spider-Verse.
Whether you’re seeking for soaring inspirational movies to watch, inspirational family movies, heart-pounding romances, or attention-grabbing adventures, let the movies be your solace and your brief respite from news of epidemics, downpours, and presidential elections. Here are 35 best motivational movies that are sure to make you smile.
40 Heartwarming Feel-good Movies
1. THE HOLIDAY (2006)
With a cast as incredible as Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Kate Winslet, it’s easier to overlook the occasionally cheesy moments. (Although we kind of live for the cheesy moments…)
2. LEGALLY BLONDE (2001)
You’ll want to bend and snap too after watching Elle Woods’s ascent from stereotype to law-school hero.
3. BRIDESMAIDS (2011)
Irreverent. Empowering. And all too real at times. (Obviously, we’re talking about the dress salon scene.)
4. GIRL’S TRIP (2017)
Four college friends reunite and make the most out of their trip to New Orleans. We’ll never forget that zip lining scene.
5. LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
Who says you have to wait until the holidays to watch Christmas movies? Between the star-studded cast and the overlapping romantic storylines, this one is ideal anytime.
6. The Martian
It starts with high drama as Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars by his astro-colleagues. But the process of his figuring out how to survive and the way his NASA colleagues on Earth and spaceship Hermes rally round to save him will have you cheering. It’s smart people using their brains for pure good. Just don’t have potatoes while you watch it.
7. Easy A
AKA the film that truly made Emma Stone a star. This update of The Scarlett Letter finds truth in high school and also boasts possibly the best parental pairing of the teen genre (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson). It’s constantly amusing, while Stone’s charm shines through.
8. What We Do In The Shadows
It was once hard to imagine Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire flatmate comedy sparking not one but two TV spin-offs, but once you watch it, you realise why. Shadows is full of silly gags, wisely observed buddy comedy and the funniest clash between werewolves and humans.
9. Four Weddings And A Funeral
Yes, yes, Four Weddings has that
pesky “funeral” in the title, and indeed Gareth’s (Simon Callow) send-off is indeed targeted straight at the heartstrings. But it’s earned, and the rest is such jolly, witty fun that you never mind the grief break.
10. Toy Story 2
Sure, the first Toy Story is almost as good, but if you want pure Pixar magic, look no further. And this was a movie rescued from straight-to-video hell, no less. You already know you like Woody, Buzz and the rest, but Toy Story 2 cements that fact. Or why not just make it a double-bill with them both? Add the third if you’re feeling emotionally strong (the incinerator and the finale are definitely tear-inducing).
11. Pitch Perfect (2012)
Set in the highly competitive world of a capella singing competitions, this 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.
12. 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 the time it comes to the big ‘500 Miles’ sing-along.
13. 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.
14. Love, Simon (2018)
Finally, a big-screen gay romance that doesn’t end in tragedy. Greg Berlanti’s high school rom-com is an unabashed, unashamed crowd-pleaser, starring Nick Robinson as Simon – a closeted all-American teenager who starts an email correspondence with another closeted kid at his school. Warm and funny, with a feelgood ferris wheel finale and an air-punching soundtrack courtesy of Jack Antonoff.
15. 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.
16. Billy Elliot (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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
After years of rom-com wilderness came Crazy Rich Asians – delivering a swoon-worthy couple in Constance Wu’s Rachel and Henry Golding’s Nick, laugh-out-loud gags from Awkwafina, and a visual vibrancy that makes the genre come alive again. It’ll leave you beaming – with a little happy-crying at the Mandarin cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’.
24. 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.
25. 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.
26. 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.
27. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Politics in 2020 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.
28. 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.
29. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cameron Crowe’s comedy, featuring one of Tom Cruise’s finest performances, 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.
30. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
Sony’s animated Spider-Man movie is a total triumph – dazzlingly animated, with side-splitting gags, loveable characters, and a twisty-turny narrative of constant invention and reinvention. It’s relentlessly entertaining, and the ‘What’s Up Danger?’ sequence will add extra years to your life, guaranteed. Guarantee not actually guaranteed.
31. 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.
32. Sing Street (2016)
It was only a modest success on release, 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.
33. 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.
34. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Ghibli’s beautiful ode to childhood innocence and the majesty of nature is full of imagery to soothe your frazzled mind and ease your fractious soul. Bask in the creaky old house that young girls Satsuki and Mei move to for the summer with their dad, luxuriate in the gorgeous music by Joe Hisaishi, and feel the warm glow of the forest spirits as the girls meet an array of cute and cuddly Totoros. And did we mention the Catbus?
35. 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?
36. 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.
37. 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.
38. Paddington 2 (2017)
“If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Everything about Paddington 2 exudes positivity – it’s a film that abounds with sheer delight. Even Hugh Grant’s luvvie villain Phoenix Buchanan is gloriously entertaining. With its pastel-perfect imagery, lovely evocation of picture-book London, and low-stakes, high-emotion plot (Paddington wants to buy the perfect gift for Aunt Lucy!), Paul King’s film is the cure for pretty much any ailment. They should prescribe it on the NHS.
39. 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.
40. Amélie (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 Amélie 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 2020, the worst year in history not to include an actual world war (yet).