Let’s face it, we could all probably do with a little bit of cheering up right about now. Times are scary and times are tough, so it’s perfectly natural to look for some kind of reassurance that everything will indeed be all right in the end.
Film is perhaps one of the most powerful and effective tools in doing this. It can be a transportative experience, an escape from reality, and, most importantly, it can act as a reminder of all that is good in the world.
With that in mind, here’s a list of 25 movies that are almost-guaranteed to make you smile and restore your faith in humanity…
In truth, any of Charlie Chaplin’s films are perfect for those times when you just need to smile. The man was a true master of comedy, both in the staging and performance of his many ingenious gags, but there’s something particularly special about 1931’s City Lights that puts it right at the top of the list of his very best works.
That something is the wonderfully romantic and heart-warming story at the center of the story, which see Chaplin’s infamous Tramp character fall in love with a blind flower girl and set out to raise money for her eye surgery.
The film is hilarious, a masterclass in slapstick that’s worth watching for the spaghetti scene alone. But it’s also so hopelessly romantic that it’ll melt even the coldest of hearts. Its final few moments are amongst the most beautiful to have ever graced cinema, which will leave you in floods of tears – but in the best way possible.
Bringing Up Baby
A film that’s responsible for shaping an entire genre, Bringing Up Baby is one of the original screwball comedies. There are no real life-affirming messages here, but there are an abundance of pratfalls, absurd twists, and romance to keep you smiling and engaged the whole time.
The chemistry between Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn is palpable, and the writing is an exquisite lesson in madcap. This, put simply, is a classic, without which we probably wouldn’t have some of our favourite rom-coms today.
It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s A Wonderful Life is, I’d argue, far more than a movie for Christmas (as it’s sometimes posited as). Rather, there’s something wonderful here to enjoy all year. After all, Christmas ultimately plays a small role in Frank Capra’s profoundly moving tale of a man brought to the brink of suicide after the pressures of life become a little too much to handle.
The film’s Christmas-classic status might mean that most will break it out only once a year, but its universal message that each of our lives matter, that each of our lives touches those around us, is one that’s well worth embracing during dark days.
Proving that a life filled with friends and family is a privileged one, it has one of the most joyous and touching endings of all time; a scene that draws a happy tear from something so simple as the ringing of a bell.
“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”
The above is just one of the many pearls of wisdom offered up in Henry Koster’s magical adaptation of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Harvey. It’s a little gem of a film, painfully underseen, in which James Stewart’s Elwood P Dowd is taken to be institutionalised by his family after insisting he is friends with the invisible six foot-tall rabbit of the title.
This comedy of errors features one of Stewart’s finest ever performances (it’s certainly the actor’s personal favourite of his), and is as utterly charming as it is harmless. But beneath the surface it’s actually dealing with themes of mental-health and alcoholism in the most wonderful way, with an all-encompassing message that kindness and understanding are what’s most important in this world – a message we could all do with reminding of from time to time.
Singin’ in the Rain
Singin’ in the Rain might just be the greatest musical ever made. It’s pure happiness that glows and radiates technicolor, that is so filled with warmth and love, and goodwill that it’s virtually impossible not to get swept up in – whatever your mood.
As far as the dance numbers and songs go, it is flawless, featuring some of the most iconic music and imagery in cinema history. But more than the music, this film-about-film is simply, deeply hilarious from beginning to end.
Whether it’s the physical comedy of Donald O’Connor, the cheeky charm of Gene Kelly, or one of the funniest scenes ever captured on film (“And I cayn’t stand’im”), Singin’ in the Rain truly is a laugh-a-minute viewing. Stick this on during a rainy day, and I’m sure you’ll feel warmed up in no time.
To Kill A Mockingbird
I know that a film which tells the story of racism in the Depression-era South doesn’t exactly sound like the sort to cheer you up, but Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of what some argue is the greatest book ever written is sure to do just that. Owing a great debt to Harper Lee’s original novel, To Kill A Mockingbird may be dealing with serious and adult themes of injustice, oppression, and discrimination, but it does so through the innocent eyes of a young girl full of wondrous imagination.
Mulligan manages to capture this sense of wonder from frame one, with an eye-catching opening credit sequence that’s accompanied by Elmer Bernstein’s sweeping score. And that’s just the beginning of the cinematic magic that this film conjures up.
The writing of the relationship between Atticus Finch and his children is charming and full of love, all the more so due to the very real performances of Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford; Finch’s courtroom speech is as close to scripture as you can get on film; and then you have the film’s incredibly heart-warming conclusion which features one of the greatest final film lines ever.
The subject matter may be tough, but Atticus Finch is the epitome of human decency, and I dare anybody not to smile a glowing, beaming smile when Scout meets Boo Radley. Timeless.
It’s a fair bet that most of have seen Mary Poppins, and more than once as well. But no matter how many times you’ve seen the film, the color never fades and the joy never diminishes in the film that’s practically spot on in every way.
Much is talked about Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, who, a dodgy cockney accent aside in Dyke’s case, are incredible to watch. The other star of the movie, however, is the music from the Sherman brothers, who are responsible for crafting all of Disney’s most memorable songs.
Without their goosebump-inducing “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” their riotous”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (that’s dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes backwards), or the soaring “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” I’m not sure Mary Poppins would be remembered quite as fondly as it is. But it’s one of those films where a magical combination of talents utterly clicked at the same time. Talking of which…
The Odd Couple
Forget the countless remakes, including the recent television series starring Chandler Bing, there’s only one great version of The Odd Couple. The 1968 adaptation of Neil Simon’s play isn’t just painfully funny (the dialogue is peak Simon, the delivery faultless), it’s pretty damn cool at the same time.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are at their very best here, in a film that makes up for its stagy production with a punchy script. Not many writers could manage to get a laugh out of a failed suicide attempt, but Simon manages to do just that; finding laughter and heart within a very real depiction of friendship, neurosis and everything else in between.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
“Hold your breath. Make a Wish. Count to three…”
Before you even take into account the magic of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, its main musical number, “Pure Imagination,” should be enough to cheer you up in its own right. The song is heavenly, and manages to make the hair on my arms stand up every time I hear those opening piano keys.
When put in context with the film, however, it becomes extra special; instantly drawing to mind images of Wonka’s factory full of candy canes and gummy-bear trees. It’s wonderous stuff, made all the more better due to Roald Dahl’s sharp and satirical script.
And even if all that wasn’t enough to get you in high spirits, you also have one of Gene Wilder’s finest performances in the form of Willy Wonka. How we miss him.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Any list such as this wouldn’t be complete without at least one Monty Python picture. There’s plenty to choose from that could each sit quite comfortably here, but their Life of Brian is the most obvious choice by a clear mile.
Religious satire at its very best, the gang are all on top form with this hysterical tale of Brian, a man who spends his whole life being mistaken for the Messiah. It’s comedy gold at its very best, brought to a close by Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – a reminder that as bad as things may seem, they could always be a whole lot worse.
The Muppets Take Manhattan
If I were to ask you what the best Muppet movie of all time is, I’m sure the answer would be The Muppet Christmas Carol. You’d probably be right – it is one of the best Christmas films ever made, after all – but for the purposes of this list, how about the felted ones’ lesser-seen 1984 outing, The Muppets Take Manhattan.
What jumps out most about this Muppet story is the music – you’ll be left humming “Together Again” for days after watching this – and the set pieces, which are amongst the best that Kermit and friends have even been involved in.
A cameo from Joan Rivers, a sequence involving four frogs named Phil, Gil, Jill and Bill, and a Central Park chase scene involving Miss Piggy are just a few of the film’s many memorable moments that instantly come to mind. Plus, it ends with a wedding. You couldn’t ask for a better happy ending than that, right?
Parody is infamously difficult to get right – all you need to do is look at the Wayans brothers’ back catalogue to see that it’s the case. But when it is done right, it can prove to be one of the most entertaining forms of comedy there is.
Case in point: Top Secret!, an under-appreciated spoof of American War films, that’s brought to the screen by the makers of the original Airplane! In comparison, this is often overlooked, even though it’s just as good.
It’s about as silly and as crude as they come, but still unbelievably clever in its own stupidity. This is one hidden gem worth seeking out as soon as you can.
The Princess Bride
Before the Shrek series began spoofing fairytales, there was The Princess Bride. Whereas Dreamworks’ creation relied largely on pop-culture for its jokes though, the multitude of gags in Rob Reiner’s fantastical and lively homage are original and all iconic in their own right.
It’s the type of cult film which you could quote back and forth with another fan for hours on end. But for a film that never really takes itself too seriously in the slightest, you may just find yourself taken aback at how much you’ll be swooning by the film’s end.
There’s plenty of cameos, plenty of big, guttural laughs, and it’s really rather sweet at the same time. Inconceivably so. A modern classic.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
American or not, Planes, Trains & Automobiles makes Thanksgiving worth celebrating wherever you may be in the world. Perhaps the finest 90-minutes legendary director John Hughes ever brought to the screen (er, that line should start a healthy debate in the comments), it is a perfect specimen of what a comedy should be – namely, comic.
The screenplay from Hughes is one that should be studied by any writer looking to break into comedy. From beginning to end, it’s constantly setting up and paying off its solidly-constructed gags, which are fired off at the rate of a machine gun.
Steve Martin and John Candy make for one of the greatest and hilarious pairings since Laurel and Hardy, a duo that was sadly short lived. And each gets their opportunity to shine, whether that be Martin’s airport scene which features the greatest use of the word ‘fucking’ to have ever been captured on film, or Candy’s expertly performed sequence on the freeway (“You’re going the wrong way!”).
Of all the set-pieces, the most memorable moment in the film has to be its suckerpunch ending. In a twist that will surprise and shock you on first viewing, this high-spirited and side-splitting comedy will leave you fighting back those happy-tears again.
Obviously you can’t write an article on happy films without mentioning at least one animation from Disney, the studio that has been with us all of our lives and which has been responsible for creating some of our fondest cinematic memories.
We’ve all got our favourite, and there’s a lot to choose from their back catalogue which could have easily made this list. But for me, it’s Aladdin which stands out as one of their finest crowd-pleasers; a kinetic, colorful and foot-tapping musical that has plenty of big laughs and a big heart to go along with them.
However, it’s Robin Williams’ incredible performance as the Genie which always draws me back to it. It’s a role that the actor was simply born to play, and one which I struggle to think of anybody else who could have pulled it off quite as successfully.
The film is given an added poignancy, then, in light of the circumstances surrounding the actor’s death. The fact that Williams could create a memorable and entertaining character such as the Genie (one of many in his repertoire) whilst secretly suffering from mental-health issues acts as a humbling reminder that sometimes, perhaps even most times, those of us who appear to be most colourful and jovial could still do with a bit of support.
Bill Murray. Now that’s a man who knows how to make people laugh. He may not be as flamboyant or as loud as a Williams or a Carey, but there’s no better when it comes to the droll and the sarcasm he brings to each of his performances.
Again, there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to the actor’s career, but Groundhog Day just takes the edge over Ghostbusters due to its sweet centre and the warm, fuzzy feeling that it leaves you with as it fades to black.
“Babe. I got you babe…”
The Shawshank Redemption
Considered by many as one of the greatest pictures ever made – it currently sits in the top spot, just above The Godfather, in IMDb’s list of top rated movies – The Shawshank Redemption proves that sometimes in life, you have to go through a lot of shit before you can make it through to the other side.
Based on a novella by Stephen King, a film that features prison beatings, rapes and suicide might just be enough to put you off watching it altogether. It’s worth sticking with though, as the drama builds toward a glorious climax.
I concede that the necessity of what feels like a tacked on ending is still up for debate, but nobody can deny the sheer feel-good power of Tim Robbins reaching out toward the open heavens, in a state of pure bliss, after having been put through absolute hell. We’re right there with you, Tim, right there with you…
For all those who may be down on their luck in the love department, Amélie is exactly what the doctor ordered. Set in the most romantic city in the world, it tells of a young woman’s attempts to bring happiness to others on the streets of Paris.
Full of imagination and quirk, and boasting a wonderful central performance from Audrey Tautou, it may just prove enough to restore your faith in people again and even mend a broken heart.
Toy Story 3
Now let’s be clear: Toy Story 3 is one of the most devastating animated features ever made. For anybody who believes that ‘cartoons’ are just for children, this managed to make audiences of grown men and women alike tense up and burst into tears as a group of toys grasped each other’s plastic hands on their way to a fiery pit of death.
To this day I’m shocked at how brutal that sequence is, even more so that it’s just one of many heartbreaking moments that feature within Pixar’s finest work to date. But even though you’ll be an emotional wreck by the time the credits roll, it’s ultimately an experience that’s good for the soul.
Not only does it have the ‘you’ve-got-a-friend-in-me’ message, but it beautifully plays on the idea that those watching the sequel will have grown-up watching and embracing the original films. It’s somewhat painful to be reminded of the loss of innocence that comes with growing up, but it’s also poetic in that it’ll make you look back on those days with great fondness. Simply stunning filmmaking.
Searching for Sugar Man
Stranger than fiction, Searching for Sugar Man is one of the most remarkable documentaries of recent times. This Oscar winner is one full of surprises, which aren’t going to be spoilt for you here. All you really need to know is that it involves two South African music lovers, who set out on a quest to find out what really happened to the mysterious 1970’s folk singer, Rodriguez.
Without giving anything away, the story takes many twists and turns before building toward a reveal that not even the greatest fiction writers could have come up with. Fascinating and life-affirming, it’ll leave you beaming from ear to ear by its end.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
Most likely the most contentious entry on the list, but I really have a lot of time for it. Ben Stiller’s remake of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty was one of 2013’s hidden gems for me. It may have been far too overlooked and underseen to have made any real long-lasting impact on most, but you couldn’t do much better if you’re looking for a piece of life-affirming cinema.
The character of Walter Mitty is one that I’m sure we can all relate to in some way; he’s in a job in which he’s undervalued, he’s a bit of a dreamer, he’s too shy to talk the woman of his dreams, and he’s been forced to give up his childhood hopes of travelling the world due to the responsibilities of adulthood.
So when Mitty is forced to go on an adventure through Iceland, Greenland and the Himalayas in an effort to secure his job, we get the opportunity to explore and travel these stunning locations vicariously through the titular hero.
It may not be an instant classic, but it’s put together wonderfully by Stiller. It’s pleasant to look at, is made all the more emotional with a tremendous soundtrack, but most importantly says that, sometimes in life, you just have to take a leap of faith as if you were jumping from a helicopter into shark infested waters.
A spiritual relation to Mary Poppins, Paddington is easily one of the best family films to have been made in the past decade.
An incredibly charming adaptation of the Michael Bond novels, the film is just so utterly likeable and good-natured that it’s a sure thing if you could do with cheering up. It’s warm, comforting, harmless fun that’s perfect for all ages. Plus, it has a lot to say about the acceptance and kindness of those that may be different or less fortunate than ourselves.
Shaun The Sheep Movie
Whilst Pixar may be masters in making animated films for all ages, which can be altogether colourful, entertaining and have meaning, Aardman Animations are the undoubtedly the British equivalent. The company may be most famous for Wallace & Gromit, but it’s the Shaun The Sheep Movie that I’ve picked for the purposes of this list.
It’s a universal film, showcasing a huge understanding of silent cinema. In fact, it works in the exact same way that the aforementioned City Lights does.
The set-pieces are superbly crafted and remarkably clever, and the film’s surprisingly powerful message about family is feel-good at its best.
Eddie The Eagle
Biopics can so often be dull and forgettable as a result of getting bogged down in the detail. With this in mind, Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie The Eagle turned out to be all the more delightful and surprising when it was released last year.
The story itself, which tells of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards’ attempts to become an Olympic gold medalist, is inspiring and touching. But it’s the way in which Fletcher brings the true story to the screen, with a fantastically retro 80’s synth soundtrack and two charismatic performances from Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman, which makes this stand out more than most within this genre.
It’s a lot of fun and suitable for the entire family. And the best thing about it? It’s available on Netflix for you watch right now.
Also available on Netflix right now is John Carney’s Sing Street, the most recent film on the list and one of the very best released in 2016.
If you’ve seen the director’s previous works (Once, Begin Again) you’ll know what you’re getting with his latest; a music-based comedy that will leave you on a high. Only in this instance, everything you’ve seen before has been turned up all the way to 11.
The original songs are so catchy that you’ll find yourself immediately wanting the soundtrack in your life, if only to keep those earworms at bay for a little longer. And then you have Carney’s writing itself, which is more charming and more poignant than ever before.
It’s a film about love and passion, which encourages its audience to never give up on their dreams. But it’s also a film about family, namely the relationship between brothers, and the fact that it’s dedicated to “Brothers everywhere” makes its phenomenal ending all the more touching.