Read the news today and you’ll find no shortage of depressing headlines. The current presidential race probably has a few candidates you’re not crazy about. Climate change is a growing concern. War and strife continue to plague the world.
One couldn’t blame you for feeling fatigued by all the serious news. So sometimes it’s necessary to check-out for a while and get lost in a movie. And some films just have a gift for helping us pierce the gloom and suddenly feel better about the world.
These movies tend to be about a character or group of characters who must fight against enormous odds, but their bravery and chutzpah gets them through it. And other movies in the niche are just there because they look at the world in a different way that’s refreshing.
So without further ado, we would like to present you with 13 movies that will have you whistling and making origami swans with your toes in no time. Please sit back, relax, make sure your hands and feet are inside the ride, and enjoy Screen Rant’s 13 Feel Good Movies that Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity…
13 Toy Story 3 (2010)
The Toy Story franchise is a sort of industrial mill of happiness, and Toy Story 3 is no exception. The beloved Pixar characters are back, returning this time for the series’ biggest and most exciting chapter yet. Once again, young Andy neglects his toys — this time maybe for good, as he’s off to college — and Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang are boxed up and destined to collect dust in the attic. But a mix up causes the container to land on the stoop for garbage pickup, and so Woody helps divert it to a daycare center.
There, the toys meet others, including the charismatic leader, Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty). Together, the toys must liberate themselves from the chaotic new environs and make it back home safely. The characters’ harrowing journey, combined with Pixar’s alluring gift for making it so easy to care about animated toys, makes Toy Story 3 one of the most pleasurable flicks out there.
12 The Right Stuff (1983)
A film that clocks in at over 3 hours yet is so skillfully edited it feels half as long, The Right Stuff is a leviathan. It’s the best compendium on film of NASA’s early years. Director Philip Kaufman adapted the screenplay from Tom Wolfe’s 1980 National Book Award winner of the same name. It charts the many failures and extraordinary successes of NASA’s Mercury program and the brave, skilled pilots who beat out the rest to become America’s first astronauts.
Now-famous names like John Glenn (Ed Harris) and Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) test their mettle in a battery of pre-flight tests and examinations. And then there is Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), a man who many of his peers considered to be the best ace of them all, whose story on the ground as an almost-mythic test pilot interweaves with that of his acolytes heading into space. The film is a wonderful true tale about bravery and camaraderie.
11 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood, struggling to get by in the dizzying, packed world of Mumbai, India. His brother Salim has found a lane focusing on a life of crime, but Jamal’s wishes are purer: He wins a spot on the Indian iteration of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” As Jamal works his way through the quiz and starts raking up a huge fortune, authorities become suspicious and demand Jamal explain how a street kid could have all of this knowledge. The film operates fluidly through a number of flashbacks to important moments in his upbringing, events that would later inform his awareness of a unique series of facts.
Patel is excellent in his role, and director Danny Boyle keeps the action roiling. While the rags-to-riches tale is age-old, Slumdog Millionaire gives it enough twists to make it a lot of vicarious fun.
10 Finding Nemo (2003)
This list (not so surprisingly) has not 1 but 3 Pixar films on it. And while we’re aware of our bias, we refuse to apologize in this case. Take 2003’s Finding Nemo. It is the inspiring, enthralling tale of overprotective clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks), and his son Nemo (Alexander Gould), who one day is scooped up by a diver and is relegated to life in a dentist’s office fishbowl. Marlin is scared of the open ocean, but with the help of the forgetful reef fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), he embarks on an epic quest to face his fears and rescue his son.
Finding Nemo made over $900 million at the box office, and that probably has something to do with its hopeful message.
Fingers crossed the sequel is equally as heartwarming.
9 Soul Surfer (2011)
Based on the autobiography of American surfer Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer recaps a disaster that occurred for her as a teen. In 2003 at the age of 13, Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) is out on the water with friends near her parent’s home in Kauai, Hawaii, when a tiger shark emerges from the depths and bites off her left arm. Her friends get her to a hospital, where she recovers.
Most people would throw in the towel at this point, but Bethany’s love of surfing gets her to go back out onto the waves and competing. Having lost an appendage, finding equilibrium on the board was a struggle. But soon enough, Bethany was winning competitions and beating the best in the world.
If this movie doesn’t inspire you to throw caution to the wind and live a fuller life, we don’t know what to tell you.
8 The Martian (2015)
Matt Damon stars in this survival-action movie about an astronaut on a Mars mission that goes awry. Mark Watney (Damon) gets caught in a massive storm while he and his team are exploring the red planet, and his fellow astronauts lose radio contact with him and presume him dead. But Watney, very much alive, is left stranded on Mars with little more than a small research station and limited rations. Told with neat procedural narration by Watney, who goes to ingenious ends to remedy his lack of air, food, water, and communication, The Martian is a movie that seems to want nothing more than for audiences to get their nerd-jollies.
And jollies they get. Damon plays the part with his typical excellence, and director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) doesn’t offend in the visuals or storytelling departments. Perhaps no other film in recent memory places a protagonist in more of a precarious situation, and so to see him wriggle free from fate with a bit of rationality and luck is well worth the 2 and 1/2 hour running time.
7 The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness recaps the year he spent homeless with his son on the streets of San Francisco.
A very smart and capable guy, Gardner (Will Smith) finds himself in very unfortunate circumstances: He loses his work as a salesman, is abruptly evicted from his apartment, and is left having to care for his young son (portrayed by Will's real-life son, Jaden Smith) with nothing but the clothes on his back and the emotional strength to forge on. Gardner models for his son how one can live with dignity no matter the conditions.
And even though Gardner would eventually get back on his feet again, the movie is a powerful reminder that each of us is only a few unlucky steps away from being in the same situation. It's also a testament to the import of the human will, which lands it on this list. Just be prepared to cry a bit in the middle there, because it's a truly rocky road to happiness for this enduring pair.
6 Amelie (2001)
The most well-known film of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amelie is the saccharine-sweet tale of a young Parisian waitress (Audrey Tautou) who decides one day to change her life and the lives of her neighbors, and is rewarded with love.
Filmed in dozens of Paris locations, including most heavily in the Montmartre neighborhood where her cafe resides, Amelie gives an intimate look into the storied city. When the film premiered at Cannes it received yawns, but that was prior to receiving its score: a gorgeous piano and orchestral work from Yann Tiersen.
Amelie struggles with her solitude, and she sees those around her living atomized lives themselves. She wills herself to start doing good deeds for family, friends, and complete strangers, and soon enough, those positive vibes start reverberating in Amelie's own life. It's a film that is especially prescient for anyone who deals with feelings of shyness or social anxiety.
5 The Truman Show (1998)
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) leads an idyllic, albeit tepid life, working as an insurance broker in a quiet seaside hamlet. Unbeknownst to him, there’s a reason why his life is so perfect: The world around him and everyone in it are fake. TV producer Christof (Ed Harris) has created an ambitious reality TV show — “The Truman Show” — which is filmed in a giant set that features a town, a beach, and countless actors. Truman was chosen at birth to be the center of the project, and every minute of every day of his life is filmed by unseen cameras, with Christof directing and even peppering in narrative forces like a loyal best friend, ne’er-do-well father, and romantic interests to keep the plot interesting.
After years of living in blissful ignorance, Truman — now in his 30s and long married — starts to inquire, and what he discovers has him questioning everything. The Truman Show features one of Jim Carrey's best performances, and is a very enjoyable watch. A sensational score by Philip Glass abuts this melancholic and ultimately hopeful tale.
4 Up (2009)
Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is a crotchety 78-year-old who has been living an exceedingly quiet life ever since his late wife passed on. Fredricksen holds onto memories of his past and refuses to adapt to a changing world. His wife and he had met as kids, bonding over their mutual interest in the great explorer Charles Muntz. As years came and went, they had planned to visit Paradise Falls, an area in the South American jungle which was Muntz’s last known location. Years later and now a widower, having never taken the trip, Carl finally takes action, rigging 10,000 helium balloons to his house and flying it to Paradise Falls.
A boy named Russell (Jordan Nagai) accidentally ends up on the trip with him. They arrive at the exotic destination and meet Muntz, who explains that he is still on his lifelong quest to find a rare flightless bird. The pair soon learns that the eccentric explorer is actually unstable, and he chases them around his dirigible. Carl and Russell must work together to stop Muntz.
Up is simply wonderful, from its awesome animation, to its funny and touching story, to everything else. It reminds us that it is never too late to start life's next adventure, and that sometimes we need to let go of things we got used to thinking were important but were actually just holding us back. Get through that tear-jerking montage scene, and it's smooth sailing from there.
3 Finding Forrester (2000)
Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) is a gifted teen growing up New York City, whose talents on the basketball court are only bested by his writing acuity. Jamal goes to school, spends time with friends, and generally leads the life of a typical, well-adjusted adolescent — albeit one loves nothing more than to tear through great literature in his off-time. Jamal is awarded a scholarship to attend a premier private school, but there he faces prejudice from students, and attracts the jealousy of Prof. Robert Crawford (a delightfully insufferable F. Murray Abraham).
Meanwhile, Jamal has picked up a special friend and mentor, of sorts: William Forrester (Sean Connery), a brilliant author who had 40 years prior written his generation’s great novel, but who is now a hermit living out his golden years in crotchety solitude. The unlikely duo builds a rapport and end up becoming each other’s editors. Forrester helps Jamal foster his innate communicative talents, and Jamal reintroduces the old man to life itself, helping him find happiness once again. The story in Finding Forrester is a moral twofer -- giving viewers hope for happiness even if times seem bleak, and reminding them that their talents just need a little maturation.
2 Forrest Gump (1994)
By now a well-worn piece of Americana, Forrest Gump is as much the story of a spirited man as it is an ode to the country and its incredible recent history. Gump (Tom Hanks) is a dimwitted man who lives life by the homespun wisdom of his mother (Sally Field) and the opportunities that find him. He breaks the mold of how society would like to see him though, as he finds himself a long-distance runner, football star, war hero, businessman, and ping-pong champ. The movie is punctuated by flash forwards to Forrest waiting at a bus stop, wherein he offers chocolates to fellow travelers and regales them on more of his astounding life story. But for all of his apparent abilities, Forrest cannot seem to bring medicaments to his lifelong friend and greatest love, the irrevocably damaged Jenny (Robin Wright).
The film is a great realization of the idea of blissful ignorance. While he was the target of bullies and naysayers at different times in his story, Forrest remained deaf to all of it, and with that won himself a rich and full life.
1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption commonly appears on best-of movie lists, and there’s no real mystery to that. Give this iconic Frank Darabont flick a watch and it’ll have you scratching your head as to how it didn’t take home any of its 7 Academy Award nominations.
The story revolves around one Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a decent, intelligent banker who is falsely charged with the murder of his wife and her lover and is remanded to a maximum-security prison with a life sentence. There, Dufresne quickly learns how horrible life in the pen is, as he is abused by thugs and harassed by a profoundly corrupt warden. But his mettle gets him through the difficulties and he finds ways to constructively pass the time: He befriends Red (Morgan Freeman), builds a prison library, carves stone figures, and even helps the warden and officers do their taxes.
Dufresne finds a way to live with dignity in an environment that demands indignity, and his pièce de résistance in the movie’s final act will have you cheering.
So, how did we do? Are you... mysteriously happier? Let us know in the comments what movies really give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
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