16 Feel-Good Movies You Should Stream Right Now
Movies can and do serve different purposes in our cultural diet: Some are educational, some are inspiring, others shine a necessary light on injustice or tragedy, and yes, some are just empty calories filling the time while you finish your morning cereal or unwind after a tough day. And right now, movies regularly serve all of those purposes. So we’ve assembled a list of films that should, or we hope will, make you feel good.
A few of the choices we included here are, well, definitely dumb; you won’t strain too many brain cells during Jackass Number Two—except perhaps to decide whether to laugh or throw up. But these are all films that, in one way or another, we hope will make you feel a little better about humanity in small but important ways (yes, Jackass Number Two included).
Some of our own favorites were unfortunately unavailable for streaming—anywhere, much less free (good luck finding Tarsem’s redemptive, beautiful fairy tale The Fall, or Chen Kaige’s transcendent father-son story Together, to name two). Meanwhile, this is just a cross-section of the feel-good movies that we love for inspiring hope, making us think, and/or forcing us to laugh.
1. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen choreographed and directed this beloved musical about three 1920s Hollywood performers making the transition from silent films to talkies. Kelly and Donald O’Connor are extraordinary as a humble film star and his best friend negotiating their art amidst the vagaries of celebrity gossip and a changing industry, while Debbie Reynolds steals the show as a chorus girl destined for superstardom—if only the world could see her dance moves and hear her angelic voice at the same time. Singin' in the Rain is an explosion of joyful creativity that absolutely guarantees a smile on your face by the end.
Watch it: HBO Max
2. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Richard Lester’s comedy both encapsulates and deconstructs The Beatles’s explosive popularity as the Fab Four flee their adoring fans while preparing for a press blitz that culminates in a televised concert performance. Aside from a nonstop barrage of earworm pop songs you either already know by heart or absorb instantly, John, Paul, George, and Ringo make remarkably wry, gifted comedians as they navigate their way out of one wily scenario after another.
Watch it: The Criterion Channel; HBO Max
3. Rocky (1976)
Given how far this series has come—into the Creed series, a more than worthy successor—it’s easy to forget the humble beginnings of the franchise that made Sylvester Stallone a star. Stallone, of course, plays the title character in this first installment about a struggling palooka plucked out of obscurity by the charismatic world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for a chance at his title. Even though the film established the “big fight” formula that came to define the series (and many imitators as well), the movie’s priorities, especially on Rocky’s tender romance with the reclusive Adrian (Talia Shire), made sure there was a beating heart behind those pounding fists. Not just in the first film, but for its entire legacy.
Watch it: Amazon; Showtime; YouTube
4. The American President (1995)
Aaron Sorkin wrote this rom-com liberal fantasy for director Rob Reiner during the Clinton presidency, but it’s surprising how relevant so much of it feels today. Michael Douglas cuts a handsome, sensitive figure as the widower-in-chief who pursues a romance with Annette Bening’s impassioned lobbyist while the world sadly reckons with the same problems (gun control, the environment) we’re still facing today.
Watch it: Hulu
5. Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical story of a young music journalist’s first encounter with the rock stars he idolizes was reportedly so good as a script that Steven Spielberg agreed to finance it by insisting Crowe “not change a word.” As a beautifully bittersweet look at first love while asking whether or not it’s good to meet your heroes, Crowe’s magnum opus offers an ode to being “uncool” while emphasizing an important truth often overlooked in coming of age stories—namely, that as painful as it can be to grow up, the most important lesson is to stay passionate in spite of it.
Watch it: Hulu
6. Keeping the Faith (2000)
Edward Norton co-wrote, directed, and starred in this film whose premise reads like the set-up to a joke: a priest and a rabbi fall for the same girl. As the priest opposite Ben Stiller (the rabbi) and a luminous Jenna Elfman (the girl), it plays like a beautiful reflection on the way that faith both nourishes people’s lives and challenges them to function in spite of it. Supporting turns from a murderer’s row of Hollywood veterans including Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, and Milos Forman only fleshes out that goof of an idea into something substantial, while the romantic chemistry from all three leads reminds you of the joy that comes from a great story about people finding each other.
Watch it: Hulu
7. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
If you haven’t experienced Stephen Chow’s unique storytelling sensibility, this is the time to start. Chow plays a street thief who inadvertently finds himself at the center of a turf war between a bloodthirsty gang and the poor tenements of a housing project. It feels like every character hides a secret more fascinating and tragic than the last, but the film’s ability to merge cartoonish violence with heartbreaking sentimentality—and make it all fit together and flow effortlessly—feels like a study in the chi that Chow’s character develops throughout the film, with a little help from friends and enemies alike.
Watch it: Netflix
8. Jackass Number Two (2006)
Johnny Knoxville and the rest of the cast of this series are, indisputably, idiots. Their antics are sophomoric, and frequently disgusting. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a group of friends (much less on a prank show) as good-natured about not only what happens in each sketch, but even among what they do to each other. There’s a plentiful abundance of male nudity that everyone takes in stride—and celebrates with a big, clumsy (and inevitably, painful), gay-themed musical number. But by targeting only each other, and in only getting even—never mad—at their co-stars, there’s a secret, subversive takedown of toxic masculinity simmering beneath the numbskull hijinks that feels positively thrilling.
Watch it: Amazon; YouTube
9. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
British filmmaker Mike Leigh is primarily known for weighty dramas, but this film feels like the kind of balm that not only soothed his soul, but everyone else’s. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is an English schoolteacher whose initially flighty demeanor belies a profound and irresistible compassion for everyone she encounters, including a misanthropic driver’s ed teacher (Eddie Marsan). The movie’s sneak attack with Poppy is the way it makes her perspective seem frivolous and superficial until you realize just how intuitive and empathetic it truly is, giving us all a sorely-needed dose of kindness to take away with us afterward.
Watch it: Netflix
10. Away We Go (2009)
Sam Mendes took a break from marital disharmony to direct this sweet, funny, cozy little film written by (married couple) Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida about a married couple considering where to live on the eve of becoming parents. Unlike way too many other movies, Mendes’s story doesn’t pile on melodrama or jeopardize their relationship as they visit one prospective city after another. Instead, it showcases their lived-in, never-questioned love for one another. It's tempting to call it comfort food since it feels so lovely and reassuring, but John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph make such a real and human couple as they decide their future, together as a couple, that it’s better described as a movie meal that doesn’t just fill you up but nourishes your soul.
Watch it: Hulu
11. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
After years of meticulously-designed, dollhouse-like films, Wes Anderson finally got what he wanted and created a completely artificial set (and characters) for this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name. George Clooney plays the title character, wrestling with his animal instincts and the responsibilities of domesticity after settling into a foxhole in close proximity to three farms whose owners are especially unkind to furry-tailed folks like himself. What initially begins as a battle of wills evolves into a life lesson about making the best choices for the most people—not just you and yours, but friends, family, and your entire community. An all-star cast of voice actors flesh out the ensemble and give the story its genuine humanity.
Watch it: Disney+
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Certainly in the early stages of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was easy to look at Captain America as a jingoistic symbol of American military might (and “right”). But Joe Johnston—armed not only with a great script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, but a commanding, perfectly-cast lead actor in Chris Evans—turned him into an embodiment of America’s most important ideals: a belief in serving justice and a determination to fight for it at all costs. Worth it alone for the scene where scrawny Steve Rogers dives on a grenade to save his platoon, but as an action-packed journey that celebrates what it really means to be a hero, this is among the most inspiring superhero stories ever told.
Watch it: Disney+
13. The Muppets (2011)
After including a muppet-y interlude in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller wrote this reboot of Jim Henson’s ensemble which, appropriately enough, stages a reunion of Kermit, Missy Piggy, and the gang to stave off disaster at their old theater. Wonderfully grown-up but just wholesome enough for the entire family, Segel and his co-star Amy Adams shuffle through a joyfully authentic collection of musical numbers worthy of the original film while a revolving door of celebrities offer clever, self-mocking cameos. A terrific throwback that celebrates the indomitable, underdog spirit of this scrappy bunch of puppets.
Watch it: Disney+
14. Begin Again (2013)
As (deservingly) beloved as John Carney’s Once and Sing Street are, this 2013 musical drama ranks as my favorite in his output. It's a tribute to New York City as much as a look at the changing face of the recording industry through the eyes of a disgraced record label executive (Mark Ruffalo) and a young singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) whose work is tangled up in the complicated history of a past relationship. The music, as always, is top-notch, but the movie’s loving, sensitive, romantic-adjacent journey between these two complexly-drawn characters is at once bracingly honest and deftly poetic.
Watch it: Amazon
15. Magic Mike XXL (2015)
The original Magic Mike made a star of Channing Tatum, but its sequel feels like the victory lap that audiences deserved more than he did: Mike (Tatum) and his crew get the band back together for an epic road trip to Myrtle Beach for a take-no-prisoners contest for male strippers. Other than making wonderful fun of itself, XXL knows exactly where to, um, thrust its energy, focusing on one sequence after another of extremely attractive men taking their clothes off and performing amazing choreography to great music. Not just a great dance movie but one that places female pleasure at its center (while completely satisfying male audiences down for a good time), Magic Mike XXL is the rare sequel that surpasses the original.
Watch it: Amazon, YouTube
16. The Sun Is Also A Star (2019)
Though criminally overlooked upon its release last summer, this romantic drama offers a tender and thoughtful look at the challenges of illegal immigrants in parallel with the expectations and ambitions of two young and impossibly attractive people facing their futures. When a young woman (Yara Shahidi) whose family faces deportation to Jamaica crosses paths with a Korean-American Dartmouth prospect (Charles Melton), they fall into an unexpected courtship while still wrestling with the roles and responsibilities put upon them by their families, their cultures, and their own goals. A tribute and love letter to New York’s melting-pot culture (not to mention its endless walkability) that touches on important cultural issues while pausing for tenderness between two people making unexpected, intimate and lasting connections.
Watch it: HBO Max, Hulu