Whether you’re an essential worker who needs to unwind or you’ve been inside too much and need a pick-me-up, a feel-good movie can bring much-needed comfort. Some will make you shed a tear, others will keep you laughing from start to finish, but all should leave you feeling a little bit lighter. This list has five picks each from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+ that will help you escape the world for a little while.
1. Sleepover (2004)
Sleepover (2004) is an absolute delight. The sleepover-turned-scavenger hunt competition movie is fun around every turn. Two teams of teenage girls compete to win a coveted lunch spot at their new high school. This high stakes event requires each team to crash a high school dance, steal cars, and get a hold of a boy’s boxers. The star-studded cast includes a young Brie Larson, post-Spy Kids Alexa Vega, Jane Lynch, Steve Carrell and more. Between the impressive cast and silly antics, Sleepover is a great time from start to finish. By the end of the film, you’ll be dancing along to the soundtrack (featuring Spice Girls and Jump 5) and reminiscing your best sleepover memories
2. It Takes Two (1995)
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen starred in fourteen movies in the late 90s and early 2000s. One of the best, It Takes Two (1995) is a twist on the original The Parent Trap (1961). Identical strangers Amanda (Mary-Kate Olsen) and Alyssa (Ashley Olsen) switch places after meeting at camp. Alyssa’s dad Roger (Steve Guttenberg) is about to marry a wealth-obsessed woman. So, Alyssa plots with Amanda to set up Roger with Amanda’s soon-to-be adoptive mom, Diane (Kirstie Alley). The side-by-side friendship between Amanda and Alyssa and the developing relationship between Diane and Roger make the film a classic mix of comedy and romance. It Takes Two is predictable, sure, but it makes up for that with the adorable Olsen twins and the sweet, happy ending the audience wants.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Don’t you just hate it when you have to defeat your girlfriend’s seven evil exes? Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) finds himself in the dueling position when he dates Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Between dates and battle of the bands, Scott fights each of Ramona’s exes and deals with his own ex, Knives (Ellen Wong). The film translates comic book elements to the screen with a mix of practical and special effects, making Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) unlike any other action movie. It also boasts early performances from today’s big stars including Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkin and Chris Evans.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
The Oscar-award winning Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018) is a superhero movie for everyone — even people who usually don’t care about them. In this animated iteration of Spiderman, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) meets Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and trains to help save New York City from evil. Along the way, Miles meets a slew of other spider people and finds out that anyone can be behind the mask, even an unsuspecting high schooler like himself.
5. The Craft (1996)
The Craft (1996) is a supernatural horror-comedy about a group of high school girls who get into witchcraft to get what they want. Sarah (Robin Tunney), Nancy (Fairuza Balk), Rachelle (Rachel True), and Bonnie (Neve Campbell) start with a love spell cast on a boy who wronged Sarah. The coven casts increasingly intricate spells as they recognize their power, but some turn out to have deadly consequences. It definitely gets dark at times but the costumes, set design and ‘90s soundtrack make it clear why The Craft is a cult classic rewatched by many — it’s a whole lot of fun.
1. Booksmart (2019)
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart is an incredibly fun take on the classic end-of-high-school-hoorah movie. The best friend duo of Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) decide to let loose on their last night of high school. They spent the past four years dedicated to school, swearing off parties for the sake of grades. So they plan to make up for it by going out — pepper spray in hand — to see what they’ve been missing. Like most comedies, it gets bittersweet toward the end, culminating in a fight between Molly and Amy. The way it works out, though, feels genuine and satisfying. Booksmart is a party movie for people who are tired of party movies: it’s got all the silly antics, pool scenes and exciting firsts of classic party flicks like Animal House (1978) and Superbad (2007), without the overt sexism. You can watch Booksmart and truly walk away feeling happier. It’s not perfect, but it’s a sure-fire good time!
2. Skate Kitchen (2018)
Skate Kitchen (2018) is a coming of age movie about Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who finds her place in a group of girls who skateboard in New York City. We follow Camille as she explores dating, her relationship with her mom and finding herself at the ripe age of eighteen. The backdrop of skateboarding culture in NYC sets apart Skate Kitchen from other films about growing up. Unlike most skateboarding movies, the film highlights female skateboarders rather than males. Instead, the focus is on the nuances of female friendships rather than pigeonholing teen girls as only romantic leads.
3. Hearts Beat Loud (2018)
Hearts Beat Loud (2018) is an extremely cute movie about love in all its forms. The summer before leaving for college, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) strikes up a relationship with Rose (Sasha Lane) and forms a musical duo with her dad, Frank (Nick Offerman). The movie explores Frank’s acceptance of Sam’s queerness in a way that is truly heartwarming. Hearts Beat Loud is an in-depth character study, romance and feel-good movie all in one.
4. Parasite (2019)
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) is a masterful film about family and wealth inequality. Saying much more will spoil it. Much of the fun comes from the way the plot unravels and plays with the audience’s perceptions of the characters. The movie is perfect for anyone who has ever said “Eat the rich” and needs a good dose of catharsis.
5. I, Tonya (2017)
I, Tonya creates its own brand of funny. The story of Tonya Harding doesn’t seem like comedy material, but the mockumentary style interviews, breaking of the fourth wall and tongue-in-cheek line reads add a layer of charm to the otherwise dramatic biopic. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney shine as Tonya Harding and her mother, LaVona.
1. Clue (1985)
A whodunnit is a welcome distraction from the outside world and Clue (1985) gets it right. The board game-inspired black comedy is filled with hijinks, larger-than-life characters and, of course, a little unsolved murder to keep things interesting. The ensemble cast features Tim Curry, Colleen Camp, Lesley Ann Warren and more. Clue is an absolute romp full of surprises and excitement in every scene.
2. The Farewell (2019)
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is a sad, funny, heartwarming movie about grieving a loved one while they’re still alive. Billi (Awkwafina) goes to China with her family under the guise of a family wedding. The real purpose of the trip, though, is to see her grandma, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), who doesn’t know she has terminal cancer. In her autobiographical directorial debut, Wang finds nuggets of joy even in the dark situation of impending loss. The Farewell may make you shed some tears, but it’ll still leave you with a smile on your face.
3. Hot Rod (2007)
Stuntman Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) organizes his biggest stunt yet to fundraise for his stepfather’s heart transplant surgery. He plans to do a motorcycle jump over a line of school buses. The problem is he’s not that great at stunts. In fact, he’s pretty bad at them and often gets injured from his attempts. Rod is motivated to complete the big jump despite his past failures. Hot Rod (2007) effortlessly translates the comedy of The Lonely Island trio (Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) to the big-screen, so if you loved “I’m on a Boat” and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, you need to watch Hot Rod.
4. The Big Sick (2017)
The Big Sick is an autobiographical romantic comedy written by Emily V. Gorden and Kumail Nanjiani about the beginning of their relationship. Kumail plays himself while Emily is portrayed by Zoe Kazan. In the film, Emily and Kumail strike up a relationship full of witty banter and compassion for each other. After a fight sprung from their cultural differences, the two break up right before Emily falls seriously ill. While she’s in the hospital, Kumail grows close with her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). The cross-cultural love story shows the strength of love and the power of laughter, striking a lovely balance between happy and sad.
5. Eighth Grade (2018)
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is determined to make it through middle school so she can reinvent herself in high school. She’s dealing with all the awkwardness and angst of being a young teen. Writer and director Bo Burnham captures the ridiculousness of middle school while respecting the gravity of each milestone for Kayla. Kayla has anxiety and Burnham shows it in a way that is accurate to the experiences of many while still finding humor. At a birthday party, Kayla’s nerves hit her as she stares through a glass door at the backyard pool. The camera pans away from Kayla to reveal kids doing cannonballs, spraying water at each other and running around while rapturous synth music builds. The moment is weird, hilarious and touching as is the rest of Eighth Grade (2018).
1. National Treasure (2004) + National Treasure 2 (2007)
This duology gave us two iconic Nicolas Cage lines: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence” and “I’m going to kidnap the President of the United States.” That alone should be enough to sell you on these family-friendly historical thrillers, but, if it’s not, the all-star cast and conspiracy theories may help. In both films, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) sets off to uncover the truth in a mystery tied to American history. Cage certainly knows what movie he’s starring in: something fun for families, not a life-altering dramatic performance. He relishes in every somewhat silly plot twist and overacts just the right amount.
2. Freaky Friday (2003)
Disney darling Lindsay Lohan starred in a number of films popular in the early 2000s. If you’re going to revisit some, Freaky Friday is a great place to start. The remake of the 1976 comedy follows Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan) who have found their bodies swapped at a pretty inconvenient time — Tess’ wedding rehearsal dinner is coming up and Anna’s band is playing at a battle of the bands. They can’t switch back until they stop fighting and listen to each other, which requires truly taking a walk in the other’s shoes. The uplifting story of a mother and daughter improving their relationship comes with punchy punk music, Chad Michael Murray and a prankster little brother. It’s safe to say Freaky Friday is a top-tier movie for any day of the week.
3. The Cheetah Girls (2003)
At a talent show audition, the Cheetah Girls belt “My knight in shining armor is me” in their song “Cinderella,” hitting off the classic DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) with a girl-power anthem. The singing group is made up of Galleria (Raven Symoné), Chanel (Adrienne Houghton), Aqua (Kiely Williams), and Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan). The girl group deals with issues of class, race and sisterhood all punctuated with bops from “Together We Can” to “Girl Power.”
4. Sister Act (1992)
Sister Act follows an unlikely hero, Deloris (Whoopi Goldberg), as she makes the best of a weird situation. Deloris enters witness protection after seeing her lover kill a man. She’s in hiding at a nunnery where her punchy attitude and gossiping tendencies get her on the bad side of Mother Superior (Maggie Smith), the head of the convent. Deloris uses her musical talent to revitalize the struggling choir with new-age mixes of classic hymns. Her music draws crowds to the church and the attention of the people she’s trying to avoid, leading to a high-stakes ending where Deloris’ worlds collide.
5. The Princess Diaries (2001)
Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is an awkward high schooler living with her mom in San Francisco when she finds out she’s actually a princess. Her grandma, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), shows up in San Fran to share the news with Mia and prepare her for life as a princess. Between the makeover, etiquette lessons and living in the public eye, Mia’s life is thrown upside down. Even so, Mia finds new career possibilities and reconnects with her grandma throughout the process. The Princess Diaries (2001) is a funny and charming movie with a cute message: anyone can be a princess.
Revisiting nostalgic favorites like Clue or discovering hidden gems like Skate Kitchen is a way to pass some time and bring some joy to life in these dark times. From musicals to comedies and from coming of age to solving a mystery, the flicks on this list have a little bit of everything to lift spirits during shelter-in-place orders.
Header illustration by Jenni Holtz