What’s it going to take to get you the serotonin you desperately need to even consider getting out of bed tomorrow morning? You can always see what’s up with some of the best feel-good movies on Prime Video.
Feel-good movies are not really part of an established genre. At least, not in the sense that horror might be, or westerns, or fantasy. A genre film tends to focus on certain concepts and types of atmosphere. While feel-good movies are likely to hit certain emotional notes, they can really come from just about anywhere. Some of them are comedies. Some of them lean heavily into drama.
Some people think Leprechaun 4: In Space is a feel-good movie.
Hey, if that’s one of yours, more power to you.
Nonetheless, while compiling this list of the best feel-good movies to watch on Amazon Prime, I tried to pull at least some focus. After all, the movies that cheer me up may not necessarily work for you. That thought was kept in mind as I chose the films that eventually make up this list. Drawing from other lists, as well as my own personal picks, I tried to focus on films that are generally considered to be in the feel-good vein.
Is there such a thing as a “good” lie? The Farewell take us into fairly uncomfortable, profoundly emotional territory with this question. As this question is indeed addressed and explored to a wholly satisfying conclusion, The Farewell has room enough to tell an exceptional story about a young immigrant writer named Billi (a spectacular, difficult performance by Awkwafina), coming to a period of transition during a highly chaotic moment in her family life.
Stories in which someone has cancer, in this case, a grandmother named Nai Nai (Zhao Shu-zhen is a scene-stealer), can go either way. Feeling inspired by such a story can sometimes require an almost pornographic approach to exploiting the material. That is not the case here. Writer and director Lulu Wang tells a rich story of family and growth throughout, giving us an absolutely perfect ending, as well.
2. The Full Monty (1997)
Director: Peter Cattaneo
I don’t think I actually know anyone who hates the 1997 sleeper hit The Full Monty. I’m sure these people exist, but they seem to be in short supply.
I would imagine, given the juggernaut success of the film, some of us got a little tired of this story of a bunch of unemployed steelworkers becoming male strippers. It was one of those movies you really couldn’t get away from. You didn’t really want to. The movie is as unpretentious as it gets, yet finds funny and occasionally sadder notes with equal attention and success.
The Full Monty also lets characters and strong actors like Robert Carlyle and Tom Wilkinson set the pace with the clever dialog and memorable soundtrack.
3. Harold and Maude (1971)
Director: Hal Ashby
From the mixed reception it received in its heyday from prominent critics, to a celebrated (now out-of-print) release on the Criterion Collection, the journey of Hal Ashby’s definitive counterculture film Harold and Maude has been as strange as the titular characters themselves.
Whether or not this movie warms your heart in that feel-good fashion we’ve been talking about is easy to figure out.
If you’re not enjoying this movie, in which an aggressively morbid young man (the wonderful Bud Cort) falls in love with a relentlessly cheerful, gently criminal old woman (Ruth Gordon, who I suspect you’ll like even if you don’t like the movie), you’re going to know that for sure within the first fifteen minutes. This movie is its own style, and the romance that develops between Harold and Maude might be too sweet for your tastes.
Not for me. I love these crazy kids.
4. The Hero (2017)
Director: Brett Haley
Sam Elliott is an actor who can seemingly ground any film or character, no matter how strange (The Big Lebowski) or even ridiculous (The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then Bigfoot) the premise might be.
At times, The Hero leans into being a fairly standard drama about an older person facing a particularly difficult period in their lives. That’s not a knock on the movie, which is quite enjoyable. However, that isn’t really enough to justify inclusion on this list of the best feel-good movies to watch on Prime Video.
Yet with a story that focuses on Sam Elliott as a washed-up legend of Westerns, with most of the movie letting him create an impressively memorable character, The Hero easily moves up a few notches in my regard for it.
5. Hoosiers (1986)
Director: David Anspaugh
Hoosiers is a movie that frequently shows up on lists like these. Even those who hate sports movies, inspirational sports movies, or inspirational sports movies that are set in small towns (I grew up in one of those towns, and I generally don’t have a lot of patience for these types of films) seem to be pretty fond of Hoosiers.
Why? Gene Hackman as the abrasive-but-well-meaning new coach for a struggling high school basketball team is probably part of that. Few actors have been as consistently appealing, regardless of the movie or role, as Hackman, who seems content these days to write books and continue enjoying his retirement.
Dennis Hopper on the comeback trail is another reason to recommend this on Prime Video. However, what it really just comes down to is that this is another simple, direct, and actor-driven film. Like The Full Monty, Hoosiers is unpretentious.
6. Hot Rod (2007)
Director: Akiva Schaffer
What is the appeal of watching an impressively unique man-child try to become the greatest stunt performer of all time? Apparently, a lot.
Andy Samberg is an exceptional actor. However, in 2007, he was mostly known for his work on Saturday Night Live. What was originally a vehicle for Will Ferrell would be the first significant opportunity for not only Samberg as a leading comic actor, but also for The Lonely Island, a comic trio of which Samberg was and still is a member, to exist in a universe larger than a short film on SNL.
Despite a poor box office and critical reception, the film found an audience with surreal touches of humor, a large, enormously funny supporting cast, and a bizarre sweetness that you can find in a lot of other projects both The Lonely Island and Samberg as a solo performer have embraced over the years. Hot Rod is one of the silliest movies on this list. It’s also one of the sweetest. If you think you know these types of movies, try it anyway. You might surprise yourself.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Director: Wes Anderson
An aggressively whimsical comedy about children who run away from home to be together? Wes Anderson has shown his talent for singular family comedies, with the dramatic punches sometimes coming when you least suspect them. Moonrise Kingdom continues Anderson’s trend of going deeper and deeper into worlds that could not exist anywhere.
The fact that these words are so, for lack of a better word, specific, can sometimes rub people the wrong way. However, I think the appeal of Moonrise Kingdom is greater than almost any Wes Anderson movie to date. The kids, played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, are supremely likable.
It also doesn’t hurt the likability, or the fact that you’re likely to feel pretty damn good after this movie is over, that your supporting cast includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis in what might be the best work he’ll ever do as an actor.
8. Moonstruck (1987)
Director: Norman Jewison
Winner of three very deserved Academy Awards (including Best Supporting Actress for the late, truly great Olympia Dukakis), Moonstruck is a romantic comedy that perhaps had a little too much coffee before getting started. This is a big, loud movie, filled with performances that manage to find high comedy amidst ever-chaotic circumstances.
I don’t know if I’d want to actually have dinner with any of these people, played by a youngish Nicolas Cage, Dukakis, the late John Mahoney, Danny Aiello, and Cher in the role that won her an Oscar. Moonstruck, at its heart, is a movie depicting several different romantic and familial relationships.
Moonstruck runs on manic energy and a very interesting group of artists — it works to perfection.
9. Paterson (2016)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
We live. We work. We die. Hopefully, at some point in that, we like some of the work that we do, and find people who will love us as much as we love them. Some filmmakers look for an existential crisis in that. Jarmusch, no stranger to depicting human beings in crisis mode, opts for a different approach with the slow, almost intoxicatingly gentle Paterson.
The film might be the simplest one on this list of feel-good Prime Video movies. A bus driver (Adam Driver, giving what might be my favorite performance of his) lives a life of observing the world around him, being with his wife and dog, driving his bus, and writing poetry.
That’s it. That’s the whole movie. A handful of events transpire, but nothing on a level you might expect from a movie. We are encouraged to find our own parrels to this character, while taking in the quiet remarkableness of a life that by all accounts is seemingly very well-lived. I personally can’t help but find great encouragement in that, and in the ability for film to convey anything it wants.
10. Pride (2014)
Director: Matthew Warchus
Based on the UK Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign, which ran from 1984 to 1985, Pride has an intriguing fish-out-of-water premise, with gay and lesbian activists coming together with striking British miners to create a unique, inspirational force.
Any trailer you watch for this film promises some laughs, the appropriate and expected drama, a great cast (including the ever-brilliant Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton), and a respect for the material and its humanity.
While not the highest stakes for a movie, Pride nails every requirement I mentioned above. It also manages to get in some surprises in its plot and character relations. Given the range and talent of this cast, and considering theater director Matthew Warchus’s talent for keeping a large cast moving impressively and together across the story, you shouldn’t be taken aback by just how pleasing Pride really is.
11. The Terminal (2004)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Is the 2004 film The Terminal the strangest movie Steven Spielberg has ever directed? I’m speaking specifically in the context of the filmmaker himself.
While I think that honor might belong to 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (are those two movies really just 3 years apart?), I have to admit that one of the things I really like about The Terminal is that it’s one of the best arguments out there for the notion that Spielberg has more versatility than he sometimes gets credit for displaying. Even I’ve been guilty of dismissing him at times, particularly in some of his recent works.
But when he’s good, or at least interesting, he is an unstoppable authority of compulsory movies. While The Terminal still speaks from a fondness for underdogs, and that certain sentimentality that is singularly his, it’s another movie on this list that will surprise first-time viewers. There is a lot more mileage to Tom Hanks as an immigrant trapped in New York’s JFK Airport for an extremely long time than you might think.
The Terminal earns its happy ending with one of Hanks’ best performances, and with one of the best casts to be found in the entire Spielberg filmography — high praise.
12. The Truman Show (1998)
Director: Peter Weir
I won’t argue that The Truman Show very keenly features the unique energy of Jim Carrey as a comedic performer.
However, and this is made all the more impressive to me by the fact this came out just five years after Carey’s breakthrough in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, what the Truman Show did was emphasize that the guy who could play Ace Ventura could do a lot more with darker, stranger, and particularly sadder themes. The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, one of Australia’s finest, was an impressive risk for Carrey at the time. It continues to surprise fans of this film that his work didn’t warrant so much as a passing glance from the Oscars.
The story of a man who doesn’t know his life is a 24/7 documentary can easily overreach itself. That isn’t the case here, with the happy ending another example of one earned by its characters, particularly by Laura Linney as someone Truman reacts to with a love that takes even him by surprise.
The Truman Show promises a lot, and it does not disappoint.
13. Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Director: Eli Craig
Two extremely likable rednecks (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk, and the world desperately needs more films starring these two men) are mistaken for savage hillbilly cannibal maniacs by a group of mostly unlikable, superficially clean-cut college students. The result is a horror comedy so good, it might be number one on my personal list of movies I wish someone would make a sequel to.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil is funny because of the chemistry between the leads, from performances such as Katrina Bowden as the one among the college students who may actually have a soul, and from its repeated, good-natured attacks on horror movie tropes. The roles are very apparently reversed here, with the rednecks simply being victims of perception and bad timing, and the movie finds every humorous note on this plot you could imagine.
What makes this movie a feel-good contender? It is one of the best depictions of friendship ever seen on the screen. It also has one of the most charming romantic subplots in perhaps all of horror. Maybe in all of film. I just really love the hell out of this movie.
14. UHF (1989)
Director: Jay Levey
No one is going to disagree that Weird Al Yankovic’s cinematic masterpiece (I’m not being hyperbolic), UHF, is really only there for Yankovic to work in as many parodies as possible. All of those parodies, covering a range of TV shows and movies that were popular at the time, are funny for one reason or another. Quite a bit of it still holds up, or is at least funny for strangeness and not necessarily its context.
An uproarious comedy is a great time, but where does the feel-good component come in?
Like a lot of Weird Al’s best parody songs, there is more beneath the surface of what we’re looking at. Here, it is simply that an incredible cast works beautifully together, including Fran Drescher, Kevin McCarthy, and Michael Richards in at least his best film role.
The script and story ultimately show a respect and kindness for misfits that not only endears, but drives the plot in a way that has managed to cheer me up, almost without fail, for over 30 years.
15. Uncle Frank (2020)
Director: Alan Ball
Although an Oscar winner (for the American Beauty screenplay), I didn’t go into Alan Ball’s touching family drama Uncle Frank with a lot of expectations. Amazon is pretty aggressive about marketing things they’re putting out.
There are only but so many times you can only show me an appealing-looking story of a gay man (a highly memorable Paul Bettany) taking his college-bound niece (Sophia Lillis, getting better and better) to a family reunion he would rather not attend, before I say “Fine, fine, I’m interested.”
While Amazon’s personal release schedule for movies and shows cuts a weird, wide path, there are a lot of strong films to find, either by doing the digging yourself, or relying on Amazon to badger you with a few hundred TV spots per day.
Uncle Frank makes you considerably less cynical about Amazon’s seemingly randomized approach to greenlighting projects once the film starts. Because then it becomes a warming story of love between a man and his niece. What makes Uncle Frank special is how many different ways it branches out to explore love and family, but never in a way that cuts at the heart of the title character, his niece, or the crossroad of potential that each finds themselves at.
Uncle Frank is another entry on this list of the best feel-good movies on Prime which more than earns its place, as well as the strength of its ending. This movie handles breezy comedy, good dialog, and some of the thornier notions of family with depth that emphasizes Alan Ball’s clear talent for writing and directing.
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