Like many other creative mediums, movies have an honored ability to make audiences feel something. Whether you define yourself as a geek or not, there are certain times when feature films are the only way to escape the reality of a bad day. For some, movies are a source of therapy, giving audiences an hour or two of time away from the world.
Sometimes you need a good movie, a bad movie, or a “so bad it’s good” movie to unplug and unwind. From comedies to childhood nostalgia features, there’s no right or wrong way to boost your serotonin and dopamine levels when finding a movie to watch. Whatever it is to calm your mind, check out these picks for the best movies for instant relief on your bad day.
25. Snakes on a Plane (2006) – Rated R
This is the “so bad it’s good” movie. About exactly what the title says, Samuel L. Jackson is FBI agent Neville Flynn as he goes up against a plane of deadly snakes purposely released to kill his star witness. It’s all levels of ridiculous but hilariously entertaining, especially paired with a standard Samuel L. Jackson pep-talk monologue.
24. 50 First Dates (2004) – Rated PG-13
Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore are a delightful match in this rom-com. After meeting and falling for Lucy (Barrymore), Henry (Sandler) is finally ready to commit to a girl, except there’s one problem—Lucy has short-term memory loss, forgetting Henry’s existence at the end of each day. This wholesome comedy is a slight departure from Sandler’s usual levels of raunchy, making 50 First Dates an all-around good choice.
23. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Rated G
It’s hard to go wrong with Willy Wonka when you need a classic underdog story. With Gene Wilder as the candy man himself, five children take the tour of a lifetime through the infamous yet mysterious Wonka Factory. With an original story on its way to screens in 2023, revisiting the classic adaptation will not only satisfy your sweet tooth but will remind you of the wonders of childhood fantasylands.
22. Mama Mia (2008) – Rated PG-13
Whether you’re a fan of ABBA music or Meryl Streep, Mama Mia is a musical classic destined to liven up the room. Told through the use of ABBA’s 1970s hits, curious bride Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) invites three of her mother’s former flames to their island abode as she tries to determine which one may be her father. Streep stars as Sophie’s mother, Donna, alongside Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth as the potential fathers. A tempting sing-along, Mama Mia will indeed cause a boost in energy.
21. Twilight (2008) – Rated PG-13
An audience out there is brought an overwhelming amount of joy by watching this saga. Based on the novels by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight captured the hearts of teen readers and viewers with the love story of human girl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). This series is a rabbit hole for its fans, making it impossible to watch just one without the others. Doing so brings about a wave of fond nostalgia to the craze and hype during the mid-2000s.
20. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The holidays are challenging enough with family pressures and finding the perfect gift, as demonstrated in this classic. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is determined to have a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” but soon realizes the cost to his sanity to do so. A staple in the holiday season, this quotable feature never ceases to get a laugh from audiences old and new.
19. Beetlejuice (1988) – Rated PG
This Tim Burton masterpiece is a sure-fire sign that spooky season has arrived. Following their unexpected death, new spirits Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Gena Davis) enlist the help of the malicious Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) to drive away the family that moved into their home. For audiences that miss Halloween during the sunny summer months, Beetlejuice will boost their mental health until the crisp fall days return.
18. Pitch Perfect (2012) – Rated PG-13
In the quest for acapella stardom, this gal-pal comedy brings out the best in viewers. Determined to drop out and pursue a music career, Beca (Anna Kendrick) obliges her dad to join one college club. She finds the Barden Bellas, an acapella group of mismatched personalities determined to beat their male acapella rivals, the Treblemakers. The best of the series, Pitch Perfect, will undoubtedly have you forming your own acapella cover band.
17. The Nice Guys (2016) – Rated R
Criminally underrated, this Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe comedy is the perfect discovery movie for a downer day. The dynamic duo star as private detectives in the 1970s determined to solve a case involving a dead adult film star, the Detroit Auto Show, and a runaway girl. All that and more, The Nice Guys is laugh-out-loud fun that you’ll thank us for either introducing it or reminding you of its existence.
16. The Breakfast Club (1985) – Rated R
1980s nostalgia at its best, this John Hughes classic is the perfect fit for a mental health rainy day. As they remain trapped in Saturday detention, five socially different students discover their lives have more in common than they thought. A cinematic icon, The Breakfast Club never disappoints, especially in the final frames paired with Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”
15. National Treasure (2004) – Rated PG
Arguably Nicolas Cage at his finest, this legendary Disney feature will renew your sense of adventure. Cage stars as Benjamin Gates, a historian obsessed with finding the hidden clues in American history that point to the Templar Treasure. He just needs to beat his former partner and group of mercenaries to it. For the millennials (or any viewer, really) that watched this movie on repeat, National Treasure is a blast from the past that will brighten any day.
14. Blazing Saddles (1974) – Rated R
This satire, while divisim, remains in cinema’s highest comedic regard. It’s the story of a corrupt politician who unknowingly creates his own worst enemy when he appoints a Black Sheriff to a small western town in an attempt to the citizens against themselves. Directed and co-written by Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles is a whirlwind film that will garner laughs, raised eyebrows, and a deep dive into other features by Brooks.
13. Rocky (1976) – Rated PG
It’s hard not to smile when you hear, “Yo, Adrian!” And who will not tap their feet or hum along to the iconic theme songs? This Oscar-winning feat stars Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, a small-time heavy-weight boxer who gets to step into the ring against the world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Rocky is a character beloved by audiences, and seeing him succeed is a classic motivational tale sure to inspire viewers.
12. Horrible Bosses (2011) – Rated R
This Jason Bateman-led comedy will bring out the laughter after a bad day at the office. After reaching their wit’s end, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) hatch a plan to murder their bosses in an attempt to find some happiness. The chemistry amongst the stars is infectious as the comedic gags and one-liners land seamlessly. If you forgot about this one, it’s time to add it back to the queue.
11. George of the Jungle (1997) – Rated PG
Before he was winning the Best Actor Oscar or staving off Egyptian mummies, Brendan Fraiser was the titular character in this beloved Disney live-action. A 90s spin on the Tarzan story, George leaves his jungle home behind to live in America with the beautiful Ursula, with whom he’s fallen in love. It’s equal parts wacky and wholesome, but George of the Jungle won’t disappoint you when it comes to inducing smiles.
10. Grease (1998) – Rated PG
It’s almost impossible not to sing along. In the timeless tale of good girl meets bad boy, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) wonders if her summer romance with Danny (John Travolta) will rekindle after discovering their social circle differences. Grease is a recognizable hit in the rom-com musical genre, making it difficult not to feel good after the first beats of the opening numbers hit your ears.
9. Bridesmaids (2011) – Rated R
Drawing from all the elements that made 2000s raunchy comedies successful, Bridesmaids is the ultimate snacks-and-a-movie feature for any bad day. When her lifelong friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, Annie (Kristen Wiig) begins to compete to keep their friendship as Helen (Rose Byrne), a fellow bridesmaid, starts occupying Lillian’s time and attention. Oscar-nominated, there’s no denying that this rom-com will have you booking a gal’s trip in the near future.
8. Space Jam (1996) – Rated PG
Nothing says childhood nostalgia like Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan in the ultimate basketball game against aliens from space. In addition to an all-star Looney Tunes cast, some of the NBA’s greatest make appearances. The special effects, while dated, still hold up today as the movie blended animation and live-action. No need for a modern remake to lift your spirits; place your faith in the GOATs Bugs and Jordan.
7. The Goonies (1985) – Rated PG
Yet another perfect recipe from the '80s to remove a little of the doom and gloom from the day. The affectionate name for their friend group, The Goonies set out to find a legendary treasure, but the adventure proves dangerous in more ways than one. The Goonies is the perfect throwback mental health film to force an IMDb rabbit hole search on where the kids are now.
6. Deadpool (2016) – Rated R
The first R-rated super/anti-hero movie of its kind, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool was a match made in movie heaven. After turning to brutal medical experiments to cure his cancer, sardonic Wade Wilson (Reynolds) inherits superhuman abilities at the price of being immortal and ugly. Embracing his new alter ego, Deadpool sets out to destroy the man who ruined his looks. Equal parts comedy and violence, it is impossible not to be entertained by Reynolds’ performance, the fourth-wall breaks, and the complete disregard for standard superhero limitations.
5. The Big Lebowski (1998) – Rated R
“Hey, man. That’s just like your opinion.” Yes, it is. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) stumbles into a case of mistaken identity, rug restitution, and a missing wife. It’s the ultimate movie of calculated but chill chaos that will numb your mind for its roughly two-hour runtime. One of Bridges’ most notable roles, The Big Lebowski is a mellow boost to the laugh sensors.
4. Elf (2003) – Rated PG
Director Jon Favreau and his team set out to make a holiday classic, achieving that goal beyond their wildest imaginations. Will Ferrell is Buddy, an elf traveling from the North Pole to New York City to find his biological father. Elf draws from other holiday icons to find spirit while remaining uniquely original. Whether you celebrate the Christmas season all year long or need a pick-me-up around the winter months, Buddy and his child-like wonder won’t disappoint.
3. Tarzan (1999) – Rated G
This is hands down the best Disney soundtrack out there simply because of rock legend Phil Collins. Based on the legendary tale, an orphaned boy named Tarzan is raised by gorillas only to discover he’s human when others arrive to explore the jungle. Deservedly so, Phil Collins took home the Oscar for Best Original Song for “You’ll Be In My Heart” in 2000. If rewatching a Disney classic wasn’t enough of a reason to boost your mental health, listening to Tarzan’s soundtrack should be.
2. Star Wars (1977) – Rated PG
It doesn’t matter which of the nine episodes you watch, the one-and-only crawl paired with the beloved John Williams score is an instant hit of happiness to the movie-loving brain. Set in a galaxy far, far away, the rebel heroes of this franchise battle against the dark forces leading the brutal Empire. It can be overwhelming to start for new viewers, but we promise it’s worth the hype.
1. Shrek (2001) – Rated PG
If there’s a locked door guarding your happy emotions, this cultural icon will kick it down. It’s the tale of a stubborn ogre named Shrek (Mike Meyers) who is determined to rid his swamp of fairytale creatures displaced by the kingdom’s ruler, Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). From the quotable lines, the Smash Mouth intro song, and all the adult jokes you missed as a kid, Shrek is a top-tier movie-watching experience to get that extra hit of serotonin.