There’s something to be said for watching movies to help you get through a particularly tough day.
When you’re feeling particularly stressed, the right movie can completely change your mindset.
Some films help you escape for a little while, some make you smile, some are so heartbreaking that it’s cathartic, and others rest somewhere in between.
Whether you need a somber film that’s ultimately hopeful, or something that will make you laugh, there’s almost always the perfect movie for you. Here are a few de-stressing movies to get you started.
If You Need to Smile
This classic movie from 1968 is great if you want to laugh until your sides ache. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder play the two main characters and this golden comedy pairing is impossible to beat.
2. Inside Out
This animated tale about the inner workings of a young girl’s mind is surprisingly apt for its Disney label. Touching on themes of loneliness, anger, sadness, and pure joy, its bright setting and uplifting story will definitely lift your spirits. And it shares important lessons for mental wellness: that crying is helpful, other people make tough emotions easier, and letting it out is the best way to feel better.
Possibly one of Matthew Broderick’s most popular movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off really captures the earnestness, hilarity, and questions about the future common for any high school senior. The series of hilarious hijinks as a group of teens explore Chicago will keep you grinning.
This French film is everything that a person looking for a quietly happy film is looking for. Quirky and a little goofy, this story about a young woman looking for love and trying to improve the lives of people around her is smart, funny, and out of the ordinary.
Although it’s hard to believe that Reese Witherspoon is not popular everywhere she goes, her character in the hugely funny Legally Blonde tackles not fitting in with her Harvard law classmates with style, grace, and her famous bend and snap.
This one’s for the action/adventure lovers out there who are looking for a star-studded, hilarious joyride of a film. The tale of a big Vegas heist, Ocean’s Eleven is stylish, fast-paced, and just a lot of fun for anyone trying to forget their problems for a while.
If you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, it’s hard to beat this story of the Jamaican bobsled team competing at the Winter Olympics. This Disney classic is full of slapstick and funny pratfalls, while sticking to the hopeful story of underdogs coming out on top.
8. The Birdcage
Robin Williams can always be trusted to give his audiences a laugh. The magical late actor stars in this charming comedy about two gay men in Palm Beach, Florida who pretend to be a conventional family. The best part is, the movie has a lot of heart that adds authenticity to its characters instead of turning them into caricatures.
Sometimes, you just want a simple romantic comedy to round out a tough day. When Harry Met Sally is the rom-commiest of rom-coms, whisking audiences away into its attempt to answer the question of if men and women can be platonic friends.
One of the best book-to-movie adaptations of all time, Matilda takes Roald Dahl’s children’s classic and brings it to life. Light, funny, and hopeful, the purity and spirit in this story of a neglected child discovering magic powers is truly timeless.
Serious, but Uplifting
11. Spirited Away
This Japanese film is an all-encompassing escape. Combining gorgeous animation, traditional Japanese mythology, and the delicate magic touch of its director Hayao Miyazaki, this film lifts you out of reality if only for a couple of hours.
Another strong book-to-film adaptation, The Perks of Being a Wallflower shows deep understanding of PTSD and depression while still showing us how beautiful life can be.
Darkly funny and saturated with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s chemistry, this film dives into living with mental illness and effective and ineffective coping mechanisms, all while balancing a deep-seated sadness with a sincere sense of joy.
14. Ghost World
Ghost World’s treatment of the main character’s depression as just a part of her character, and not her main trait, can give a sense of hope when it feels like you are becoming defined by mental illness.
Audiences, especially those struggling with depression, have found a connection with this book-to-film adaptation. Showing viewers that they aren’t suffering alone makes it relatable, which gives a sense of hope despite the film’s occasional sadness.
I’ll be honest: Finding Neverland is the first movie to have made me cry. But despite the melancholy that it captures, it maintains a sense of hope and fantasy that keeps viewers inspired.
This film’s incredible cast including Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, and Whoopi Goldberg brings out the complexities of living with severe mental illness. At times dark and troubling, Girl, Interrupted manages to show that no matter your mental struggle, there are ways to still find happiness.
18. The Graduate
Starring Dustin Hoffman, this 1967 film withstands the test of time. Dealing with themes of purposelessness, alienation, and feeling hollow despite having passion, The Graduate shows that you can tackle ennui with good humor and a silver lining.
Often touted as one of the best movies to come out of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club follows a group of high school students from different cliques during a day of Saturday detention. At times heartbreaking and at other times comical, it really shows the reality of American teenagerdom.
20. 127 Hours
The infamous arm-sawing scene aside, 127 Hours manages to emphasize the value of life and the importance of never giving up in a story of extreme despair and desperation.
Popular among the introverts among us, this slow burn of a film shows how even the most different of people experience commonality. A bit melancholy, this beautiful movie shows the deep if fleeting connections people can build with each other to feel a little less lonely.
Full disclosure: this story about a man who falls in love with a sex doll is a little weird. But Ryan Gosling somehow makes his character less creepy and more endearing as he and his loved ones navigate his mental illness with a gentle, human touch.
Diving into Darkness to Get it All Out
This gorgeous film follows two sisters as they cope with crippling depression, severe anxiety, and the coming of the apocalypse. The ending (no spoilers, promise!) is theatrical, troubling, beautifully shot, and somehow peaceful — a great combination if you need to dig into sadness to reach a sense of contentment.
To help viewers feel less alone despite their struggles with depression and existential crises, this film gives voice to the visceral reality of mental illness. This story is full of reflections on the futility of life, but speaks to a universal experience that can bring its viewers a sense of connection with the world.
25. Donnie Darko
A seemingly simple movie about a teenage boy falling in love, this film is complex, dark, and brings out a deep sense of pain and emotion that helps fight off numbness. And the soundtrack complete with a stunning rendition of Mad World is impossible to beat.
This film is certainly gloomy throughout. However, there’s something about the beauty of each character, despite their suffering, that helps viewers relate to them on a deep level.
From its grey color palette to the bleak complexity of nearly any Coen brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis is tragically stunning. Questioning whether we hold responsibility for our futures or if fate controls our lives, this movie taps into a part of human existence that’s deeply relatable.
Instead of focusing inward, this troubling film based on real events focuses on the injustices surrounding us on a daily basis. The tale of the senseless killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man in Northern California, Fruitvale Station dives into the reality of violence and racism with an honesty and devastation that helps us examine what’s going on outside of our own heads.
Featuring gritty realism and despair, Chinatown refuses to give into the Hollywood happy ending trope. The movie is deeply pessimistic, but allows viewers struggling with depression to recognize that others feel the way they do; this can be pretty therapeutic for those who feel forced to put on a happy face.
30. The Notebook
Because sometimes you just need a simple, sad movie to help you cry it all out.
Whether you’re looking to laugh for hours or dive into the darkness of our world, movies across the spectrum can help when you’re feeling down. So laugh it up, cry it out, and grab some popcorn.