28 May 2021

Feel-Good Movies

Welcome back. I hope you feel like watching a movie.

Although I’m not a movie buff, I felt bad that, in 10 years of blogging, my only mention of movies was horror films (Pandemic Prep Horror Flicks). Then I came upon a study of feel-good films by two researchers affiliated with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics. At last, I had the opportunity to blog about movies that more viewers than my daughter, Rachel, might enjoy.

Watching a feel-good movie with popcorn (photo from www.groovypost.com/unplugged/chromecast-vs-roku/).
Characterizing Feel-Good Movies
The researchers note that, while feel-good films are widely dismissed as being sentimental and intellectually undemanding, audiences seek them out precisely because of their feel-good qualities. Viewers want to relax, to have their spirits lifted. These films don’t appear to be a genre in their own right, yet they’re more than just a vague category.

Surveying some 450 participants from Germany, Austria and the German-speaking regions of Belgium and Switzerland, the researchers gained insight into characteristics these films must have.

In addition to an element of humor and a happy ending, feel-good films can be identified by certain recurring plot patterns and characters. They often involve outsiders in search of love, who have to prove themselves against adverse circumstances, and who eventually find their role in the community. Romantic comedies (rom-coms), such as Love Actually, Pretty Woman, Amélie and The Intouchables, have a high potential for emotional uplift. 

Pretty Woman (1990) movie poster (from www.imdb.com/title/tt0100405/).
Beyond romance and humor, feel-good films have moments of drama. The emotional trajectories involve serious conflicts and are profoundly moving, even if the plots are often developed within a fairy-tale setting.

The ideal feel-good film mixes all of these elements. Nevertheless, as you might surmise from the prevalence of rom-com feel-good films, viewer preferences vary greatly, especially by gender and age.

Best Feel-Good Movies
To examine the subject further, I did a quick search and found multiple lists of “the best” feel-good movies.

One, for example, from staff of Collider, an entertainment website, has 25 movies, five of which are animated (e.g., Frozen) and three of which came out at least 69 years ago (e.g., The Wizard of Oz). Consistent with the research study findings, the Collider raters advise that their selections aren’t just blithely cheerful, brain-dead pictures. They’re all terrific movies that carry an uplifting message that is earned, thoughtful, and will definitely leave you smiling as the credits roll.

Five months ago, Empire Online, the digital version of the world’s biggest movie magazine, offered 30 Feelgood Movies to Make You Smile. Only 4 of the 30 also appeared on Collider’s list of 25 (Amélie, Singing in the Rain, Sing Street, and The Princess Bride).

The editors of the online version of Glamour recently announced their 41 Best Feel-Good Movies to Keep Your Spirits Up. There were no animated movies and none older than 1964. Five on the Glamour list were also on Collider’s list (Bring It On, Clueless, Elf, Love Actually, and Ocean’s 11), and five others were also on the Empire Online list (Crazy Rich Asians, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Little Miss Sunshine, Love, Simon, and Pitch Perfect).

Wrap Up
I could sample more lists for comparison, but you get the idea. That the lists overlap so little is likely due to a handful of reasons. Mostly, I’d go with the researchers’ comment that viewer preferences for feel-good films vary greatly, especially by gender and age.

By the way, Pretty Woman, which is frequently on television, was not on any list I saw, but School of Rock, When Harry Met Sally, and one of my favorites, Babe, were. Thanks for stopping by.

 Babe (1995) movie poster (from www.imdb.com/title/tt0112431/). 
Study of feel-good films in Projections journal: www.berghahnjournals.com/view/journals/projections/15/1/proj150104.xml
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/m-laa043021.php
Example lists of best feel-good movies:
www.oprahdaily.com/entertainment/tv-movies/g25726999/best-happy-feel-good-movies/ [2019]

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