The Best Uplifting Movies of All Time to Watch on Repeat

best uplifting movies of all time

The Sunny Side

Ok, so we have to admit that Glitterati Lobotomy does have a thing for dark movies, whether in terms of the visuals or the content.

Some of the best movies ever made have been thematically dark and outwardly depressing. There’s a lot worth exploring there, but watching too many movies that fall under this banner can make for some rough times.

Truth is, the world itself is a nightmare, life is a nightmare, unless you happen to be irrevocably wealthy, in which case your soul probably evaporated from your body long, long ago.

For the rest of us, there are days when we just can’t approach a downer movie. For these days, we turn to the best uplifting movies of all time.

Some are comedies, some are inspirational, and some are just no-brainers for a list like this one.

As always, feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comments section. And no, Happiness is not a happy movie, so don’t even try it.

The Parent Trap – 1998

The Parent Trap is one movie that made it onto our list simply because it’s one of the lowest-stress stories of all time.

Two identical twins happen to come from equally awesome home lives, and the worst-case scenario is having to live with an get to know their long-lost parent.

A young Lindsay Lohan puts in a pair of pretty good performances, and every sequence of the movie is a treat. It never really lulls (maybe except for the segments where the parents talk) and the side characters are just delightful.

Directed by Nancy Meyers, this is easily one of the best female-led Disney movies ever made.

Sure, it’s aged a bit in the decades since its original release, but the emotional elements still ring true.

It’s a cloudy-day movie that’s bound to lift your spirits, even if only for 90 minutes.

Wet Hot American Summer – 2001

David Wain (pronounced ‘weigh-in’) is a talented gentleman. There’s something about his sense of humor that’s just completely his own. And for whatever the reason, his movies make me laugh harder than almost anything.

Wet Hot American Summer is most likely Wain’s biggest movie, and it even spurred two separate miniseries on Netflix many years later (both of which are also pretty fantastic).

I mean, just look at the cast list, filled with comedy vets: Janeane Garofalo, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, and Bradley Cooper.  

It works best if you attended camp yourself as a kid, but it’s definitely not a requirement. The movie is funny, that’s the most important thing here.

It is all-consuming in its absurdity and smart-dumb humor. And it’s on Netflix so you really don’t have an excuse.

50/50 – 2011

When this movie first came out, I remember friends returning from a screening, bawling their eyes out. And these weren’t soft types at all, but instead pretty hard-nosed customers.

The next day I asked what movie could have possibly made them feel this way. They said 50/50.

I had no idea what that was.

I feel like this movie has been forgotten in the years since its release, which is sad. No, it’s not exactly a masterpiece, and the filmmaking going on here isn’t all that showy or impressive.

It’s a fairly simple story about a guy who gets diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. And that’s all I really want to say about the story.

Yes, it’s uplifting, and yes, it’s nice to see Seth Rogen is a slightly more serious role.

The only disclaimer we need to leave here is that the movie is indeed an emotional rollercoaster. It has its ups and downs, and both tend to be pretty extreme. Prepare yourself.

School of Rock – 2003

Many of us grew up with this movie, and at the time, it was the coolest thing around, mostly because it was impossible to watch without imagining yourself as one or more of the rockstar kids.

For anyone who actually played an instrument when they first saw it, School of Rock made us feel like we could do anything, and we planned on it.

This is easily director Richard Linklater’s most accessible movie (most of the time he churns out heady art house fare that’s either great or bland). It’s also probably Jack Black’s best, to date.

Also, fun fact: screenwriter Mike White recently appeared on a season of Survivor.

It would be difficult not to feel great while watching this movie. It’s an underdog story all around, one that ignores many of the practical concerns of sneaking a bunch of kids out of a private school to go on an unsanctioned field trip.

But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for the duration, School of Rock will make you smile, then muse about your own rockstar future.

The Shawshank Redemption – 1994

For a long time, Shawshank held the top-rated spot on IMDb, and for good reason. It’s not the best movie ever made, but its’ easy to understand why someone reviewing the movie would feel positive feelings all around, thus more likely to give it a 10/10.

Based on a short story by Stephen King, the film version expands on the major characters and paints a portrait of prison life that is simultaneously bleak and inspiring.

Tim Robbins delivers his most coherent performance as Andy Dufresne, a name that gets repeated about 1,000 times during the movie.

The real moment of truth is when the viewer realizes this isn’t just a movie about living in a prison, it’s about everything.

It’s a movie about trying to live the life you want and protecting the people you care about. Hard to think of a more worthy focus for a movie.

Toy Story 3 – 2010

I mean, come on. This is maybe (maybe) Pixar’s best movie, but is definitely the best Toy Story movie, by a long shot.

Like other movies on our list, Toy Story 3 succeeds by operating on multiple levels. It speaks to both children and adults, and it offers both a baseline, surface-level story, as well as a more meaningful commentary on growing up, accepting responsibility, and moving on.

It probably goes without saying, but the character modeling and animation are fantastic and remain some of Pixar’s best visual work.

Toy Story 3 is the be-all end-all of uplifting movies, and it’s the most consistent on our list when it comes to overall joy.

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About Jim Tillman

Jim Tillman is a Seattle-based writer, animator, and musician. He watches too many movies and then writes about them for this very website.

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