Movies serve a wide variety of functions in our lives. Some movies make us sweat, or have nightmares, or sob. Sometimes, though, the real world inspires enough emotion all by itself. When the real world has got you feeling a little overwhelmed, you may look to a more calming movie experience to ease you into or out of a stressful situation.
Calming movies can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Since calming is not a genre distinction in and of itself, some of these movies are dramas, others are comedies, and still others are kids’ movies. What unites them all, though, is the relaxation they inspire in viewers.
10. The Big Sick
Romantic comedies are no longer in their prime, but The Big Sick is great because of all the ways it avoids the cliches of that genre. Most of the movie takes place after the couple at its center has broken up and one of them has fallen into a coma. Based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife Emily Gordon, the story is at least half about Kumail’s relationship with his future in-laws, and the expectations placed on him to marry a Muslim woman. For all of its serious ideas, though, The Big Sick is a funny, happy movie with just enough drama to keep you invested.
9. The Shop Around the Corner
A prototypical rom-com that’s been made and remade several times, The Shop Around the Corner tells the story of two shop employees who develop a penpal correspondence with one another that gradually becomes romantic, even as they despise one another while working together. The movie is sweet and joyful, and it’s exactly the kind of thing to which you might turn if all you want is to relax and enjoy two people falling in love.
8. Magic Mike XXL
The first Magic Mike movie is at least partially about people left behind during the Great Recession, but Magic Mike XXL, the second film, is a much more upbeat experience. Although Mike retired from the stripper game at the end of the first film, he rejoins the Kings of Tampa as they travel to Myrtle Beach for a performance. The film that ensues is lovely, delicate, and filled to the brim with almost intoxicating levels of joy.
7. Ocean’s 11
Heist movies can be taxing on the brain, but Ocean’s 11 goes down so smooth. The mechanics of the heist are relatively straightforward, but they’re also not really the point. The point is watching handsome men act smoothly and take control of every situation. Also, watching Brad Pitt eat in every something in every scene is a nice bonus. It’s a movie with a wonderful vibe, and it’s also got peak performances from everyone in its sprawling ensemble cast, including George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle.
6. Good Will Hunting
Good Will Hunting is a sadder movie than many of the films on this list, but its sadness is so gentle and ultimately affirming. The film follows Will Hunting, a genius who has been living a relatively small life in part because of buried childhood traumas. Matt Damon is excellent in the lead role, and although it’s clear that Will has been through some things, watching him emerge on the other side triumphant is one of the most soothing experiences you’ll find in a movie.
5. Sleepless in Seattle
Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Nora Ephron teamed up twice, and the first time, Hanks and Ryan barely shared any screentime. In spite of that strange quirk of the script, Sleepless in Seattle is nonetheless one of the very best romcoms of its era. It’s a movie about destiny and connection, and it’s hard to imagine a story that starts in a sadder place only to wind up in one so quietly hopeful.
4. Kiki’s Delivery Service
All of Hayao Miyazaki’s films are pretty calming, but Kiki’s Delivery Service may be the most so, in part, because it’s almost entirely devoid of conflict. The film follows Kiki, a witch who travels to a new city and tries to serve the people there. She opens a delivery service and spends the majority of the film being kind to the people around her. A few minor issues do emerge, but ultimately, what makes the film work is the ways it proves thoroughly compelling and relatively plotless.
3. Lady Bird
A great movie about growing up, Lady Bird is a quietly profound story about what it means to love where you’ve come from. The movie follows a senior in high school as she decides where to go to college, alienates her best friend, and ultimately comes to realize what’s important to her and what isn’t. The film has an unironic appreciation for Dave Matthews, and it may be the most feel good movie ever nominated for Best Picture.
2. The Big Lebowski
Film noir is not a genre that is always calming, but The Big Lebowski makes this list because it manages to be calming in spite of its genre confines. There is a fairly intricate plot going on here, but you don’t watch Lebowski for the plot. You watch it because it has one of the best vibes of any movie ever made, and because of its ultimate parting message to viewers: don’t take anything, including this movie, too seriously.
1. Paddington 2
The kindest movie ever made, Paddington 2 is about what it means to be open-hearted and warm even when the people around you don’t necessarily deserve that treatment. The film follows Paddington on a series of misadventures as he is sent to prison, escapes, and must ultimately prove his innocence in the theft of a pop-up book of London. Paddington 2 is so warm and good-natured that it’s easy to forget that it’s also expertly crafted, and filled to the brim with wonderful actors, including a remarkably great Hugh Grant.