Comfort movies: the ultimate guide

Three months in lockdown has forced many of us to seek solace in the ‘comfort movie’. The comfort movie serves the human race in ways no other art form can. It helps us through hangovers, breakups, pandemics and pretty much any other situation where you need to spend two hours in the dark on the sofa simultaneously laughing and crying and most importantly, forgetting all about the world and its ongoing horrors. It’s the medium which exists solely to sooth us through our most vulnerable states, like a parent rocking its crying child to sleep. And as we slowly, shakily emerge from our houses, rubbing our eyes against the harsh light of the ‘new normal’, let us not forget all the comfort movie has done for us during this strange and difficult period.

The following list is based solely on opinion and is not in any kind of order; I love all of these films like they were my children. There are no official rules for entry, however ‘my’ comfort movie always has a solidly written screenplay and preferably stars at least one ‘comfort actor’ (e.g. Tom Hanks). It’s also worth mentioning that I was born right at the start of the golden age of the comfort movie, the 1990s, which may influence my POV.

So, here we go…

Big (1988) – from 1980s Hanks with his soft curls and bedazzled tuxedo, to 2020 Hanks, saving literal lives by donating his plasma after surviving Coronavirus, is there anything this man can’t do to make Planet Earth a more beautiful place to live?

Titanic (1997) – perhaps it is insensitive of me to include on a list of ‘comfort movies’ an entry which is based on the true story of lots of people dying horribly icy deaths in the middle of the North Atlantic. But I’m including it anyway, because as we all know this is 3 hours 14 minutes of PURE JAMES CAMERON ESCAPIST BRILLIANCE.

1997’s ‘Titanic’, when Billy Zane was going full ‘guyliner’

The Fugitive (1993) – one of my most watched comfort movies ever, you can always count on Harrison Ford and his gristly seriousness to get you out of a funk. And unlike Ford’s Richard Kimble, wrongly accused of murdering his wife, the soundtrack is killer! (forgive me for this terrible joke)

Jumanji (1995) – I’m sorry, Dwayne Johnson, as much as I love you, you will never hold a candle to the comedic power of Robin Williams, the terrible early-90s CGI and sweet, baby-faced Kirsten Dunst. It’s a ride like no other.

Can you hear drums?

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) – there’s a reason every single comedy actor on the planet lists Steve Martin as one of their all-time top influences, and you can find it in literally every second of screen time Martin has in this movie. Paired with John Candy, this has to be one of the top choices if you’re looking for a good hard cry-laugh.

Cast Away (2000) – only put this on if you are prepared to deal with the floods of tears that will form a pool across your living room carpet and maybe even leak down through the floor into the flat below. Your neighbours will have something to say, but Tom Hanks is worth a thousand ceiling-leaks!

Die Hard (1988) – technically a Christmas comfort movie, I’m allowing this one to make the cut because we need Alan Rickman in our lives at all times of the year – and his slo-mo death falling from the Nakatomi Plaza is iconic.

Ellis – he’s your white knight!

Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) – just when you thought the Die Hard franchise had been killed off by the mediocrity of 1990’s Die Hard 2, here comes Samuel L. Jackson to save the day, and New Yorkers from being blown up by Jeremy Irons’ delicious villain ‘Simon’.

Thelma & Louise (1991) – perhaps the only film on this list featuring an attempted rape, this feminist masterpiece contains a whole lotta crime, road-dust, friendship and lingering shots of Brad Pitt’s tight bod (were you trying to tell us something, Ridley Scott?)

The Money Pit (1986) – a lesser known Hanks vehicle in which he stars alongside lovely Shelley Long to fix up a dilapidated house; perhaps a little weirder and more slapstick than Hanks’ bigger hits, but just as delightful and comforting.

Mrs Doubtfire (1993) – a 90s film in which a man dresses up as a woman that somehow manages to not be totally problematic (although it’s not perfect). Sally Field is a goddess, FYI, and deserves every inch of Pierce Brosnan that she gets.

Living in Oblivion (1995) – this criminally underrated masterpiece about the perils of independent filmmaking should be mandatory viewing for screenwriters, directors, actors, sound technicians and just movie-lovers in general. It’s Spinal Tap for cinema.

Catch Me If You Can (2002) – a powerhouse pairing of the 00’s king and prince of movie actors, this slickly made, tightly plotted Spielberg thriller is the epitome of escapist cinema. Forget all your troubles and strap in!

Inside Out (2015) – sometimes you just need to cry uncontrollably for 90 minutes.

SO MANY EMOTIONS

Back to the Future trilogy (1985-1990) – yes, this counts as one long movie, and yes, this is the way the trilogy should be watched in those most desperate of comfort-seeking times when you need to kill six hours (although Part III is the best, obviously).

Galaxy Quest (1999) – one of those rare blends of comedy and sci-fi that is both funny and successfully world-bending, this is a late 90s gem with stellar performances from King Alan Rickman, Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Missi Pyle. Oh, and Robin Sachs under a shit-tonne of prosthetics (Buffy fans, rejoice!)

My Neighbour Totoro (1988) – carries you away on a soft, soothing breeze of dreamy air that is the trademark of so many Miyazaki movies. Akin to being embraced by a cloud.

Home Alone (1990) – again, another ‘Christmas comfort movie’ which should really have its own separate list, I’m allowing this in because Catherine O’Hara is queen. At any time of year. ‘KEVIN!’

Enemy of the State (1998) – before 24 was even a thing we had 24: the movie, about CCTV and crooked government officials and tech-nerds operating from the backs of vans. A simpler time, before 9/11 and iPhones, this features some hilariously clunky t-e-c-h-n-o-l-o-g-y and Seth Green wearing those 90s-geek glasses with the yellow lenses and black frames. Anything with Regina King is cinematic gold, IMO.

Independence Day (1996) – remember when Will Smith wasn’t bothered about being a Serious Actor, and was just content to bring us joy and a little escape from our boring, miserable lives? Come back, 90s Will, we miss you!

Welcome to Earth!

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – I’ll admit I had reservations about including this one, because of the douchebag fandom it spawned upon its release, but dammit, DiCaprio, you’ve acted your way onto another listicle!!

Pulp Fiction (1994) – again, reservations, mainly because of all the blood and violence which is never very comforting, is it? But something about the heavily stylised, super well-written-ness of this movie has given it a pass. Uma Thurman helps, too.

Mean Girls (2004) – one of the most heavily referenced movies of the 00s, and the subject of endless memes and listicles, this is like my generation’s Casablanca. Watch it now before Tina Fey is properly cancelled, it’s probably one of the least problematic items in her oeuvre (although it has its moments!)

Meet the Parents (2000) – apart from the central ‘joke’ of this movie being kinda-sorta-really homophobic, this is a superbly cringey farce with A-grade comedy performances from Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. Shame about all the awful sequels.

Sister Act (1992) – oh, to revisit that brand of buoyant, carefree fun found only in 90s movies. How do we get this back, Whoopi?

Pure joy.

The Truman Show (1998) – this movie pretty much has everything: it’s timeless, funny, heartbreakingly sad, endlessly rewatchable, and somehow gets more meaningful with every viewing. I’m welling up just thinking about it. Have tissues to hand!

Zoolander (2001) – just ridiculous, shameless, OTT nonsense from the brain of Ben Stiller, with some of the best cameos in cinema history. Love it.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) – try not to think about all those twats in the early 00s gormlessly quoting this film, and you’ll be in for a fun ride.

Being John Malkovich (1999) – this movie says so much about the very concept of ‘escapism’, as its characters become obsessed with entering a movie actor’s head through a mysterious portal, it feels kind of metatextual to be including it on this list – why do we even watch movies, anyway?

School of Rock (2003) – three words: Jack Black’s eyebrows.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – ah, the warm embrace of Gene Wilder. A ‘chocolate fountain’ that is clearly just water dyed brown. A scene on a boat that deeply traumatised every child who watched it. The magic lives on!

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – this comes from a period in cinema where the amount of colour and sound crammed into every frame is borderline sickening, and the musical numbers are so frequent and heart-explodingly joyous that your whole body can’t help but tense up whenever the tap dancing starts.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) – try sitting through this without reverting to childhood. Worth watching just for the giant sets and props; they built a ten-foot-tall oatmeal cookie with real cream filling!

I couldn’t find a good picture of the cookie, so here are the giant cheerios which they made out of tractor inner tubes, apparently

Escape from New York (1981) – it’s got ‘escape’ in the title, godammit!

Matilda (1996) – another lovely slice of Roald Dahl, this Danny DeVito-directed adaptation spans horror, comedy and fantasy and turned a generation of children off chocolate cake.

The Dark Knight (2008) – back when we all weren’t sick to the back teeth of superhero movies, Heath Ledger was wowing us with his Joker performance, and we were still managing to take Christian Bale’s husky Batman voice seriously. Oh, to return to the simplicity of 2008.

San Andreas (2015) – give me Dwayne Johnson in a helicopter, rescuing women as Los Angeles crumbles to dust below him, any day of the week. The goddamn straight-faced patriotism of this movie is almost as inflated as Johnson’s trademark biceps, and it makes for a fun watch.

Toy Story 3 (2010) – I dare you not to bawl your eyes out for the entire third act.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) – watch this if you want that strange, surreal kind of comfort, like taking a warm bath in a rainbow.

Dreamy

Groundhog Day (1993) – look, throughout lockdown every day has kind of felt the same, hasn’t it? Weekends don’t really exist anymore, and we have all had a big expanse of time in which to take a long, hard look at our life choices. Bill Murray understands.

The Parent Trap (1998) – before Disney ran out of ideas and started turning every one of its classic animated films into a deformed, ‘live-action’ husk of its former self, we had fresh-faced Lindsay Lohan and crinkly-eyed Dennis Quaid in this Nancy Meyers gem, doing actual acting on actual locations with no CGI animals or anything! Wonder at the 90s.

Father of the Bride (1991) – sickly-sweet in a way only Americans/Steve Martin can pull off, like pleasantly stuffing your face with candy floss and then having to lie down for a bit.   

Legally Blonde (2001) – so many ‘yaas-feminism’ thinkpieces have been written about this movie in the last twenty years it’s hard to come up with anything new to add to the discourse, so let us just remember the bit where Luke Wilson says: “how do you think I’d look as a blonde?” and we all say: “you would look like Owen Wilson, Luke. Your brother. Who is blonde.”

Throw on some bleach, Luke, and we won’t be able to tell you two apart

Bridesmaids (2011) – plenty of broads, belly laughs and bodily fluids. Reminded us that women can do gross-out comedy, too. Also features a rare instance of comfort-movie-within-a-comfort-movie, during a scene in which Annie bawls her eyes out at Cast Away. Top marks!

Some Like It Hot (1959) – no one does it quite like Wilder, and this is the closest thing he made to a ‘comfort movie’, a timeless, tightly-paced comedy that is full of surprises and fast-talking men wearing stockings and heels.

Speed (1994) – fast, cheesy and full of explosions. Truly, this was the 90s.

Hairspray (1988) – a good place to start if you’re looking to get into some John Waters, and there’s a surprising amount of depth beneath its fun, frolicking surface.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – British comedy staple that is always good for a laugh. Best enjoyed with a cold pint and packet of crisps and maybe a cornetto for pudding.

Sexy Beast (2000) – Ben Fucking Kingsley. What more can I say?

Machine

The Blues Brothers (1980) – two hours of pure, unadulterated zaniness with an unforgettably absurd car chase. The only way this could be any zanier is if it starred Billy Zane in every single role, and I think we would all pay to see that.

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