Top 10 Pick Me Up Films

What films do you turn to when you’re feeling blue? Here’s a selection of my favourites – the rainy day/comfort food films that always manage to make things feel a little better.

When you’re having a bad day there’s nothing like a great film to take your mind off whatever is bothering you. These comfort food films differ for everyone but there’s a common thread – they all have an ability to grab your attention, to pull you away from your heartache, pain or stresses of everyday living, and take you and your imagination on a two-hour holiday away from it all.

For me, I need these films from time to time. Heck, everyone does. I always find myself drifting back to the 1980s. Perhaps they are a reminder, given that I experienced many of them for the first time in childhood, of a more innocent time when the biggest worry was getting your homework in on time or never being kissed! Unsurprisingly, comedy is a big factor in these pick-me-up films since, as we all know, laughter is the best medicine. But I also find horror films perfect for these occasions because of the genre’s ability to get the heart pumping and the nerves jangling for an entirely safe kind of anxiety.

So here’s ten of my favourite pick-me-up films, those most likely to lift my mood when the blues have set in. I’d be interested to hear yours too…

Also, check out our Top 25 Films to Make You Happy.

10. The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969)


There’s two main reasons why The Italian Job is a such a great movie. One – Michael Caine; two – the entire heist sequence following the exploits of three Mini Coopers as they escape a gridlocked Turin to the tune of Get A Bloomin Move On, which is more commonly known as the Self Preservation Society after its chorus. The film never fails to put a smile on my face.

9. Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997)


Robert Zemeckis has an ability to capture my imagination in almost every film he’s ever done. Well, up to his departure from real life into motion capture that is. Thankfully, his great body of work prior to his obsession with modern CGI has left us some of the best films of the last thirty years. From the Back To The Future trilogy to Death Becomes Her and Used Cars and Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Cast Away and Forrest Gump, he’s a filmmaker of great consistency. His imagination has propelled him to the forefront of the post-Spielberg/Lucas generation of directors, while his storytelling ability is second to none. While all his films could apply to this topic, not least Back To The Future (which is a big favourite of mine), Contact stands out for its open-mindedness, celebration of innocent childlike values, and wide-eyed view of the world from a grounded perspective that mixes science-fiction with science-fact.
See also: Top 10 Robert Zemeckis Films

8. Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)


A perfect non-comedy for a rainy day when you’re down in the dumps. Aliens is simply terrific entertainment that takes you through the whole gamut of emotions. Not only is it instantly frightening with its lonely spaceship drifting aimlessly through deep space and Ripley’s nightmare chestburster, it’s constantly exhilarating with James Cameron’s perfectly orchestrated action sequences and emotionally immersive thanks to Sigourney Weaver’s powerhouse performance.
See also: Aliens (review) | Top 10 Marines in Aliens | Top 10 Sequels of the 1980s | Top 10 Sequels of All Time | Top 10 Girl Power Films | Classic Scenes #5 Aliens

7. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)


Bill Murray is great as a cynical, disgruntled weatherman who hates everyone but himself and has to live out a dreaded day over and over again until he learns to mend his selfish ways. This It’s A Wonderful Life meets Scrooge concept is brilliantly told thanks to a great script and Murray’s energetic performance.
See also: Bill Murray’s Top 10 Sarcastic Remarks

6. A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)


A terrific cast along with the film’s note-perfect script make A Fish Called Wanda an absolute delight. John Cleese and Michael Palin are both brilliant as they, despite appearing together, move away from their Monty Python careers. They are ably supported by the American contingent of Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline who, together, make one of the best ensembles of 1980s cinema.
See also: Top 10 British Comedy Films since 1980

5. The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985)


Kids on an adventure – it is easy to see why this film is great for a rainy day. Director Richard Donner has a great eye for humour while the action set-pieces are a lot of fun. It is underpinned by all the great characters from the children themselves to Anne Ramsey and the bad guys. This swashbuckling tale delightfully mixes its modern-day, modern-living setting with the simpler times of pirates battling on the open seas.
See also: The Goonies (review) | Top 10 1980s Childhood Adventure Films | Top 10 American Coming-of-Age Dramas of the 1980s | Top 10 Films of the Ten Year Old | Top 10 Suburbia In Peril Films

4. National Lampoon’s Vacation (Harold Ramis, 1983)


Happy families. I suppose that’s a big reason for loving National Lampoon’s Vacation. Chevy Chase’s Clark W Griswold might constantly find the world falling apart around him but he’s always trying to do the right thing for his wife and children. Harold Ramis’ film is warm, funny and based around one of the best characters of the 1980s.
See also: Top 10 Chevy Chase Films

3. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Frank Oz, 1988)


Michael Caine’s reason for doing Jaws 4: The Revenge always makes me smile. Someone asked him why he had taken on a role in such a bad film. His reply was tinged with wry yet honest humour when he said he never read the script, he took the job because on the opening page it said the story was set in the Caribbean. Thankfully, while Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a film Caine may have chosen due to its French Riviera setting, the film is undoubtedly more successful. The pairing of Steve Martin and Caine makes for one of the most memorable double acts of the 1980s while Frank Oz’s direction is suitably sprightly for this tale of the double and triple cross.
See also: Top 10 Steve Martin Films

2. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Penny Marshall, 1986)


This was panned by critics and largely ignored by cinemagoers in the 1980s but it has remained one of my favourites since first seeing it as a child. The film features my favourite Whoopi Goldberg character and performance. Here she plays a lively but bored bank clerk who becomes embroiled in a plot to leave a British spy stranded in Eastern Europe. The film is fun from minute one and I’ll always fondly remember Goldberg and her oversized toothbrush bopping to the Rolling Stones’ classic track Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
See also: Top 10 Whoopi Goldberg Films

1. The ‘Burbs (Joe Dante, 1989)


This film will always warm my heart because it is set on a cul-de-sac. I grew up in a house on a cul-de-sac and Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, which never ventures outside its comfortable circular surroundings, captures the otherness of the “outside” while celebrating the inner social anxieties of the street’s inhabitants. Of course, its cynical edge, wry humour, terrific score, great characters and murder-mystery plot all add up to one of the most brilliant black comedies of the 1980s.
See also: Top 10 Suburbia In Peril Films | Top 10 1980s Tom Hanks Films

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    le0pard13 Reply

    Excellent list, Dan. A good number of these would certainly fit the Pick Me Up bill. Man, I haven’t seen ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in ages. Perhaps, I need to re-eval that one. One that comes to mind would be Ron Howard’s ‘Splash’ movies. It gives me a smile every time I watch it.

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    Castor Reply

    Nice list Dan. Mine would be Wedding Crashers, Step Brothers, Gladiator among others. Really, any good movie will do though ah!

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    Rodney Reply

    Nice work, Dan, although I’d dispute the inclusion of Aliens. That’s sooooo not a pick-me-up film. if you’re gonna put that in, you might have to also include Requiem For A Dream and be done with it!

    Aside from that, great list!

    My personal favorite pick-me-up films include Twister, Moulin Rouge, and either Gremlins or Gremlins 2… and Notting Hill. Don’t hate.

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    Pete Reply

    Interesting choices! Great to see two films featuring Corey Feldman! He’s always put a smile on my face till he turned up on TV’s Dancing on Ice. Groundhog Day is another great call. I’d put Back to the Future on here. And Airplane or Naked Gun. Love a good spoof to cheer me up.

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    Jaina Reply

    Very nice list – love that there’s some solid sci-fi up in there too! I think it’s so easy to think that pick me up films have to be a certain genre.

    Echoing @Castor and @Rodney’s choices on Gladiator and Twister. My own additions would have to be The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump.

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    mark Reply

    (1) I’ve only ever seen this once, and it was over 20 years ago, but I would have The Pope of Greenwich Village in this list … it had such a strangely likeable and upbeat ending.

    (2) Con Air – hilarious, mischievious, clever, cliched – if I had been Mr Hollywood in the second half of the 90s, I would have made this part of a trilogy where Cage/Cusack/Malkovich each had a go at playing dogged hero/good guy/bad guy.

    (3) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Leonard Maltin called it a bomb; I would argue it’s a masterpiece. Message to Terry Gilliam: “Don’t take any gumph from these swine.”

    (4) Cutter’s Way – Woody Allen suggested Visconti’s Death in Venice was a perfectly realised film. This 1981 Ivan Passer movie, while flawed (some of the continuity errors are atrocious), is just as perfectly realised. If ever I had a poster of an actor on my wall, it wouldn’t be the iconic Dean or Bogart – it would be the eyepatched John Heard.

    (5) Zentropa – continually quoting Lenny Maltin may be a wee bit cheap, but when he said ” … this is a rare contemporary movie that makes one feel privy to the reinvention of cinema”, he wasn’t too far wrong.

    (6) Man Bites Dog – well, if Dan is allowed Aliens, I can have this one. Mean, grim, violent, downright scary, but undoubtedly one of the bravest and cleverest things ever made. Who could forget Poelvoorde’s ad libbed poem about pigeons (“Pigeon, cloaked in gray”), or the scene where he’s drunkedly wandering the streets at night, WEARING A PRIEST’S DOG COLLAR (??!!!), singing “Cinema, Cinemaaaaa”. I read recently that one of the others involved in the making of this killed himself a few years back. Truly bad and sad news.

    (7) Kiss Me Deadly – While there are some who wouldn’t like this, all I say is: wait for the scene when Ralph Meeker first opens the suitcase in the sports locker room. Now there is cinema.

    (8) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – starts in grotty, muddy backwater towns; ends in the middle of the American civil war. Masterpiece from start to end.

    (9) Dr Strangelove – some years ago (1992) I saw Alex Cox rip into Kubrick on British TV … at the time, Mr Cox was hosting a Sunday night movie show on what was either the BBC or Thames. I found myself agreeing with him when he said Stanley was grossly overrated before I found myself totally absorbed watching Peter Sellers playing piano before being shot by James Mason in the opening of Lolita. Well, some years have passed since then, and I find myself disagreeing with the director of Repo Man for a number of reasons, one of them being that while Kubrick DID only make a handful of films – and some of them were crap – when he hit the bullseye, he really hit it. And boy did he hit it with Doc Strangelove.

    (10) To Live and Die in LA – c’mon … it’s a classic. And like The French Connection (arguably Friedkin’s greatest film), it hasn’t really dated.

  7. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    My favorite pick me up film is Stripes. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I put that on and remember that my day couldn’t be nearly as bad as Bill Murray’s. He loses his job, his girlfriend, his car, his apartment, and worst of all, his pizza falls face down on the pavement!

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    Dan Reply

    @le0pard: Jumpin’ Jack Flash really got panned on release but I’ve always enjoyed it.

    @Castor: …I haven’t seen Gladiator in a long while. Might have to pick it up on blu-ray.

    @Rodney: NOTTING HILL!! REALLY!?! ….actually, me too! 😉

  9. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Pete: Back To The Future is definitely another pick-me-up favourite.

    @Jaina: Although comedy is perfect for that cinematic pick-me-up, I think any film that can draw you into its world and away from what is troubling you in the real one is perfect for this. Aliens is definitely one of those for me.

    @Mark: Man Bites Dog – wow…really. A strange(ly)…brave…choice. I think if I’m on a real high – which never happens actually – I might use Man Bites Dog as some kind of cinematic downer (similar to something like Funny Games, Wolf Creek, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Eden Lake).

    @Evan: Haha, yeah, Stripes is a good one (and, so it happens, a film about to appear in my next list!)

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    Louise Reply

    One of my favourite pick-me-ups is Armageddon. It’s great fun and has a kick-ass soundtrack.

    Bond films also work well.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Louise: The Spy Who Loved Me – my favourite Bond and a definite pick-me-up!

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    ruth Reply

    Nice picks here Dan, but this is the kind of list that will reflect people’s personal preference so there’s really no right/wrong list. I personally would agree w/ Castor about Gladiator, but also on the opposite spectrum, I like the period dramas like Sense & Sensibility, BBC miniseries like North & South as well. But nothing like bombastic good fun like Die Hard 3 or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to lift up your spirits! 😀

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    DEZMOND Reply

    I know I might get killed for saying it here, but nothing fixes my mood better than a good romcom 🙂
    And FLASH GORDON off course 🙂

  14. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Ruth: yeah, another year I could be picking a whole other selection of films. But I thought it would interesting to get various takes on the subject. It is curious that Gladiator has had a few votes, not one I would have considered myself. TV is a definite go-to for me when in need of a pick-me-up but that is a whole other list (and website!)

    @Dezzy: Flash! Oh ah! He’s everyone of us! 😉

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    TheVern Reply

    Nice list Dan. I’m glad to see you have “Contact” on here. I think it is still misunderstood. Hmm I guess a good pick me up movie would be

    “Swimming With Sharks” If I’m having a bad day at work I’ll pop this on

    “Manhatten Murder Mystery” This just allways makes me smile. Diane Keaton and Woody Allen are perfect. WIsh they would make another movie together.

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    Chris Reply

    Before Sunrise (1995) , if you didn’t believe in romance before you watch, you may do afterwards.
    A Patch of Blue (1965) would also make my pick me up list, about friendship. Good call on The Goonies! ( :

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