Comfort films to watch while self-isolating – ranked!
25. Babe (1995)
Digital deepfakery has progressed since this emerged in 1995, but there is a warm glow to be had from the adorable talking piglet who wants to do the work of a sheepdog.
24. Amélie (2001)
It melts in the mouth like a Waitrose pain au chocolat. Amélie is the innocently mischievous gamine who has whimsical fantasy adventures in Paris.
23. Casablanca (1942)
As with others on this list, there is a debate about whether really great films deserve a “comfort” ranking, but Humphrey and Ingrid’s great romance in wartime Morocco soothes the soul.
22. Zoolander (2001)
In troubled times, we all need a blast of supermodel Derek Zoolander’s compelling “blue steel” face. A film that never goes out of fashion.
21. Downton Abbey (2019)
Perhaps this is cheating (you could as well put on something from your Downton Abbey TV DVD boxset) but a visit to the Crawley family’s leisured world will go down like a non-Christmas glass of sherry.
20. Back to the Future (1985)
The Freudian themes might make it less comforting than other films here, but Marty McFly’s time-travel adventures in the small-town America of his parents’ youth is always reassuring.
19. Quiz Show (1994)
Great performances from Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield and John Turturro in this true story of a rigged TV quiz show. A morality tale that is weirdly calming and pacifying.
18. Guys and Dolls (1955)
Cinematic greatness is always comforting: wonderful songs and comedy in this fantastic New York musical with Vivian Blaine, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons.
17. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Director Rob Reiner makes the first of his two appearances on this list with this great romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.
16. Dreamgirls (2006)
Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Danny Glover in this outrageously calorific double-helping of music and romance, all about the Detroit music scene from the 60s and 70s.
15. Love & Basketball (2000)
Here to prove that sports movies can be as comforting as romances, and that they can moreover be romances, is Gina Prince-Blythewood’s Love & Basketball. Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan star as the boy and girl next door who are both fiercely good at basketball, and pretty competitive, and perhaps not yet ready to confess how into each other they are. It’s a very seductive love story with some sharp commentary on sexism on the basketball court.
14. Jupiter Ascending (2005)
This supremely wacky and world-historically daft sci-fi extravaganza is just what you need to cheer you up, featuring as it does an outrageous scene-stealing turn from Eddie Redmayne, playing the scheming space-lord Balem, an epicene pharaoh of intergalactic evilness. He completely upstages the film’s notional leads Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis who encounter the vampirically arrogant alien clan – led by Redmayne. It really is wildly silly but very funny.
13. Mary Poppins (1964)
When you want cinema itself to be your nanny, dispensing wisdom and comfort, here is the Julie Andrews classic, cheering you up, spit-spot.
12. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
A wonderfully comforting movie that celebrates the world of idling, skiving, goofing off, and what the French flaneurs called “botanising on the asphalt”. Matthew Broderick plays a high-school kid from Chicago’s North Shore called Ferris Bueller who fakes an illness so he can award himself a personal day in the city with his girlfriend and his best friend, who will be bringing his dad’s treasured Ferrari. The movie bops around the city from joyous set-piece to joyous set-piece and some words from Ferris about how life goes by so fast that you have to make sure you appreciate it.
11. Clueless (1995)
The greatest Jane Austen adaptation in film history is also as richly comforting as drinking a mug of milky tea while curled up on the couch, eating a family-sized tub of Celebrations swathed in a cashmere slanket. Alicia Silverstone is glorious as Cher (the Emma of her day) who is happy, pretty and extremely well-meaning, with a great love of the mall, and an altruistic need to fix other people’s love lives. She achieves a strange kind of intimacy with her stepbrother Josh, an earnest college kid home for the vacation, played by Paul Rudd, and they hang out in the kitchen or huddled up watching TV – and realise that have feelings for each other.
10. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Unashamed and unabashed at all times, this is an industrial-strength Hollywood heartwarmer that lets you have the feelgood monosodium-glutamate right in your veins. Will Smith stars in this based-on-a-true-story of an ordinary guy who suffered heartbreak and homelessness as a single dad, and gets offered a once-in-a-lifetime shot out of poverty: an unpaid internship at a top financial firm. But he has to keep up appearances in front of all the other entitled Ivy Leaguers while covering up the fact that he is sleeping in a homeless shelter at night.
9. Paddington 2 (2017)
At a time when all of us feel like nothing more than self-isolating and eating marmalade direct from the jar, here is one of the most profoundly comforting comedies of recent times, which incidentally shows how a confident nation is happy about immigrants. Hugh Grant gives what many believe to be the finest performance of his career as the peevish, cravat-wearing actor Phoenix Buchanan who steals a precious pop-up book with clues to hidden treasure from Mr Gruber’s shop – and frames Paddington for the crime. Despite doing jail time, the bear comes bouncing back.
8. Galaxy Quest (1999)
All together now: “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!” Alan Rickman had a glorious role in this brilliant postmodern sci-fi comedy as Alexander Dane, the grumpy British thesp who had his moment of fame playing Dr Lazarus on a cancelled TV show called Galaxy Quest and now, like the rest of the jaded cast (including Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen), makes a living going round fan conventions, signing photos and reciting the catchphrases to the tragic nerdy fans. But then a deputation from outer space arrives believing the show to be a documentary history of what actually happened, and desperately needing our heroes’ help. Galaxy Quest has one of the cleverest, funniest plot premises in film history, worked out to perfection.
7. The Princess Bride (1987)
William Goldman, who adapted this movie from his own novel, became famous for his screenwriting axiom: “Nobody knows anything.” But we certainly know that this film is absolutely great: sweet, charming, funny, with a dash of idealism and a genuine eccentricity that distinguishes it from regular Hollywood product. Cary Elwes plays the handsome farmhand who falls in love with a beautiful noblewoman played by Robin Wright. Their love is sabotaged by evil court plotters but the lovers find friendship with the passionate, hot-headed Spanish swordsman Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin. Great to watch with all the family, or the grownups can savour it all on their own.
6. Notting Hill (1999)
This inspirationally glutinous fantasy from screenwriter Richard Curtis is about what would happen if an ordinary civilian bloke (and a Brit, to boot) fell for a super-glamorous Hollywood star, and she with him. The bloke is the tousle-haired stammerer Hugh Grant (making his second appearance on this list) and the star is Julia Roberts, who had what some of us believe to be her greatest career moment in Notting Hill, and the scene when she tearfully tells him that she’s just a girl standing in front of a boy is a classic. Rhys Ifans found stardom as Hugh’s appalling flatmate Spike who says: “I’m going to tell you a story that will make your balls shrink to the size of raisins”, which incidentally is what happens to the male audience when the arrogant star, played by Alec Baldwin, dismisses poor Hugh from the hotel where he had been hoping to have sex with Julia. But it all ends happily.
5. Duck Soup (1933)
A brilliant and rather prescient satire on 1930s nationalism and indeed fascism, but also a hilarious comedy. The bizarre Ruritanian state of Freedonia, in deepest central Europe, is enduring a continuous and worsening economic crisis and forever on the verge of war with its equally belligerent neighbour Sylvania. But a rescue plan is at hand. A wealthy American widow (played in magnificent deadpan by Margaret Dumont) offers a multimillion dollar loan to Freedonia’s coffers on condition that they install her close friend as president – and that is the free-thinking visionary and genius, Rufus T Firefly, played by Groucho Marx. Wisecracking Rufus soon causes mayhem in Freedonia’s quasi-fascist staterooms. Is this the US’s quasi-colonialism in action?
4. It’s Complicated (2009)
Nancy Meyers is the Michelin-starred chef of cinematic comfort cuisine and here she serves up a richly flavoured dish of escapist storytelling, a veritable festival of gastro-lifestyle porn featuring very rich people who don’t particularly regard themselves as rich. Meryl Streep is the divorced woman with grown-up kids who is now a “chocolatier”, of all the outrageously implausible things, running an upscale deli-cum-eaterie, although the actual work involved is minimal. Her roguish lawyer ex-husband, played by Alec Baldwin, broke her heart by running off with a hard-faced younger woman who is now failing to satisfy him on the life-affirming laughter front, so he starts having an affair with his ex-wife. You really do need to suspend your disbelief in this world of almost weightless freedom from work and ordinary money worries, but it is undeniably enjoyable and comforting in its weird way.
3. Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Waiting to Exhale is basically the equivalent to eating an entire Haagen Dazs tub of ice-cream while watching the greatest daytime soap opera of all time – and it is tremendously addictive. Angela Bassett, Whitney Houston, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon play four smart, successful women who are discontented with the men in their lives – and the way society somehow finds that a woman’s inability to be in a relationship with a man makes their other accomplishments somehow second-rate. But these discontents are showcased in a horribly watchable world of nice clothes and nice cars. It also has a great male cast, including Wendell Pierce, later to be Bunk in The Wire and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman on the London stage.
2. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Meryl Streep makes her second appearance on this list in this fashion comedy movie based on the Lauren Weisberger novel, reportedly inspired by the terrifying fashion empress Anna Wintour. It is a comedy, but without the sharp, angular edges of satire or bleakness that might endanger the comfort factor. New York City is replete with glamour and gorgeousness as the location for this aspirational story: Anne Hathaway is the callow literature graduate from the sticks who somehow flukes a job at the colossally prestigious fashion magazine Runway edited by Streep’s terrifying Miranda Priestly, the boss from hell who enforces a Stockholm-Syndrome love on all her employees and on us, the audience. Stanley Tucci is wonderful as her long-serving, long-suffering senior executive and this was the film that launched the elegant Emily Blunt on the world, as the super-snobbish fashionista who is to be Hathaway’s unwilling guide.
1. Titanic (1997)
There can surely be no doubt as to the No 1 slot. As Liam Neeson says in Love Actually: “We need Kate and we need Leo and we need them now.” Cheesy it may be, but this film delivers weapons-grade feelgood – and, at well over three hours, it delivers an awful lot of it. Because, paradoxically, nothing says filmic comfort eating like screaming in terror and being plunged into the icy Atlantic ocean, resurfacing, discovering that for some reason the woman you are in love with somehow can’t scooch up on her bit of driftwood to let you on, and then going back down again, with Céline Dion in the background singing that her heart will go on. Kate Winslet found her moment of global greatness as Rose, the young well-born passenger in first class who is unhappily engaged to creepy Billy Zane (fated not to cover himself with glory once the trouble starts). Rose finds that she has a distinct spark with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack who has won his third-class ticket in a poker game and thinks himself the luckiest young fellow in the world to have got on board for this exciting maiden voyage – especially when he feels that Rose is in love with him, and secretly gets to paint her in the nude. (That’s her in the nude, not him.) It is amazing to think that just before this film was released, all the talk was about how it could be a disaster – how it was going to be like Lew Grade’s Raise the Titanic; what a tyrannical monster Cameron was to his cast etc – but the film’s instant rip-roaring success simply blew all this away. A film to lull you into a bovine stupor of wellbeing.