Why movies are choosing music over romance for that feel-good factor

Hanna Flint
Wild Rose packs a musical punch

When you think of feel-good movies, more often than not, there’s a love story at the centre of it. Just do an internet search for “best feel-good movies” and you’ll be greeted with lists filled with romantic comedies and romantic dramas from the last 100 years of Hollywood.

Think of Jerry Maguire and Clueless, Juno and every movie Tom Hank and Meg Ryan made together – they’re all films with a primary or secondary romantic thread that leave you with that feel-good fuzziness after the credits roll. However, this type of romantic-comedy rarely get made any more.

It’s partly because audiences are becoming more progressive about what they want to watch. Millennials and Generation Z aren’t interested in watching female characters whose only purpose is to find love, be rescued, or prop up male characters, so films that seem stuck in the past when it comes to romance weren’t performing as well at the box office.

Instead, cinema-goers over the last ten years have been looking to superhero and franchise films for their feel-good fix, though these movies have also shown a reduction in romantic storylines too. While the early Marvel movies Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger always paired a male hero with a female love interest, later movies like Captain Marvel and Thor: Ragnarok aren’t trying to throw romance in your face.

Captain Marvel features more music than romance

What’s been more common to see is the brilliant use of music and pop songs to elevate the action. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy mixtapes are legendary and the big fight scene to No Doubt’s ‘I’m Just a Girl’ in Captain Marvel had viewers whooping in their seats.

Music in movies is fast becoming a bigger draw at the box office. Just look at the unprecedented success of Bohemian Rhapsody, a film about the origins of Queen, broken up by the band miming classics, and ending on a full lip-synced recreation of that Live Aid performance. These songs aren’t part of the narrative like a movie musical in the vein of The Greatest Showman would deliver, but they still pack a feel-good punch for anyone watching and singing along too.

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Even if you don’t know the words, the use of music in movies adds a brilliant sense of emotional wonder. Wild Rose (out in cinemas this week) follows a Scottish ex-con with dreams of becoming a country music star. Jessie Buckley plays the lead role and she knocks out some brilliant performances of covers and original tracks throughout the movie.

One scene is her singing along to her music player while cleaning a flat, and another is her delighting the revellers at the only country music venue in Glasgow. Even if you weren’t a fan of country music before seeing Wild Rose, you’re more than likely leave the cinema with plans to download the soundtrack.

Movies teach you about feelings, emotions and can bring out a strong reaction but adding music to proceedings can nudge that feel-good factor to eleven. Hollywood is taking more notice of that if the number of movies featuring major music moments is anything to go by. Even films without a music storyline are getting in on the action.

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Last year’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post features a scene where Chloe Moretz’s Cameron leads an impromptu singalong to ‘What’s Up‘ by 4 Non-Blondes in the canteen of the gay conversion therapy centre she’s forced to attend. Little, the age-swap comedy also out this week and starring Regina King, Issa Rae and Marsai Martin, has the latter two performing Mary J. Blige’s ‘I’m Going Down’ with bread rolls in a fancy restaurant.

So while romance in feel-good films is finding its home on streaming services – Netflix is seriously cornering the market on romantic-comedies – music is picking up the slack on the big screen and raising the feel-good genre up to melodic levels.

Wild Rose and Little are in cinemas this Friday