Movies To Keep You Happy, Inspired And Optimistic , Part I

This is a very subjective and personal list. The main requirement was that they all must be, in the final analysis, upbeat. I also have seen all of them more than once.

I left out some obvious choices that I have already devoted full posts to on Ethics Alarms, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas.” Some of the films on my ethics movies list appear here, but not for the same reasons. Obviously, I encourage you to see those movies too.

Below is approximately the first half of the list. The rest will be along eventually.

Rocky (1976)

It still holds up as one of the most exhilarating sports movies of all time.

The Natural (1984)

Great score and a happy ending, unlike the novelette it was based on.

True Grit (1969)

This is the John Wayne version, with two of the go-to scenes I’ll play when I want to feel better.

E.T. (1982)

Other than the unforgivable rainbow at the end, a near perfect feel-good film.

Stand By Me (1986)

One of two Stephen King movies on the list. Does anyone not love this film?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

And the other King movie. has any suicide in a film been quite this satisfying?

Erin Brockavich (2000)

More or less a true story, which makes it especially inspiring.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

If Donald O’Connor walking up walls doesn’t get your heart pumping and your mouth smiling, nothing will.

Mister Roberts (1955)

The best of Henry Fonda’s patented “everyman” roles.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Nobody could write American drawing room comedy like Philip Barry, and nobody could deliver it like this cast.

Rio Bravo (1959)

Howard Hawks and John Wayne give us the anti-High Noon, in an often funny Western that I’ve probably watched a hundred times.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

Yes, it’s shameless, but Frank Capra was better at shameless than anyone.

The Longest Day (1962)

The scene where the Allied fleet comes up over the horizon is one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever.

Boys Town (1938)

One of my Dad’s favorite movies. “There is no such thing as a bad boy.” Take THAT, Kirsten Gillibrand!

Casablanca (1942)

Enough said.

1776 (1972)

If you can still appreciate this movie musical that is extremely faithful to the Broadway original, you’re okay.

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Chokes me up every damn time!

Field of Dreams (1989)

“Wanna have a catch?”

Gran Torino (2008)

I love Dirty Harry, but this is the one Clint movie that isn’t satisfying because he shoots someone. quite the opposite.

Miracle (2004)

The story of the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s amazing upset of the Russians in 1978.

Norma Rae (1979)

The best side of organized labor’s battle for workplace justice.

An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)

The ending always gets me, proving, my wife says, that I’m a romantic sap.

42 (2013)

It’s one of the great American stories, well told.

My Favorite Year (1982)

Another wonderful ending.

Shane (1953)

Maybe my favorite movie of all time.


56 thoughts on “Movies To Keep You Happy, Inspired And Optimistic , Part I

    • It isn’t. It’s on my Westerns list, my John Ford list, my John Wayne list, and is obviously one of the great movies. But it’s 90% grim, and the Duke’s character is a bitter, if complex, racist. I can’t rate the fact that he doesn’t murder his niece after all as “upbeat.”

      More like “Whew!”

      • Further, we can only speculate how the story works out after the conclusion of the multi-year search. The movie ends with Ethan (John Wayne) alone outdoors. It’s not going be be an easy assimilation for the rescued Debbie.

        Rio Bravo for sure, though.

      • Yes….but…its a complex story of redemption and faith and survival. Ford told a piece of western history, a painful chunk, like his cavalry trilogy. But hey, we all make choices. Me, you would have to tie me down to make me sit thru Rocky.

        • Agree all the way….plus being gorgeous. But I had to stick to strict criteria, or the list would be endless–no dark movies for example, and you can’t deny that “The Searchers” is very dark. Similarly, no dog movies, because in the best ones, the dog always dies.

  1. My Favorite Year is a gem of a movie. Another favorite from the 80s is My Bodyguard. Not today’s accepted method of dealing with a bully, but still emotionally satisfying.

  2. Hoping for Raiders series, too.

    As a baseball fan, ‘Field of Dreams’ is my all-time favorite. Wish I had a cornfield baseball time machine. Instead, I geekily play Strat-O-Matic baseball hall of fame and put world series winners and runners up against each other using the box score line ups from their world series appearances. So much fun playing games like the 1967 Cardinals against the 1909 Tigers. Having Ty Cobb face Bob Gibson is so cool.

    • I played an entire 154 game season among the Strat-O-Matic “Greatest Teams,” in two leagues. The ’27 Yankees almost won 100 games. In the World Series, they beat the 1948 Indians in six.

      The ’61 Yankees, the “40 Reds, the ’50 Phils, the ’60 Pirates, the ’46 Red Sox, the ’24 Senators, the ’57 Braves and the ’54 Giants all had bad losing records.

      • The ’57 Braves had terrible pitching. Spahn and Sain and pray for rain. Nice to find another true baseball geek.

        I play manually, so playing 154 games per team would be tough. I like the almost sensual nature of managing the teams one card at a time. Nothing more fun than taking Whitey Ford out after he gets knocked around inning after inning by the 1927 Pirates.

        Great stuff.

        • That was all manual! I loved the cards, the chart, the orange cards and the little red dice.

          The ’57 Braves were “Spahn and Burdette, and never sweat.” Sain was the ace on the ’48 Braves, who lost to the Tribe in the series. The ’61 Yankees pitching wasn’t so good either.

  3. That’s a great list! Funny you should mention movies, this weekend I decided to start watching all the John Wayne movies I could find on my streaming services. I enjoyed The Alamo as my first installment of my John Wayne “binge” watching; I’m gonna watch all the John Wayne movies I can find and I’m going to add a few on your list above to watch again too, thanks for the reminders.

      • It’s mostly terrific, and shows John Wayne’s considerable comic chops. The shovel spanking is unfortunate, and deeply mars the movie. It bothered me even in the Seventies. Even though Maureen O’Hara is a jerk, and “deserves” a comeuppance, the wife-beating feel of that supposedly comic scene curdles the film.

          • Amazing, isn’t, how some cultural changes really can’t be ignored and just written off as part of a period piece” Beating women is just a taboo , and I bet it got some criticism when the movie first came out.

            The beginning of “The Philadelphia Story” is like that. Hepburn throws Cary Grant’s golf clubs at him as she kicks him out of the house. Grant marched up to the door, pulls back his arm like he’s going to sock her, then puts his hand on her whole face and pushes her straight down to the floor (out of camera range.) It’s supposed to be slapstick, but like the spanking, it’s disturbing.

            Sometimes they cut that sequence entirely, which is wrong, but it mars the film.

            • They could have easily written those scenes out and written something better into the screenplay, they made a bad choice, now it will go down in history with those scenes always hanging over it like a black cloud.

    • Just finished watching “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. I love old black and whites that are shot and staged well they are visually stunning with their creative ways that they use light and shadows instead of color to show depth.

      • Even the cheesy fake set for the stagecoach scene can’t mar one of Ford’s best ethics movies. The scene in the restaurant is one of my favorites. A lot of critics at the time didn’t get that Ford was deliberately having all the characters over-play in pure Western legend style, all to set up the old editor’s famous line. Edmund O’Brien!Liberty is the most vicious bad guy in any Western (“Mad Dog” in “Back to the Future III was an obvious homage) The tip off is those outrageous steaks! Who could eat half of one of those things?

        The Duke’s perfect kick to Strother Martin’s face “I’ll get it, Liberty!” is my second favorite piece of John Wayne violence. He doesn’t even look at Martin—it’s like dancing.

    • I finished “True Grit” a couple of days ago and “Sands of Iwo Jima” yesterday. I liked both movies for what they are but I did like True Grit more; the movie has a bunch of good scenes in it, what are the two go-to scenes you play when you want to feel better that you mentioned above?

  4. Shawshank redemption also has one of the saddest suicides: Brooks was Here was the first thing I thought when I read your description.


  5. “Hoosiers” rates, right? I love redemption movies. Maybe “Breaking Away”? “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” is another one of the great redemption movies. It is grim throughout but a very well-made movie. (I mention it so that maybe a few might discover how good it is.)

    • I second “Breaking Away.” Love the scene when the Italian pros stick a tire pump into the protagonist’s spokes for daring to keep up with them. Greatest line in the movie: The townie boys are watching fall football practice at IU and one of them observes, “They just keep getting younger every year.”

      • I went to I.U. shortly after “Breaking Away” was filmed. Bloomington was a great place to attend college. In the ensuing years, the town with its character and charm has become the city with the over-commercialization, over-active politicians, and traffic jams. You can never go home again but we can still watch movies like “Breaking Away”.

        If we are just listing comedies, rather than feel good movies because of something in the story line, I would have to add “Dr. Strangelove”. For just good entertainment, you cannot go wrong with “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Lawrence of Arabia” and old science fiction moves like “Forbidden Planet” (my favorite movie of all-time) or any George Pal or Ray Haryhausen movie.

        As guilty pleasures for me, nothing tops the Godzilla and Gamara movies from the 1960s and 1970s. Disengage the brainpan and enjoy… right now, I think we could all use a little of that.

        • “Breaking Away” came out and we saw it in South Bend when my wife and I were there while I was at ND for law school and Mrs. OB worked for The Associates. I found the conclusion of the movie very uplifting when the Townies get to compete with the IU frat kids. I had just written onto the law review and was feeling kind of triumphant against all odds myself. “Eeenie this, and Eeenie that!”

          Living in Indiana made the movie (and “Hoosiers” of course) more immediate.

          A law school classmate bragged about having held Larry Brid to fifty points in high school.

          • I am sure many readers may think you are joking about your classmate’s statement, but from what I have heard about Larry, he had that jump shot when he was in high school and towered over all of the other players too. Having attended the Bloomington campus and grown up within an half hour’s drive of the campus, I have often pondered what the Indiana teams of the mid- to late 70s would have accomplished if Larry had stayed in Bloomington.

  6. I like “It Happens very Spring.” It’s an old black and white baseball movie starring a young Ray Milland. (Kinda tells you how old it is.) But it’s pretty whimsical and light hearted. Not a great movie, I guess, but I enjoy whimsy on occasion.

    • Not only did it star a young Ray Milland , when Millands character was testing his potion against the college baseball player ,the player he strike’s out is played by a young Alan Hale Jr. , who of course is remembered for playing the skipper fifteen years later.

  7. “The Longest Day” is a favorite of mine, right up there with “Sergeant York”, “Where Eagles Dare”, and “Von Ryan’s Express”.

    Another fun movie is “The War Wagon”. It’s been many years since I’ve watched it, but I remember really enjoying it…John Wayne and Kirk Douglas.

  8. “Erin Brokovitch.” Julie Roberts was very impressive but Albert Finney chewed up the scenery portraying a harried AMERICAN car wreck trial lawyer solo, plaid sports coat and all. I wonder where he did his research. Had the shtick down better than most PI guys I ever ran across in real life (so called). Worth twice the price of admission.

      • I didn’t notice any problem with the accent. Maybe I was so entranced by the over all magnificence of his performance I didn’t notice it? Any more than I ever find anything to complain about Hugh Laurie’s accent on “House.”

        Saw Finney in London in 1973 doing “Krapp’s Last Tape.” I was so young (college senior) I don’t remember it much but a more astute classmate says Finney stole the show by spending about half of the show peeling a banana. Re-read “Krapp” a while ago. Very underwhelming. Incredibly transparent and thin romanticism. Weird. Of course, I’m no more a fan of Beckett than I am of James Joyce. Both the most over-rated authors of the Twentieth Century.

  9. While waiting to begin our online class today, one of my students mentioned that he’d watched “Tropic Thunder” during the pandemic break and almost sounded guilty for admitting it. I assured him that I (40+ years his senior) had also enjoyed Larry the Cable Guy’s “best war movie ever”.
    Another great one – “Rudy”! I love it; my wife hates it. Must be a guy thing.

  10. ‘Mister Roberts’

    Great movie.

    Great cast.

    Very quotable.

    As a Navy veteran I can attest that there are parts of that movie that were straight out of my days overseas.

    • Did you know that the book it was based on (and the play based on the book, that became the movie) was written by a Navy vet based on his own experiences? He was Thomas Hegge, who joined the US Navy immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was commissioned a lieutenant in August 1942. He served on supply vessels in the North Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Pacific, the latter as assistant communications officer on two cargo ships.

      During his 14 months aboard the first one, Heggen wrote a collection of vignettes about daily life on the ship, which he described as sailing “from Tedium to Apathy and back again, with an occasional side trip to Monotony”. Like Doug Roberts, he felt “left out” of the war and was at odds with his captain, who repeatedly denied his requests for transfer to a destroyer. Following his discharge in 1945, he turned his journal into a loosely structured novel called “Mister Roberts.” It sold over one million copies and made Heggen a celebrity.He got a lucrative offer to adapt the book into a play, and collaborated with director Joshua Logan to perfect it. With Henry Fonda in the title role, the 1948 stage version of Mister Roberts was a smash, and Heggen and Logan shared the Tony Award presented for Best Play. The pressure of coming up with a second novel caused him anxiety and depression, and Heggen was found drowned in his bathtub at age 30, following an overdose of sleeping pills.

      How’s THAT for a story?

  11. Myself, aside from exploring the old disney classics on disney plus like the apple dumpling gang, flight of the navigator, and black hole, I always have to come back to The Blues Brothers, Noises Off, Clue, and Murder by Death.

  12. “Animal House!” “Young Frankenstein” or is it “Frankensteen?” “The Producers!” “History of the World.” “Walk this way.” “Spaceballs!” “Blazing Saddles!” But again, “Animal House.” Hard to beat anything by Anne Bancroft’s husband.

  13. I cut the cord and went streaming. It is amazing how many films are out there for free. Whether you are looking for campy cult classics like Wicked and Wild from 1956 about two sisters trafficked to a San Bernadino Valley gentleman’s establishment (brothel), or some Academy Award nominated films like Officer and a Gentleman, streaming video rather than cable has opened up a whole new vista in entertainment – despite much of the cheesiness of the flicks. Nothin better than sittin’ back watchin’ Narcotic and Reefer Madness from the 30’s then on to a Buster Keaton marathon, topping it all off with Atomic Vampire or the Ghost Walks Alone.

    Jack has put me to shame on pop culture knowledge so I am trying to catch up.

    • 1. (E.T. had no CGI. The alien cutey was a model. CGI hadn’t been invented yet.)
      2. The list has nothing to do with acting, but story and character. You’ll really have problems with the animated films on Part 2, I guess.

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