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Best contemporary comedies to lift your spirits

  • Best contemporary comedies to lift your spirits

    Uplifting movies don’t shy away from heartbreak. In fact, they often immerse their audiences in conflicts with characters who face loss and suffering. Happy endings can be bittersweet, and sometimes they’ll make viewers cry—often with tears of joy. That emotional release is all part of the magic of heartwarming, uplifting movies. These are the films that celebrate the stamina and resilience of the human spirit. They take audiences through universal struggles and universal joys, showing the power of human relationships and the strengths that come from love.

    Sentimental movies are sometimes undervalued, but the ones on this list enraptured and impressed viewers. Stacker looked at the highest-rated comedies on IMDb with at least 5,000 votes and ranked the top 50 according to the IMDb user rating, with ties broken by Metascore. For the sake of sticking to comedies that err on the more uplifting side, dark comedies and dramedies that are more drama than comedy, i.e., "In Bruges" and "Parasite," were removed. The list, from late March 2020, features films from the past 20 years, reflecting their contemporary cultural moments, as well as nostalgic and satirical homages to films of the past.

    The list has side-splitting parodies and spoofs, as well as the best superhero movies—especially those with a wry, comic style. There are romantic comedies and quirky indie films with relatable characters who inspire. Rankings also feature idiosyncratic dramas with characters that will charm cynics and draw audiences into their worlds from the first frames. While there are films with adult themes and boisterous violence, all of them have an uplifting, escapist energy. They’re sure to bring laughter, often while yanking on the heartstrings.

    Comics and cartoons inspire the live-action films on the list, while the animated ones are often dramatic and deeply human. These best uplifting comedies include a fair share of animated movies, many featuring hand-drawn, stop-motion, and computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation techniques known for their brilliant visual design. Animated films aren’t just for kids. The ones here have dual layers that fuse adult themes with childlike wonder for all. Their whimsical, rousing visuals inspire, while their characters evoke strong emotions. Click ahead for movies that are sure to soothe the soul and make you laugh.

    Editor's note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Stacker understand the difficult adjustment to isolation as well as the severe impact on many readers' lives and families. We acknowledge this list is not a solution. We do hope it provides at minimum some reprieve.

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  • #50. ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (2014)

    - Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 76
    - Run time: 86 minutes

    “What We Do in the Shadows” does for vampire horror what “This is Spinal Tap” does for the rockumentary. It’s a gloriously funny lampoon of “Twilight,” “True Blood,” “Blade,” “Nosferatu,” and other ponderous Dracula dramas. Gruesome mayhem errs on the side of delight, and the film has a surprisingly sweet soul when it comes to friendship and romance within the lives of the undead.

  • #49. ‘500 Days of Summer’ (2009)

    - Director: Marc Webb
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 76
    - Run time: 95 minutes

    Zooey Deschanel stars as Summer, the quintessential girl-who-got-away, referenced in the title of this love story told through a nonlinear structure across 500 days. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the hipster infatuated with her in this quirky, uplifting take on love and loss.

  • #48. ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ (2004)

    - Director: Stephen Chow
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 78
    - Run time: 99 minutes

    An ode to cartoon mayhem and world cinema history, “Kung Fu Hustle” brings a euphoric visual design to its story about gangsters in 1940s China. The film is an homage to martial arts movies with references that span Chinese and American pop culture in an exhilarating action comedy with dancing gangsters and stylized violence.

  • #47. ‘Midnight in Paris’ (2011)

    - Director: Woody Allen
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 81
    - Run time: 94 minutes

    Nostalgia often moves toward the bittersweet, but in this comedy it has an endearing silliness. A brooding screenwriter, played by Owen Wilson, finds himself transported to Paris in the ʼ20s where he hobnobs with literary greats like Ernest Hemingway, played by Corey Stoll, and Gertrude Stein, portrayed by Kathy Bates. Adrien Brody steals scenes with his turn as the hilariously intense Salvador Dalí.

  • #46. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (2012)

    - Director: David O. Russell
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 81
    - Run time: 122 minutes

    This uplifting rom-com presents devastating trauma and loss alongside the exhilarating triumph of simply getting out there and doing your best. Bradley Cooper plays a man living with bipolar disorder, and Jennifer Lawrence is the struggling widow who tricks him into joining her for an upcoming dance competition that’s way out of their league. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver bring humor and humanity to their roles as worried parents who’ve seen it all, but still harbor hope.

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  • #45. ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (2019)

    - Director: Quentin Tarantino
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 83
    - Run time: 161 minutes

    Quentin Tarantino’s exuberant recreation of late 1960s Hollywood brims with stylized nostalgia. Dipping into the goings-on of a has-been TV cowboy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his stunt man, played by Brad Pitt, the film rewrites the true history of the Manson murders, providing feel-good vengeance that disrupts tragic reality.

  • #44. ‘Nebraska’ (2013)

    - Director: Alexander Payne
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 86
    - Run time: 115 minutes

    Alexander Payne’s funny character study shows warmth and compassion despite the bleak, straightforward style of the black-and-white cinematography. Bruce Dern plays an elderly retiree inspired by a scam to take a road trip to collect fake sweepstake winnings. Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk play his sons in what’s regarded as a searing, yet moving look at a Midwestern family.

  • #43. ‘Ponyo’ (2008)

    - Director: Hayao Miyazaki
    - IMDb user rating: 7.7
    - Metascore: 86
    - Run time: 101 minutes

    Hayao Miyazaki’s sublime anime takes on a mermaid fairy tale—a young fish longs to be human—that brims with strange and rapturous whimsy. Miyazaki’s animated tales are known for their vibrant originality. “Ponyo” combines the fantastical with an appreciation for everyday human existence in this moving story about two new friends caught in a harrowing storm.

  • #42. ‘About Time’ (2013)

    - Director: Richard Curtis
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Metascore: 55
    - Run time: 123 minutes

    “About Time” revels in precious moments of everyday life and the joys of family. Its sci-fi premise gets a sentimental flourish when time travel is used to experience the best parts of normal existence again and again. The sweet love story between Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson makes this an easy romance to watch again and again.


  • #41. ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ (2003)

    - Directors: Satoshi Kon, Shôgo Furuya
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Metascore: 73
    - Run time: 92 minutes

    This acclaimed anime movie follows three vagrants who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. Despite harrowing circumstances, the film brings a sense of the miraculous to derelict settings and chance encounters. Holiday films are rarely set amid such rough circumstances, but “Tokyo Godfathers” offers a sense of hope for reconciling with family despite bleak odds.

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