15 Feel-Good Movies that are Actually Kind of Depressing When You Think About It
Sorry if we’ve just ruined it all for you.
1. "Forrest Gump" (1994)
Ah, yes. Who doesn't love the tale of our endearing simpleton, Forrest, zipping through the historical events of the 20th century like a feather on the wind? It's a heartwarming story – until you realize the undercurrent of sadness running throughout. From Forrest's unrequited love for Jenny, who had a lifetime of abusive relationships and dies young, to his mother's premature death and his best friend Bubba's tragic end in Vietnam. Not to mention, Forrest's entire life seems defined by a series of events he has no control over.
2. "Big" (1988)
On the surface, "Big" is a magical tale of wish fulfillment. A young boy named Josh desires to be "big" and – bam – he wakes up in the body of Tom Hanks. It's fun, it's whimsical, and who wouldn't want to play on a life-sized piano? But hold on. Josh is still a 12-year-old trapped in an adult's body, who takes on a job, starts a romantic relationship with an adult woman (major yikes), and is thrown into a world he is emotionally unequipped to handle. The story takes a dark turn when you realize that he's lost his childhood and is living a life of confusion and loneliness.
3. "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006)
Will Smith and his son, Jaden, pull at our heartstrings in this inspirational story about overcoming adversity. But let's not gloss over the fact that their characters are homeless for a good chunk of the film. The father, Chris Gardner, takes an unpaid internship, risking everything on a slim chance of a better future. The "happy" ending only comes after a relentless grind of poverty, desperation, and stress. It's less "feel-good" and more "feel-stressed-out-of-your-mind," especially in today's economy.
4. "WALL-E" (2008)
Yes, we've got a cute little robot diligently cleaning up the earth and finding love along the way. Charming, right? But let's not forget that WALL-E is the last functioning robot on a completely deserted, garbage-filled Earth. Humans have abandoned the planet after recklessly depleting its resources and have devolved into obese, screen-obsessed beings aboard the Axiom. It's a post-apocalyptic nightmare neatly wrapped in a love story between two robots. Adorable, but also a distressing wake-up call.
5. "Up" (2009)
This is one a bit too on-the-nose but we just couldn't resist. "Up" is a colorful, adventurous tale featuring a grumpy old man, a bubbly boy scout, and a talking dog. It's charming until you stop for a minute to think about Carl Fredricksen's life story and that gut-wrenching montage of his relationship with his late wife, Ellie. The film navigates themes of grief, regret, and loneliness. Not to mention, the main plot revolves around Carl's desperate attempt to fulfill a promise to his deceased wife by dragging his house – a metaphorical baggage of his past – to Paradise Falls. Adventure is out there, but so is a world of melancholy.
6. "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993)
Who can resist the hilarity of Robin Williams disguised as a Scottish nanny? But beneath the cross-dressing and comedic antics lies a tale of a broken family, a desperate father, and a contentious divorce. Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) resorts to this extreme act to spend time with his children, highlighting the pain of parental separation. The film ends on a positive note with the parents amicably separated and the children adjusting, but it's impossible to ignore the undertone of heartache that permeates the film.
7. "Toy Story 3" (2010)
Yes, in the end, Woody and the gang escape the incinerator and find a new loving home. But let's rewind a bit, shall we? The story is essentially about toys facing their mortality, abandonment, and the existential crisis of becoming irrelevant. The incinerator scene alone is more chilling than cheerful. Even the "happy ending" is tinged with sadness, as they have to part ways with their beloved owner, Andy. If you're not sobbing into your popcorn by the end, you're made of stronger stuff than I am.
8. "Finding Nemo" (2003)
This Pixar favorite is a joyous adventure on the surface but starts with a massacre leaving Marlin, a clownfish, without his wife and 399 of his unhatched children. The one surviving son, Nemo, is overprotected and ends up being captured. The film then transforms into an epic, anxiety-ridden journey through the dangerous ocean. You're left questioning, "is this an animated kids' movie or a psychological thriller?"
9. "Inside Out" (2015)
This colorful, clever Pixar film helps children (and adults) understand emotions better. Yet, it's essentially about a young girl, Riley, going through a severe emotional crisis after moving to a new city. The film grapples with themes of depression, change, and loss. Joy's journey in understanding that Sadness is a crucial part of life is heartbreaking. Watching a little girl's mental resilience crumble before your eyes is not exactly a walk in the park, Pixar.
10. "The Truman Show" (1998)
Jim Carrey's turn as Truman Burbank in a world that's entirely a reality TV show is inventive and often amusing. But the whole premise is incredibly depressing when you think about it. Truman's entire life is manipulated for entertainment, he's constantly lied to, and his privacy is entirely violated. The 'feel-good' moment of his escape comes after a lifetime of deception and manipulation. Maybe not the cheeriest concept for a night of light viewing, huh?
11. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986)
This is the story of a charming, rebellious teenager who just wants a day off school. However, if we dig a little deeper, we find a darker narrative beneath the comedic surface. The whole film is a cry for help from Cameron Frye, Ferris's best friend. He's living in an abusive and neglectful household, dealing with severe mental health issues, and his cry for attention is largely ignored. Ferris's whimsical parade of truancy, when viewed through Cameron's lens, is less a joyride and more a voyage through the treacherous waters of teenage angst.
12. "Groundhog Day" (1993)
On the surface, "Groundhog Day" is a witty and creative rom-com. But let's acknowledge that Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is stuck in a time loop, living the same day over and over again. It's a comedic existential nightmare. Phil goes through stages of confusion, hedonism, depression, and even attempts suicide multiple times, though he always wakes up to Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe." It's only when he starts living selflessly that he breaks free. Funny? Yes. But it's also an incredibly bleak take on human existence.
13. "Shrek" (2001)
"Shrek" is a fun, fairy-tale spoof with a loveable ogre, a talking donkey, and a dragon-donkey romance. But let's address the ogre in the room. Shrek is a social outcast who is constantly judged, feared, and ostracized because of his appearance. Fiona, the leading lady, is a victim of a curse that makes her believe she's only beautiful as a human. The film delivers a strong message about acceptance and self-love, but underneath its comedic exterior lies a poignant commentary on societal expectations and prejudice.
14. "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
This classic film is full of singing, dancing, and charming characters. But when you really think about it, Dorothy is a young girl who gets transported to a strange land by a tornado, kills a witch upon arrival, and is instantly pursued by another vengeful witch. She is then coerced into a dangerous quest by a manipulative wizard. The whole adventure turns out to be a dream, suggesting that Dorothy might be dealing with some serious psychological issues. Munchkins and ruby slippers aside, it's a troubling narrative.
15. "Click" (2006)
Adam Sandler brings plenty of laughs in "Click," where he plays a man who can control his life with a universal remote. Sounds fun, right? Wrong. He fast-forwards through his life, missing out on critical moments with his family, personal growth, and basically life itself. The film is a somber reminder of the fleeting nature of time and the importance of cherishing every moment. You might chuckle, but it leaves you with an unsettling aftertaste.