The psychology behind “comfort movies”

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Alicia Ernst, Staff Writer

Everyone has a certain movie or TV show that they turn to when nothing in the catalog interests them. It’s an instant click when they’re feeling sad, lonely, or in need of familiarity to bring them joy. Or, maybe they choose the movie because they know it will always entertain them when boredom begins to take over. This personal genre of media, commonly known as “comfort movies”, are a universal phenomena.

Comfort movies can typically be traced back to a happy memory or time, such as childhood or a fun sleepover with friends. Nikka Boyle, a sophomore at Oakton, shares a few of her favorites. “10 Things I Hate About You is a classic, if you haven’t seen it you really need to. It was literally my childhood. It’s definitely one of my main comfort movies. A lot of rom-coms are.” Boyle said. She also mentioned Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 500 Days of Summer, Tangled, and Clueless. A pattern has clearly emerged – Boyle’s comfort movies all follow a whimsical, lighthearted, comedic storyline that will surely spark joy and nostalgia when viewed.

Especially during the pandemic, it may seem like there is all the time in the world to discover a brand new movie – so why do people consistently return to their favorite titles? In situations where watching a “comfort movie” is warranted, the viewer is likely turning to that movie because they know it will provide them with comfort, as the name suggests. Rewatching old favorites provides the watcher with control and familiarity. Those who are especially prone to anxiety prefer to know what is coming next in a movie, rather than having to comprehend any new information.

Nostalgia also plays a role in the psychology behind comfort movies. The reason behind rewatching a childhood favorite for consolation stems from the joy of reminiscing on positive memories. Nostalgic movies may transport viewers to a better time during their life, and serve as a reminder that there have been, and once again will be, better and happier days ahead. Nostalgia creates an idealisation of a certain time period that the brain has established a positive connotation for; rewatching a nostalgic movie may simulate that feeling of happiness and certainty of surroundings. 

Although these movies create a sense of optimism, it is important not to rely on them as a means of living in the past or in a disillusioned state of mind. If this is not the case, reruns are a surefire way to cheer anyone up, especially in times of uncertainty.