We can’t go to the movies now, but we’re watching (and re-watching) them more than ever. While global box office revenues fell by more than $30 billion in 2020, industry figures show that subscriptions to video streaming services hit 1.1 billion, up 26%.

During the pandemic or any time, movies can be a welcome distraction. Turns out, watching certain types of flicks can also be therapeutic, relieving anxiety and helping us cope.

A new study from Ohio State University found that after people view movies they find meaningful, they feel better able to make sense of and accept the challenges of life.

What’s considered a meaningful movie? The researchers defined it as one that’s somehow poignant, moving or inspiring, or that has a mixture of happiness and sadness.

In their study, published in the journal Mass Communication and Society, researchers divided participants into two groups. One received a list of meaningful films to consider, including The Shawshank Redemption, Up, Schindler’s List and Slumdog Millionaire. The other group was given a list of popular films that were well-regarded but didn’t quite hit on the same inspiring notes, like Pulp Fiction, Fight Club and Catch Me if You Can.

From the lists, the participants were asked to identify a movie they had seen before, and were then surveyed about how they reacted to it.

People who looked back on a meaningful movie were more likely to say that it helped them to handle tough situations, accept the human condition, do good for others and look for what really matters in life.

That might always hold true. As for what we’re living through now, another study revealed that fans of horror movies have exhibited greater resilience during the pandemic.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, explained that engaging in frightening fictional experiences “can act as simulations of actual experiences from which individuals can gather information and model possible worlds.

The researchers also found that fans of related genres – alien invasion, apocalyptic and zombie films – also showed both greater resilience and preparedness.

Being “morbidly curious”, said the researchers, “allows audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.”

Both of those studies revolved around categories of movies. What can also matter is repeat viewing of old ones of any nature, according to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

For this study, participants had to keep a log and record their energy-consuming tasks, their media consumption and their energy levels for the day. When people knew they had to put in an effort to do something, they were more likely to watch an old familiar movie (or TV show), which actually boosted their energy levels.

The study found that this restorative effect didn’t work if you just watched whatever was on at the time, or even a new episode of a favourite show. It’s the act of re-watching, the study said, that relaxes and is curative. The nostalgia, and encountering something safe, comforts us in stressful periods.

So at a time when we’re increasingly looking for an entertainment fix at home, remember that your choices count. If you happen to find a favourite old and meaningful zombie apocalypse movie, you’ve hit the pandemic coping jackpot.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

May 12, 2021

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