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Sometimes you just need a good cry.
Everybody needs a good cry once in awhile. Sometimes you just need the absolute saddest movie on Netflix. Maybe you’ve just been through a breakup. Or maybe you’ve cried so much lately about the state of the world that you’re looking for literally any other reason to shed your tears. No matter what your reason is, we hear you, and we want to help you let it out. To that end, here are the best sad movies on Netflix right now, available instantly for your weeping pleasure.
30 sad movies on Netflix
1) Schindler’s List
When it comes to sad movies on Netflix, it’s hard to top this one. Schindler’s List is the kind of movie that is so famously wrenching, it’s increasingly harder to find anybody who has actually seen it. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 epic may still be the defining film about the Holocaust. In addition to winning Best Picture, Schindler’s List cemented Spielberg’s place as not only the populist favorite among his generation of directors but a true master of the art form as well.
Adapted by Dee Rees and co-writer Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound, a sad Netflix original movie, traces the stories of two families during WWII, one white, one black. They intersect when the McAllan clan buys the farm the Jackson family has worked on as sharecroppers for years. It’s worth watching Mudbound for its devastating ending alone. It’s impossible to deny that Hollywood is better for taking a chance on filmmakers like Dee Rees and stories like this.
Coco is easily a top-tier Pixar film. The studio broadens its horizons a bit with this story set in the culture of Día de Muertos. Miguel is a 12-year-old with an affinity for music, but his family wants him to go into their shoe-making business. Miguel travels to the land of the dead to learn about his heritage and finds out more than he was ready for. Coco is a touching film about family and the importance of remembrance and, as with most Pixar movies, learning to accept yourself and others for who they are. It goes without saying that Coco is visually stunning and emotionally involving. Good luck getting “Remember Me” out of your head. —Eddie Strait
4) Blue Valentine
Blue Valentine is the kind of movie that’s so sad, it occasionally feels like it’s trying to rip your heart out through your chest. The film stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a couple whose relationship we see disintegrate as it cuts back and forth between when they first got together and their older, more damaged selves. Director Derek Cianfrance, who would go on to make The Place Beyond the Pines and The Light Between Oceans shot the flashback scenes in a kind of grainy, Instagram-worthy style that ultimately serves to make them more romantic, while the present-day scenes look sleeker and colder, reflecting a kind of harsh realness. Both performances are heartbreaking (Williams was nominated for an Oscar for hers), probably because the two leads actually spent time living together like a real couple between filming the scenes set in the past and the ones set in the future. By the time their characters had to break up, it feels all too real.
5) The Place Beyond the Pines
Though not as utterly soul-crushing as his breakout film, Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is still a tour de force in sadness. Telling three different stories over two generations, Pines is a movie about the bond between fathers and son and how the choices we make resonate well into the future. Though it falls short of its epic ambitions, the film is a great throwback to the gritty American dramas of the 1970s—not to mention the rare “guy cry” movie, i.e. it has action but will also put you in touch with your emotions. Co-lead Bradley Cooper is good in the movie’s second section, but the film never quite gets over Ryan Gosling’s towering performance in the first. As a carnival bad boy skilled in motorcycle stunts, Gosling (reteaming with Cianfrance here following the success of Valentine) is the tattooed heart of gold at the center of this picture.
Atonement is the kind of old-school tragedy that spans generations, separates lovers, and plunges whole countries into war. Or, to put it another way, it takes itself pretty seriously. However, as opposed to fellow Oscar darlings No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, both released the same year, Atonement at least has some romance to get swept up in. It also has a prestigious (not to mention beautiful) cast, featuring talents such as James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juno Temple, Alfie Allen, Tobias Menzies, Saoirse Ronan, and Vanessa Redgrave. And like most of director Joe Wright’s movies, the cinematography is absolutely stunning, and the score from composer Dario Marianelli won an Oscar. Is Atonement pretentious? Undoubtedly. This Ian McEwan adaptation is a sweeping piece of work in the vein of Doctor Zhivago. But it’s pretension is part of its charm.
Kodachrome is like going to your childhood home to play a game of catch in your backyard: It’s comforting and you fall right back into the routine. What starts as a paint-by-numbers story of an estranged father and son working out their issues during a long road trip morphs into a genuinely affecting tale of family and mortality with a satisfying emotional payoff. Ed Harris plays the role of a father and renowned photographer, Ben, with customary elegance, but Jason Sudeikis steals the show as his son, Matt. Jonathan Tropper’s script pulls no punches, and director Mark Raso allows the scenes to breathe, making Kodachrome one of the better Netflix releases of 2018. —E.S.
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8) Dallas Buyers Club
As a movie about LGBTQ subject matter, Dallas Buyers Club leaves something to be desired. Not only does it omit elements of the real Ron Woodroof’s story, it fails to clearly define whether Rayon, the film’s second lead, is transgender, a cross-dresser, or identifies in some other non-binary way. Where Dallas Buyers Club does succeed is in its depiction of the AIDS crisis, stigmatization that came with an HIV-positive diagnosis, and the far-reaching effects it had in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Dallas Buyers Club provides a raw snapshot of a watershed moment. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s Oscar-winning performances as Woodroof and Rayon, respectively, are also among the best of their careers (particularly in Leto’s case), and the direction from Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies) is stunning.
9) Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road is so thoroughly wrenching, such a complete punch in the gut, it’s the kind of film that threatens to ruin your entire day after you see it. Not exactly the Titanic reunion most people wanted, the film stars Kate and Leo as a pair of suburban malcontents in 1950s Connecticut. Having slowly grown to hate their surroundings, and by extension, each other, Revolutionary Road is both an examination of the dissolution of one marriage and of the American dream itself. Essentially director Sam Mendes’ take on the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the ‘50s, the movie is memorable for its gorgeous sets and costumes, its haunting score from Thomas Newman, and for a star-making turn by Michael Shannon, who received an Academy-Award nomination for his role as the disturbed son of a family friend.
While critics have almost universally praised the first half of Lion for its intense portrayal of Calcutta street life, there’s something kind of exploitative in the film’s focus on poverty. But the second half of the film, which focuses on a young man in Australia trying to find his way back to the home he doesn’t remember in India, Lion becomes something else entirely. The story’s hero, Saroo (Dev Patel), struggles to reconcile the privilege of his current life, mainly the love of his adopted parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and girlfriend (Rooney Mara), with the life he lost as a child. With a little help from Google Maps, he begins to obsessively search for the village he was born in. All that Googling might not sound exciting, and some of it is a little dull, but it’s contemporary story this hones in on globalization and technology. Regardless, it’s one of the best sad movies on Netflix.
Based on a crazy true story involving a serial killer, a corrupt police force, and a mother’s search for her missing child, this Clint Eastwood movie eared three Academy Award nominations including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Actress. That last nod went to Angelina Jolie, who gives a fierce and emotional performance as Christine Collins, whose son disappeared in 1928 only to have the LAPD deliver another child to her and insist he was her own. When researching the improbable events of the case, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, a former journalist, didn’t even believe they were real at first.
12) The End of the Tour
Although many close to the late writer denounced the film upon its release, The End of the Tour’s portrayal of acclaimed author David Foster Wallace doesn’t necessarily need to be accurate to be affecting. Following journalist David Lipsky’s unpublished chronicle of Wallace in the last days of his book tour for Infinite Jest, the film is a powerful work on art, interviewing, genius, depression, and the way creative people view each other. Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel do some of the best work of their careers as Lipsky and Wallace, bringing authentic chemistry to this brief but powerful relationship.
13) Other People
Based on Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly’s real-life experiences, Other People tells the story of struggling comedy writer, David (Jesse Plemons), who moves back home to Sacramento to take care of his dying mother, Joanne (Molly Shannon). Complicating matters is his father, Norman (Bradley Whitford), who refuses to accept David’s sexuality, even 10 years after he came out. The lead performances are all great, and the film features strong supporting turns from familiar character actors and comedy mainstays, including June Squibb, Matt Walsh, Maude Apatow, and more. It’s a movie which alternates between moments designed to make you laugh and moments designed to make you cry, and it’s not short on either.
14) Million Dollar Baby (2004)
This 2004 Best Picture winner may be Clint Eastwood’s last great film. He was rewarded with his second Best Director statue for Million Dollar Baby, and Hilary Swank’s Best Actress win marked her second Oscar too, following her award for Boys Don’t Cry five years earlier. Also receiving a much-deserved statue was Morgan Freeman, who took home his first-ever and only Academy Award (if you can believe it) for Best Supporting Actor. Why did this moving boxing drama about a tough as nails female fighter working with a gruff trainer end up being such an Oscar darling? In many ways, Million Dollar Baby is an old-fashioned weepie, with a third act twist designed to make you cry like rain. And we’re talking about a torrential downpour in the theater. Although it’s a sports movie at first glance, Million Dollar Baby has more in common with the melodramas of old Hollywood than Eastwood might care to admit.
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15) Finding Neverland
The adorable face that launched the career of Freddie Highmore first showed up in American movie theaters in this 2004 biopic about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie. Johnny Depp stars as Barrie in an Oscar-nominated performance from the days when he was still tolerable, alongside a strong supporting cast which includes Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, and more. But it’s definitely Highmore who breaks your heart and steals the show as Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the real life children who served as the inspiration for Pan. His scenes with Depp were so compelling that the two of them ended up reuniting a year later, for Tim Burton’s take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
16) An American Tail
Besides being a slyly profound meditation on the immigrant experience, An American Tail is also as devastating as any film about an animated talking mouse can get. When Fivel, a little Russian mouse, gets separated from his family after they immigrate to the United States, he’s forced to look for them in this strange new country. Of course, there’s a happy ending, but Fivel’s journey along the way is nothing short of heartbreaking. And the film’s signature song, “Somewhere Out There,” is somewhere up there with the all-time great movie ballads. Also, if you’re looking for a similar kids movie that’s less harrowing, An American Tail’s three much lighter sequels are currently on Netflix, too.
17) Good Will Hunting
“It’s not your fault.” Ouch, right? Even if you’re tired of looking at the smug face of Matt Damon’s Will Hunting, even if the obnoxious mass of Boston accents has started to get to you, even if the movie’s general earnestness drives you crazy, by the time Good Will Hunting arrives at that one scene, even the hardest and most cynical hearts will also start to melt. Among Good Will Hunting’s considerable powers are Gus Van Sant’s deft but subtle direction and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning script. But it is Robin Williams’ crushing performance, for which he also received the Academy award, that makes the movie worth revisiting. The late Williams showed he could tone his more over-the-top antics way down in this, his most acclaimed role. The result is breathtaking and the one element of the movie most likely to make you shed a tear or two (or many).
18) 6 Balloons
In Marja-Lewis Ryan’s 6 Balloons, one long night tests the limits of compassion. It tells the story of Katie (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) a woman who’s trying to plan a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend. But as the day goes on she collides with her brother Seth (Dave Franco), a heroin addict who’s using again. “The loneliness inside those dark moments is almost more crippling… not being able to talk about the things; not knowing where to talk,” Ryan told the Daily Dot. “If this isn’t your story, then maybe you can gain a little empathy for people who are experiencing this. And if it is your story, hopefully, you can feel a little less lonely.” 6 Balloons is very much about middle-class addiction, based on a similar night Ryan’s best friend (and the film’s co-producer) Samantha Housman experienced: Her brother, a lawyer, was addicted to heroin. —Audra Schroeder
Milk is a sad movie because it shows you how hard the gay rights movement had to fight for the most basic respect. It’s a sad movie because the rights that were being fought for are still too often unrecognized in this country today. It’s a sad movie because Harvey Milk gave his life for what he believed in, and anytime a good man dies fighting for something he believes in, those that would carry on their fight must naturally mourn first. But it’s not an entirely sad movie because Harvey Milk also lived a life worth celebrating.
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Netflix’s first major foray into film distribution, at least in terms of narrative filmmaking, was this child soldier drama from 2015. Upon its release, Beasts of No Nation immediately declared that, in addition to giving you daily doses of ‘90s nostalgia, the streaming giant was committed to socially engaged stories too. Directed by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba in what should’ve been an Oscar-nominated performance, Beasts of No Nation is an intense watch but also a rewarding one. If nothing else, it’ll make you aware of how few depictions of Africa we really see onscreen, and how much that needs to be corrected. It’s one of the saddest movies on Netflix, and thankfully, it’s not going anywhere.
Rent is a big, theater school hug, as zealous and earnest now as the day it premiered. Though the film adaptation gets rid of some of the more experimental elements of the show, it retains the essential spirit. Rent’s exploration of the AIDS crisis may feel dated today, but it’s important to consider how revelatory and essential the topic would’ve been when the musical first arrived in the mid-‘90s. This was a show that managed to be as fun as it was devastating, as likely to make you dance in the aisles as weep in your seat. If it seems cliched today, it’s only because it influenced so many things that came after it.
22) Sunday’s Illness
In Sunday’s Illness, the raw emotions between a mother and the daughter she abandoned 35 years ago are on full display as they spend 10 days together, showing what could have been and what will never be with painstaking beauty. Mother Anabel (Susi Sánchez) and daughter Chiara (Bárbara Lennie) constantly push and pull at one another even when they aren’t in each other’s orbit. Sunday’s Illness could have taken its concept into a number of directions with the backdrop—and impeccable cinematography—of an isolated house located on a wooded mountain that helps set the tone. Instead, the film goes down a more emotional and sometimes uncomfortable path, climaxing in a profoundly life-changing experience. Like the snapshots we see, we’re left wondering what it might all say. —Michelle Jaworski
23) To the Bone
It may be hard to convince yourself sit down for a harrowing story about a young woman’s struggle with anorexia. Despite To the Bone’s dour subject matter, Marti Noxon’s script has enough humor to act as a release valve. The performances from lead actress Lily Collins to supporting players Alex Sharp, Keanu Reeves, Retta, and Lily Tomlin are great. The story is based on Noxon’s past experiences and that comes through in the intimate and empathetic approach she takes. —E.S.
Netflix’s cancer drama Irreplaceable You is a formulaic movie with enough good moments to make it worth your time. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michiel Huisman star as Abbie and Sam, who have been in love with each other since they were 8 years old. All of their plans are derailed by Abbie’s terminal diagnosis. Instead of planning the rest of their lives together, they’re forced to plan for the end of their relationship. —E.S.
Louis Waters (Robert Redford) has lived a quiet life since his wife’s death years before. Then one night his neighbor, Addie (Jane Fonda), herself a widow of many years, knocks on his door with a simple proposal: “Would you like to sleep with me?” Our Souls at Night would be worth watching even if it was just to see Redford and Fonda working together again, but thankfully, it also serves as a gentle reminder that it’s never too late to find love. Sometimes you just have to get out of your comfort zone and knock on some doors. —David Wharton
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A Netflix original movie, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is an odd and oddly touching story about a girl, Mija, and her genetically enhanced superpig, Okja. Set in Korea and the U.S., Okja features a diverse cast, thrilling set pieces, and enough emotional moments to keep you engaged even when the film indulges its weirder aspects. Despite the film’s tonal shifts, Joon-ho’s agility and prowess as a filmmaker ties everything together and makes it feel if a piece. Okja is easily the best Netflix original movie to date. —E.S.
27) The Iron Giant
As much love as there is for The Incredibles out there, a case can and probably should be made that the Iron Giant is director/animator Brad Bird’s best film. A parable about a childlike colossus in paranoid ‘50s America, the movie feels almost radical today in its broadly nonviolent, specifically anti-gun viewpoint. But besides being a prescient political statement and a layered portrait of small-town Americana, The Iron Giant is also a glorious and sad animated film, in the same tradition later perfected by Pixar.
28) Cloud Atlas
Like all the Wachowskis’ films, Cloud Atlas is about the fight between freedom and oppression. Directed with the help of Tom Tykwer, this tale of the tyrannical versus the marginalized is typically ambitious and strange for the brains behind The Matrix, V for Vendetta, and Sense8, weaving a dense narrative that spans years, continents, and consciousnesses (you’ll get it if you watch the movie.) What makes Cloud Atlas feel a little different than the rest of the Wachowskis work is that it relies less on action or a desire to seem “cool.” Instead, the film is a work of great vulnerability, which carries a real undercurrent of tragedy throughout. At almost 3 hours long, not all of it works, but what does is truly a sight to behold.
29) Cinema Paradiso
Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 Oscar-winner remains beloved by fans of foreign films and fans of movies in general. Cinema Paradiso is nostalgic in the best way, telling the story of a filmmaker who recalls how he first fell in love with cinema at the local movie house while also making friends with the theater’s projectionist. It’s a lovely, undeniably likable movie with loads of heart.
Carol is a devastating love story, but it’s also hopeful. The film stars Cate Blanchett in the title role as a ‘50s housewife who’s starting to come into her sexuality, and Rooney Mara as Therese, a young woman who falls for her. As the movie’s lush, gorgeous look washes over the characters, every glance, every gesture, every hint of longing becomes something profound. The story is familiar territory for director Todd Haynes, who also explored forbidden sexuality in “traditional” America with 2002’s Far from Heaven. Either one could rightly be called a melodrama, but while the former heightens emotions, the latter tempers them. If Far from Heaven was Haynes using Douglas Sirk’s cinematic language to explore conformity and desire, Carol finds him taking a subtle, more delicate approach. Both films are haunting and beautiful, but Carol feels like the masterwork he’s been approaching his whole career.
Looking for something more specific? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, alien movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.