Sometimes you just need a good cry.
Everybody needs a good cry once in awhile. 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
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. Hopefully its presence on Netflix fixes that because 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 artform as well. —C.O.
Adapted by Dee Rees and co-writer Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s novel, Mudbound, a 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. —C.O.
3) My Left Foot
My Left Foot tells the story of Christy Brown, an Irish author with cerebral palsy. Through frustration and determination, he learned to write using only (you guessed it) his left foot, making his journey on screen one that is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first of three Oscars for playing this difficult character, and while the casting of an able-bodied actor for the part might inspire some criticism today, at the time the film all but cemented his reputation as the greatest actor of his generation. —C.O.
4) Before Midnight
Midnight is probably the hardest film to watch in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, but it’s also probably the best. Released nine years after Before Sunset and 18 years after Before Sunrise, Before Midnight finds Celine and Jesse, the couple at the trilogy’s center, having moved past adolescent romance and youthful desire into middle-aged love… or something like it. The film suggests that ennui, complacency, and resentment are as much a part of growing old with someone as all that “happily ever after” stuff.” But in making Celine and Jesse an actual couple, it also finds a surprising beauty in its realism. —C.O.
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. —C.O.
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.
7) The Road
Like the Cormac McCarthy novel it’s based on, John Hillcoat’s 2009 adaptation of The Road is not for the faint of heart. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, The Road is punishing from start to finish. Though not quite as viscerally haunting as its source material, the images the film leaves behind are both painterly and pessimistic. And yet, like all the best tragedies, it ends on a note of hope. And with that hope, stories like The Road remind us to keep going, to keep pushing on.
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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. —C.O.
9) Fruitvale Station
There are films on this list that are melodramatic weepies, and others which are highfalutin tragedies, but few contain such intense, real-world pain as Fruitvale Station. Given the country we live in, any drama about the shooting of an unarmed black man by a law enforcement officers is sure to stir up emotions. This one, based on the 2008 killing of Bay Area citizen Oscar Grant, is no different from any other—except it is. Like all stories of police violence against the black community, Fruitvale Station’s details are unique while also fitting into a larger pattern. What makes the film work is that director Ryan Coogler (who was just 26 when Fruitvale Station debuted at Sundance) chooses to focus on the last few hours of Oscar Grant’s life, rather than just the moments surrounding his death. In that way, the movie becomes equal parts celebration as well as indictment. Fruitvale Station was a monumental debut on Coogler’s part, as well as a turning point for star Michael B. Jordan (who had previously appeared on such TV shows as The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Parenthood.) Coogler and Jordan went on to reteam for big movies such as last year’s sublime Creed and next year’s Black Panther. But as the initial calling card for both artists, and a wakeup call for movie-watchers everywhere, Fruitvale Station is still a devastating breakout.
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. —C.O.
11) The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game isn’t that different than any Oscar candidate in any given year. It’s a true story about a British man who overcomes incredible difficult to triumph against all odds. Except in The Imitation Game, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) doesn’t triumph in the end, not really. He cracks the Germans’ Enigma code, effectively ending WWII and winning the war for the allies. But as a homosexual man living in the first half of the 20th century, his own ending is far from happy. Of course, the movie downplays Turing’s sexuality for most of its runtime. But like the man himself, The Imitation Game would not be what it is without its tragic ending. It’s a movie that falls peril to the “inspirational” Oscar clichés, undoubtedly. But by telling the most painful part of Turing’s story along with the more triumphant moments, it manages to give the man some of the justice and credit he so desperately deserves.
12) Dead Poets Society
Although occasionally lampooned for dumbing down literature, it’s hard to deny that Dead Poets Society is a pretty emotional movie. Peter Weir’s film about a teacher (Robin Williams) who uses poetry to connect with his students is incredibly earnest, wearing its heart on its sleeve and daring you not to cry. While the movie’s pseudo-intellectualism doesn’t play as well as “serious drama” today, Williams’ performance is lovely, and the young actors, including Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles, all do solid work. You have to be a real Scrooge not to feel something during the “O Captain! My Captain!” scene.
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. —C.O.
14) On Golden Pond
Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn both took home Oscars for their work in this 1981 drama about a curmudgeon and his wife who end up forming a surprising bond with the son of their daughter’s (played by Jane Fonda) boyfriend. On Golden Pond is an earnest movie, with somewhat simple ambitions. But if you remember old Hollywood fondly, it’s impossible not to fall for Fonda and Hepburn’s performances. Watching these two titans, now in their twilight years, come together onscreen for one last bow is a natural conduit for the waterworks.
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It’s a little sad that Pariah is best known for a drunken shout out: When accepting the Golden Globe for The Iron Lady in 2012, Meryl Streep slurred the name of Adepero Oduye, the film’s lead. But inebriated or not, Meryl knows what’s up. Directed by Dee Rees, making her debut, Pariah offers a fresh take on the coming-out story. Giving a star-is-born performance, Oduye plays Alike, a black teenager experiencing her queer coming of age on the streets of Brooklyn, New York. As she soon discovers, figuring out who you are isn’t without difficulty: The girl she likes (Aasha Davis) views their relationship as nothing more than “youthful experimentation.” Meanwhile, her parents force her to choose between her sexuality and her family. For Rees, the little-seen film was the beginning of a promising career: She directed HBO’s Emmy-winning Bessie in 2015 and helmed the network’s Stonewall drama, When We Rise. —N.L.
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) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Although there are elements of To Kill a Mockingbird that feel dated today, the book and the film’s core principles continue to ring true. Perhaps it’s hard not to look at Atticus Finch differently in light of the 2015’s controversial Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps the text has lost some of its relevance as more black artists have gotten the chance to shape their own narratives over the years. Nevertheless, the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic tale of Boo Radley, Scout, and Atticus Finch still feels designed to tug at the heartstrings, all these years later. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus, in particular, remains an archetype for cinematic “good guy.” To Kill a Mockingbird may no longer be as vital today as it surely seemed in 1962, but if you’re looking for something that’ll make you shed some tears, it should still get the job done. —C.O.
18) The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
Released in 2014 to decent buzz but little fanfare, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is mostly known for being an interesting experiment. Showing the disintegration of one couple’s relationship, the film was released in two parts, each following one-half of the central couple. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him gives us the perspective of James McAvoy’s Conor, while The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her follows Jessica Chastain’s Eleanor. Another cut, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, which combines both sides into one feature film, is also available on Netflix. And although it would be unnecessary to watch all three, some combination of these movies is worth checking out. The best route is probably to see Him and Her back to back. Chastain’s half is particularly good; McAvoy holds his own, but there few actors as gifted as Ms. Chastain working today, and it’s hard for anyone not to get upstaged by her. Centering around a tragic event that tore Conor and Eleanor apart, you might call The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby an emotional mystery. It’s not hard to guess what happened, but putting the pieces together is what makes the experiment worthwhile, as well as what makes the movie so sad.
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.
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 weap in your seat. If it seems cliched today, it’s only because it influenced so many things that came after it. —C.O.
22) The Pursuit of Happyness
Before he became a living meme, Jaden Smith starred with his father in this film about the real-life story of Christopher Gardner, a struggling salesman who has to look out for his son after his wife leaves him, all while attempting a dramatic career change he hopes will bring a better life for both of them. Will Smith earned an Oscar nomination for the lead role, which stands as maybe his last great performance. Nothing about the Pursuit of Happyness is revolutionary, but if you’re looking for a solid inspirational story/classic weepie, this movie is a safe bet. —C.O.
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. —Eddie Strait
24) The Panic in Needle Park
Long before films like Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, and Heaven Knows What tackled the subject, director Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park shined a gritty light on heroin addiction all the way back in 1971. Released just a year before The Godfather came out, The Panic in Needle Park stars Al Pacino as a charming junkie named Bobby and Kitty Winn as his impressionable girlfriend, Helen. Although Panic feels a bit dated and occasionally over the top now, it still paints a stark picture of New York street life at its bleakest. Pacino was as young, charismatic, and handsome as he would ever be here, clearly a star on the rise. But it was Winn who won the Best Actress award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, despite appearing in few pictures since. Trivia time: the screenplay was co-written by Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, whose older brother, Dominick Dunne, produced the film. The elder Dunne would of course go on to become a famous writer himself, mostly for the major American trials he covered in the second half of his life. —C.O.
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
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. —Eddie Strait
27) The Land Before Time
Released just two years after An American Tail and also spawning a long list of sequels, The Land Before Time bears other similarities to that film too. Both films feature quests by young animals to reunite with their families, an orphaned brontosaurus in Land Before TIme, an immigrant mouse in An American Tail. Both films feature epic journeys, which end in happy reunions. But most significantly, The Land Before Time resembles An American Tail in that it is often deeply sad, and the quest the characters go on is riddled with hardship. Is it still fun for the whole family? Sure. But maybe warn the kids this one is likely to be a tearjerker.
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) Mountains May Depart
Tracking a woman over three distinct periods in her life, Mountains May Depart tells a story that feels deeply personal yet intrinsically related to socio-economic conditions in China as well as the Chinese immigrant and diasporic experiences. The third segment, which is set in a futuristic Australia and features many non-English speaking actors doing their best to master the language, is a little bit clunkier than the two that precede it. But in many ways, it’s also the best part of the movie, as director Zhangke Jia (always wrestling with ideas of national identity) makes a clear attempt at something bold and audacious. Fans of his previous feature, 2013’s A Touch of Sin, may be surprised at how comparatively tame this film is. Rest assured, though, while it’s not as violent, Mountains May Depart still hits you hard. —C.O
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. —C.O.
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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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