As much as there are days when we want to do nothing more than laugh, smile, and enjoy all the good things in life, there are others when we would honestly rather relish in its dark side. Maybe it's been a while since we've had a good cry, maybe we're frustrated about a plan gone to pieces, or maybe we simply want to turn our backs on sunny skies and puppies for the time being.
Whatever the cause of our blues may be, feeling sad shouldn't be glossed over. And when that mood hits you, too, then there's sometimes only one suitable solution: Draw the curtains and turn on a movie that gets exactly how you feel.
We scrolled through the Netflix library to zero in on the types of movies that meet this raw emotion. From long-standing classics to new favorites, as well as stories based on true events and tales rooted in fiction, these are the 20 sad movies on Netflix that you should watch when you're feeling blue.
They won't exactly cheer you up, but they will let you stay in that melancholy space until you're ready for something new.
Plenty of celebrated actors make appearances in this Peter Jackson film—like Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, and Rachel Weisz—but Saoirse Ronan's performance might be the one you cry about the most. Her character is murdered on a walk home from school, and the movie follows her as she navigates "the in-between" world she's thrust into after her death. Peter Jackson's ability to create a whimsical fantasy is on display in this journey, which is intertwined with a family and daughter's grief that they can no longer be together.
Childlike wonder and imagination are at the heart of this charming movie, which stars Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie and Kate Winslet as a mother whose children inspire his famous story of Peter Pan. You might get a little emotional over a few familiar scenes—like when Tinkerbell and Peter first teach the boys and Wendy to fly—but it'll all come out by the end of the story. That's due in large part by the performance of Freddie Highmore as Peter and a particularly heart-tugging finale.
It's a story about love and expectations, as well as harsh realities and disappointments.
All right, so you get to look at Ryan Gosling for two hours—that can't be too sad, right? Well, maybe that's the silver lining of this dramatic indie film, although you're likely to get swept up in his and Michelle Williams's strong performances, too. They play a struggling couple on the verge of divorce who decide to take a short vacation to get away from some stress at home. The story flashes back and forth between their initial courtship and present issues and shows how their hopes for the future eventually panned out. It's a story about love and expectations, as well as harsh realities and disappointments.
Cate Blanchett plays the namesake woman of this period film, which begins as she is doing some Christmas shopping at the department store where Rooney Mara's character, Therese, works. They have an instant attraction, and when Carol accidentally leaves her gloves on a display counter, Therese finds her address to return them. This begins their secret affair, which includes attempts to hide it from Carol's ex-husband as he fights her for custody of their daughter. Things, of course, don't go as planned, but you'll enjoy the beautiful cinematography, costumes, and performances all the same.
There's a good chance that you might have heard about this movie, which won Matthew McConaughey an Oscar, but you should make time to see it. McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a man who is diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s when the disease lacked societal understanding, medical research, and viable treatments. After he is ostracized from his loved ones and loses his job and home—all while given 30 days to live—he tries to find medicine to save his life. He finds a promising drug with help from a disgraced doctor, but it's illegal in the U.S. So, he decides to smuggle and sell it to other HIV-positive people.
This sprawling World War II drama stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as two lovers at the center of misperceptions, crime, and class dynamics just as World War II erupts in Britain. Knightley plays Cecilia, a young woman from a wealthy aristocratic family, and McAvoy plays Robbie, the housekeeper's son. They've grown up together in passing, and their families don't consider them as anything more than acquaintances. But they're secretly in love with each other—and when they act on it, Cecilia's little sister thinks she sees something that isn't true.
This Angelina Jolie–directed film follows Loung Ung's 2000 memoir of the same name, which takes place as the Khmer Rouge captures the capital of Cambodia and rules it from 1975 to 1979. Loung and her family are forced to leave their home and go to a labor camp, where all of their possessions are confiscated from them, and they are told to build their own shelters and work without food. Soon after, Loung's family separates—and she sees her father taken away by officials—and then she's recruited to be a soldier for the regime. There's obviously a lot to take in here, and it's even more difficult to do so from a child's perspective.
Sunny Pawar's performance as a child who gets lost on an Indian train—and subsequently separated from his brother and family—will make your heart sink, although it isn't the only tear-jerking aspect of this award-winning movie. His character is later adopted by a couple from Australia, and when he grows up (in a role played by Dev Patel), he makes it his mission to find the family he left behind.
This movie explores the difference between perception and reality, and the potential dark side of living up to perceived levels of success.
Frank and April Wheeler—played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet—look like the ideal 1950s couple. They have the perfect suburban house, he has the perfect job, and she takes care of two perfect kids. At least that's what it looks like from the outside. This movie explores the difference between perception and reality, and the potential dark side of living up to perceived levels of success. It's a sad, but also unnerving, look at this point in American life.
This true story, which is often referred to as a Steven Spielberg masterpiece, follows Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) as he eventually saves the lives of more than 1200 Jews during World War II. At the beginning of the movie, he's a businessman living in Krakow, Poland, and a member of the Nazi party. His connections allow him to open a factory, where he hires Jewish workers. But as the war escalates, he realizes that the factory can be a way to protect them. It's a difficult movie to watch, but its honest look at the horrors of the Holocaust is worth it.
Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in California, who helped to galvanize the activist movement in San Francisco during the 1970s. As the movie shows how Milk rose to his level of stature—doing so, in part, with archival footage—it also depicts the tenuous relationship he had with Dan White, the fellow politician who murders him in his office. It's a biopic that gives an accurate look at this electric yet difficult time period, while also showcasing the same human rights debates we're still having today.
So it's not that hard to be sad at some point during a Pixar movie, but Coco might be the one that really turns on those emotions. The story centers around the revered Mexican holiday El Día de los Muertos, and a boy named Miguel who is trapped in the land of the dead when he decides to become a musician against his family's wishes. Of course, you won't be sad the entire time you watch this movie—the colorful 3D scenery is just one thing that will put a smile on your face—but there will be some details that make you misty.
In a movie that's based on a true story, and goes back and forth from past to present, we learn that Christopher McCandless is a recent college grad who decided to shed all of his possessions and travel the country in the early 1990s. He moves from California to South Dakota to Mexico, meeting plenty of interesting people along the way, and eventually ends up in Alaska. While this story will make you want to emulate a bit of McCandless's sense of adventure, the ending will also make you wish for a different one.
Based on the 2010 novel of the same name, this movie centers around Brie Larson's character as a woman who has been held captive for seven years. She's had a son in that captivity, a 5-year-old boy, and together they live in a shed they call "room." She makes her son believe that the outside world only exists on TV, but one day the two find a way to escape. It's a story about resilience and imagination, and we won't be too surprised if you ugly cry.
This film focuses on a team of journalists from the Boston Globe who learn of and begin to investigate widespread child sex abuse allegations perpetrated and then covered up by members of the Catholic Church. The story follows the journalists—including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Keaton—as they piece together what happened and how to find justice in the face of such a powerful entity. Trust us, it's a Best Picture Oscar winner for a reason.
This epic drama is a classic tragedy of love against all odds. Through flashbacks, a badly burned pilot (played by Ralph Fiennes) tells his nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche) of his passionate love affair with a married lady, Katherine (Kristin Scott Thomas). It's World War II, and they are all surrounded by death and destruction, yet love prevails. This is a truly heart-rending film that is so beautifully woven together, but prepare to weep. There's a reason it won nine academy awards.
Of course, a movie about an orphan searching for his birth parents is always going to end in tears, regardless of whether the ending is a good one or not. This beautiful tale features an all-star cast with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Robin Williams, and Keri Russell.
This film tells the story of Nobel Prize–winning mathematician John Nash played by Russell Crowe and the impact of mental illness that is often untold. When Nash is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, his career and marriage to wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) start to fall apart. Crowe is incredible in this Oscar-winning drama, but you'll definitely be reaching for the tissue box.
You know this movie is going to be emotional when you learn it's about one of the greatest romance poets of the 21st century, John Keats. This film recounts the last three years of his life in 1818 (he died at age 25) and his love affair with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). At first, this sounds like a lush and romantic love story, but tragedy strikes when Keats, a struggling poet, can't reciprocate his feelings for Fanny because he doesn't have the money to support her.
Is there anything more painful than a broken heart? In this movie, former music video director Michel Gondry explores what would happen if you could erase those distressing memories after a painful breakup. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet really push the boundaries of love and loss in this incredibly beautiful film that makes you question whether it's better to live through our pain and bear the scars as we move forward or delete them altogether. But in the end, what are we really losing as a result?
FIVE MORE SAD MOVIES THAT AREN'T ON NETFLIX BUT YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY WATCH:
If you haven't seen this beloved 1989 drama just yet—which features early performances by Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Josh Charles—now might be the time to do it. The story follows a group of boys at a Vermont prep school as they start a new year with a new English teacher, played by Robin Williams. Unlike the stuffy, controlling atmosphere of the campus, Williams's character encourages the boys to be curious, courageous, and above all, to seize the day. It's a quiet and emotional film that'll have you shedding tears in more ways than one.
There's a lot about this story that should fill you with pride, but there are also aspects to it that are more than sad. The movie focuses on a secret British intelligence team that's tasked with breaking the Enigma Nazi codes during World War II. At the helm of this seemingly insurmountable task is mathematician Alan Turing, who devises a plan to build a machine that eventually outwits the Enigma. But instead of returning to a quiet life after the war is over—with a few secretly knowing what he did to end it—Alan is arrested for being gay.
It's an interesting feeling to find yourself smiling and laughing at a movie mostly set in a World War II concentration camp, but that's the complicated appeal of director Roberto Benigni's film: You'll laugh and cry at the many ways the father tries to hide atrocities from his young son. The story won Academy Awards for its unusual depiction of this era—you might remember how Benigni walked on chairs to the stage—and it's worth a watch for its uniqueness.
In the years after World War II in Germany, a woman named Hanna Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet) meets a boy named Michael Berg. The two begin a secret affair, in which he also reads to her at every visit. Years later, Michael is a law student observing the trial of women accused of letting 300 Jewish women die in a burning church during the war—and Hanna is one of the accused. Michael knows she has a secret, and although he's torn, he's sure that the secret could help her.
You might already know this story from the classic Harper Lee novel of the same name, and this 1962 movie does well to follow Lee's chapters as a sturdy script that doesn't need changes. It's a story about childhood and imagination, thanks to siblings Jem and Scout Finch and their friend Dill, but it's also a clear depiction of racism and the many ways adulthood can be a disappointment. Gregory Peck plays Atticus, the small-town lawyer assigned to the case of his life: defending a black man named Tom Robinson from a rape accusation made by a white woman.
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This post was originally published on August 3, 2018, and has since been updated.