Sad Movies on Netflix That'll Make You Cry
Grab the tissue box and let it all out.
While Netflix may have a reputation as a seemingly infinite repository of rom-coms, sometimes you're in the mood for a good cry. When that feeling hits you, sit down with one of these tearjerking dramas, which range from deadly serious to schmaltzy and uplifting -- something for everyone.
All the Bright Places (2020)
Based on the international bestselling young adult fiction novel by Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places tells the story of high school students, Violet (Elle Fanning) and Theodore, who likes to go by his last name, Finch (Justice Smith), both of whom are suffering from mental illness caused by trauma in their pasts. It's a tender love story, growing from two broken people who, together, begin the process of healing. The film is both gentle and heartbreaking, and a rare entry in the excess of teen Netflix originals that truly tries to handle mental health with care.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
True Detective Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga’s wartime drama is not a movie you put on in the background. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, this visceral character study tracks a preadolescent after he’s recruited to be a child soldier in an African civil war (its specifics are left purposefully ambiguous). Lorded over by a gruff commander (Idris Elba), the movie is loud, tender, and violent -- a coming-of-age story in which the characters may not live to come of age.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
The movie that earned Matthew McConaughey his Best Actor Oscar (and gave the world that brilliant speech and white tux) tells the true story of Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient in Texas who smuggles treatment from Mexico during a time when the disease still carried a stigma and had few effective treatments. McConaughey's performance is reason enough to watch; Jared Leto's Oscar-winning role as a transgender woman who forges an unlikely business relationship with McConaughey's Woodroof is a bonus.
Dear John (2010)
First things first, Dear John is named for a Dear John letter, or what you would send a man to dump his ass, so you can guess that this is one of most treacly of Nicholas Sparks' oeuvre. The drama hits all of the marks of a stereotypical romance movie, starring Channing Tatum as a solider living with his reclusive father (Richard Jenkins) while he's home from war and Amanda Seyfried as the do-gooder college student he falls for under the warm South Carolina sun, but there are enough passionate kisses in the rain to make all the melodrama worth it.
The Florida Project (2017)
Sean Baker's The Florida Project nuzzles into the swirling, sunny, strapped-for-cash populace of a mauve motel just within orbit of Walt Disney World. His eyes are Moonee, a 6-year-old who adventures through abandoned condos, along strip mall-encrusted highway, and across verdant fields of overgrown brush like Max in Where the Wild Things Are. But as gorgeous as the everything appears -- and The Florida Project looks stunning -- the world around here is falling apart, beginning with her mother, an ex-stripper turning to prostitution. The juxtaposition, and down-to-earth style that includes footage shot on an iPhone, reconsiders modern America in the most electrifying way imaginable.
A Ghost Story (2017)
Director David Lowery (Pete's Dragon) conceived this dazzling, dreamy meditation on the afterlife during the off-hours on a Disney blockbuster, making the revelations within even more awe-inspiring. After a fatal accident, a musician (Casey Affleck) finds himself as a sheet-draped spirit, wandering the halls of his former home, haunting/longing for his widowed wife (Rooney Mara). With stylistic quirks, enough winks to resist pretension (a scene where Mara devours a pie in one five-minute, uncut take is both tragic and cheeky), and a soundscape culled from the space-time continuum, A Ghost Story connects the dots between romantic love, the places we call home, and time -- a ghost's worst enemy.
Marriage Story (2019)
Returning to the topic of 2005's caustic comedy The Squid and the Whale, which tracked the fallout of a divorce from the perspective of children, writer and director Noah Baumbach again finds laughter and pain in the often excruciating personal details of ending a relationship. This time, the bickering couple -- a Brooklyn-dwelling actress and a theater director played with tenderness and anger by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver -- takes center stage. Instead of watching the two fall in and out of love, the story opens with the separation already in motion, allowing Baumbach to focus on the soul-sucking, money-draining legal shitstorm that follows. While Driver and Johansson are both excellent in tricky, emotionally demanding roles, some of the sharpest moments come courtesy of their attorneys, collaborators, and extended families. (Laura Dern and Alan Alda have rightfully earned praise for their parts, but I'd watch Ray Liotta's gruff divorce expert in his own spin-off.) In showing how divorce ripples outward, Marriage Story complicates its own simple premise as it progresses.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
When Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), three half-siblings from three different mothers, gather at their family brownstone in New York to tend to their ailing father (Dustin Hoffman), a lifetime of familial politics explode out of every minute of conversation. Their narcissistic sculptor dad didn't have time for Danny. Matthew was the golden child. Jean was weird... or maybe disturbed by memories no one ever knew. Expertly sketched by writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) this memoir-like portrait of lives half-lived is the kind of bittersweet, dimensional character comedy we're now used to seeing told in three seasons of prestige television. Baumbach gives us the whole package in two hours.
Chronicling the boyhood years, teenage stretch, and muted adult life of Chiron, a black gay man making it in Miami, this triptych altarpiece is at once hyper-specific and cosmically universal. Director Barry Jenkins roots each moment in the last; Chiron's desire for a lost lover can't burn in a diner booth over a bottle of wine without his beachside identity crisis years prior, blurred and violent, or encounters from deeper in his past, when glimpses of his mother's drug addiction, or the mentoring acts of her crack supplier, felt like secrets delivered in code. Panging colors, sounds, and the delicate movements of its perfect cast like the notes of a symphony, Moonlight is the real deal, a movie that will only grow and complicate as you wrestle with it.
The South's post-slavery existence is, for Hollywood, mostly uncharted territory. Director Dee Rees rectifies the overlooked stretch of history with this novelistic drama about two Mississippi families working a rain-drenched farm in 1941. The white McAllans settle on a muddy patch of land to realize their dreams. The Jacksons, a family of black sharecroppers working the land, have their own hopes, which their neighbors manage to nurture and curtail. To capture a multitude of perspectives, Mudbound weaves together specific scenes of daily life, vivid and memory-like, with family member reflections, recorded in whispered voice-over. The epic patchwork stretches from the Jackson family dinner table, where the youngest daughter dreams of becoming a stenographer, to the vistas of Mississippi, where incoming storms threaten an essential batch of crops, to the battlefields of World War II Germany, a harrowing scene that will affect both families. Confronting race, class, war, and the possibility of unity, Mudbound spellbinding drama reckons with the past to understand the present.
The Notebook (2004)
"If you’re a bird, I’m a bird." It's a simple statement and a declaration of devotion that captures the staying power of this Nicholas Sparks classic. The film made Ryan Gosling a certified heartthrob, charting his working class character Noah's lovelorn romance with Rachel McAdam's wealthy character Allie. The star-crossed lovers narrative is enough to make even the most cynical among us swoon, but given that their story is told through an elderly man reading (you guessed it!) a notebook to a woman with dementia, it hits all of the tragic romance benchmarks to make you melt. Noah's commitment to following his heart -- and that passionate kiss in the rain -- make this a love story for the ages.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his beloved novel will take you back to adolescence in a way many coming-of-age films aim to capture but not all can. The film, about an introverted high school freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman) discovering where he fits in for the first time when he befriends a group of outsider seniors (Ezra Miller, Emma Watson), while he feels forced to cope with his best friend’s suicide and mental illness in private, will take you back to all of the feelings you felt at 16. Lerman's endearing portrayal, as well as each character’s own delicate experience, the heartwarming dialogue ripped from the text, and that tender soundtrack, are more than enough to have you nostalgic for drives around your hometown and desperate to put on an 8-track and have a good cry. If you let it, it'll make you "feel infinite."
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
In this Oscar-nominated role, Will Smith portrays real-life entrepreneur Chris Gardner, who spends nights on the street and in homeless shelters as he attempts to get a job. The Pursuit of Happyness is a strong-willed, sentimental father-son story, riding entirely on Smith's relationship with his on-screen son, who just happens to be his real son, Jaden Smith. The pair together will most definitely make you cry.
All those billions Netflix spent paid off in the form of several Oscar nominations for Roma, including one for Best Picture and a win for Best Director. Whether experienced in the hushed reverence of a theater, watched on the glowing screen of a laptop, or, as Netflix executive Ted Sarandos has suggested, binged on the perilous surface of a phone, Alfonso Cuarón's black-and-white passion project seeks to stun. A technical craftsman of the highest order, the Children of Men and Gravity director has an aesthetic that aims to overwhelm -- with the amount of extras, the sense of despair, and the constant whir of exhilaration -- and this autobiographical portrait of kind-hearted maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) caring for a family in the early 1970s has been staged on a staggering, mind-boggling scale. Cuarón's artful pans aren't just layered for the sake of complexity: He's often placing different emotions, historical concepts, and class distinctions in conversation with each other. What are these different components in the painstakingly composed shots actually saying to each other? That remains harder to parse. Still, there's an image of Cleo and the family eating ice cream together after a devastating dinner in the foreground while a wedding takes place in the background that you won't be able to shake. The movie is filled with compositions like that, tinged with careful ambiguity and unresolvable tensions.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and David O. Russell’s first collaboration -- and the film that turned J-Law into a bona fide golden girl -- is a romantic comedy/dramedy/dance-flick that bounces across its tonal shifts. A love story between Pat (Cooper), a man struggling with bipolar disease and a history of violent outbursts, and Tiffany (Lawrence), a widow grappling with depression, who come together while rehearsing for an amateur dance competition, Silver Linings balances an emotionally realistic depiction of mental illness with some of the best twirls and dips this side of Step Up. Even if you're allergic to rom-coms, Lawrence and Cooper’s winning chemistry will win you over, as will this sweet little gem of a film: a feel-good, affecting love story that doesn’t feel contrived or treacly.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
In his Oscar-winning performance, Eddie Redmayne portrays famed physicist Stephen Hawking -- though The Theory of Everything is less of a biopic than it is a beautiful, sweet film about his lifelong relationship with his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). Covering his days as a young cosmology student ahead of his diagnosis of ALS at 21, through his struggle with the illness and rise as a theoretical scientist, this film illustrates the trying romance through it all. While it may be written in the cosmos, this James Marsh-directed film that weaves in and out of love will have you experience everything there is to feel.
A Walk to Remember (2002)
Adapted from a Nicholas Sparks' novel -- which, as the same guy who wrote The Notebook and Dear John, should tell you enough already -- A Walk To Remember is a classic star-crossed lovers tale of a high school bad boy who falls for the local preacher's daughter , who (brace yourself) is battling leukemia. Yes, it checks about every box of YA sad movie fodder, but you'd be amiss not to let yourself wallow in the hopeless romance that unfolds between Mandy Moore, in her first major film role, and Shane West. Just keep a tissue box at the ready because as soon as you hear the original music sung by Moore or witness the walk in question, you'll be a weepy mess.
6 Years (2015)
Breaking up is hard to do. It's the subject of Hannah Fidell's understated 6 Years, which closely examines a relationship falling apart, focusing on a couple played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield, who have been together the entirety of their young adult lives. As a character study of the two together and apart, the film is extremely mundane, but their powerful performances make the slice-of-life concept something fierce and worth watching. It starts by breathing the freshness of a first love, but comes to exhale nothing but a volatile violence that will leave you feeling suffocated.
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