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10 Best Sad Movies of All Time
There is a lot more to be gained from a tragic movie than a cathartic “good cry.” (Although, of course, a good cry never hurts.) Oftentimes, it’s the movies that make us most emotionally uncomfortable that achieve what is arguably the peak of cinema: forging human empathy. Those are stories that move us so viscerally that we remember them for years to come—even if we can hardly watch them more than once.
Whether you’re a ballad-loving, water-work-chasing sap, or a happy-go-lucky that rarely strays any sadder than a dog dying, it’s always good to work a tear-jerker into your watch list. After all, name a better risk-free controlled environment to practice your vulnerability than on your couch.
These movies will do more than just get those tear ducts leaking. These deeply moving narratives will connect you to characters and stories beyond your own culture, time, and nationality. That’s the power of cinema: a lens that transports you beyond the world you comfortably inhabit. Here are some of the saddest movies of all time.
Based on a true story, Schindler’s List follows the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and member of the Nazi party, who utilized his factory in Poland as a means of rescuing over one thousand Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. Directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring performances from Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, and Ben Kingsley, the film is a remarkable capacity of humans to commit both utter atrocities and remarkable sacrifices.
Requiem for a Dream
Often ranked as one of the most disturbing movies of all time, Darren Antonofsky’s portrait of four people struggling with drug addiction in Coney Island is certainly not for everyone. However, the film’s cinematic and narrative merit in illustrating the distorted borders of one’s addiction and reality becomes increasingly poignant as their struggles advance.
Ang Lee’s gorgeous romantic western about two cowboys in love on Brokeback Mountain was a prime candidate for Best Picture in 2006 (it lost to Crash, which we won’t talk about). The poignant story stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as closeted men in a decades-long relationship. Their passion for each another grates against the unforgiving era in which their love was founded, and ultimately, it’s that passion that tears the two apart, resulting in a tragic end for nearly all involved.
A childhood classic for many, My Girl features Anna Chlumsky as Vada, a young tomboy with a deceased mother, as she navigates her life as an 11-year-old alongside her best friend, played by Macaulay Culkin. The film is both heartwarming and morbid, displaying Vada’s innocently obsessive relationship with death through her father’s home practice as a mortician.
Featuring one of Meryl Streep’s most iconic performances, Sophie’s Choice follows the cohabitation of Sophie, a Polish immigrant, Nathan, her lover, and Stingo, a young writer, in Brooklyn. As their living situation brings them closer, Sophie’s deeply tragic backstory as a Holocaust survivor is revealed.
Based on the novel Push by Sapphire and produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Precious is the story of Clareece “Precious” Jones, a teenager living in poverty in Harlem. Coming from an abusive home and limited by her inability to read or write, Precious is faced with a simultaneous challenge and opportunity when she is offered to transfer schools. With its intense journey of suffering and triumph, lead actress Gabourey Sidibe’s performance is an unforgettable one. (The film also landed her an Oscar nomination and a win for her co-star, Monique.)
The Green Mile
Set in a correctional facility’s death row, coined “The Green Mile” for its floor tiling, this Stephen King adaptation begins with the arrival of a new inmate John Coffey, played by Michael Clarke Duncan. As head guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) grows curious of how such a peaceful man could be guilty of such a crime, Edgecomb identifies a link between Coffey’s arrival and a series of supernatural events in the facility.
Life is Beautiful
From the acclaimed Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful follows a Jewish-Italian father’s quest to protect his son from the cold truths of their cruel world when they become imprisoned in a concentration camp. Despite its tragic setting, the narrative is filled with sentiments of imagination, sacrifice, and beauty.
From award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón, Roma tells the story of Cleo, an indigenous woman and domestic worker who lives with an affluent family in Mexico City. Cleo’s relationship with the family becomes more complicated when the father leaves the family for an affair, and Cleo discovers she is pregnant.
Based on a true story, Michael B. Jordan stars as Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man living in the Bay Area of California, on the last day of his life on December 31, 2008. Despite Grant’s earnest desire to approach the coming new year as a fresh start on his young life, his dreams are recklessly cut short when BART officers apprehend and murder Grant in cold-blood at Fruitvale Station.
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was poised to take the 2005 Academy Award for Best Picture award, and for good reason. The gorgeous romance about two cowboys in love was one of the most poignant films of the year. Starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as ranch hands who embark on a decades-long forbidden romance, their love is one of the most passionate in film history. That passion grated against an era intolerant to their romance though, and the result is as tragic an ending as two lovers can fathom.